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"What If We Never Run Out of Oil?"
April 29, 2013 9:47 AM   Subscribe

Charles C. Mann writes for The Atlantic:
This perspective has a corollary: natural resources cannot be used up. If one deposit gets too expensive to drill, social scientists (most of them economists) say, people will either find cheaper deposits or shift to a different energy source altogether. Because the costliest stuff is left in the ground, there will always be petroleum to mine later. “When will the world’s supply of oil be exhausted?” asked the MIT economist Morris Adelman, perhaps the most important exponent of this view. “The best one-word answer: never.” Effectively, energy supplies are infinite.

Joe Nocera writes in The New York Times: Canada’s Oil Minister, Unmuzzled
When I spoke to him before his speech, Oliver pointed out that Venezuela, which currently supplies the United States around one million barrels a day, has more than once threatened to cut us off. “That would never happen with Canada,” he said. “We honor our contractual obligations.” As a longtime supporter of Keystone, I could only nod my head in agreement.
James Howard Kunstler reacts: We Wish
You could call these two examples mendacious if it weren't so predictable that a desperate society would do everything possible to defend its sunk costs, including the making up of fairy tales to justify its wishes. Instead, they're merely tragic because the zeitgeist now requires once-honorable forums of a free press to indulge in self-esteem building rather than truth-telling. It also represents a culmination of the political correctness disease that has terminally disabled the professional thinking class for the last three decades, since this feel-good propaganda comes from the supposedly progressive organs of the media -- and, of course, the cornucopian view has been a staple of the idiot right wing media forever.
OilPrice: Why Shale Oil is Not the Game Changer We Have Been Led to Believe - Part 1

Design is A Bureaucrat
James Howard Kunstler, perhaps the most vocal and voluble self-styled expert on this profound and lasting change, works in black and muted gray. Even a cursory perusal of Kunstler’s site Clusterfuck Nation reveals imaginary landscapes of dreary eighteenth-century monotones — “a world make by hand,” as Kunstler likes to call it, and powered by Lord knows what. Certainly not petroleum (Kunstler, a member of the peak-oil vanguard, laughs this off as impossible), not even coal or steam. Water, then? Wind? On such particulars Kunstler remains somewhat vague and noncommittal. He occupies himself with the theme of inexorable demise, which he gives the name the “Long Emergency.” “American life will just wind down, no matter what we believe,” Kunstler writes in post from a few years ago.
The End Of Plastic
It also means, I hope, that we get better at recycling and it becomes more cost-effective. It’s not just about crunchy-granola save-the-earth stuff; it really offends my sense of efficiency as an engineer that most plastic just ends up sequestered in landfills. From a materials perspective, so many products are massively overengineered. So I’m hoping to see more cradle-to-cradle design with plastic
An Update On Peak Oil.Peak Oil as seen through the eyes of Arab oil producers.

The Guardian: Peak oil theories 'increasingly groundless', says BP chief
Reason: Remembering "Peak Oil" Madness and How Free Markets and Human Ingenuity Can Save the Planet
NRO: America's Big Fat Advantage - "Why? No other nation has a Constitution whose natural evolution would lead to a free, merit-based society that did not necessarily look like the privileged — and brilliant — landed white-male aristocracy that invented it."

2011 Quake Was Man-Made, Scientists Say
10 Skills To Hone For A Post-Oil Future

previously: "There's a whole ocean of oil under our feet!"
fracking, previously: 1, 2, 3, 4
oil sands/tar sands, previously: 1, 2, 3
posted by the man of twists and turns (86 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite

 
Nobody tell them about Zeno's Paradox.
posted by zamboni at 9:51 AM on April 29, 2013 [37 favorites]


Pacific Standard: The Deluge
In 1922, a federal commission predicted that “production of oil cannot long maintain its present rate.” In 1977, President Jimmy Carter declared that world oil production would peak by 1985.

