Join 3,497 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Post Peak Oil Post
October 22, 2007 5:58 AM   Subscribe

"The world is at the beginning of a structural change of its economic system. This change will be triggered by declining fossil fuel supplies and will influence almost all aspects of our daily life." The new Oil Report from Energy Watch Group makes a strong case that we have now passed peak oil.

It identifes 2006 as the year of global peak oil, with a 7% annual fall in production from now on. They make no predictions regarding future prices, though many options traders are betting on $100/barrel within a month. The Guardian have some additional background on the report. (previously)
posted by roofus (87 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Well, I guess the only thing to do now is for us to invade a country with huge, untapped oil reserves and foment a perpetual internal conflict there, necessitating the establishment of a permanent military presence to secure those reserves for our country's corporations under the smokescreen of bring peace and stability to the poor fuckers.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 6:10 AM on October 22, 2007 [8 favorites]


Oil discovery has been declining since the 1960s or 1970s (IIRC). I remember another peak oil thread, someone was posting news articles about new oil being discovered. Of course, the guy had failed to add the figures up, if he had he would have discovered that the total discovery would was less then global annual production.

I also remember a 'analyst' on one of those finance networks (cnbc, for example) talking about how he thought Oil would get down to $15 a barrel.

Keep in mind, though, how weak the dollar is now$100/barrel is only €69/barrel. Fairly close to where it was a couple years ago.
posted by delmoi at 6:11 AM on October 22, 2007


Boone Pickens says oil on its way to $100 a barrel.

Trillions in spending needed to meet global oil and gas demand, analysis shows.
posted by stbalbach at 6:14 AM on October 22, 2007


Keep in mind, though, how weak the dollar is now$100/barrel is only €69/barrel. Fairly close to where it was a couple years ago.

This.
posted by Slothrup at 6:19 AM on October 22, 2007


Its ok, cold fusion is only 20 years away.
posted by T.D. Strange at 6:20 AM on October 22, 2007


Well said delmoi, problem is that everyone is dumping the dollar. And this drives the barrel-per-dollar figure high. Just bought 3700 liters Heating oil for the home, paid less than last year.

If you get paid in dollars, of course this sucks. But maybe this will be the "push" needed for America to start with renewable energy, wind /solar, the lot.
posted by elcapitano at 6:29 AM on October 22, 2007


Its ok, cold fusion is only 20 years away.

But we'll hit peak JRun production in 2012.
posted by demagnetized at 6:30 AM on October 22, 2007 [3 favorites]


Does it matter if peak oil was today, is today or will be tomorrow? Oil is a bad idea even if it were in infinite supply. We need something else, such as (cellulosic) ethanol, solar, wind, geothermal or, even better, a combination of all the above.
posted by DU at 6:33 AM on October 22, 2007


Was yesterday. Damn timelag--I really need to sleep better after my jaunts to the Jurassic.
posted by DU at 6:34 AM on October 22, 2007


High oil prices have made it economically feasible to exploit the tar sands of northern Alberta. You don't even want to imagine the landscape there after they finish shaving off the topsoil and polluting all of the water there.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:36 AM on October 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


Something doesn't seem right with the Euro price comparison. I thought oil prices were attached to the dollar in some way, that it is traded internationally with dollars, a currency conversion to dollars takes place first. Meaning the price of oil is going up, but its being offset for consumers in Europe because of a weakening dollar against the Euro. This gives the "illusion", for European consumers, that global oil prices are not going up.
posted by stbalbach at 6:43 AM on October 22, 2007


I've followed the peak oil argument for a few years now and some of the folks involved in the discussion make some very well reasoned and thought out arguments (Matt Simmons). A big part of the problem with studying oil is the incredible dearth of verifiable data from the big players such as Saudi Arabia. They refuse to openly show their books or provide detailed information on the state of their oil fields.

Hence, there's a lot that we just don't know.

There is also another issue at play here, and that is the evolving nature of the market. There is anecdotal evidence that with the high price of petroleum that past three years (historically) that there is a shift occurring at the margins both in consumption (more fuel efficient cars) and in production (formerly unprofitable fields are now profitable and exploration in high cost areas is now profitable).

The result is a slowing/decline in demand along with an increase in supply. I'm cutting a lot of nuance out of the argument here for the sake of time. In essence, along with a coming economic slowdown, we could see the arrival of "peak" being pushed off by a number of years.

All that being said, the point is that oil is a finite resource at eventually, we will use it all up. We may be able to extend that timeline, but ultimately it will catch us.
posted by tgrundke at 6:47 AM on October 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


KokuRyu: Not to mention the Arctic oil fields which are now becoming accessible thanks to climate change. Canada is in a very good position, if only the rest of the world could say the same.

stbalbach, I believe you are correct, the barrel (at least the OPEC barrel) is dollar-denominated, meaning that OPEC accepts only dollars. Iran accepts euros, though.

This is also connected to the viability of the USA's current significant deficit, as demand for dollars globally is kept high (as they are needed to buy oil).
posted by mek at 6:50 AM on October 22, 2007


KokyRyu - the tar sands have been explored and they are 'drilling' there, but many of the players are discovering that the tar sands concept is horribly overhyped, extremely expensive, environmentally disastrous and more speciifically a net energy consumer instead of producer. When you consider the amount of energy required to draw out a barrel of tar sands oil you're at a break even/small loss standpoint.
posted by tgrundke at 6:51 AM on October 22, 2007


DU - good comment. A proper energy policy requires a multi-tiered approach that doesn't rely on any one specific energy product. I'm not sold on ethanol simply because of the amount of energy inputs that goes into getting something out (something like 1 input for every .25 - .5 output for a very small net improvement). Solar, wind, ethanol, nuclear in concert would all help immensely.

