Wednesday, November 24, 2004
OT: Peak Oil
A Google search on "peak oil" yields a number of resources on this topic, some more optimistic than others, but the pessimistic ones are frightening in the extreme, to the point I would call them millennialist and write them off -- except that so much petroleum energy goes into food production, it's not entirely possible to do so. After all, one of the great causes of the Depression was mechanization of farms, which resulted in enormous gains in crop production -- driving prices down and farmers off their land. Take away oil from farming, and suddenly productivity goes down.
The present administration listens to an energy secretary from Michigan, and hears what it wants to hear about oil. If you believe the more conspiratorially-minded, we launched upon the Iraq war fully well knowing that country had some of the biggest undeveloped oil reserves in the world.
For balance -- that is, to provide the anti-peak point of view -- I provide this article by Leonardo Maugeri from Italy's Eni oil company. His argument is fairly typical; this is a dialogue split along the fault lines of discipline, that is, the geologists versus economists, and may briefly be summarized in this way:
Economists: Oil is a price-driven commodity, whose presence or absence is determined by that price.$50/bbl oil is here now. We've probably seen the last of $30/bbl oil. $5/gallon gasoline is coming, and soon.
Geologists: Okay, show me the reserves.
This is not pleasant stuff. It's very easy to see how this could turn into a full-scale depression, and much, much worse. The need to conserve is becoming increasingly obvious, as is the need to invest in research in renewables, and by this I mean any and all of them, up to and including fusion. Likewise, we need to start reinvigorating nuclear power by building breeder reactors and finding cleaner ways to burn coal. And we need to do all of this now before rising fossil fuel prices make it uneconomic to effect the changes we need.
A big shoutout to Dodgerkid, aka Rick Todd, for pointing this out to me. He has also blogged on this subject on Autoguy .
One of the things that fueled the French Revolution were the disastrous harvests of the 1780s. With energy in short supply, it wouldn't be too hard to see what happens next. And remember, we've invited the Chinese and Indians to the big petroleum party. It's one thing to reduce American demand; it's another to tell the Chinese and Indians what to do.
Did I mention that I'm really, really beginning to hate SUVs?