It turns out, though, that the problem has never been exactly about supply; it’s always been about our ability to profitably tap that supply. We human beings have consumed, over our entire history, about a trillion barrels of oil. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates there is still seven to eight times that much left in the ground. The oil that’s left is just more difficult, and therefore more expensive, to get to. But that sets the invisible hand of the market into motion. Every time known reserves start looking tight, the price goes up, which incentivizes investment in research and development, which yields more sophisticated technologies, which unearth new supplies—often in places we’d scarcely even thought to look before.
Après Nous, le Déluge
The current, massive disruptions in global climate have been caused by the cumulative carbon release of generations of people who were long dead before the problem was even identified, as well as by ongoing release from the immense networks of energy, production, and distribution that were built and developed in the open landscape of free and unrestricted carbon release—the networks on which contemporary civilization now undeniably depends, but which nobody yet has any idea how to replicate in the absence of carbon burning fossil fuels. Benjamin Kunkel said it best: “The nightmare, in good nightmare fashion, has something absurd and nearly inescapable about it: either we will begin running out of oil, or we won’t.” That is: either we have Peak Oil, and the entire world suffers a tumultuous, uncontrolled transition to post-cheap-oil economics, or else there’s still plenty of fossil fuels left for us to permanently destroy the global climate through continued excess carbon emissions.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:53 AM on April 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


It's brave to use Zeno's Paradox to somehow prove energy supplies are infinite, in that we would never have enough usable energy to extract more usable energy.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:53 AM on April 29, 2013 [11 favorites]


This perspective has a corollary: natural resources cannot be used up. If one deposit gets too expensive to drill, social scientists (most of them economists) say, people will either find cheaper deposits or shift to a different energy source altogether. ...

or they can just die.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:55 AM on April 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


Nobody tell them about Zeno's Paradox.

Jevon's paradox applies more directly.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:55 AM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Kinda like saying that we never ran out of whale oil, because we found another way to light our homes and offices.

Still didn't much help the whales, though.
posted by Etrigan at 9:56 AM on April 29, 2013 [15 favorites]


The issue isn't when the last molecule of petroleum will be extracted from the ground. The issues are how long extracting petroleum from the ground continues to be a net energy gain, rather than an energy sink; whether an alternative energy source can be put in place on a global scale beforehand; and whether the transition from the current infrastructure to the future infrastructure will be peaceful or violent.

I've posted this link before: the idea that energy-intensive economic growth can be permanent doesn't scale well.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 9:57 AM on April 29, 2013 [24 favorites]


Still didn't much help the whales, though.

Because of our reliance on fossil fuels, most dinosaur species are already extinct.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:57 AM on April 29, 2013 [12 favorites]


Isn't it a little more like, oh, no more whale oil, but maybe if we give porpoises a good squeeze we'll get the same result?
posted by angrycat at 9:58 AM on April 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


or they can just die.

The question "What if we never run out of oil?" could perhaps be reformulated as "What if oil deposits run out of civilizations to extract them?"
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:58 AM on April 29, 2013 [12 favorites]


I feel like if there's a hell for economists Julian is having a really bad time right now.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:58 AM on April 29, 2013


"I say let the world warm up. See what Boutros Boutros Gali Gali thinks about that. We''l grow oranges in Alaska."


"Dale you giblet head, we live in Texas. It's already 110 in the summer, and if it gets one degree hotter I'm gonna kick your ass!"
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:58 AM on April 29, 2013 [21 favorites]


Nobody should comment here until they've read Charles C. Mann's essay. He very, very smart, and has a pretty important insight that well exceeds the pull quote's absurd framing and the Atlantic's stupid title. Read the article: it probably doesn't say what you think it does.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:03 AM on April 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


I feel like if there's a hell for economists Julian is having a really bad time right now.
Julian Simon?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:04 AM on April 29, 2013


FTA:

"Churchill fired the starting gun, but all of the Western powers joined the race to control Middle Eastern oil. Britain clawed past France, Germany, and the Netherlands, only to be overtaken by the United States, which secured oil concessions in Turkey, Iraq, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. "

Isn't it kinda important to mention that the ones securing these oil concessions were businesses, not governments? (at least in the case of the US)
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:10 AM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also,

" Decades of turmoil—oil shocks in 1973 and 1979, failed programs for “energy independence,” two wars in Iraq—have left unchanged this fundamental, Churchillian dynamic, a toxic mash of anger and dependence that often seems as basic to global relations as the rotation of the sun."

This is a very tendentious reading of US foreign oil policy in the 20th century. Foreign oil policy underwent numerous changes after WWII. In fact, for most of the century, per Harold Ickes, the US "did not have an oil policy". One had to be created.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:12 AM on April 29, 2013


businesses, not governments?