Another point to consider is the fact that the United States cannot really afford to lose the petrodollar market that it has with the middle east. In essence, we buy billions in oil from Saudi Arabia, who then in turns takes those billions of dollars to make investments in United States treasuries and securities. Oil is a gigantic liquidity generator for the US government and Wall Street. We cannot afford to cut off this system cold turkey just yet.

It would be nice to see the US try and ween itself, however....
posted by tgrundke at 6:56 AM on October 22, 2007


"...many options traders are betting on $100/barrel within a month..."

The thing that always bugs me about these newspaper articles is they talk about these prices as if purely crossing price barrier X is significant in and of itself.

Now oil with a sustained price of over $100 a barrel? That's significant.

Also significant and to reiterate points up thread - concerns that The Saudi's have deliberately misstated their reserves.

FWIW, I'm long oil, in my retirement account, I'm that convinced higher prices are coming.
posted by Mutant at 7:00 AM on October 22, 2007


stbalbach, you are correct. If the increase in the price of oil were solely due to the declining dollar, oil should be cheaper for Europeans than it was a couple of years ago. The fact that it is the same means that the inherent value of oil (supply vs demand regardless of currency) has increased.

The declining dollar is only a component of the problem. Increased demand from emerging markets like china has also caused raised the price of oil (or increased its value, if you will). In addition, the decline in production (which is due in part to the inability to get anything out of Iraq, which is not a peak oil problem) has also contributed.

The problem with peak oil is that "global reserves" often do not include Canada's tar sands. Canada has about 170 billion barrels, and is only producing about 1.3 billion a year. And most (nearly all) of Canada's production comes to the US.

The issue is considerably more complex than this report, from a group funded and staffed by renewable energy companies in Europe, would have you believe.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:04 AM on October 22, 2007


I'm not sold on ethanol simply because of the amount of energy inputs that goes into getting something out...

I think you must be thinking of non-cellulosic ethanol.
posted by DU at 7:08 AM on October 22, 2007


"For this reason the Energy Watch Group was founded due to the initiative of the German parliamentarian Hans-Josef Fell and further parliamentarians from other countries. It is supported by the Ludwig-Bölkow-Foundation. In this project scientists are working on studies independently of Government and company interests concerning

- the shortage of fossil and atomic energy
resources,
- development scenarios for regenerative energy
sources as well as
- strategies deriving from these for a long-term
secure energy supply at affordable prices.

The scientists are therefore collecting and analysing not only ecological but above all economical and technological connections. The results of these studies are to be presented not only to experts but also to the politically interested public."


Who are these shady renewable energy companies not declaring their interests Pastabagel?
posted by roofus at 7:12 AM on October 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


Marc Farber on higher oil prices:

"In fact, if we look at what happened to per capita oil consumption during phases of industrialization in the US between 1900 and 1970, we see that per capita consumption rose from one barrel per year to around 28 barrels. In the case of Japan's industrialization between 1950 and 1970 and South-Korea's between 1965 and 1990, per capita oil consumption rose from one barrel to 17 barrels.

In the case of China, oil demand per capita is still only 1.7 barrels per year, and for India it has only reached 0.7 barrels."


I've seen similar data in academic papers but can't cite at the moment as they're on another Mac. I've been mulling over this information for a while now, and these views have helped me decide to move some of my retirement money into oil.
posted by Mutant at 7:13 AM on October 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


It would be nice to see the US try and ween itself, however....

Its not going to happen. Not without a revolution or a Nuclear Holocaust or something like that.

Turning down the "Oil-Dollar Free Money Valve" means that politicians will be forced to go to the voters and say "listen folks, we can't afford a trillion dollar war and a trillion dollar Medicare drug benefit at the same time. Grandma can get her meds and live another 10 years or she can die while we invade some other country. Also, we can either fund the new Joint Strike Fighter program (~5 billion) or the Center for Disease Control (~4.2 billion) -- pick one."

That brutal honesty in itself might be enough to cause a revolution. Thats why they'll never let it happen. They'll invade Saudi Arabia and establish a petro-dollar puppet regime before they let them or anyone else switch to Euros. Make no mistakes, the elites of this country will do absolutely anything to ensure that the largest ponzi scheme in history continues.

Honestly? That scares me more than expensive gas.
posted by Avenger at 7:15 AM on October 22, 2007 [7 favorites]


From the Scientists page. Not all are companies, some are institutes, but the iinterests are all the same.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:22 AM on October 22, 2007


It's not like the world is going to run out of energy, just cheap oil. When the price gets high enough people will become motivated to invest in alternatives that scale up, and of course in better conservation. Also, time to dust off those nukular power plant plans.
posted by caddis at 7:23 AM on October 22, 2007


Honestly? That scares me more than expensive gas.
posted by Avenger at 10:15 AM on October 22


FYI, the price of gas has been declining while the price of oil is rising. Gas is cheaper now than it was when oil was $70/bbl.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:24 AM on October 22, 2007


>> It would be nice to see the US try and ween itself, however....
>
> Its not going to happen. Not without a revolution or a Nuclear Holocaust or something like that.

Safe prediction: if oil runs out, weanage happens.
posted by jfuller at 7:33 AM on October 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


High speed rail links--- over my cold fusion.
posted by acro at 7:48 AM on October 22, 2007


Meaning the price of oil is going up, but its being offset for consumers in Europe because of a weakening dollar against the Euro. This gives the "illusion", for European consumers, that global oil prices are not going up.

