Friday, April 1, 2011

State of the Blog, Q1 2011

It's become a tradition around here to reflect once a quarter on how the blog is coming along.  It's that time again, as Q1 of 2011 ended yesterday.  The above graph shows the monthly visitorship according to the Sitemeter.  As you can see, this has been an extremely good quarter, with stats growing by leaps and bounds.

I got some insight into the stagnation/decline in my readership in the second half of last year by looking at the Sitemeter for the Oil Drum (where I was an editor some years ago).  Obviously, TOD is a much longer-established site with a larger readership, but what was striking to me is that their readership spiked hugely in summer 2010, when mine was stagnating.  And this was almost certainly driven by their intensive coverage of the energy story of the moment: the Macondo spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  My judgement was that this incident didn't have lasting global or even national significance: it was a severe regional environmental disaster for the Gulf of Mexico, and that was the main impact.  Since half the blogs in my reader were covering it intensively, I felt the issue was totally oversaturated and I decided not to write about it.  I still believe my judgement about its ultimate significance was correct and I'm comfortable with my decision.  At the same time, it's clear that I paid a short term price in readership: a lot of the people interested in energy/resource issues wanted to read about the spill, and I wasn't doing it for them.  So be it.

However, since the end of last year, we've had a lot of dramatic stories with an energy/resource angle that have seemed to me of more lasting significance: food prices and oil prices going up, unrest in the Middle East, nuclear disasters in Japan, etc.  We live in interesting times, and this has clearly driven readership here up sharply.  Welcome to all the new readers!

One negative has been the need to moderate comments (driven by a single individual).  I haven't found the actual act of doing the moderation at all onerous - if anything it's nice to have a single place to see them all.  However, it's got to make commenting a less interactive experience, and in particular make it unlikely that good conversations can happen between commenters when I'm away from the computer.  I'm not sure what the outlook is here: in general, I'd far rather have quality than quantity in commenting as in readership, so I'll continue moderating as long as it feels necessary.

A few personal updates (since the blog has proven to be a driver of developments in my personal life much more than I realized it would):
  • We are still in transition up to our country property.  We are living in the rental house in Ithaca through late May, but I have my office up at the farm and am there every day, and doing various projects around the place on the weekend: insulating studio/workshop space in the barn, etc.  It took a long time to get the woodstove in (we decided to have the floors refinished first), but I finally installed it a few weeks ago, and have been enjoying working in front of the fire since.  I set the thermostats on the electric baseboards to 50F to provide a baseline of heat at night, and then rely on the woodstove to heat the downstairs to a reasonable daytime temperature.
  • Living on all commercially bought renewable power is a complete snooze.  Agway Electric shows up on the bill, which is slightly larger than it otherwise would be.  Other than that, there's nothing to see, and no difference in our lives.  It's not nearly as flashy as having a big set of solar panels on the roof, or a windmill, to impress/provoke the neighbors, but a lot less hassle too.
  • I continued to cycle right through the winter.  There were odd days when there was too much snow, or it didn't work with my schedule, and then there was the back problem, but by and large I have kept it up.  However, I did switch to cycling to a cafe for lunch rather than breakfast, so I was doing it in daylight.
  • I made a tactical retreat on the Chevy Volt.  The dealerships I talked to were selling all the Volts they could get their hands on at $8k-$12k over list, and the planned production for 2011 was small enough that it seemed to me likely that situation would last all into 2012.  With that markup, the car is twice as much as other small environmentally-half-decent compacts.  I'm just not willing to pay that much extra for what is basically a green status symbol, not when I'm saving to build the straw-bale fantasy house.  So I bought a VW Jetta Sportwagen TDI for now.  I'll probably trade it for a PHEV in a few years when the prices and choices are better.
  • Although our property is surrounded by land trust land on which there will be no shale gas drilling, the lady up the road told me that most of the rest of the valley is already leased.  She apparently leased her farm before understanding the issues, but now is one of the folks campaigning to have the town ban fracking.  Currently there's a temporary moratorium while the state of New York studies the issue.  So fossil fuel extraction may, or may not, come to my valley - I guess I need to understand the issues better.
  • Finally, at the instigation of my new doctor here in Ithaca, I read The China Study and was blown away by the book.  I immediately switched to a 98% vegan diet (I'm still negotiating with my wife to get rid of the 2%).  I highly recommend the book, especially to my readers entering or in middle age.  Apparently, I'm in good company.


