hans says we're doomed
January 11, 2004 11:57 AM   Subscribe

This post was deleted for the following reason: Poster's Request -- frimble

item, this guy may be right or he may be a TFH wacko but this is hardly a new assertion and, in the past, it's been proven wrong every time.
posted by billsaysthis at 12:14 PM on January 11, 2004

Yes, and without question, I'll die at twice the midpoint of my lifespan. Too bad I don't know when that is. Is there any credible scientific data regarding oil supplies? Googling for "peak oil" results in nothing but theory papers that haven't crunched the numbers.
posted by machaus at 12:15 PM on January 11, 2004

Don't worry, the oil in my zits will keep us going for centuries.
posted by DenOfSizer at 12:33 PM on January 11, 2004

Here's a response to the Hubbert peak models.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 12:42 PM on January 11, 2004

I am soooo using this to pick up chicks.
posted by condour75 at 1:11 PM on January 11, 2004

Here is a link to a slightly less sensational view of the problem. (with a great cartoon on the bottom too...) In my opinion, the oil problem in the next couple decades is not supply but demand. Estimates are that by 2010, 100 million chinese will have the financial resources to buy an automobile. Say goodbye to cheap oil.
posted by H. Roark at 2:00 PM on January 11, 2004

I am an energy economist (full disclosure: I'm a wind advocate, but I've studied all major forms of energy extensively- as well as most minor forms).

The oil supplies will possibly never run out. The vast majority of oil wells are only 25% depleted due to the higher costs of extraction for oil wells below 75% full (this is due to the high costs that are incurred as pressure inside the wells drops due to oil extraction).

(There is also some interesting information about the wells that were thought to be too depleted for economic extraction- it appears that they have been slowly replenished from an unknown source. I'll avoid this though, as this is still uncertain.)

So, if we do deplete the rest of the world's oil wells to 75% of capacity, pumping will resume at the old oil fields that have been abandoned- the price will rise to make this economical.

If we ever actually got to the point where all the world's oil was depleted, it would be so far in the future that the carbon pollution released from the consumption of oil would have probably poisoned life on Earth (100-200 years from now).
posted by crazy finger at 2:06 PM on January 11, 2004

Is there any credible scientific data regarding oil supplies? Googling for "peak oil" results in nothing but theory papers that haven't crunched the numbers.
Scientific American, March 1998 issue: THE END OF CHEAP OIL, by Colin J. Campbell and Jean H. Laherrère.
Review of Hubbert's Peak: The Impending World Oil Shortage by Kenneth S. Deffeyes
excerpt: "It's tempting to dismiss Deffeyes as just another of the doomsayers who have been predicting, almost since oil was discovered, that we are running out of it. But Deffeyes makes a persuasive case that this time it's for real. This is an oilman and geologist's assessment of the future, grounded in cold mathematics. And it's frightening. Deffeyes's prediction is based on the work of M. King Hubbert, a Shell geologist who in 1956 predicted that U.S. oil production would peak in the early 1970s and then begin to decline. Hubbert was dismissed by many experts inside and outside the oil industry. Pro-Hubbert and anti-Hubbert factions arose and persisted until 1970, when U.S. oil production peaked and started its long decline."
So the Hubbert method has at least one prediction right.
However the US geological survey says that there's still plenty of oil around.
This seems like an easy to read summary of the peak oil hypothesis.
Oil depletion: online resources.

In short, what's outlandish isn't the proposition that oil production will (has?) reached its peak, but rather those projections of the decimation of humanity. France is already getting 80% (or something like that) of its energy from nuclear power. Worst case scenario is a rebirth of the nuclear power industry.
posted by talos at 2:16 PM on January 11, 2004

Also previously covered here on MeFi (Not double-post-nitpicking, just pointing out further info...)
posted by 40 Watt at 2:17 PM on January 11, 2004

Oh and this recent press release from Royal Dutch / Shell is interesting; they slashed their proven reserve etimate by 20% on friday.