Can you hook me up with the supplier that can give me this illusion you speak of?
posted by srboisvert at 7:58 AM on October 22, 2007


It's not like the world is going to run out of energy, just cheap oil.

This is where you're wrong - a post-oil world will be the stone-age part two.

Nuclear, renewable energies, switch grass... all of these energy sources (when they are not out right fraudulent capitulation to certain special interests) are prohibitivly expensive, inefficient, and sorry substitutions for oil.

It's not like we're going to flip a collective switch within our society and economy and say, "Okay, we're done with fossil fuels now, let's go nuclear..." No. For one, you can't swap infrastructures that easily. Building solar panels, nuclear power plants, windmills, whatever requires a gradual ramp up - the opportunity for which we've already missed. There isn't enough oil in the ground left to fuel the cement trucks to build the nuke plants in order to replace watt for watt the power we take for granted.

We're talking energy famine here. We're talking a few mega cities which still have electricity separated by miles of darkness where people (the ones not starved by the loss of the 5,000 mile caesar salad) will live on subsistence farming and go blind trying to teach their children to read by candle light.
posted by wfrgms at 8:00 AM on October 22, 2007 [2 favorites]


Oh please. Why not just walk around carrying a sign saying "Repent Sinners, the End is Near"?
posted by caddis at 8:03 AM on October 22, 2007


There isn't enough oil in the ground left to fuel the cement trucks to build the nuke plants in order to replace watt for watt the power we take for granted.

I call BS.
posted by DU at 8:14 AM on October 22, 2007


"I call BS"

But you have to admit it is almost poetic; the ones not starved by the loss of the 5,000 mile caesar salad.

Wow. I grew up in the country, maybe six hundred miles from Manhattan and I don't know that I ever ate a caesar salad until I moved to The City. But even so, I do know if it ever looked like I was gonna starve to death because I couldn't get my usual caesar salad made from greens trucked some 5,000 miles, why I guess I'd head out in to the fields and collect me some cabbage.

Most people, though, probably aren't so proactive.
posted by Mutant at 8:25 AM on October 22, 2007


wfrgms: "We're talking a few mega cities which still have electricity separated by miles of darkness where people will live on subsistence farming and go blind trying to teach their children to read by candle light."

Compared to folks in the mega cities, us subsistence farmers in the country will be just fine. Because we'll have all the food.
posted by ewagoner at 8:33 AM on October 22, 2007


all of these oil based sources (when they are not out right fraudulent capitulation to certain special interests) are prohibitivly expensive, inefficient, and sorry substitutions for horses

- from a metafilter thread in 1907 - the poster goes on about how by the year 1935, the streets of every american city will be 8 feet deep in horseshit and the collapse of our civilization is therefore inevitable

infant technologies tend to be expensive and inefficient - as they mature, they get much better
posted by pyramid termite at 8:36 AM on October 22, 2007 [3 favorites]


Switching our energy source from oil to something else is going to be costly and time consuming. It really comes down to how fast can the cost rise? If it's a nice steady increase, Caddis gets his gradual transition. If we wake up one day and oil has jumped from $100 to $200/barrel, there's going to be serious pain around the globe.

To address tgrundke's comment:
"The result is a slowing/decline in demand along with an increase in supply."

That only holds if there's enough unprofitable fields to make up for the lose of cheap oil. Otherwise, all it will do is slow the decrease.
posted by ShadowCrash at 8:38 AM on October 22, 2007


Compared to folks in the mega cities, us subsistence farmers in the country will be just fine. Because we'll have all the food.

But the megacity people will have all the electricity they can eat!
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:08 AM on October 22, 2007


Compared to folks in the mega cities, us subsistence farmers in the country will be just fine. Because we'll have all the food.

Um. No you won't.

Welcome to the new Serf class, my friend. Enjoy your 15 hour days and weekly turnip.
posted by tkchrist at 9:24 AM on October 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


Compared to folks in the mega cities, us subsistence farmers in the country will be just fine. Because we'll have all the food.
But the megacity people will have all the electricity subsistence farmers they can eat!
posted by mullingitover at 9:31 AM on October 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


While wfrgms' prediction is (I hope) overstated, his central thesis is essentially correct. We've addicted ourselves to cheap, plentiful oil, gasoline that retails for 10 cents a cup, and haven't really pushed for efficiency standards in production or consumption because, very simply, nothing has forced us to.

“from a metafilter thread in 1907 - the poster goes on about how by the year 1935, the streets of every american city will be 8 feet deep in horseshit and the collapse of our civilization is therefore inevitable.”

By 1907 the internal combustion engine was 100 years old, and had been used in automobiles for over a decade. The basic technology was there, and could be projected forward. That isn't the case now. There is no combination of alternative (non-hydrocarbon) energy sources that can supply our energy needs and be rolled out in the time we have. We'd need to embark on a crash course of developing nuclear power stations, completing one per month, starting right now to meet the energy defecit projected from declining oil reserves. At the same time, we'd need to completely revamp city infrastructures, personal transportation, food production, manufacturing - in short, our entire way of life - in order to be close to making a seamless transition. This isn't happening.

pyramid, your analogy only works if there's a contagious, endemic disease that's sterilizing the horses, and the internal combustion engine is still twenty years away.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 9:32 AM on October 22, 2007 [4 favorites]



infant technologies tend to be expensive and inefficient - as they mature, they get much better

Yes. You realize what happended, say, when localities ran out of available fire wood and learned to use coke and coal... the transition time was more than a scant few years. Cities and towns were nearly abandoned in some areas. Entire societies had to relocate. Lots of people died.
posted by tkchrist at 9:32 AM on October 22, 2007