Ugo Bardi said...

Stuart, about the book you mention, the China Study, I'd be very careful about this kind of diets.

I am working on that in terms of my personal experience (I am 59) and also what I can gather from the scientific literature. My conclusion, for now, is that the Vegan diet is positively dangerous for health. I tried something similar for a few years and that was a huge mistake. I am recovering now.

Different people, anyway, react in different ways. I am willing to believe that for Chinese farmers the local version of the Vegan diet may be good. But for middle class westerners - well...

So, please be careful, otherwise we would miss a lot your blog!


Stuart Staniford said...

Ugo - are you comfortable sharing any more detail about your diet and what issues you ran into?

Paleodoctor said...

I prefer Paleo Diet.Beans,legumes and grains are Neolithic food.Read Staffan Lindeberg book entitled Food and western disease(Wiley-Blackwell).email me if you need more references and links.
Michel Petit,md

Mike Aucott said...

Keep up the good work with the blog! Your getting a TDI sounds like a good move. My Golf TDI has been good; 150,000 miles with few problems and a consistent 45-50 mpg.

Regarding diets, a great read is Richard Wrangham's book Catching Fire. He makes a good case that humans evolved with fire - we are the "cooking apes." Our digestive systems are geared to cooked food, and that includes meat (albeit not in the mammoth quantities Americans are used to). See

brett said...

Getting into the diet debate will be sure to increase your numbers as well as your work at comment moderation!

It will be interesting to see what you think if you do dive in. I'd love to see your take on the Weston Price philosophy.

Thanks for your work. I hope you continue to reach a wider and wider audience.

tom said...

Um ok, a lot of people could probably do with more vegetables and less meat; but when exactly did you develop an interest in these "Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-term Health"?

Personally, I've decided to mainly live on fried insects. Their availability seems to be largely unaffected by currency changes and commodity markets.

Stuart Staniford said...


I don't really plan to write much about diet stuff (more a risk *of* global civilization than a risk *to* it - though I suppose you could argue that the US, at least, faces much worse fiscal issues than it otherwise would due it's unhealthy lifestyle as health costs are the main long term issue driving US fiscal deficits.)

Robert Wilson said...

Francis Moore Lappe wrote Diet for a Small Planet about the virtue of vegetarianism in 1971. She stressed the need for complementary proteins to obtain essential amino acids but later decreased this emphasis. She also had an interesting feud with Garrett hardin.

rks said...

My sister-in-law and brother are keen on the opposite, low carb diet. The point I make is that humans have evolved in different places, and there is a lot of relevant genetic variety. For example we clearly see that people whose ancestors come from a salt-deficient area have low ability to get rid of salt. I think people from northwest Europe are adapted to having a substantial amount of fish and dairy. Carbs are OK if you do a lot of exercise. Of course vegan doesn't have to be carbs: I like olive oil. At any rate the name "China Study" makes me immediately suspicious that it might not be too applicable to me.

Fixed Carbon said...

Stuart: Yours is my favorite blog. It is packed with objective, rational perspective and information that is available no place else. I use material from your quantitative analyses in my classes, and I continue to learn lots of new stuff at Early warning. Your description of moving into Ithaca is amusing. I have many colleagues there, and Ithaca houses the offices of my business. Regards, Don

Chet Day said...

Stuart, I was a practicing vegan for many years until the inevitable nutritional deficiencies hit me like a ton of bricks.

I'd encourage you to read the intelligent and remarkably profound review of Campbell's "China Study" at this url:

Another excellent site that reveals the long-term problems with veganism as told by ex-vegans who've had the diet fail them is

I find your blog very useful. Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us.

Hypnos said...

I am also very interested in dietary issues even though this might not be the most appropriate venue for discussion, but since it's been brought up.

