Friday, August 10, 2007

Heavier things

There is a finite amount of petroleum in the world. Much of this oil, possibly half of it, is locked-up in the ground in such a way that there will not be a cheap way to extract it in the foreseeable future. The US Geological Survey and the Energy Information Administration conducted a study, described in a 2004 EIA report, to assess and forecast world petroleum supply and demand. The study found that there is likely something like 3 trillion barrels of recoverable oil in the world. This sounds like a very big number- indeed it is a huge number- except when compared to the rate at which oil is consumed. The study further concluded that global oil production may well peak in 30 years, and fall-off sharply, so that humans are unable to produce petroleum at current levels within about 40 years.
Again, this study predicts that oil production will likely peak around 2037 and then decline, sharply. Obviously, other capacity studies abound. Some of them are more urgent, some of them are less so. The USGS / EIA study purports to be impartial and was completed in consultation with geologists and economists from both the US government and from the petroleum industry. Regardless of when the reader may personally believe oil will run out, the fact remains that there is a limited amount of oil in the world, and humans are using huge quantities every day.

Given that petroleum is the basis of our present economy, and perhaps more so the basis of an American lifeway, this resource-sunset is a mandate for deep change. The current administration previously asserted "Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy."
It's time to move beyond myopathy and greed and step into reality. This generation faces a problem, and like it or not, it's ours to fix. Many will ignore the problem. However, the rational solution- the one that will work in the real world- is to work toward sustainable lifeways and a sustainable economy. This means understanding where our energy, food, and other resources come from, and recognizing that financial costs are not the only costs we need to consider. This means making better choices, starting today.

6 comments:

Pat Jenkins said...

erd you mention the world changing event of wwII. and the fortitude of those engaged in it. as you well know that war was fought on and won with the capability of refining oil. there would have been no such event without it. with that said man has become dependent on oil, and hold on to something tight, that is a good thing. there is absolutly nothing inheriently evil in it's usage and i am confussed why so many on the left have such resentment for this resource.

E. R. Dunhill said...

PJ,
I’m not clear as to what I wrote that suggested oil is evil. I can’t say that I recall ever saying that petroleum is inherently bad. Besides, whether a person sees oil as good or bad doesn’t affect how much of it there is or how fast humans are using it.
The point of this post is that recoverable oil will run out. The study I cite suggests that most of my readers will see the days when petroleum production begins to decline. The study predicts a peak around the year 2037, followed by a sharp decline, which will prevent humans from being able to meet the global demand for petroleum. Knowing a little something of your political convictions, I should point out that this study was published by the USGS and the EIA under the George W. Bush administration.
The WW2 analogy is not intended as a comparison of the amount of oil we use now against what Americans used 60+ years ago, nor about exactly how they went about changing their economy. The analogy is intended to draw a parallel between two generations that are faced with a large problem that must be solved through a change in thinking and lifestyle. Our predecessors created a preeminent industrial economy and stopped imperialists and mass-murderers. I feel that it is our imperative to reinvent our economy again.

Pat Jenkins said...

fair enough. but the curtailed usage of oil will inevitably "stop" this economy of ours from growing. and that erd is what i fear those who want to stop the free flow are after.

E. R. Dunhill said...

PJ,
Regarding your sentiment that “the curtailed usage of oil will inevitably ‘stop’ this economy of ours from growing”:
If that were true, then humans would now be in the twilight of their days. Barring a massive change in demand, your kids will likely live to see the end of available petroleum. I think there's more to this problem.
Oil and all of the gadgets that use it are simply technologies. There was a time that carracks and caravels (both wooden sail ships) were the preeminent technologies of commerce. Tea, tobacco, whale oil, sugar, and slaves have all also been centrally important economic commodities. Many have forewarned widespread economic collapse if the technology or commodity du jour goes away. To be fair, sometimes it happens. But, collapse occurs when a central commodity suddenly becomes devalued, or if supply is unable to meet demand. If humans are substantially dependent upon oil (as we are now) when oil production can no longer meet demand, there will be a serious problem.
But, there will be an economy after petroleum, just like there is an economy after whale oil and tall ships. That’s why it’s important for Americans (the world, really) to begin reinventing the economy now. If we move toward a petroleum-independent economy now, we won’t encounter the same problems when the wells run dry.

Pat Jenkins said...

you are exactly correct there will be a "tomorrow" if the well runs dry with oil. no pun intended. which is why there is no need to panic. you made a point i would have made with you. a mere 150 years ago, as you have said, nobody could've envisioned oil and it's uses. which proves man can only see what at the time he can envision. as one came along with the vision of motorized vehicle burning on gasoline, another from the future may change man's direction with a new exploration exchanging for the old for new. i would think you as a evolutionist could have seen this happening way before i. haha.

E. R. Dunhill said...

PJ,
This is not a matter of “if the well runs dry”. There is a finite supply of recoverable oil that humans use rapidly. The oil will run dry. I encourage you to read the study that is linked to this post.
There is no call for “panic” in this post. The absence of panic does not excuse people from the responsibility to act.
At the risk of recapitulating to a fault, the point of this post is that oil is being exhausted faster than most people realize. And given that oil is the basis of industrial economies, I assert that people need to start making changes now in order to prevent problems in the future. These changes are an evolution in behavior.
Someone “from the future” is not going to fix the problem for us; we have to be more self-sufficient than that. Again, what I am describing in this post is beginning an evolution in behavior now.