Surely the depopulation caused by mass mortality from H5N1 will reduce demand to a ghost of its former self, and the subsequent extinguishing of all human life from MRSA infections will take care of the rest.
posted by briank at 9:45 AM on October 22, 2007


There is no combination of alternative (non-hydrocarbon) energy sources that can supply our energy needs and be rolled out in the time we have.

assuming that what we use and what we "need" is the same thing

my analogy was dead on, as a) the transition from horses to automobiles was hardly painless or casual b) nuclear, wind, solar, etc have been around for many years - wind for over 100 - c) we have revamped our entire way of life several times and expecting a seamless transition is not a realistic goal

Yes. You realize what happended, say, when localities ran out of available fire wood and learned to use coke and coal... the transition time was more than a scant few years. Cities and towns were nearly abandoned in some areas. Entire societies had to relocate. Lots of people died.

sources? and if you're talking about the industrial revolution, you are way oversimplifying a very complex subject
posted by pyramid termite at 9:52 AM on October 22, 2007


Nuclear, renewable energies, switch grass... all of these energy sources (when they are not out right fraudulent capitulation to certain special interests) are prohibitivly expensive, inefficient, and sorry substitutions for oil.

Well, that's not necessarily a perspective everyone shares.

IMO, the problem is that until now, there's been no real necessity to move away from oil. Once it becomes a real crisis and the necessity is there, we'll find innovative ways to make the transition. The only reason we haven't already begun making serious innovations is that there's so much institutional inertia in maintaining the current oil-dependent economic system.

And of course now such a transition away from oil may also be complicated by the accelerating pace of climate change and the negative economic impacts we're just beginning to see from that.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:06 AM on October 22, 2007


The "Energy Watch Group" is a lobby group, run by 3rd class wanna be scientist. Wonder how they made it into the Guardian.

But "The German policy, which guarantees above-market payments to producers of renewable power, is being adopted in many countries" is a nice desription of subvention and distribution from the poor to the rich.

But now, since Al Gore has received the Peace Noble prize I guess climatefacism will take over.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 10:11 AM on October 22, 2007


There is no combination of alternative (non-hydrocarbon) energy sources that can supply our energy needs and be rolled out in the time we have.

But we got coal. Not that it would be pretty, but our easiest option right now is to go to a coal/fuel cell economy. The doom and gloom will have to wait till peak coal.

I don't think going to an all coal based energy system will be a good thing, just that it is the most likely scenario.
posted by afu at 10:24 AM on October 22, 2007


you are way oversimplifying a very complex subject

I hope you're not oblivious to the irony of that statement, bro.
posted by tkchrist at 10:25 AM on October 22, 2007


But maybe this will be the "push" needed for America to start with renewable energy, wind /solar, the lot.

Or possibly a push for the administration to do something worse.

I thought oil prices were attached to the dollar in some way, that it is traded internationally with dollars, a currency conversion to dollars takes place first. Meaning the price of oil is going up, but its being offset for consumers in Europe because of a weakening dollar against the Euro. This gives the "illusion", for European consumers, that global oil prices are not going up.

Yes, most oil is sold in dollars. But if most world currencies are gaining ground against the greenback, which they are, then it's not the price that's going up, it's the dollar that's going down—it's not just less oil that it buys—it's less wood, less steel, etc.
posted by oaf at 10:26 AM on October 22, 2007


But we got coal.

Coal is somewhat plentiful but very labor intensive and dangerous to mine. And it won't supply the same needs that fossil fuels do... like fertilizers and plastics, etc. But it can help ease the pain of transition. However, only to a small degree. The infrastructure to mine, transport, and generate energy from coal are still monopolized by developed countries.

We won't revert to the stone age. But in the developing world people will die at an accelerated rate over the next 200 years. From war, famine, and economic disruption. World population will contract. There is no avoiding that.

Oil economies, and oil technologies, have made feeding people very, very easy. It's no accident population growth coincided with fossil fuel technology.

In oils absence there is no alternative agro technology or (macro) economic incentive to keep feeding people who won't be able to pay.
posted by tkchrist at 10:39 AM on October 22, 2007


I hope you're not oblivious to the irony of that statement, bro.

i'm still waiting for your sources for the statement you made - and by the way, my initial point was that wfrgms was oversimplifying things

But in the developing world people will die at an accelerated rate over the next 200 years. From war, famine, and economic disruption.

they already are - and the causes are not necessarily lack of oil energy although i'm sure that will have an impact when that happens
posted by pyramid termite at 10:54 AM on October 22, 2007


But we got coal.

You got to be kidding me. That would be disastrous. It's very harmful to the environment (soot and methane) *and* is of limited extend. Why, do you think coal reserves are unlimited? We are presently trying to drop coal from our energy producing sources.
posted by carmina at 11:03 AM on October 22, 2007


We really need to get started building more nuclear plants in the U.S. And I don't mean one here and one there; we're going to need a *lot* of them, 5 or 10 per state, at least. Let's say 10, to get us started, so that's 500 plants. I think they cost $4 or $5 billion each, let's say $5 billion, and that means we need about 2.5 trillion dollars worth of nuclear plants, and they should be begun as close to immediately as possible. Is that doable? Well, it would have been a helluva lot less painful if we hadn't blown a trillion or two getting rid of Saddam Hussein. (Who was a dick, to be sure, but goddamn, he was the most expensive dick in history.) But even so, it's doable; it just means our kids will pay for a lot of it. But hey, they're the ones who will make the most use of all the nuclear energy, so that doesn't seem nearly as unfair as making our kids pay for a whole lot of this stupid war in Iraq (which they will, unfair or not).

