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June 23, 2008

Comments

toujoursdan

I think we're toast anyway. Once cheap energy runs out, we're going to have a serious population crash. 6.6 billion people can only be fed with energy intensive agriculture, 1 billion can be fed sustainably.

See this: http://www.paulchefurka.ca/Population.html

John Petty

I agree. I'm with Bill Maher on this. If we found out that global warming could absolutely be reversed by, say, giving up our remote control devices, we probably wouldn't do it.

toujoursdan

If you read Jared Diamond's book "Collapse" we seem to be following in the steps of the Easter Islanders who in their attempts to "grow" their civilization, chopped down the last tree and then starved because they couldn't fish. But this will be the first time it happens on a global scale.

I also think it will be an indictment on American-style laissez-faire capitalism, which gives us every incentive to consume even wastefully, but no incentive to conserve. Its growing hostility to government protection of the environment and conservation measures is its last gasp.

Both Soviet style communism and American style capitalism are social and economic dead ends. It's just took the latter longer to get there.

John Petty

Dan, I skim read the article you recommend. I'm wondering, though, if the author considered the possibility of alternative fuels. Yes, petroleum will eventually dry up, but there are other possibilities.

I didn't read that Diamond book, though did read a couple of reviews. His other work--"Guns, Germs, and Steel"--was quite good.

toujoursdan

The problem with most other alternatives (other than solar and wind, perhaps) is that they take more energy to create than they give us as a final product, so their net energy contribution is negative.

Solar and wind are useful for small scale power generation but can't take the place of petroleum in agribusiness. You can't power large farm equipment for hours a day on electric power currently.

Once natural gas runs out, Hydrogen can only be created using large amounts of electricity to break apart water into hydrogen and oxygen, even more energy to turn into a liquid and then more energy transport. It takes 3 times more energy to produce hydrogen as you will get from the hydrogen produced. We can't build enough power plants to make enough hydrogen to make up the shortfall that declining oil production is going to create. Most analysts think hydrogen will be a dead end.

Nuclear has a limitation of being ultimately reliant on uranium which is also becoming scarce. The world's total production of uranium is already in decline. Some researchers are predicting uranium scarcity by 2013.

Hydroelectric will work as large scale power generation in some parts of the world but not others.

So currently there just isn't any fuel that gives the same bang for the buck as oil and while oil isn't going to run out any time soon, our economy is so precariously perched on oil that losing even a small amount of net energy is going to upset the whole system catastrophically. The oil shocks and resulting economic crisis of the 1970s were caused by only a 5% reduction in energy from the embargo, and that was with 3 billion fewer people on the planet and without a China or India.

I really hate to be the doom and gloomer but think it's going to be a very painful century for the human race. I know the western reaction to this is a "we can do it" optimism, but optimism can't change the laws of physics.

toujoursdan

A good book to read on this is: "The Party's Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies by Richard Heinberg (Author)"

You can get it and similar books that essentially say the same thing here:

http://www.amazon.com/Partys-Over-Fate-Industrial-Societies/dp/0865714827

toujoursdan

And a short Washington Post article that says the same thing:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/05/23/AR2008052302456_pf.html

John Petty

Thanks for the good summary of the alternative fuels situation, and succinctly put too!

toujoursdan

Sure. The other problem is deployment. Replacing oil powered farm equipment and transport with alternative fuels isn't something that can be done overnight, nor would it be cheap.

So even if we had an equally efficient energy alternative technology in place, it is still going to take years to deploy.

If farmers are paying $7-12/gal gas and THEN have to raise capital to replace all their equipment, small farmers are going to bail since they are on the margins already, larger producers may stay afloat but the consumer is going to get hit hard with rising food prices and decreasing availability, to the point where the middle class may not be able to afford basics.

From what I have read the tipping point is anywhere between $182/barrel to $300/barrel at which point the economy will seize up. We are creeping up to the lower end of that now.

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