At uni I had a lecture on the connection between dairy and cancer, and it relied heavily on data from Asia, showing how it differed from the West. So I downloaded data on dairy consumption in Europe and cancer rate; there was very little correlation despite huge differences (massive milk consumption in Finland and butter consumption in France did not correspond to substantially higher breast and prostate cancer rates).

I wish I'd kept the data sources, they were from something like the European Dairy Products Federation and the WHO and some EU source.

I'm Italian and practice a strict Mediterranean diet so my animal protein consumption is already pretty low; I've considered cutting meat further because of climate change concerns, but the cancer/health connection really hit me like a ton of bricks.

Stuart Staniford said...

Chet Day:

Boy that Denise Minger you linked to is quite something! I don't have enough depth in the issues to tell if she's right or just nitpicking, but certainly a 23 yr old English BA that can do multiple variable regressions and sound even slightly credible is something outside my prior experience...

Clearly I have a lot to learn on this subject... However, since it's a matter of life and death, I suppose I will have to learn more. I'm still pretty averse to talking about it a whole lot in this venue, however (and I wasn't really planning to spark a big conversation with my very short paragraph on it - I just wanted to give full disclosure that when I'm talking about, say, meat vs biofuels, I'm currently personally experimenting with being (almost) vegan for health.

That said, I very much appreciate everyone that has (or will) talked about their personal experience or provided links. Gives me food for thought, and issues to discuss with my doctor...

Robert Wilson said...

My daughter liked the Moosewood restaurant on Cayuga St.

Ugo Bardi said...

Stuart, I think this subject - diet - is extremely important and it highlights a lot of facets of how we relate with the world; in particular how we apply the scientific method to complex systems, namely the human body.

So, I think that people who have a scientific background and some capability of analyzing data, can put these skills at work in this field; and as a backlash get a better understanding of other problems, say, climate change.

I have been studying this subject for more than a year, by now. I had to - I was forced to enter this field because my health was failing and doctors kept prescribing me pills and none of them really understood what the combination of these pills could do.

In the end, my conclusion is that diet is a fundamental factor to one's health - almost the only one. The Vegan approach has this good element: that it recognizes this fact. Then, it is awfully wrong in the way it implements it. My experience with Vegans and Vegan books is truly awful. No science, only faith based arguments.

All right, however, I understand that you may not want to have the blog clogged with this kind of comments. But I think it is a subject worth discussing in this context and with the people who follow your blog. I have already written something on this on my Italian blog and the response was very interesting; although occasionally nasty - diet is like climate change; it generates emotional responses. I'll write something on my new blog in English when I find the right moment

Ugo Bardi said...

Ah... Stuart, sorry, I had missed your comment where you asked me to share more details about my diet. I think I did with the previous comment, but it is a long story and I think I'll do it with a post on my blog

Ugo Bardi said...

And another comment - sorry for invading your blog space!

About comment moderation, with blogspot, you can choose to have moderation only for posts older than "n" days. I usually have my blog set for moderation only of posts older than 3 days. It works nicely when you have a non controversial post such as this one and you don't expect the troll platoon to come marching in.

I set the number to zero days only when I publish something that I know will be a troll magnet!

(paid trolls, of course, are the worse kind. You should see the Italian ones - a real zoo!!)

Eric Thurston said...

your blog is on top of my list under the 'Environmental' folder. Enjoyed your description of current events in your life.

At the risk of piling on in the diet area... yes, isn't Denise Minger impressive. My own perspective was radically changed from tending toward veggie over to high protein/low carb when I read Gary Taubes' Good Calories, Bad Calories. I would really be interested in getting an opinion on this book from someone like you who has an incisive scientific mind. One of Taubes' points that he makes is that the state of nutritional research is pretty bad and after reading his book, I tend to agree with him.

Stuart Staniford said...


