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The Age of Xtreme Energy
June 24, 2010 8:38 AM   Subscribe

Michael T Klare (previously here and here) has been writing for some time about the coming age of America's oil wars. Recently with the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Storms Mexico, he's been writing about the coming about of what he calls "The Era of Xtreme Energy" and the extreme length we're going to have to go to secure it.

All the cheap, easy to get, high-quality petroleum has been exploited and what's left is hard to get (at the bottom of the sea), expensive/messy to extract & process (tar sands, etc), or located in politically unstable, and very often unfriendly, places (most of what's left). Even the Department of Energy is predicting:
a sharp drop in projected future world oil output (compared to previous expectations) and a corresponding increase in reliance on what are called "unconventional fuels" -- oil sands, ultra-deep oil, shale oil, and biofuels.
We're going to have to go to greater and greater extremes to get the volume of energy we've grown accustomed to, and war is only one of those extremes. This at a time when the CIA's predictions about the decline of American preeminence are coming true 15 years early.

Klare has also outlined four possible extreme energy nightmares on the order of the Deepwater Horizon. What he didn't mention was the Deepwater Atlantis. It's currently pumping oil in the gulf while ~6,000 diagrams & documents vital to the safe operation of the rig have not been finalized. If something as serious as what happened to the Horizon happens there, they literally do not have accurate manuals on how to shut the thing down.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey (50 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Xtreme Energy: It's got electrolytes
posted by wcfields at 8:56 AM on June 24, 2010 [6 favorites]


I just heard this morning about a documentary film that relates to this subject: "Collapse."
posted by No Robots at 9:00 AM on June 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


Collapse was a great movie. It made me want to shoot myself to avoid the Grim Meathook Future though.
posted by longdaysjourney at 9:07 AM on June 24, 2010


This seems to be the path for a country that has systematically developed itself to require GRATUITOUS amounts of energy.
posted by Silverdragonanon at 9:19 AM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


"...Grim Meathook Future..."

Ah, another reader of Warren Ellis, good show.
posted by daq at 9:23 AM on June 24, 2010


"... anyone who jumped to the conclusion that this field could quickly or easily add to the nation's oil supply would be woefully mistaken. As a start, it's located at a depth of 35,000 feet -- greater than the height of Mount Everest, as a reporter from the New York Times noted -- and well below the Gulf's floor. To get to the oil, BP's engineers will have to drill through miles of rock, salt, and compressed sand using costly and sophisticated equipment. To make matters worse, Tiber is located smack in the middle of the area in the Gulf regularly hit by massive storms in hurricane season, so any drills operating there must be designed to withstand hurricane-strength waves and winds, as well as sit idle for weeks at a time when operating personnel are forced to evacuate."

This is completely insane Xtreme!!!
posted by edguardo at 9:28 AM on June 24, 2010


The problem with a lot of these grim predictions is the mechanistic outlook. It's appealing to the engineering mind of the geek, or slightly autistic, who see the world as systems and not people. These predictions are rife on the Internet, a giant machine where the "medium is the message." Inevitably the predictions turn out wrong because people have a way of doing the unexpected, and events usually turn out unexpectedly (Black Swan). It's never so simple as A leads to B leads to C. Yes oil supply is a problem, but there are so many push and pulls - huge finds of natural gas, alternative energy, energy efficiency gains, economic slowdowns, population shortfalls, etc.
posted by stbalbach at 9:38 AM on June 24, 2010 [6 favorites]


I saw a really good documentary film about this sort of energy extremism. The visuals were stunning, but like most documentaries, they had a hard time piecing together an exciting plot. Anyways, if anyone is interested, it was called Avatar.
posted by battlebison at 9:39 AM on June 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


The US peaked in oil production in the 1970s and had a nice uptick in the mid-1980s, and the US has been importing more than it has been producing since the early 1990s. And the US began importing oil to feed the demand in the 1950s (deeplink to this site). Add to all that the fact that our gasoline usage keeps going up, and the "oil war" is inevitable, assuming we have to contest other countries for gas that is produced by multinational companies. Or, as stbalbach noted, there could be a significant shift to alternative energy as oil prices climb.