"The oil supplies will possibly never run out". It is not "the end oil" that is the concern, it is that the price of oil rises to the point where oil-generated energy becomes unaffordable. Certainly part of the equation is supply, but the factors of increased demand, geopolitical instability in oil-rich regions, the increasing price of extracting deeper oil etc have as much to do with the price of oil as anything.

End-of-oil or not, it is my belief that the current oil 'crisis' is just starting, and look for $50 oil by the end of 2004. Of course, im speaking my book.
posted by H. Roark at 2:23 PM on January 11, 2004

talos, FYI on France (France is getting 75% of its electricity from nuclear, but only ~ 33% of total energy). Much more than US to be sure, but France still gets some 56% of total energy from fossil fuels.
posted by H. Roark at 2:31 PM on January 11, 2004

well, we're all fucked then. let's party!
posted by quonsar at 3:05 PM on January 11, 2004

As mentioned here before, the opposite of this idea (deep biosphere abiotic petroleum generation) has been argued, and by a person with far more credentials than Hans.
posted by Unxmaal at 3:25 PM on January 11, 2004

Interesting discussion here.
posted by ben-o at 4:11 PM on January 11, 2004

If we're all fucked, I'm gonna run out and buy that Hummer with whaleskin hubcaps and all leather cow interior and big brown baby seal eyes for headlights, yeah! And I'm gonna drive around in that baby at 115 mph, getting one mile per gallon, sucking down quarter-pounder cheeseburgers from McDonald's in the old-fashioned non-biodegradable styrofoam containers and when I'm done sucking down those greaseball burgers, I'm gonna wipe my mouth with the American flag and then I'm gonna toss the styrofoam container right out the side and there ain't a God damned thing anybody can do about it.
posted by keswick at 4:24 PM on January 11, 2004

Estimates are that by 2010, 100 million chinese will have the financial resources to buy an automobile. Say goodbye to cheap oil.

I just got back from Beijing, a city of 30 million people, one-third of whom can already afford cars. Traffic is a snarl of Volkswagens, buses (many natural gas-powered) and bikes. Apparently, city policy is currently swinging against bike usage, since the adoption of the car is seen as favorable for both industry and consumer, and mixing cars and bikes on a mass scale creates so many problems. It was pretty sad, actually, seeing a city where more than half the people already use bikes (an oft-desired state of affairs where I come from) but where the trend is reversing.

That said, this doomsaying article reminds me of the Y2Krackpots more than anything else. If fossil fuels vanish, it will happen gradually, and probably spur the further development of alternatives which, currently, are struggling to go big. I say bring on the end of fossil fuels. I would be very happy to live to see the day.
posted by scarabic at 5:38 PM on January 11, 2004

...and there ain't a God damned thing anybody can do about it.

"cuz i'm an asshole! asshole! asshole!"
posted by quonsar at 5:56 PM on January 11, 2004

Let me point out, first of all, that M. King Hubbert predicted to within a year, over a decade ahead of time, the year when US oil production would begin to decline, 1972 or thereabouts.

Since then, oil well have not regenerated themselves, and new technologies have not reversed the trend.

That said, I think the "Die Off" hypothesis is unlikely for the simple fact that energy use - in the US and elsewhere, but especially in the US - is absurdly wastefull. If 40% of energy use is from oil, we'll do OK......

Except - that's the crude take on it.

What may actually happen, depending on when world oil production begins to decline, is that rich countries like the US will bid up oil prices and this, in turn, will wreak havoc in newly oil dependent economies such as that of China.

There are also many possible negative feedbacks from climate change.