The important thing is, we need to realize that the crisis isn't some distant point in the future; it's basically on top of us right now, so every year we dilly-dally, the worse it's going to get before it begins to get better.
posted by jamstigator at 11:03 AM on October 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


*cuts sleeve off of leather jacket*
*attaches shoulder pad*
*revvs up last of the V-8 Interceptors*
posted by Smedleyman at 11:14 AM on October 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


That would be disastrous. It's very harmful to the environment...

Not trying to single out carmina, but let's be realistic for a second here.

The "environment" - that figurative, imaginative, interpretation of reality which has us idolizing soaring eagles, breeching humpbacks, white capped mountains, and humming "born free" as we marvel at "nature in all her glory" is not only some post-modern notion steeped in guilt, but also worth absolutely zilch when the chips are down.

That is if history is any guide. As human beings we'll saw every last tree, pollute every river, exterminate every animal whose fur, or blubber, or meat we need to survive and there isn't a one of us... no member of Greenpeace, nor card carrying Sierra Club eco warrior, who would spare the last right whale or buffalo if it meant the difference between feeding our children or watching them starve.

"Environmentalism" - that peachy-keen zen like backpacking experience is superfluous to human survival and thus has about as much value as any other fashion trend, which is none.

So when you say, "Oh no, we can't go back to coal, that would be disastrous for the environment," or, "We'll never tap that expensive Canadian oil shale because the environmental damage would be too high," just shut up, because we will. It may not be you, or your kids, or even your grandkids, but someone's kids at sometime in the not too distant future will look out at that virgin forest sitting atop the oil sands and say, "Well shit, we got nothing else left, let's go for it..."
posted by wfrgms at 11:39 AM on October 22, 2007 [4 favorites]


i'm still waiting for your sources for the statement you made

Then get comfortable. You will wait a long while. Because I won't play that game, buddy. I won't.

You can't seriously dispute what deforestation did to pre-industrial Europe, can you? Really?

Just as a side note every time somebody screams "cites!" and then that other person laboriously and dutifully posts cites the thread devolves into a credibility and semantic war over the cites.

I have yet to see somebody (except ME) on Metafilter, or the internet in general, go... "well your cites are compelling I retract my statements."

Well. Fuck that game. Dismiss what I said. Fine. I understand the need for verification and facts. But, if your interest is peaked look it up your self. It won't be that hard.
posted by tkchrist at 11:56 AM on October 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


wfrgms writes "It may not be you, or your kids, or even your grandkids, but someone's kids at sometime in the not too distant future will look out at that virgin forest sitting atop the oil sands and say, 'Well shit, we got nothing else left, let's go for it...'"

That's what I like about you, wfrgms: you're an optimist.
posted by mullingitover at 12:01 PM on October 22, 2007 [2 favorites]


*scratches head*

wfrgms, OTC, Walgreens. At the very least.
posted by carmina at 12:01 PM on October 22, 2007


“You can't seriously dispute what deforestation did to pre-industrial Europe, can you?”

Iceland - classic example. Although they had a lot of natural and human disasters as well deforestation almost wiped them out. Switched to geothermal and started re-planting their forests. (Bit of irony - they now read more books per capita than any other people in the world)
posted by Smedleyman at 12:08 PM on October 22, 2007


wfrgms, you forgot about hippies.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:08 PM on October 22, 2007


Yup, Smed. And think about deforestation in the UK. Energy and resource scarcity is a bitch.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deforestation

"A typical progress trap is that cities were often built in a forested area providing wood for some industry (e.g. construction, shipbuilding, pottery). When deforestation occurs without proper replanting, local wood supplies become difficult to obtain near enough to remain competitive, leading to the city's abandonment, as happened repeatedly in Ancient Asia Minor. The combination of mining and metallurgy often went along this self-destructive path."

"From 1100 to 1500 AD significant deforestation took place in Western Europe as a result of the expanding human population. The large-scale building of wooden sailing ships by European (coastal) naval owers since the 15th century for exploration, colonization, slave – and other trade on the high seas and (often related) naval warfare (the failed invasion of England by the Spanish Armada in 1559 and the battle of Lepanto 1577 are early cases of huge waste of prime timber; each of Nelson's Royal navy war ships at Trafalgar had required 6000 mature oaks) and piracy meant that whole woody regions were over-harvested, as in Spain, where this contributed to the paradoxical weakening of the domestic economy since Columbus' discovery of America made the colonial activities (plundering, mining, cattle, plantations, trade ...) predominant."

Norman F. Cantor's summary of the effects of late medieval deforestation applies equally well to Early Modern Europe:[17]

"Europeans had lived in the midst of vast forests throughout the earlier medieval centuries. After 1250 they became so skilled at deforestation that by 1500 AD they were running short of wood for heating and cooking. They were faced with a nutritional decline because of the elimination of the generous supply of wild game that had inhabited the now-disappearing forests, which throughout medieval times had provided the staple of their carnivorous high-protein diet. By 1500 Europe was on the edge of a fuel and nutritional disaster, [from] which it was saved in the sixteenth century only by the burning of soft coal and the cultivation of potatoes and maize."

I'm sure we could go on and on and on. But i have already violated one of my prime directives of making people do their own home work.
posted by tkchrist at 12:21 PM on October 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


tkchrist, I wouldn't bother, the point your making is not in question. I'm with you about "citation requests" on MeFi - this isn't Wikipedia and the point your making is not controversial, it's common knowledge for anyone that is informed on basic European history. If he doesn't want to believe it, forget it, this is supposed to be fun place to hang out, not some ugly Wikipedia talk page discussion. Sadly Wikipedia is creating a generation of NPOV and RS warriors - citations don't make something true, lack of citations doesn't mean it's wrong. Do your own research.
posted by stbalbach at 12:44 PM on October 22, 2007


it's common knowledge for anyone that is informed on basic European history.