As for the HuffPo list of Six Way Stations on the Road to Ordinary Nationhood, I'd say those are signs that the difference between the US and other major countries is decreasing. The G-7/8 (without/with Russia) was never The USA Show, so the shift to G-20 being the group to be responsible for oversight of the world economy is simply a statement that other countries are coming into their own.

The decreasing importance in the US dollar is the only sign from these 6 indicates (to me) that the US is "slipping from greatness" or whatnot. It shows that 1) the dollar isn't as stable as it used to be, and 2) there are viable alternatives.

USA being rebuffed by Russia and China in talks of leaning on Iran to cease its nuclear enrichment program? Never! Not in the history of the world! And the US can't tell China and Russia how to trade with Iran? Wowie-zowie!

"From Washington's point of view, efforts to secure international support for the allied war effort in Afghanistan have also met with a strikingly disappointing response. " BECAUSE EVERYONE AGREES IT IS A DUMB THING TO DO. US gets in stupid situation and no one backs them, news at 11.

And the big finale? The International Olympic Committee chose Rio de Janeiro over Chicago! Seriously, Chicago? This is not an affront to the US power, who were host to the third, tenth, 23rd, and 26th (summer) Olympic games, not to mention 4 of the 21 winter Olympics. This will be the first time ANY South American country hosts the Olympics. And they're really not that special! They're a huge money pit for the host city and state, and they've been a huge source of ill-will at extravagant expenditures, as compared to the potential that same amount of money would have in any area of civil services.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:39 AM on June 24, 2010


...to avoid the Grim Meathook Future though.

You're just looking at it wrong. Think like a Wall Street guy would... this is a perfect opportunity to buy up meat hooks at a low price. Later when the meat hook market is bombarded with demand you can make a killing. You'll be able to live like a king in your machine-gun-nest protected compound. Dole out meat hooks to the chief warlord like De Beers does with diamonds to maintain an artificial scarcity.

1. Meat Hook Monopoly
2. Energy Collapse
3. ?
4. Profit off the Destruction of Society
posted by Babblesort at 9:41 AM on June 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


One of the key things to not lose sight of in these resource war scenarios is that the resource (in this case, oil) doesn't all go away immediately. But it does get progressively more expensive, and thus is worth fighting over. Hence the wars, of course.

One of the weaknesses of Peak Oil chicken-littl'ing has been that it tends toward scenarios where all the oil goes away really fast -- that's how you get your sexy Road Warrior future, after all. The "but a whimper" scenarios end up seeming more likely @ COB.

Resource War thinking can fit both frames. For people who like sexy collapses, they can imagine people knifing and clubbing one another over crude. But the scenario where oil is still there, but more expensive, is only relatively more civilized.

It's also potentially more dangerous because it lends itself to procrastination. "We'll figure out a [single, massive] new energy source tomorrow..."
posted by lodurr at 9:43 AM on June 24, 2010 [3 favorites]




If we put even half as much energy into solving our energy problems as most large corporations do into maximizing their profits, we could be off fossil fuels completely within a decade.

Now, on topic:

This at a time when the CIA's predictions about the decline of American preeminence are coming true 15 years early.