Businesses operating with the military muscle of their government... the difference between the two when they're involved in foreign adventures can be hard to distinguish.
posted by cell divide at 10:14 AM on April 29, 2013 [10 favorites]


the man of twists and turns, yes, he was one of the loudest voices promoting this garbage. He never pushed abiogenic oil, which is surprising, but his arguments were half Zeno's Paradox and half "I have a nigh-religious faith that science will provide advances that will prevent resource scarcity from ever existing." His was one of many voices in the chorus that gave cover to open hostility to conservationism and environmentalism, and his inanity and dishonesty still afflict this world.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:14 AM on April 29, 2013


Isn't this just a semantic ploy? I mean, if there's oil in the ground, but it costs so much to tap that it isn't worth taking out, haven't we run out?
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:16 AM on April 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


In the early 20th century the US was much more reluctant to exercise its military might in the middle east for oil that it is today.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:19 AM on April 29, 2013


Under state capitalism, oil supply secures you.
posted by No Robots at 10:20 AM on April 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


Read the article: it probably doesn't say what you think it does.

Seems to say the same thing as is being ridiculed here. What am I missing?
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:22 AM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've always wanted to market a line of 'infinite' foods. If you always eat precisely half your bag of chips at any time you should only need one bag of chips for the rest of your life. Hell, you could probably pass it down to your kids.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:27 AM on April 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


From the Design is Bureaucrat post, which had seemingly nothing to do with the topic at hand:

The “spoken” — i. e., the literary representation appearing on the page — presents a point of entry through which the many marginalized other significations can be accessed in order to be brought dialectically to bear on what’s on the page, producing what Macherey’s teacher (and noted uxorcide) Louis Althusser called a symptomatic reading.

This is the worst individual sentence I have ever read.
posted by Ghost Mode at 10:27 AM on April 29, 2013 [18 favorites]


the idea that energy-intensive economic growth can be permanent doesn't scale well.

Well, by definition, any system that relies on permanent and infinite growth will eventually be found to have a teensy problem or two built in, like being utter lunacy in the long run.
posted by Aversion Therapy at 10:33 AM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Methane hydrates is a heroin addict who just won $100 million dollars in the lottery.
posted by stbalbach at 10:33 AM on April 29, 2013 [7 favorites]


Why, yes, drill, baby, drill. Because the social costs, the pollution, the wars, the global warming is nothing compared to our need to drive those Hummers and SUVs and have ton of plastic crap. When will we realize we're a blight on the the earth?
posted by BlueHorse at 10:38 AM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


So, I did a bit of googling and can't tell where, if anywhere, Kunstler falls on the crank-o-meter. Anybody know?
posted by angrycat at 10:40 AM on April 29, 2013


I have to agree with anotherpanacea; the first linked article in the Atlantic is great and it's nothing so simplistic as "we can keep improving technology to get the oil that's buried deeper" or whatever. The interesting part is the sheer amount of methane hydrates out there; it's estimated that worldwide there could be 100,000 trillion cubic feet (!!) of methane hydrates. And a substantial portion of this is water, but the rest is frozen methane which is obviously far more dense that gaseous methane. This is an almost unfathomable amount of energy locked up in icy deposits at the bottom of the sea; even if only 1%, or 0.1%, ends up being extractable, 0.1% of a near-infinite number is still a very large number.

I don't think anyone is saying that human civilization can continue to run on fossil fuels without any adverse consequences. But if there really are going to be new sources of hydrocarbon fuels coming online for at least the next several decades, wouldn't we want to know that and figure out how to plan for it in an environmental sense? So much of the environmental movement implicitly relies on scarcity - why switch to a hybrid car if gas (or whatever fuel of the future) falls to $2/gallon again? If this is something we need to think about, I'd rather get moving on it rather than insisting on peak oil in the face of increasing evidence of abundant hydrocarbon fuel.

Basically the environmental movement has to decouple from peak oil and related fears. The two can be friends when it suits them but we need other, better justifications for reducing hydrocarbon use that can't be "disproved" on Fox News by the discovery of another oil field or methane hydrate field.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 10:40 AM on April 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is also why it's impossible for dodos to become extinct. The value of each remaining one just goes up and up, til they become too valuable to not protect.
posted by w0mbat at 10:43 AM on April 29, 2013 [26 favorites]


So, I did a bit of googling and can't tell where, if anywhere, Kunstler falls on the crank-o-meter. Anybody know?
He's been on MetaFilter before ... too many times to count. Start here.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:44 AM on April 29, 2013


So, I did a bit of googling and can't tell where, if anywhere, Kunstler falls on the crank-o-meter. Anybody know?