Here's some less sensationalistic material :

"It appears that total [oil] discovery in 2001 was about 8 Gb including deepwater oil, and NGL. Although there remain the eternal uncertainties about the reliability of the data, it appears that the world's oil account has been running a deficit since 1981, as it continues to eat into its inheritance from past discovery...."
[from the Hubbert Peak website]

Here is the Hubbert Peak:
""  Named after the late Dr. M. King Hubbert, Geophysicist, this website provides data, analysis and recommendations regarding the upcoming peak in the rate of global oil extraction." "

"Oil Experts Draw Fire For Warning" (Yahoo, May 24, 2003) [ from this article ] " Global supplies of crude oil will peak as early as 2010 and then start to decline, ushering in an era of soaring energy prices and economic upheaval — or so said an international group of
petroleum specialists meeting Friday.

They hope to persuade oil-dependent countries like the United States to stop what they view as a squandering the planet's finite bounty of fossil fuels.

Americans, as the biggest consumers of energy, could suffer a particularly harsh impact on their lifestyle, warned participants in the two-day conference on oil depletion that began Thursday at Uppsala University in Uppsala, Sweden.

"There is no factual data to support the general sense that the world will be awash in cheap oil forever," said Matthew Simmons, an investment banker who helped advise President Bush (news - web sites)'s campaign on
energy policy. "We desperately need to find a new form of energy"

"There's a lot of phony baloney in there," said economist Michael Lynch of the U.S. business forecasting firm DRI-WEFA. "A lot of prominent geologists just laugh at this.....There are wolves out there, but if you keep crying wolf and no wolves show up, you start to lose credibility," Lynch said by phone from his office in Lexington, Mass."

[ NOTICE: Lynch neither cites any evidence, nor any names of experts holding contesting views. I'm sure they exist, but if his opinion is actually informed I would expect that he would be able to cite opposing views and material.]

The dispute centers on the precise timing of what is variously described as "peak oil" or "the big rollover" — the predicted date when existing oil production, together with new discoveries of crude, can no longer replenish the world's reserves as quickly as consuming countries are
depleting them.

Roger Bentley, head of The Oil Depletion Analysis Center in London, insisted that the predictions made in the 1970s were basically correct. About 50 countries, including the United States, have already passed their point of peak oil output, he said.

Campbell insisted the true figure for reserves is closer to 2 trillion barrels, due partly to what he described as overstated reserves reported by Saudi Arabia and other OPEC nations.

He played down the significance of new oil discoveries in the Caspian Sea region of central Asia and in deep waters off the coasts of Brazil and West Africa and in the Gulf of Mexico. Now that geologists have effectively surveyed the globe for crude, Campbell and others at the conference said they doubted that any giant new oil fields still await
discovery....As a result, Campbell forecast that oil output would peak by 2010 — at least 26 years sooner than the rollover point predicted in a U.S. government study prepared in 2000.

"It's not a cataclysmic event," he said. "But oil will become scarcer and more expensive. That's undeniable." ...Campbell estimates peak-year production at about 87 million barrels a day, compared to daily output last month of 74.5 million barrels, as calculated by the International Energy Agency, a watchdog agency for the world's wealthiest nations.

Simmons, the banker, predicted that the United States would suffer an energy scare even sooner, due to a 10 percent decrease he foresees in U.S. production of natural gas this year. "If it's only 10 percent, we've dodged a bullet," he said. "And 10 percent is a disaster. It could
be 20 percent." ...Simmons, based in Houston, said Americans will have to embrace coal and even nuclear power once fossil fuels pass their global peak in production. Higher and more volatile prices are sure to accompany the transition period, he said.

"You couldn't get serious people focusing on this issue, and we're going to pay dearly for it."

THE END OF CHEAP OIL by Colin J. Campbell and Jean H. Laherrère, Scientific American, March 1998

Oil Crisis Looms In New Millenium, World reserves near depletion, petroleum geologists warn By Peter Beaumont and John Hooper, London Observer August

THE IMMINENT PEAK OF WORLD OIL PRODUCTION Presentation to a House of Commons All-Party Committee, by Colin Campbell on July 7th 1999

SPENDING OUR GREAT INHERITANCE -- THEN WHAT? by Walter Youngquist ( Geotimes, July 1998, pages
24-26. )

Are We Running Out of Oil? L.B. Magoon NOTE: Magoon, a member of the USGS, is here issuing a stinging broadside of an attack on the official USGS position on world oil reserves. The actual USGS graph posted DIRECTLY contradicts the USGS official position.