I am woefully ignorant about basic European history, then, and would gladly welcome any opportunity that tkchrist takes to drop science. That Norman F. Cantor quote is deep.
posted by fleetmouse at 12:59 PM on October 22, 2007


"Environmentalism" - that peachy-keen zen like backpacking experience is superfluous to human survival and thus has about as much value as any other fashion trend, which is none.

Gee, wfrgms, you're right. Vague, airy-fairy (and quite frankly, irresponsible) ideas like thinking ahead and not making wasteful uses of the resources critical to our survival--hell, for that matter, even bothering at all over whether or not we're poisoning the water we drink or the food we eat--all such lofty, phony-baloney and sentimentalized ideas have absolutely zero to do with human survival, and so are bound to go the way of the dodo long before humans do.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:18 PM on October 22, 2007


saulgoodman, I'm not endorsing that view, I'm just saying that it's out there and it's held by most human beings. Even those among us who have the luxury of concerning themselves with the aesthetics of nature would, I'm betting, be willing to live in the here-and-now if it were a matter of survival.

Our energy rich society affords us (some of us, an elite few, at least) the ability to look ahead, consider the tragedy of every shaved mountain top and sludge filled river, and judge it immoral or not. In the absence of such energy wealth it is likely that the urge to conserve will be greatly diminished as people turn to day-to-day survival.

In other words, if we don't "get it" now, we're probably not ever going to be as well positioned to "get it" again in the future... that is, if human history heretofore is any guide (which I happen to think it is...) (See also: the fermi paradox)
posted by wfrgms at 2:15 PM on October 22, 2007


The shale sands and tars of (particularly) Canada and some adjacent US areas will never be economic to extract in large quantities because the costs associated with extraction are largely energy costs. And as energy costs rise, theoretically making the tars more valuable, the costs of extracting them rise at nearly the same rate (futher explanation). It's called Energy Returned On Energy Invested.

And thank god for it, or we would indeed be causing massive additional problems by extracting it, both locally and in climate terms.

The main reason these deposits are so useless is that they're exposed to the air, which means all the light, sweet hydrocarbons (read, the useful ones) have long since evaporated.

We're screwed, people, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of our lives, unless we make an investment in alternatives on the scale of the Apollo Programme.
posted by imperium at 2:19 PM on October 22, 2007


"Environmentalism" -wfrgms

In large part wfrgms is right. For all of human history selfish, short-sighted greed has ultimately overcome the need to live within our means. Small, closed environments like Easter Island have shown that we are perfectly capable of being the knowing architects of our own extinction.

Well, now we've grown so far that the whole world is one big Easter Island. Soon, we'll find out whether we can rise above the failings of our ancestors, and do what we know must be done.
posted by mr. strange at 2:49 PM on October 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


Even those among us who have the luxury of concerning themselves with the aesthetics of nature would

environmentalism != aesthetics of nature

But wait, I'm confused. Is that the view held by "most human beings", or are you playing the exception again?
posted by dreamsign at 3:09 PM on October 22, 2007


For everyone claiming that the US needs to start building nuclear power plants, DO SOME REASEARCH!

The US gets less than 2% of it's electrical energy from Petroleum. Nuclear energy is currently one of the three major ways the US produces electricity. Building a Nuclear Plant, or 2.5 trillion dollars worth of nuclear plants will not help your car move from the driveway. Nuclear power won't get that plane off the ground, that truck delivering groceries to your supermarket, or grow all that corn for your next bacon cheeseburger.

And for all you people offering history as a guide for how things will play out for the future, go read how history can not be used to predict the future.

After you figure out why history is a very poor guide for looking forward, you'll be halfway to figuring out why predicting peak oil and the future will make you a turkey.
posted by herda05 at 3:34 PM on October 22, 2007


herda05, I think the idea is that nuclear or other energy would come with other necessary infrastructure changes as well..
posted by romanb at 3:48 PM on October 22, 2007


We'll never tap that expensive Canadian oil shale because the environmental damage would be too high," just shut up, because we will.

We won't when it takes more energy to extract it than we get out of it.
posted by MillMan at 4:24 PM on October 22, 2007


Interesting quote:
Cambridge Energy Research Associates, a US-based energy consultancy, is damning in its assessment, saying that peak oil theory is garbage. Highly-respected energy economist Michael Lynch has described peak oil theorists as practising pseudo-science and claims that: "The quantitative models used by peak oil theorists would earn a university student in elementary statistics a failing grade".

Lynch also questions the quality of peak oil research, noting that nearly all of it has been published on the internet rather than in peer-reviewed journals.
posted by stbalbach at 4:26 PM on October 22, 2007


MillMan, you're assuming the only reason people want oil is for energy. There's use of oil directly for fertilizers and plastics, to name two. As long as those industries need oil, we'll go into 'energy-debt' to extract it.
posted by nomisxid at 4:36 PM on October 22, 2007


That Norman F. Cantor quote is deep.

Oh, his survey is pretty good but can be a little quirky and angular. Like in that quote, wild game was not a common source of food, except for the nobility, we know this based on garbage pit sites - it gives the appearance of people living off the land, it was true to some extent but not a huge amount, the nobility protected its hunting grounds, at least by the 11th century.