Energy apocalypse, collapse of industrial civilization, we all move to quaint old revitalized industrial towns and hand carve violin pegs as we dispense wisdom to adoring grandchildren.
posted by thelonius at 10:45 AM on April 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


Some days I feel like our best shot at forestalling anthropogenic climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions is just to double down on carbon sequestration and hope that it's feasible on a large enough scale. It doesn't seem like we'll ever willingly walk away from fossil fuels. At least there will apparently be enough natural gas to generate enough electricity to keep our air conditioners cranked. Now, if we can just figure out a way to eat methane hydrates, we'll be in business.
posted by mollweide at 10:50 AM on April 29, 2013


I don't know if anyone here is a smoker or an ex-smoker, but when you are poor, you tend to try to stretch your tobacco dollar as far as it can go. So, if you smoke a pack of cigarettes, you're usually left with 20 butts with a small amount of tobacco right near the filter of each one. Reuse this tobacco and the filters with new rolling papers and you might get upwards of 10 new cigarettes. Do the same thing a third time, you might get 5 or 6.

Extrapolating about this and oil is the same thing. Just because you will always have some left over doesn't mean there won't come a point where there is not enough tobacco left over to fill one cigarette or fuel to make even one car-tank's worth of gasoline.

Why are such stupid people in positions of any authority in the world? We have this internet, we can take action, but we don't and we probably never will by the looks of things. Extrapolating wildly as well...
posted by Iknowno_one at 10:52 AM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


global oil reserves: just enough rope left to hang ourselves with.
posted by j03 at 10:55 AM on April 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


What about what Kunstler sez about Japan? Because he was convincing to me when he wrote of the thing that if methane hydrates were an option, Japan would be the country positioned and motivated to make use of them. Then again, I am in the humanities and I've been saying things like last days of Pompeii for about ten years now.
posted by angrycat at 10:55 AM on April 29, 2013


There's plenty of heroin, why stop using it?
posted by Liquidwolf at 10:57 AM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


The C-Realm podcast did a good interview with Mark Robinowitz about this same topic last week. Mark lays it down pretty well about how the concept of endless oil is broken logic.
posted by Liquidwolf at 10:59 AM on April 29, 2013


vocal and voluble

...pause...

Daaaammmmmn.
posted by aramaic at 11:03 AM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


The closest I've come yet to being the subject of a FPP. So close. Thanks for the link, the man of twist and turns.
posted by gerryblog at 11:05 AM on April 29, 2013


The logic is impeccable. If you believe in math and Zeno you will live forever!

Oil is just a tool. The proper theme, really, is control. This is why the political conversations never get off the topic of oil--our system requires the overhead to be passed on to the end user. When energy can be cheaply and abundantly produced elsewhere, the theme will be expressed by substituting the appropriate nouns. I'm thinking a credit-based economy, for example, would be a useful dynamic for exploiting any given treaty organization's political gestures. In the meantime oil is a useful red herring until the power companies (can we just call them oligarchs and get it over with?) get their tendrils properly threaded around other parts of the various national anatomies. As the saying goes: when you have them by the balls, their hearts and minds are sure to follow.

I like the tobacco analogy, above, expressed by Iknowno_one. I was thinking of a similar one, which was inspired by a technique I used when I was in the infantry. We were trained to eject the magazines out of our weapons before they were completely emptied, and drop the nearly expended magazine down the front of our shirts. That way, after we've used up the basic load, we'd still have 20 or 30 magazines, each with a few rounds in them, which is more useful (during the busywork involved in a firefight) than trying to reload a magazine before you can continue shooting. In this scenario you can continue the battle, one hopes, until the arrival of artillery strikes, jets dropping napalm, or the Hueys. The common thread to both those analogies is underlying fears: inspired by addiction on the one hand, and the hope of survival on the other.
posted by mule98J at 11:11 AM on April 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


I have seen the future and it isn't cheap energy.
posted by mazola at 11:12 AM on April 29, 2013