This article dates back to October 2009, and many of the "signs" of America's decline that it cites have since turned out not to amount to a whole lot. Specifically:
2. According to news reports, America's economic rivals are conducting secret (and not-so-secret) meetings to explore a diminished role for the U.S. dollar -- fast losing its value -- in international trade.
. . .
Now, however, many major trading countries -- among them China, Russia, Japan, Brazil, and the Persian Gulf oil countries -- are considering the use of the Euro, or a "basket" of currencies, as a new medium of exchange.
This didn't happen, and the Euro has all but collapsed. The dollar is still the primary currency for international trade, and there's no indication that will change anytime soon. In fact, China recently made a significant concession to the US, meant to address US concerns about China artificially devaluing its own currency in order to bolster its export trade.
3. On the diplomatic front, Washington has been rebuffed by both Russia and China in its drive to line up support for increased international pressure on Iran to cease its nuclear enrichment program.
China and Russia recently did sign on to the sanctions against Iran.
4. Exactly the same inference can be drawn from a high-level meeting in Beijing on October 15th between Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and Iran's first vice president, Mohammed Reza Rahimi.
See item 3 above. This is basically just a repetition of the previous point, which has been soundly rebuked by history.
5. From Washington's point of view, efforts to secure international support for the allied war effort in Afghanistan have also met with a strikingly disappointing response. In what can only be considered a trivial and begrudging vote of support for the U.S.-led war effort, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced on October 14th that Britain would add more troops to the British contingent in that country -- but only 500 more, and only if other European nations increase their own military involvement, something he undoubtedly knows is highly unlikely.
Two months after this was written, NATO allies contributed an additional 7,000 troops to reinforce the recent escalation in Afghanistan, and more recently, they committed roughly 1,600 trainers, bringing the total number of NATO ally troops in the mission to 43,000.
6. Finally, in a move of striking symbolic significance, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) passed over Chicago (as well as Madrid and Tokyo) to pick Rio de Janeiro to be the host of the 2016 summer Olympics, the first time a South American nation was selected for the honor.
Really? America is weak because we didn't get to host the Olympics? So is America strong again now that we made it through to the second round of the World Cup and are ranked ahead of England going into the round?

All members of the punditocracy who go around making grand pronouncements and predictions should be scored and ranked on the accuracy of their prognostications and that score should have to be displayed under their name in the byline.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:46 AM on June 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


This post reminded me to go eat some fish, shimp and scallops while I still have the chance! I'll be able to tell my someone's grandkids "not only have a seen fish in person, but I've eaten them!"
posted by fuq at 9:59 AM on June 24, 2010


saulgoodman, i agree in spirit with your final line, but in practical terms I get great joy and many ideas from prognosticators. And to be fair, in some cases the prognostications may well play a role in their not coming true: negative examples, as it were.

some of the best prognosticators are aren't really in it to predict, so much as to test ideas. OTOH, they're usually happy to admit as much, a la Bruce Sterling or Paolo Bacigalupi.
posted by lodurr at 10:03 AM on June 24, 2010


saulgoodman: If we put even half as much energy into solving our energy problems as most large corporations do into maximizing their profits, we could be off fossil fuels completely within a decade.

Agreed. In fact, the two could end up going hand in hand: when gas prices go up dramatically, someone is going to make a lot of money by making products that use fossil fuels more efficiently or by providing alternative fuels.

Or at least that's what I tell myself when I'm feeling optimistic.
posted by joedan at 10:08 AM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


And to be fair, in some cases the prognostications may well play a role in their not coming true: negative examples, as it were.

That's actually a very good point. still, the ranking would at least give you a sense of what kind of pundit you're reading: the kind that often makes bold predictions that fail to materialize, or the kind that tend to be more conservative. But of course, it's never gonna happen anyway, so, um, well, eat the rich! I was just startled by how many of the specific predictions/claims made in that particular piece ended up being completely wrong (nearly all of them--only the first one held up to time, and that claim was just "G20 exists now," which is hardly a conclusive sign of anything in particular when taken in isolation).
posted by saulgoodman at 10:29 AM on June 24, 2010


I think the "grim meathook future" thing was, on the Internet at least, popularized by jwz, who lifted it back in 2005 from an essay by Joshua Ellis, who is as far as I know unrelated to Warren Ellis. The essay isn't dated though, so maybe it comes from something earlier before that.

At any rate, the Joshua Ellis essay is worth reading, questions of originality aside.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:52 AM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Think like a Wall Street guy would... this is a perfect opportunity to buy up meat hooks at a low price. Later when the meat hook market is bombarded with demand you can make a killing. You'll be able to live like a king in your machine-gun-nest protected compound. Dole out meat hooks to the chief warlord like De Beers does with diamonds to maintain an artificial scarcity.

Michael Ruppert (Collapse is essentially one long extended interview with him) frightened me so much I actually seriously considered buying bulk vegetable seeds for barter use in the GMF (since I have no skills that would be useful). Then I realized I have no place to store the seeds in my tiny little apartment, not to mention that whole rotation/storing in the freezer business you're supposed to do. So I think I'm pretty well frelled when the GMF arrives.

It's a good movie if you want to freak yourself out. :(
posted by longdaysjourney at 10:53 AM on June 24, 2010


"I'm just sipping my sanpellegrino. changed the oil in my convertible coupe, tried to find a power steering pump pully for my SUV."

I can probably figure out what to say to the friend whose facetious response this was when presented with the 'peak oil' concept in chat. But do I want to embarrass myself that much? What about approaching strangers about this and trying to change their minds?

OK, I did the tiniest bit by participating in a World Naked Bike Ride recently, painting "PEAK OIL" on my back, handing people flyers and being nekkid. Wasn't that a laugh. But, maybe many people are convinced their individuality - furnished by sanpellegrino and such - comes first of all, and hence the embarrassing feeling produced if one even thinks about criticising somebody's lifestyle choices to their fucking face.

OK, I think I figured it out: "Dude! Your competition for meaningless luxury and the insignia of consumer aristocracy helps meathook merchants rule you whilst plunging the world into Xtreme disaster! Radically change your values over the next twenty years, along with everybody else, or be DOOMED!"
posted by yoHighness at 10:59 AM on June 24, 2010


By the way, 'meathook future' sounds like a derivative from 'meathook realities' (in Fear and Loathing by Hunter S. Thompson).
posted by yoHighness at 11:01 AM on June 24, 2010


I'm not too worried about having the technology to drill deep enough into the Earth.
posted by davidmsc at 11:01 AM on June 24, 2010


It's never so simple as A leads to B leads to C. Yes oil supply is a problem, but there are so many push and pulls - huge finds of natural gas, alternative energy, energy efficiency gains, economic slowdowns, population shortfalls, etc.

All of which could be summed up as "Homeostasis". Just don't trick yourself into thinking that there are brighter days ahead. Homeostasis will prevent the sexiest of doomer porn from becoming a reality but it can't put more oil in the ground or alter the laws of physics.
posted by symbollocks at 11:18 AM on June 24, 2010


Thomas Malthus just filed a DMCA takedown saying this loud prediction based on the Earth as a closed, static system violates his prior art. The problem I have with all these Malthusian predictions is I don't really get the point. It always feels like someone is totally unhappy with their life so they spend a lot of energy construction a tissue-thin theory why the world as it is needs to change right away. So they can have friends.
posted by yerfatma at 11:41 AM on June 24, 2010


Malthus this.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:56 AM on June 24, 2010


well, yerfatma, it's true that there's a long history of doomsayers underestimating the human animal's tendency to postpone the inevitable.

eventually, though, that stone will stop bleeding.
posted by lodurr at 12:01 PM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


The problem I have with all these Malthusian predictions is I don't really get the point. It always feels like someone is totally unhappy with their life so they spend a lot of energy construction a tissue-thin theory why the world as it is needs to change right away. So they can have friends.

Yeah, only lonely losers, desperate for social connection could possibly conclude stuff like this:

Gulf oil spill: Boat captain, despondent over spill, commits suicide

... And this:

Oil Enters Mississippi Sound

And this:

NOAA Confirms Massive Underwater Oil Plumes from Gulf Spill

...Should give use cause to stop and reconsider our current energy procurement strategies.

I hate when John Stossel says it, but give me a fucking break.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:11 PM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


My prediction: We will run out of oil. Everything dependent on oil will fail. The world will try to shift to renewable energy sources, but it will be too late for the vast majority of people. We will enter a period of industrial devolution and the local economy will supplant the global one. Shipping and travel will largely cease, causing people to rely on resources from their own communities and never venture far from home. We will become agrarian people. Aviation, aerospace, telecom, all the tech industries will dry up with their markets because consumers' priorities have shifted to base survival. The internet will die.