A somewhat more factual and less flamboyant survey is by Cantor's teacher and mentor Joseph Strayer, "The Middle Ages, 395-1500" (4th edition, 1952). Really excellent foundation.
posted by stbalbach at 4:38 PM on October 22, 2007


stbalbach, how is that quote interesting? CERA often says stupid things. Sometimes they're as extremist as the wildest doomer filling his bunker with canned soup and ammo. On the other hand, CERA's published reports are, from what I've seen, somehwat easier to read.

Building a Nuclear Plant, or 2.5 trillion dollars worth of nuclear plants will not help your car move from the driveway.

Right, it would help the people twenty years from now move their electric cars (plug-in hybrid, I mean) down the road. But who cares about those far-away future people? What have they ever done for us?

history can not be used to predict the future.

Sure, we all know that! Only the future can reliably be used to predict the future. If only we could better predict the past, maybe we'd know for sure if peak oil happened a year or two ago. Looks like a good possibility. The wave of new production that was supposed, according to some industry experts foolish enough to expect the same thing to happen as what they understand happened in the past, to be brought on by the high prices for oil (yes, it's risen in Euros too) is at least a year or two overdue by now.

Ah well, another peak oil thread on metafilter. That's a short-term sell signal for you futures traders out there. Ah well, life goes on. For every Easter Island, there's some other place like Iceland where people managed to do okay. Good luck to all you humans, with your civilizations and crude sources of energy! I predict that your future won't be as bad as some of you fear, or as easy as some of you hope, and those of you who neither fear nor hope had better watch out.
posted by sfenders at 4:39 PM on October 22, 2007


"The environment...worth absolutely zilch when the chips are down."

"Environmentalism" - that peachy-keen zen like backpacking experience is superfluous to human survival"
-wfrgms

Okay, I have serious problems with these comments. I realise you are trying to describe the mindset of the average person, sure, but I can't help but think you believe it yourself. The environment has never been superflous to survival, it's just that for most of our history, we haven't been numerous enough to affect it. Of course, there are several examples of environmental problems that have caused or contributed to the collapse of historical societies that existed in small numbers - when people were unlucky enough to settle in an area during a fertile period and overestimate it's capability to sustain them, damaging the environment and reducing arable land in the process, or taking agricultural methods suited to one climate (ie, with regular rainfall, soil restoration and fertility) to one with totally different conditions and a far more fragile environment ill-suited to high intensity agriculture. The idea that we can do whatever we want to the environment, and not have to care about the consequences is outdated and dangerously ignorant. It was only true for a short period of our history and in a minority of areas humans settled in. Total arable land continues to decline even now we have the knowledge necessary to prevent many of the processes that cause it, or more importantly, over farming and deforestation. Cheap, portable energy will soon be over, and none of us may see it return. I just hope that when the last factory, the last coal power plant finally shuts down, we have a world that's not only still habitable for most of the population, but a world that is capable of recovering.

The idea, the pure hubris and gall, to think that 315 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere will not affect us at all makes me think that maybe we aren't smart enough to last another thousand years.
posted by Dillonlikescookies at 5:00 PM on October 22, 2007


Quick! Somebody print this discussion to clay tablet, so we can read it later!
posted by DenOfSizer at 5:40 PM on October 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


And: all that plus no water. Man, we so fucking fucked ourselves.
posted by DenOfSizer at 5:45 PM on October 22, 2007


I have serious problems with these comments.

Of course you do. Comments such as, "The environment...worth absolutely zilch," are patently offensive to our sensibilities as reasonably self-aware citizens living in the 21st century. In your outrage however we (myself included) are in a tiny minority.

I can't help but think you believe it yourself.

Please do not mistake my stark statements as an endorsement. I'm very concerned for the environment and I strive to lead a responsible and semi-sustainable lifestyle. I don't own car, I live near my work and school, I ride a bicycle everywhere, etc, etc...

That said, I am a realist when it comes to issues of the environment and I feel that all too often environmentalism is fetishized by those who claim to be "green" or whatever. We've reached a point socially where even caring about the environment has become just another fashion statement.

Environmentalism is uniquely anthroprocentric. People say, "Let us preserve the environment for OUR children," or "Let's stop global warming before rising oceans deluge OUR cities..." as if the way the environment is right now (seemingly in the midst of a major extinction) is some how a high water mark which needs to be flash frozen and persevered for all ages.

The idea that we can do whatever we want to the environment, and not have to care about the consequences is outdated and dangerously ignorant.

Meh... it's nothing compared to the idea that we should stockpile tens of thousands of nuclear weapons. When you think about it we're closer to extinction right now than at any previous moment in our history save the Toba incident 75,000 years ago. After all, what does it take to have a nuclear war? Political tension, rivalry, what else? Things seem calm today compared to the Cuban Missile Crisis, but what will they be like 100, 1000, or 5000 years from now?

So, if environmentalism is about keeping the outdoors pristine for the humans, then it's a few degrees out of whack from what IMHO the real priorities should be... preventing nuclear war (number one) and preventing or surviving a cosmic impact (number two) ... after those two then we can worry about Japanese whaling boats or what Haliburton is up too...
posted by wfrgms at 6:13 PM on October 22, 2007


Things didn't work out so well for the sumerians, either. I think a lot of people assume that the "Fertile Crescent" was just some people clinging to the sides of a river in the middle of the desert. Human civilization is the story of envrionmental pillage, since agriculture ever so slowly poisons the soil through salination, even today (someone pointed to Australia upthread, for example). Hell, before the era of the phonecian traders, Jordan and Lebanon was filled with cedar trees the size of California Redwoods.
posted by absalom at 6:19 PM on October 22, 2007


Building a Nuclear Plant, or 2.5 trillion dollars worth of nuclear plants will not help your car move from the driveway.