There's no question that Denise Minger in an unusually brilliant person - to the point of being a prodigy I would say. That doesn't mean she's right - there's plenty of ways to be brilliant and have big blind spots. And the young are particularly prone to overconfidence. However, she would appear to have a great future - she should go get a pHD in nutrition (maybe Cornell would take her :-) I hear rumors in town that Campbell is not actually that popular in his own former department) and then she'll probably make major contributions to that field with the level of passion and brilliance that's clearly there.

In terms of "I would really be interested in getting an opinion on this book from someone like you who has an incisive scientific mind." The problem right now is that I wouldn't know what the fuck I was talking about in really taking a strong position on any nutritional question. Clearly it's an immensely difficult field - we are incredibly complex organisms, and we eat incredibly complex foods, and sorting out what happens is a massive multivariate mess. At the same time, clearly we in industrial civilization are doing something very wrong in the way we eat so that we all start getting the characteristic diseases of civilization. And I guess I personally would very much like to live to 80-90, rather than, 60-70, and I'm willing to invest a pretty big effort to figuring out the best path to that. And if nothing else, Campbell has convinced me that I can't just trust the USDA to tell me the right answer.

I ordered this graduate text in nutrition. In the past, I've found in getting up to speed on some new field, it's best to get some kind of grip on the orthodoxy of the field before being in a position to evaluate where the orthodoxy might be wrong .

Stuart Staniford said...

Ugo - no apology required - your comments are always welcome.

Stuart Staniford said...

One more quick note on the vegan thing. I had a long and very interesting conversation with my wife at lunch. She spent 18 months living in southwest China in the early nineties as an exchange student and then as an ESL teacher - she was living in the cities, but travelled extensively in rural regions. She gave me a more holistic sense of the Chinese diet in that time/region. Basically, the diet consisted of about 2/3 vegetables by volume, 1/4 (white) rice and noodles, and about 5-10% eggs, meat, fish (also by volume). No sugar, no pastries. Everyone ate three meals a day, and snacking was pretty much unheard of and culturally frowned upon. People were definitely hungry before each meal, and then ate till they were full. Hardly anyone was at all fat, and that was looked down on.

Hardly anyone she ran into was vegan or vegetarian. She was vegetarian at the time, and faced massive social pressure from her Chinese friends to eat meat because they didn't think it was healthy not too (she eventually came up with the ruse that her doctor had told her she had a meat allergy to get people to back off on it).

So the diet was very strongly plant based, but *not* vegan.

So, one possibility is that Campbell is right that the less animal products the better, but only down to a certain point below which the Chinese data does not go because Chinese vegans are extremely thin on the ground. And then the danger lies in extrapolating linearly from 5% down to zero...

Gary said...


Can't help but enter the diet fray. My personal philosophy is that if you grow what you eat, you will be the most healthy. It looks like you will be in a position to grow a lot of your own food, so you should be in good shape! The modern diet has made eating seasonally obsolete. My guess is that our immune systems like a break from the same thing once in a while. Eating what's in season naturally provides a variety of nutrition and may prevent a build up of food sensitivities. If you eat what you grow, you also automatically get exercise!

James said...

Stuart - thank you for writing about this important and interesting subject (diet). It is great to see this subject discussed at a level of analysis that you bring to all subjects that you choose to look into.

Big Gav said...

Its always the (relatively) off topic stuff that seems to generate the most comments.

Thanks for sharing what is going on in your life - its a nice diversion from the more analytical posts.

While I'm into healthy eating going vegan has never appealed to me - I can't imagine surviving on a diet that doesn't include meat at least once a day (that said, I tend to make it low fat, organic meat most of the time - my days of eating pizza and hamburgers are long gone).

TiradeFaction said...

Congrats on the increased readership over the years, you deserve it. You bring a rare perspective on the peak oil blogosphere/community/whatever, one rooted in solutions whist not falling prey of the typical Luddite (if you will) bias of much of the peak oil authorship, such as the likes of Kunstler and Greer.

brett said...

If you are concerned enough to drastically change your diet after reading The China Study, I imagine you will be interested to give this article at least a little thought:

"Is Sugar Toxic"

Stuart Staniford said...

Brett: yeah, I saw that and was very interested. Global sugar consumption stats will be coming to a blog near you soon...