When I read things like this, I feel like we need a new form of Pauli's famous "not even wrong", only it would be something like "this isn't wrong, it's not even stupid".
posted by scrump at 11:15 AM on April 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


The tobacco analogy does not work. When you run out of cigarettes, you pay a higher price for your nicotine fix. You dip, or chew nicotine gum. You might even quit (at the cost of cravings for days). Just because you choose not to pay for the cigarettes or gum, or decide to quit, does not mean that the nicotine does does exist, it is just not in your possession.
posted by otto42 at 11:25 AM on April 29, 2013


Look, I learned from the Freakonomics guys that the ultimate answer to everything can always be found in economics. Everything else is just details driving their equations. I'm glad to see that applies to geology and climate science too!
posted by edheil at 12:22 PM on April 29, 2013


From now on I am going to say "tar sands!" instead of "horse puckey!" or "poppycock!"

posted by mmrtnt at 12:30 PM on April 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Not running out of fossil fuels just means having more rope to hang ourselves with.
posted by dry white toast at 12:31 PM on April 29, 2013


Skipped ahead ask: So if we stop using oil we stop using oil, have I got it?
posted by Trochanter at 12:31 PM on April 29, 2013


You'll get my steering wheel when you pry it out of my cold, dead fingers.
posted by telstar at 12:36 PM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's plenty of heroin, why stop using it?

Because it's cut to all hell, so you can spend £50 and not get high, whereas a £2 bottle of Diamond White will get you drunk all day.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:37 PM on April 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


> We have this internet, we can take action, but we don't and we probably never will by the looks of things.

On the scale needed to run human affairs intelligently? There isn't any collective entity on that scale, able to know agreed-upon stuff and take action, that corresponds to such a "we." It's a figment of undefined abstraction. Waiting for it to do something... well, that game could go into extra innings.
posted by jfuller at 12:57 PM on April 29, 2013


i feel like i can't even make this comment without linking to many, many, many other FPPs about this and related subjects in the past. i'll try though..

growth is energy. growth is the exchange of wealth tokens (or, credit, which.. that's a whole other discussion but 2007 happened so that's where that went) earned by performing labor. which in our modern times is assisted by the use of energy. the products we purchase are created using energy. our entire modern civilization is based upon the use of energy. SO. wind turbines and solar will never ever ever ever ever ever (ever) replace oil. THE ONLY POSSIBLE ALTERNATIVE IS NUCLEAR. the only thing i can't see being able to use cheap electricity is air travel. everything else in our modern society can probably transfer to working primarily off electricity. there's still plenty of work to be done on the storage of that electricity, however.

we're not even a century into nuclear technology. it's entirely possible that the oil situation will be the necessity that drives further innovation. and it has the benefit of not producing more emissions. and regarding the safety of nuclear.. well.. hey how safe is oil extraction and consumption?

i really had hoped that Japan would have led the way to a brighter nuclear future but then Fukushima happened and now they're just burning nat gas.

right now we're all living through essentially what the peak oil advocates theorized would happen: economic pain and the coexistent negative/slow growth.
posted by ninjew at 1:03 PM on April 29, 2013


Nobody should comment here until they've read Charles C. Mann's essay. He very, very smart, and has a pretty important insight that well exceeds the pull quote's absurd framing and the Atlantic's stupid title. Read the article: it probably doesn't say what you think it does.

Ok, I read about 3/4 before I just couldn't go on. Like most Antlatic articles, it is practically endless (too bad we can't use them for fuel). Does he ever produce any numbers for the whole hydrate thing, or does it stay in the realm of "no one can say how much is recoverable" for the whole thing?
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 1:03 PM on April 29, 2013


wind turbines and solar will never ever ever ever ever ever (ever) replace oil.

"Saying science can't do something is like playing pool against a guy named after a state. You may be winning now, but don't leave your money on the table too long."
-- Etrigan's father, who was named after a county but knew his limits
posted by Etrigan at 1:08 PM on April 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


If someone is interested, this is relevant: Hotelling's rule
posted by Riton at 1:16 PM on April 29, 2013


So, I did a bit of googling and can't tell where, if anywhere, Kunstler falls on the crank-o-meter. Anybody know?

modern architecture - not cranky at all

the big box, shopping mall suburbs - still not cranky

peak oil and "the long emergency" - somewhat cranky, hard to tell

a forced mass movement towards 19th century lifestyle and economy - pretty cranky

tattoos - my crank-o-meter broke
posted by pyramid termite at 1:29 PM on April 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


Regarding Hotelling's rule, quoted from the link above:
"While the rule predicts an exponentially increasing resource prices, the results of the empirical studies are not in tandem with the rule. The results so far showed either declining or constant resource prices over time."