Right, it would help the people twenty years from now move their electric cars (plug-in hybrid, I mean) down the road. But who cares about those far-away future people? What have they ever done for us?

My argument was simply against people who comment that peak oil has anything whatsoever to do with electricity generation in the US. If they do, it means they have little understanding of the peak oil problem. No petroleum means no transport, no petroleum derived products (almost anything not made of wood, stone or metal), and a real problem of food shortages. It does not mean no electricity. Nuclear power doesn't address any of these issues except maybe transportation.

However since you opened the door on nuclear power, I care enough about those far-away future people not to pass along another major environmental catastrophe to them. I'm sure future people would love to rise to the challenge of climate change and nuclear waste disposal (see I can use sarcasm too).

Seriously though, my idea of a solution to energy problems isn't to replace one rampaging elephant in the room for another. Nor do I have even an inkling of a solution (I wouldn't be here reading MeFi if I did, I'd be using the idea to provide house and home for the wife and kids). But I'm not going to sound off supporting the latest argument to revive a disaster of an industry.

I simply enjoy reading these posts for the amusement they give me. Watching 76 comments on something we have little to no accurate information about (and therefore is complete randomness).
posted by herda05 at 6:45 PM on October 22, 2007


Nuclear power doesn't address any of these issues except maybe transportation.

Other oil products are harder to replace, so we naturally look first at the largest single use, transportation fuels. It'll be a while yet before any really big demand exists for electric power in transportation, but it takes a while to build generating capacity too, so it seems a sensible thing to start encouraging. If it turns out that oil somehow remains plentiful for a few years longer than expected, the effort won't have been wasted. Even without the end of the age of oil, it would still be nice to replace coal. I heard a rumor somewhere that coal typically generates nearly as much radioactive waste as nuclear power generation, except that it spews it all directly into the atmosphere.

The game is to keep things running smoothly during the transition to whatever comes next, with as little famine and warfare as possible, while the supply of oil gradually decreases over many decades, the effects of climate change get worse, etc. Not an easy thing to think about. Meanwhile the human population, and demand for energy and food, are still increasing for now. Nobody can predict where things will end up by the time oil production goes to effectively zero, probably centuries from now. All we can do is try to encourage the possibility of a relatively good outcome by avoiding big mistakes. For example, collectively doing nothing about this until it gets really uncomfortable would be one of the easier mistakes to make. Pushing nuclear power might be non-optimal, but I think it would probably help a little.
posted by sfenders at 8:16 PM on October 22, 2007


Am I the only one that thinks oil isn't valuable for energy? I mean, shit, we burn the stuff and pay bugger-all for it. Is there anything else we call "valuable" that we burn?

I see the real value in oil as being in its uses for industrial chemical processes. I'm under the impression most of our plastics, fertilizers, paints, inorganic cloth and fiber, and so on are really reliant on oil. No oil = no cheap plastic shit, and we seem to need a whole lot of that.

Electric cars and alternative-fuel vehicles will replace our current gas-eating beasts. But what the heck is going to replace oil in the chemical industry?
posted by five fresh fish at 8:27 PM on October 22, 2007


Er, I guess I'm not. Herda appears to be of the same mind. :)
posted by five fresh fish at 8:28 PM on October 22, 2007


I'm sure we could go on and on and on. But i have already violated one of my prime directives of making people do their own home work.

1 - quite frankly, if it's your point you're trying to prove it's your homework you have to finish

2 - i actually don't have a problem with the sources you cite

3 - MY problem is that what you wrote isn't precisely what you meant

Yes. You realize what happended, say, when localities ran out of available fire wood and learned to use coke and coal... the transition time was more than a scant few years.

clearly, there's a suggestion here that one caused or transitioned to the other within a period of time that wasn't centuries, as your sources say

i actually thought you were talking about the industrial revolution - and claiming that the social upheaval and assorted deaths were caused by a lack of firewood, which seemed like a bizarre proposition to me

you were vague and unconcerned as to whether you were communicating precisely - and didn't give me any real context to work with - what years? - what countries? -

and then you have the guts to snark that "it's common knowledge for anyone that is informed on basic European history"

well, it's common knowledge among effective communicators that if you're talking about "basic european history" that you actually mention europe in your comment and further explain yourself by actually mentioning some dates

you may know science, but it's not going to do you much good if you can't express yourself better than that - don't blame your readers for your sloppy writing

and don't you even dare suggest i'm ignorant because i've failed to read your mind - how narcissistic can you get?

bye, bye
posted by pyramid termite at 8:44 PM on October 22, 2007


five fresh fish, egg-whites?
posted by acro at 9:01 PM on October 22, 2007


Dude, I don't think egg whites are going to prove a viable alternative to oil. Sorry.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:12 PM on October 22, 2007


coal tar?
posted by acro at 10:04 PM on October 22, 2007


er, small correction to the Guardian article...

they quote 7% decline, but that's not actually reported in the study. A rate of 3% is close enough to get you to the end game as fast as you need it to.
posted by ilovemytoaster at 3:26 PM on October 23, 2007


Electric cars and alternative-fuel vehicles will replace our current gas-eating beasts. But what the heck is going to replace oil in the chemical industry?
posted by five fresh fish at 8:27 PM on October 22 [+] [!]


We don't have to replace every single use of oil, we just have to reduce its demand sufficiently so that the decreasing supply is not a significant problem. Research has made it abundantly clear that the two major culprits of oil demand are agriculture and transportation. The chemical industry can survive if we can solve the other two.
posted by mek at 10:21 PM on October 23, 2007


« Older OCTOBER 22 IS INTERNATIONAL CAPS LOCK DAY!!!...  |  The US may be the economic sup... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments