All entries for Saturday 15 April 2006

April 15, 2006

Peaking of global oil production

We all know that Oil is finite yet we continue to consume it at alarming rates without considering what will happen when it runs out. No problem you might say, we have 50 years of oil left in the ground, thats plenty of time. The situation is more complex than that, it's not about how much oil is in the ground, it's about how much we can get out and how fast we can do it. Currently we are consuming over 82 million barrels per day (about a thousand barrels a second) and this is increasing rapidly every year especially with China's massive growth. At some point we will not be able to pump enough oil out of the ground to meet this demand. Leading (independant of oil company) experts are predicting that this will occur within the next 10 years and it may have already happened (there is evidence to suggest it happened in December 2005). We have used up all the easy oil (picked the low hanging fruit as it were) and now we must dig deeper for smaller reserves just to keep up the pace. In recent years the gap between supply and demand has been closing and as a result we have seen massive increases in oil prices (not because of Katrina, that just scared people because of the already tight oil supply). This is a crisis so big that it could (and probably will) destroy our civilisation, and yet we (our governments) do nothing, why? I will attempt to answer this here.

What does the peaking of oil mean? Once it peaks we will have less oil each year so there will be shortages that get worse every year and will never get better. Economists would argue that this would cause price increases and that these increases would allow oil companies to spend more on extracting oil, hence solving the problem. This, however, is very naive, they do not seem to understand the nature of energy resources. Initially these price increases would allow a small increase in production which would delay the peak for a very short time, but there is still only so much oil and the cost of finding and extracting this extra oil will become huge. What these economists fail to realise is that price increases in oil will have a massive effect on every part of the economy, this alone would prevent further exploration and production of oil. In addition to this they assume that technological advancements will save the day, this is wrong, I will discuss this later. Our economy fundamentally depends on CHEAP oil and gas, almost every product depends on it so any increase in oil price will increase all other products as well. The economy can absorb so much but eventually the price will become so large that the economy itself will collapse. Here are some example products that depend on oil in some way.

  • Food (tractors and fertilizers become expensive, transport)
  • Heating
  • Transport of any kind
  • Most plastics (oil based)
  • Many chemicals (oil based)
  • Electricity (from gas and coal…)
  • Other comodities such as metals (need to be mined)
  • Coal (needs to be mined and transported)
  • Solar panels (plastic, metal, electricity and transport)

As everything becomes more expensive people will begin to have much less disposable income and will only spend money on heating, food and water. Developing new technology will become an expensive and mostly fruitless exercise, our so called 'progress' will actually go backwards. Technological advancement is not infinite, there are limits but it seems economists are blind to scientific limits. It may appear as though we live in a world with rapidly increasing technological development but in fact this is an illusion, the rate a advancement is most areas has slowed to a halt, it is only computers and a few other areas that are experiancing any kind of advancement. Innovation is decreasing, physical, practical and intellectual limits are being reached, each advancement requires more money, time and resources than ever before. In a collapsing economy this kind of expensive advancement will become impossible. Unless alternatives are found and implemented before peak there will not be enough time or money, since this development and implementation will itself require oil.

I hope I havn't lost you. What alternatives are there? Short answer is none, long answer is a whole lot a small scale possibilities that require 10 to 20 years more research and would be to expensive or suffer from their own sustainability problems. Solar panels require energy and resources to make, they are only 20% efficient at best, so there is no way they can replace our energy needs. Hydrogen is a myth, you need energy to make hydrogen so where does this energy come from. Ethanol or other biofuels are not scalable, you can only cover so much of the planet with sugar cane. Oil from coal requires so much energy that you probably end up using more energy to make it than you get back from it, certainly not enough to replace normal oil. Wind and hydro can only do so much, nothing approaching enough. Nuclear is expensive and uranium is also a finite resource, the number or power plants required to replace oil and gas would cause uranium to run out in a few years. If you combined all these together you still would only get about half the necessary energy and to implement all of the above would be impossible (cost, time…). The best thing we can do is reduce demand now before we have to.

What does all this mean? If everyone on this planet consumed like the average american we would require 5.1 earths. There is a finite limit to the number of people this planet can support, that is about 2 billion, and that is with a basic non consuming life style. Our current population is approaching 7 billion and a lot of those are consuming more than they should. From this it is fairly obvious to see that at some point our population will collapse, as all population booms in all species eventually do. There are many possible causes for this collapse, but peak oil and environmental destruction (climate change etc…) combined with our existing political and economic system seems most likely. It's funny, we all think the apocalypse would be some external event like a meteorite or an alien invasion, but it seems it's going to be our very civilisation itself that collapses from within, where we least expect it. I have spent the last two years looking at this problem and attempting to find a way for our civilisation to continue, but there is none, we will collapse just as all previous civilisations have collapsed. Civilisations collapse for several reasons: drought or climate change, resource depletion, war or invasion, political or economic collapse, disease. All of these apply to our current civilisation, it is degrading and falling apart.

Why have we not been told this by the government or media? There is a paradox, if the government tells everyone the economy will collapse (or hints at it) then the economy will collapse out of fear of collapse (consumer and investor confidence). If they do nothing it will collapse. The only thing they can do is secretly try and solve the problem, but they have been blinded by their own denial and have yet to respond properly. There is the classic conflict of interest, truth and power verses money. In addition to this, what do you think the public would do if they knew the truth? Civil war, violence and chaos. To say that our governments are doing nothing is not true, the war in Iraq can only be explained if it was an oil war, a strategic move by America to secure its oil supply for a few more years after peak.

In summary, peak oil is happening about now and we have left it too late to do anything about it, our own apathy and ignorance will cause the collapse of civilisation. This may sound extreme but that does not make it less true, there are many well respected people who believe this, it is not just an Apocalypse cult. If you think you know a way that collapse can be averted then I would like to here it, I assure you it cannot. If your solution involves technological advances then you should really consider how that would be possible (physics, economics etc… in a post peak environment). Don't worry though, although we may die during the collapse our children and grandchildren will be the seed of the next human civilisation that will inevitable follow this one, albeit without oil. PS. if you want to survive I suggest you learn to live independant of the infrastructure of civilisation, only then will you be free from it, this is what I will be attempting to do before it's too late (10 years at most before it really begins).

April 2006

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