"the results of empirical studies are not in tandem with the rule" - is that some wacky economist way of saying "the math works out but reality doesn't work that way"?
posted by idiopath at 1:31 PM on April 29, 2013


Just when you thought The Atlantic couldn't get any worse...
posted by Apropos of Something at 2:07 PM on April 29, 2013


THE ONLY POSSIBLE ALTERNATIVE IS NUCLEAR

Nuclear fuel is no more abundant than oil or gas for conventional light water reactors, according to Sorenson. Fusion technology is always 'a decade away', and will likely have radioactive containment issues; I wouldn't throw away renewable energy just yet.
posted by Comrade_robot at 2:08 PM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


So, Zeno's spaceships in action then. And maybe not "really" run out, but if you can't get to that last 1/10000th of a microounce, you are "effectively" run out.

Just like the battery in my cell phone; sure, there's some juice left, but it can't use it.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 2:16 PM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oil that no one can afford to use becasue it is so expensive to extract isn't functionally different than actually running out. Even if we know exactly how to extract it.
posted by Mitheral at 2:19 PM on April 29, 2013


"the results of empirical studies are not in tandem with the rule" - is that some wacky economist way of saying "the math works out but reality doesn't work that way"?

Yes, absolutely. However, common sense (and many economic papers) tend to see Hotelling's rule as still valid, and the econometric studies that tried to empirically prove it as flawed.

In a few words, the measure that the OP's first link puts forward as cost of production (EROEI) is still not decreasing because technology advances are moving at a faster pace than the corresponding rarefaction of the ressource. Therefore we are not in a regimen where Hotelling's rule can be witnessed, as if EROEI doesn't decrease, there is no reason for energy prices to go up.

The argument behind Hotelling (and its consequences) is that once we max out on technology barriers, then EROEI will decrease, then prices will go up, until they surpass the prices of the next exhaustible ressource, we will switch to that ressource, etc... Until we "max" out on all the exhaustible ressources, at which point we will be forced (through gradual pricing out rather than the oft-described 'omg we ran out of energy sources it's the end') to use renewable energy.

I thought one of the interesting points of the Atlantic article was that it was unclear that the economic forces through which we will be forced to switch to renewable ressources were going to be fast enough VS the speed at which irreversible damage is made to the environment.
posted by Riton at 2:33 PM on April 29, 2013


Holy link dump, Batman!

Back in 1989 NOVA ran an episode, "The World is Full of Oil" that made many of these points.

I would love for us to run, gradually, out of oil before we kill the damn planet with the stuff. It is not going to happen.
posted by LarryC at 3:29 PM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Atlantic article is indeed a very good, if long and nuanced, read. Like Mann's other writings, it's an exploration about how things can change in unpredictable, remarkable, always interesting, and sometimes frightening ways.

If anything, the Mann article vindicates quite well Julian Simon's ideas, for better or worse.
posted by 2N2222 at 3:45 PM on April 29, 2013


Carbon bubble: $6 trillion of new investments at risk

Coal's burnout: Have investors moved on to cleaner energy sources?

Carbon bubble is real, yo, and a lot of bankers and insurance companies are getting increasingly concerned about it. I think many people underestimate how quickly the price of renewables is dropping, and how quickly the efficiency of them is rising. It is going to kill conventional investment really quickly once it reaches critical mass, and all you have to do is look how the market responds to innovation to see it.

China's putting in a cap-and-trade, and will likely drag several regional and worldwide allies along with them; Europe could try pulling its head out of its arse and focusing on the actually-most-important thing and fix its ETS.

These changes are happening and are picking up speed. Finally, finally, climate change action is - in most of the world - inching towards being a bipartisan priority, in word if not in deed yet.
posted by smoke at 4:35 PM on April 29, 2013


Because it's cut to all hell, so you can spend £50 and not get high, whereas a £2 bottle of Diamond White will get you drunk all day.

You forget, this is a heroin addict we're talking about. It's not like addictions are interchangeable. He needs heroin, no matter how expensive it is.