Children raised in this post-industrial world will hear the fantastic stories of the Golden Age of Humankind told by their parents and grandparents, but they will never experience the marvels for themselves. The world, once described as a "small, small" one, will be enormous again. Future history books will describe a brief experiment, only lasting a couple hundred years, where man became reliant on machine, and conclude that the experiment was a failure. The complexities of why will be lost to time, but it will be generally understood that humanity's ambition overreached its grasp. We will become a humble species, once again more content with what we have than with any notions of "progress." Most will consider this a good thing.

Or, maybe people will just roll with the punches like they always have, and the human race will come out of this thing relatively unscathed. Either way, quit your crying, Chicken Little.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 12:19 PM on June 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


In your scenario 1 situation, TWPL, I'd hate to be in the transition period.
posted by codacorolla at 12:33 PM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


huge finds of natural gas
our ability to extract this gas safely is questionable. the amount of water required/at risk is obscene.

we could be off fossil fuels completely within a decade.
you can't surface roads without petroleum.
your new automobiles still need tires, each requires 7 gallons of oil (and untold amounts of water) to produce. the mining/production of the raw materials requires oil.
it will take a decade alone just to deploy any new energy technology.

optimism should be based in reality.

it's pretty difficult to build and install windmills without oil.

if it is 100,000+bbl/day, and it remains uncapped, other gulf rigs/refineries are going to have to be shut down.
posted by kimyo at 12:36 PM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


In your scenario 1 situation, TWPL, I'd hate to be in the transition period.

In my mind we're already in that transition period (at least as far as oil production plateauing and what I presume have been the effects of that in the last few years). This is what that transition looks like.

So... Do you hate it so far?
posted by symbollocks at 12:49 PM on June 24, 2010



So... Do you hate it so far?


It depends on which part of the transition we're in (which is hard to determine from the outside).
posted by codacorolla at 1:03 PM on June 24, 2010






Personally, I lean more toward my second scenario than my first one (which was meant to be hyperbolic). There are a lot of fearmongers out there warning of a second Dark Ages, but I'm not one of them.

I do agree though, that if there were a Golden Age of Humankind, it's on the decline now and has been for my entire life. These things take time. I'd argue that the peak of human progress was in the '50s.

Granted, we've had a lot of innovation since then and the rises of the PC, the internet, and now the mobile web would seem to counter that claim. I'm sure the people of the '50s would've loved that stuff too. But it's the freakin' year 2010. Where are the flying cars, the domestic robots, the atomic-powered homes we were supposed to have?

Instead we got Chernobyl, 9/11, the War on Drugs, the War on Terror, the advent of anti-immigration hysteria and a looming police state. AI innovation was one frustrating dead end after another. Futurism is a washed-up relic of a time when anything was thought to be possible. Now we're cynical and faced with the looming consequences of our grandparents' lifestyles, environmentally and economically. If I could travel back sixty years, I'd miss a lot of modern conveniences, but at least the general zeitgeist would be one of optimism and happiness instead of fear.

Of course, whenever you paint anything with a broad brush it doesn't cover everything. A lot of social progress has been made since the '50s and I don't mean to downplay it at all. There's always a give-and-take and hardly anything's ever all good or all bad. I just wish that today we didn't have to frame all our expectations within certain parameters. I would've like to know the American Dream everybody used to get warm fuzzies about.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 1:15 PM on June 24, 2010


you can't surface roads without petroleum.
your new automobiles still need tires, each requires 7 gallons of oil (and untold amounts of water) to produce. the mining/production of the raw materials requires oil.


Well, with the exception of maintaining basic transportation infrastructure for special uses (emergency travel, moving resources around, etc.), I think we'll probably have to give up on the idea that driving can sustainably be a routine part of our every day lives at some point. We can make up for the loss of mobility by relying heavily on networked communication, like the internet, to communicate and coordinate activities across large distances. We'd still need some vehicles for utility purposes, but otherwise, we could mostly stay put. Mass transportation systems might still hold some promise as an alternative to private vehicles.

That said, tires are mostly made from rubber, which is renewable, and while there's also petroleum used in the manufacturing process, there are already alternatives on the market that use 80% less petroleum in the manufacturing process, and with the increase in demand a large-scale shift away from petroleum would create, it seems pretty likely we could solve that problem entirely within a pretty reasonable timeframe.

Also, I grew up in a backwoods part of the Florida panhandle where all our roads were unpaved dirt until I was about 20 years old, so I know from experience you don't need asphalt to make generally functional roads. And in the early days of the automobile almost all roads were made of dirt. There are plenty of alternatives to asphalt; they may not be ideal, but they exist.

it will take a decade alone just to deploy any new energy technology

If we made it an overriding national priority on the scale of the moon mission, or the development of the first interstate railroad systems, I don't think this is true. Yes, it would take an intensive use of petroleum products to get there in the short term, but we would be using these fossil fuels like Wittgenstein's Ladder: once we used the ladder to get where we were going, we would leave it behind.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:27 PM on June 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


The American Dream was always a lie, and it was used to keep the middle class complacent while fostering racism/classism for the poor who were, by that dream's metrics, too lazy to get/keep a good job.

Now the American dream is slipping out of even the reach of the middle class. The baby boomer generation, which is the last generation propelled by the easy prosperity of the atomic age and the tail wind of the second world war, still thinks that life is easy given the proper effort (it isn't - if you're born poor you will probably die poor).

America was never special. We were lucky, and to a certain degree reptile-clever in exploiting the end of the second world war, and the march of communism in the developing world.

My grandparents survived a global depression and a multitude of Earth shattering wars, and declared that they would never be poor again. My parents were born into that "golden age" that you describe, and expect never ending growth and prosperity that simply can't exist outside the rose colored chambers of their memory. I've been born into a world that has to come to terms with this, and my own expectations for a comfortable life.

Part of that coming to terms is realizing that technology never "saves" us. Each invention comes with its own problems. Even if more-energy-in-than-out Fission was discovered tomorrow, there would still be energy problems. The Epcot center future where technology solves everything is a dangerous delusion, fed from the idea that a few great men (unihibited by meddling government) can save us all.

The golden age that you talk about was carried to us on the promise of cheap energy. It was a lie, papered over with nostalgia and wilfull ignorance.
posted by codacorolla at 1:37 PM on June 24, 2010 [5 favorites]


I’ve been doing my part by commuting to work less by orbital reentry skyboarding.

Huge amounts of water are employed in the process, and environmentalists fear that some of this water, laced with pollutants, will find its ways into the nation's drinking supply
and all the usual things environmentalists gone on about. But I've just had a report that a representative of Disaster Area met with the environmentalists this morning and had them all shot, so now nothing stands in the way of the apocalypse going ahead this afternoon on this beautiful sunny day.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:39 PM on June 24, 2010


"I think we'll probably have to give up on the idea that driving can sustainably be a routine part of our every day lives at some point."

This.
posted by sneebler at 2:48 PM on June 24, 2010


Every two years or so, the United States Joint Forces Command publishes its “perspective on future trends, shocks, contexts and implications for… the national security field.” The latest version—the 2010 Joint Operating Environment (JOE) report [PDF] includes some rather disturbing precursors of impending doom.

Like the 2008 version, it reiterates that “oil and coal will continue to drive the energy train” until 2030, though it warns that in order to do so, “the world would need to add roughly the equivalent of Saudi Arabia’s current production every seven years” (p. 24). Perhaps most significantly, the JOE includes a text box titled ‘Peak Oil,' which reads: “Assuming the most optimistic scenario for improved petroleum production through enhanced recovery means, the development of non-conventional oils (such as oil shales or tar sands) and new discoveries, petroleum production will be hard pressed to meet the expected future demand of 118 million barrels per day [in 2030].”

The JOE then warns, “A severe energy crunch is inevitable without a massive expansion of production and refining capacity” (p. 28) and emphasizes that “By 2012, surplus oil production capacity could entirely disappear, and as early as 2015, the shortfall in output could reach nearly 10 MBD”. (p.29) That's a 10 million barrel shortfall every day....within five years from now. Say it ain't so, JOE.

This claims in the report are consistent with other statements and reports issued over the past 18 months. A sampling:

Jeroen van de Veer, CEO of Shell: “Shell estimates that after 2015 supplies of easy-to-access oil and gas will no longer keep up with demand.”

Fatih Birol of the IEA: “From now to 2015, the market and the oil industry will be severely tested. In the next five to ten years, oil production from non-OPEC producers will reach a peak before starting to decline, for lack of sufficient reserves. As each day passes, new evidence of this fact appears. At the same time the peak of the economic expansion phase of China will take place. The two events will coincide: the explosion of the growth of the Chinese demand, and the fall in production of non-OPEC oil. Will our oil system be it able to answer this challenge, that is the question.”

Iain Reid, Head of European Oil and Gas research at Macquarie Bank:“This is our view – capacity has pretty much peaked in the sense that declines equal new resources."

Amazingly, 99.9% of the public doesn't have a frickin' clue how dramatically life may change in our lifetime.
posted by prinado at 6:53 PM on June 24, 2010 [10 favorites]


I have never felt more deeply ambivalent about favoriting a comment than I did this one.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:41 PM on June 24, 2010


it seems pretty likely we could solve that problem entirely within a pretty reasonable timeframe.

we have no workable solution aside from massive, life-altering conservation.

viable solutions must be scalable, must return more energy than invested.

as an example, our decision to implement corn based ethanol was not well-considered.

the orange-oil based tires you linked are really more of a ploy by yokohama to tag themselves as enviro-friendly, rather than being any sort of scalable solution.

once we used the ladder to get where we were going, we would leave it behind.

that's the ladder, back there, on the cliff. we're in the bus and thru the guardrail.

we needed to start deploying the solutions 10 years ago. then, today, as oil production crashes, we'd have options. now, the best we can hope for is not to make too many bad decisions.

pretending we can clean gulf marshlands and beaches leads us to make bad decisions.
posted by kimyo at 11:51 PM on June 24, 2010


Former Oil Worker Says Cleanup Just For Show
    She said she was told to only clean the surface of the sand, that this is all cosmetic. She was on a crew at Gulf State Park where tourists go. She says it has priority so as to make it look like the beaches are clean. Warren says she believes money is being wasted on the crews and says "At some point the real clean-up will have to begin, but I'm afraid the money will be gone."
posted by kimyo at 12:12 AM on June 25, 2010


kimyo: did you read all of my comments, or did you just sort of skim through them, looking for specific points you could take in isolation and disagree with? because i'm pretty sure i also said we're going to need to give up driving as a routine part of our lives. i also said we might have to go back to settling for dirt roads in a lot of cases. of course we're going to have to conserve in radical ways. but there are plenty of even radical steps we can take to conserve in the short term that don't require giving up the really crucial benefits and comforts of modern life.

also, there are a lot of existing energy technologies that produce more energy than energy invested. they're just not economical in terms of dollars spent per unit of energy output. but economic values are for the most part basically just a highly contingent social construct anyway, a shared delusion. and we won't be able to hold onto some of our current delusions about the economic value of our energy sources much longer.

unfortunately, though, as fossil fuels--petroleum in particular--become more expensive, reflecting their true costs, developing alternative systems on a large scale will become more expensive as well (because we'll still be relying on fossil fuel energy sources to implement those systems until we bring them online). That's why as vital as conservation is, if we want to salvage any part of our way of life, we need to reach some consensus on how to prioritize the parts we want to save, and then put at least as much emphasis on large-scale implementation of alternative energy systems to support them today.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:02 AM on June 25, 2010


kimyo: did you read all of my comments
i can't say that i read every single word, but i do try. i have never quoted you out of context, yes?

i find it frustrating when i say 'tires, asphalt', and you reply 'orange-tires, dirt roads'.

perhaps our basic difficulty is that you think that peak oil is tomorrow. i think it was yesterday.

ie: you think we have a ladder, i don't.
posted by kimyo at 11:33 AM on June 25, 2010


I'm confused. i thought saul was saying we had a ladder, used it, and then convinced ourselves that we'd levitated.
posted by lodurr at 11:41 AM on June 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


find it frustrating when i say 'tires, asphalt', and you reply 'orange-tires, dirt roads'.

Why is that frustrating? It's true. We can build and use dirt roads for shipping, occasional long-distance travel, and emergency vehicles. Otherwise, we hunker down and don't use personal vehicles at all. That's what I'm proposing. You countered that we would also need to conserve when I basically said we would need to radically reorient ourselves toward conservation--just not necessarily to the extent that we have to live stone-age style in thatch huts in the woods.
perhaps our basic difficulty is that you think that peak oil is tomorrow. i think it was yesterday.

ie: you think we have a ladder, i don't.


No, I completely agree. But even if we have reached the peak, there's still a lot of fossil fuel left on that diminishing side of the supply curve, and what I'm saying is we have to dedicate as much as possible of those remaining fossil fuel supplies specifically to the challenges of achieving independence from fossil fuels. The fossil fuels are the ladder over the wall of our dependence on fossil fuels, but once we've climbed the ladder, we can abandon it.

As remaining fossil fuel supplies dwindle, it will become much, much harder even to rebuild anything resembling a modern way of life with alternative energy sources, because we need fossil fuels to boot strap the alternatives in place.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:10 PM on June 25, 2010


Yeah, only lonely losers, desperate for social connection could possibly conclude stuff like this:

saulgoodman, which of those links is evidence we're soon going to have to start bopping innocents on the head to keep our cars running? I appreciate you're upset about the current oil spill, but because something squares with how you feel doesn't make it so. There's no reason why what happened in the Gulf will necessarily be how things go in the future. If this were a neutral subject, people would have already pointed out one incident does not make a trend.
posted by yerfatma at 12:59 PM on June 25, 2010


Did you read the Joint Chiefs of Staff report linked to up-thread that explains how, even assuming the most optimistic production scenarios, we'll be producing 10 million barrels of oil fewer a day than we consume daily worldwide by as soon as 2015?

If the easy sources of oil are all basically tapped out (which the industry and everyone else who actually knows what they're talking about readily admits), and the Gulf Oil spill is the kind of consequence we can expect to see more often now that we're forced to start going after the harder to reach oil (to get to the oil field currently draining into the Gulf, we had to go a mile below the ocean and another two miles below the sea floor, after all--of course there's a huge potential for failure; many of the industry's own engineers admit deep sea drilling presents greater engineering challenges than manned space flight), then doesn't it stand to reason the more difficult to reach oil is probably going to prove too costly to sustain us for much more than another ten or twenty years tops, without something having to give?

If this were a neutral subject, people would have already pointed out one incident does not make a trend.

Except that we are still very early in the history of developing these kinds of difficult and untested sources like deep water deposits, and the scale of the problems created when things go wrong are already turning out to be far greater than we've seen before.

There have been large spills on a regular basis at other drilling sites around the world, like Nigeria (where in fact the oil companies have frequently been accused of using private security and local governmental forces to "bop innocents on the head").

Either way, it's stupid not to prepare for the inevitable, and the end of easy oil is already here, so now we need to start transitioning off of oil as quickly as possible so we don't end up without a chair to sit in when the music stops.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:27 PM on June 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


There's no reason why what happened in the Gulf will necessarily be how things go in the future.

one reason - aging oil rigs. like our bridges, roads, water delivery systems, many oil rigs are beyond their expected life span. another: deepwater is causing nearby rigs to shut down, further limiting production.

If this were a neutral subject, people would have already pointed out one incident does not make a trend.

is not iraq a like incident? why are we there, how do we 'win', who is the enemy? hundreds of thousands dead, over a trillion $ spent to date, large swathes of land poisoned by depleted uranium. iraq is every bit as much of a quagmire as is the gulf.
posted by kimyo at 2:04 PM on June 25, 2010


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