Prosepct Magazine: "After Oil" (November 2000) : "The weightless economy still has dirty old oil pumping through its veins, as the recent fuel blockades demonstrated says David Fleming. In the next ten years, the growing demand for oil will permanently overtake a shrinking supply -- playing havoc with price. Why are western governments doing nothing to prepare?"

Invited oral testimony (limited to 5 minutes) given by A.A. Bartlett to the Subcommittee on Energy of the Science Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, May 3, 2001, in Room 2318 of the Rayburn House Office
Building in Washington, D.C.

"Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:

My name is Albert A. Bartlett. I am Professor Emeritus at the University of Colorado at Boulder where I have been a member of the Faculty of the Department of Physics since 1950.

Our national energy situation is a mess!

For years we have seen recommendations from the Department of Energy that suggest that the leaders of the Department have little scientific understanding of the problems of energy.

We have seen the President of the United States sending his Secretary of Energy on bended knee to plead with OPEC leaders to increase petroleum production so as to keep our gasoline prices from rising. For a country that boasts that it is the world‚s only superpower, this is profoundly humiliating.

Gasoline prices are rising. California currently has an electrical energy crisis that is likely to spread. Natural gas prices are rising rapidly, which poses real economic hardship for millions of American home owners who depend on natural gas to heat their homes in the winter.

The only energy proposals we see are for short-term fixes, sometimes spread over a few years, that seem to ignore the important real-world
realities of resource availability and consumer costs.

For years, scientists have warned that fossil fuels resources are finite and that long-range plans should be made. These plans must recognize that growing rates of consumption of fossil fuels will lead, predictably, to serious shortages that are now starting to appear.

For years we have heard learned opinions from non-scientists that resources are effectively infinite; that the more of a resource that we consume the greater are the reserves of that resource; and that the human intellect is our greatest resource because the human mind can
harness science and technology to solve all of our resource shortages.

There seem to be two cultures; science and non-science. Each has its own Ph.D. "experts" and "think tanks". Each has its own lobbyists who argue vigorously that their path is the proper path to achieve a sustainable society. So let‚s compare the two recommended paths.

The centerpiece of the scientific path is conservation; hence it is appropriate to call this path the "Conservative Path". On this path the federal government is called on to provide leadership plus strong and reliable long-term support toward the achievement of the following goals. The U.S. should:

1) Have an energy planning horizon that addresses the problems of sustainability through many future decades. 2) Have programs for the continual and dramatic improvement of the efficiency with which we use energy in all parts of our society. Improved energy efficiency is the lowest cost energy resource we have. 3) Move toward the rapid
development and deployment of all manner of renewable energies throughout our entire society. 4) Embark on a program of continual reduction of the annual total consumption of non-renewable energy in the
U.S. 5) Recognize that moving quickly to consume the remaining U.S. fossil fuel resources will only speed and enlarge our present serious U.S. dependence on the fossil fuel resources of other nations. This will leave our children vitally vulnerable to supply disruptions that they won‚t be able to control. 6) Finally, and most important, we
must recognize that population growth in the U.S. is a major factor in driving up demand for energy. This calls for recognizing the conclusion of President Nixon‚s Rockefeller Commission Report (Commission on Population Growth and the American Future, 1972). The Commission concluded that it could find no benefit to the U.S. from further U.S. population growth.