Likewise, our whole world is addicted to oil. You can't just put sun into the fuel tank of a cargo ship fleet.
posted by ymgve at 5:18 PM on April 29, 2013


We have a supply of very cheap energy hitting our planet every day. It is so frustrating to think we spend so much money on extracting dead dinosaurs and plants instead of harnessing all the wasted energy the sun throws out every day.
posted by UseyurBrain at 5:31 PM on April 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


ninjew: right now we're all living through essentially what the peak oil advocates theorized would happen: economic pain and the coexistent negative/slow growth.

Already? I was expecting more brown-outs. Isn't what we're living through now the economic mismanagement pre-show, as the wizards who run the world economy rig up some schemes to extract as much value as they can before the whole thing collapses? Seriously, I don't think we've lived through anything yet.
posted by sneebler at 5:59 PM on April 29, 2013



Already? I was expecting more brown-outs


"The future is here. It's just not evenly distributed."

The Devil always takes the hindmost. Brownouts have escalated to daily blackouts in Pakistan, where some areas get 6 hours of electricity a day.
posted by ocschwar at 7:33 PM on April 29, 2013


This perspective has a corollary: natural resources cannot be used up. If one deposit gets too expensive to drill, social scientists (most of them economists) say, people will either find cheaper deposits or shift to a different energy source altogether

This is free market Lysenkoism. To spell out the obvious: for people to find a cheaper deposit or a different energy source, it has to fucking exist. For it to exist, it has to have been created by the evolution of our planet and sun. If it doesn't exist, no interplay of supply and demand will make it exist.

Yes, free market mechanisms are very effective at steering efforts towards finding resources efficiently. But when the resources don't exist, they don't get brought to market. If you want one example, look at how society coped with the depletion of whale oil. No, people didn't just switch to kerosene. They switched to sleeping a whole lot more, because kerosene is literally sickening. They switched to using kerosene only when they reall needed to, and sleeping in the dark the rest of the time. Same deal with fossil fuels. The interplay of supply and demand does not mean there won't be hardship. There will be. There already is. And there will be a whole lot more hardship on part of a whole lot more people if these pundits keep leading our countries down the primrose path.
posted by ocschwar at 7:39 PM on April 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


Energy supplies are effectively infinite, as long as society chooses among widespread famine, war, reversion to pre-industrial-age technology, draconian reproductive laws, and/or living in a hellish Giedi-Prime-like industrial wasteland with the sun blotted out by our power plants’ choking exhaust or artificial photosynthetic surface areas. Or we get really lucky and figure out fusion sometime soon.
posted by mubba at 9:21 PM on April 29, 2013


From Scientific American there is about 200 years of easily extractable Uranium at current consumption rates. While not infinite, there is then 60K years of Uranium in seawater.
Two technologies could greatly extend the uranium supply itself. Neither is economical now, but both could be in the future if the price of uranium increases substantially. First, the extraction of uranium from seawater would make available 4.5 billion metric tons of uranium—a 60,000-year supply at present rates. Second, fuel-recycling fast-breeder reactors, which generate more fuel than they consume, would use less than 1 percent of the uranium needed for current LWRs. Breeder reactors could match today's nuclear output for 30,000 years using only the NEA-estimated supplies.
Add in probable decreases in solar prices, increasing GDP per capita and it looks like running out of energy will take a while.
posted by sien at 9:44 PM on April 29, 2013


Uh... infinite or approaching a finite limit over human-effective infinite time?
posted by Slackermagee at 9:45 PM on April 29, 2013


Slackermagee: neither.

One of the things that I didn't appreciate until relatively late in the discussions on peak oil is that the economic pain doesn't start when the oil runs out. It doesn't even start when the oil production rate sags. The economic pain starts when the oil production rate grows more slowly than demand. This apparently happened for conventional oil in 2004 or so, which is when OPEC recommended that the cartel countries sell oil at 100% of their capacity for the first time, and was more or less coincident with the jump in US gasoline prices from $1/gallon to $3/gallon, where they are now.

So if you're like LarryC and you want to see what it looks like to run out of oil gradually, look at the last ten years. It's as good as it's going to get: we got fracking, some heavy industries switching to natural gas, and this sort of wide-eyed breathlessness about methane hydrates.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 11:07 PM on April 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


So how am I supposed to interpret this?
posted by astrofinch at 12:56 AM on April 30, 2013


From your link, astrofinch

This estimate, corresponding to 500-2500 gigatonnes carbon (Gt C), is smaller than the 5000 Gt C estimated for all other geo-organic fuel reserves but substantially larger than the ~230 Gt C estimated for other natural gas sources.[18][20] The permafrost reservoir has been estimated at about 400 Gt C in the Arctic,[21][citation needed] but no estimates have been made of possible Antarctic reservoirs. These are large amounts, for comparison the total carbon in the atmosphere is around 700 gigatons.[22]

The depressing number for me is that our atmosphere contains 700Gt of carbon. If I'm reading that correctly, it's about a 2:1 relationship of Gt to co2 ppm (700gt=400ppm). Add 230 Gt of natural gas gets us to 500ppm. Let's say there are 1000Gt of methane hydrates usable. That takes us to 1000ppm in the atmosphere.

Let's hope methane hydrate doesn't pan out as an economically viable energy source.
posted by karst at 4:56 AM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Devil always takes the hindmost.

The apocalypse is already here; it's just not evenly distributed yet.
posted by aramaic at 5:57 AM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


anotherpanacea: Nobody should comment here until they've read Charles C. Mann's essay. He very, very smart, and has a pretty important insight that well exceeds the pull quote's absurd framing and the Atlantic's stupid title. Read the article: it probably doesn't say what you think it does.
To be fair to him, that idiotic sentence seems to have been crafted by the interviewer.

I swear to FSM, some days I'd support a law that forbids science reporting by anyone without a science degree. Make it a capital offense.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:33 PM on April 30, 2013


I dunno. In context, it's all about letting Adelman look as crazy as he is, which is why there's the dig against economists. The whole point Mann is focusing on is that "running out" matters a lot less than exacerbating climate change. Peak Oil is a red herring, and so refuting peak oil shouldn't give us any real confidence.
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:51 PM on April 30, 2013


more The Atlantic: Learning To Live With Fossil Fuels - "We can't address climate change without carbon reduction, but we also can't afford to neglect a vital second option: carbon capture."

Mother Jones: Cap-and-Trade In Europe Is Working Just Fine
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:50 PM on April 30, 2013


EROEI is already in serious decline. Energy is expensive (except for US fracced gas, because it can't currently be exported in enough quantity to sate the Euro and Asian demand) and look at the price of oil, even in the cyclical low this month over $90 a barrel.
How can the author make an argument that energy prices can be solved by market forces with a straight face?
Sure, kerogen, hydrates, Jupiters moons, fusion etc. are all sources of energy, but none are a suitable replacement for the $15 a barrel crude that supported the world economy in the 1990s, even without the tragedy of climate change.
By all means wish and hope that a technological solution will arrive, but don't rely on it, which is the stupid argument being made.
We have solar and gas that can deliver most of our energy requirements affordably, if we agree cooperate like adults, but I can't see that happening.
posted by bystander at 11:07 PM on April 30, 2013


A Failure To Plan Is Planning To Fail
posted by homunculus at 1:01 PM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Case For Fossil Fuel Divestment
Will Fossil Fuels Be Able to Maintain Economic Growth? A Q&A with Charles Hall - "The inventor of the energy return on investment (EROI) metric argues that economic growth could soon stop—and that we need to get smart about incorporating the true cost of fuel in energy policies"
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:53 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Do The Math: The Energy-Water Nexus

Chris Nelder: Are Methane Hydrates Really Going To Change Geopolitics?
Mann replies: Yes, Unconventional Fossil Fuels Are That Big Of A Deal

Amory Lovins counters: It Doesn't Matter If We Never Run Out Of Oil - We Won't Want To Burn It Anymore
Mann responds: No, Really, We're Going To Keep Burning Oil, And Lots Of It
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:40 PM on May 15, 2013


Energy Remains As Dirty As Ever Despite Rise Of Renewable Energy. A PDF from the IEA covers how economic forces, specifically the adoption of coal-fired powerplants in developing countries, offsets effeciancy gains and renewable power generation in developed countries.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:32 AM on May 17, 2013


Koch Brothers Dump Three-Story Pile of Toxic Byproduct on Detroit
posted by homunculus at 12:33 PM on May 18, 2013


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