In contrast, the non-scientific path suggests that resources are effectively infinite, so we can be as liberal as we please in their use and consumption. Hence this path is properly called the "Liberal Path". The proponents of the Liberal Path recommend that the U.S. should:

1) Make plans only to meet immediate crises, because all crises are temporary; 2) Not have government promote improvements in energy efficiency because the marketplace will provide the needed improvements. 3) Not have government programs to develop renewable energies
because, again, the marketplace can be counted on to take care of all of our needs. 4) Let fossil fuel rates continue to increase because to do otherwise might hurt the economy. 5) Dig and Drill. Consume our remaining fossil fuels as fast as possible because we "need them". Don't worry about our children. They can count on having the advanced
technologies they will need to solve the problems that we are creating for them. 6) Claim that population growth is a benefit rather than a problem, because more people equals more brains.

We should not be confused by the conflicting expertise that supports each of these two paths because there is a very fundamental truth:

For every Ph.D. there‚s an equal and opposite Ph.D.

For our U.S. energy policy, we must choose between the Conservative and the Liberal Paths. The paths are the exact opposites of each other. Each is advocated by academically credentialed experts. On what basis
can we make an intelligent choice?

There is a rational way to choose. If the path we choose turns out to be the correct path, then there‚s no problem. The problems arise in case the path we choose turns out to be the wrong path. It follows then that we must choose the path that leaves us in the less precarious position in case the path we choose turns out to be the wrong one.

So there are two possible wrong choices that we must compare.

If we choose the Conservative Path that assumes finite resources, and our children later find that resources are really infinite, then no great long-term harm has been done.

If we choose the Liberal Path that assumes infinite resources, and our children later find that resources are really finite, then we will have left our descendants in deep trouble.

There can be no question. The Conservative Path is the prudent path to follow.

However, it is the Liberal Path that we are so eagerly taking today.

If resources turn out to be infinite, then we will be OK on the Liberal Path. But if resources turn out to be finite, then today‚s choice of the Liberal Path will create enormous and critical problems for our children.

I thank you for this opportunity to share my views with you."
posted by troutfishing at 6:32 PM on January 11, 2004

that has to be the longest friggin' post on metafilter ever. can someone summarize it for those of us with no attention span? lemme guess. sky falling?
posted by keswick at 6:41 PM on January 11, 2004

keswick - no. Just a down-slope in world oil production, starting within 1-10 years.

But I'd bet that the likelihood is one major unspoken reason that US troops are in Iraq.
posted by troutfishing at 7:40 PM on January 11, 2004

But I'd bet that the likelihood is one major unspoken reason that US troops are in Iraq.

Let me understand this clearly...it is your contention that the Bush Administration decided to spend upwards of $400 billion in Iraq, SO FAR, simply for the off chance that a huge deposit of oil even exists? I understand your contempt for Bush, but wow...where is your proof that such a deposit exists, or that the world would condone our colonization of the country? Give us a break.
posted by BlueTrain at 7:50 PM on January 11, 2004

Soylent oil is made of PEOPLE![/possible-solution caveat="requires us to eat more cheeseburgers."]

Interesting post troutfishing. I'm kinda reminded of that 'proof' of God's existence I learned back in Theo 101, where it was posited that you should believe in God because, if you believe in God and you're wrong, then you're just dead anyway so it doesn't matter what you believed, but if you don't believe in God and you're wrong, you spend eternity burning in hell. Needless to say, that argument didn't make Christians of many people in that class.
posted by boaz at 7:57 PM on January 11, 2004

That cost/benefits analysis taught to you by your Theo class was quite flawed, boaz. It ignores the costs involved in believing in God, such as going to church every Sunday morning, not having sex before marriage etc etc...
posted by VeGiTo at 8:08 PM on January 11, 2004

I'm not disputing that it's gotta happen sometime, and probably sooner than later, but:

Let me point out, first of all, that M. King Hubbert predicted to within a year, over a decade ahead of time, the year when US oil production would begin to decline, 1972 or thereabouts.

Since then, oil well have not regenerated themselves, and new technologies have not reversed the trend.

Yeahbut, it's not like oilmen were looking desperately for more oil in the US and failing to find it. It was just plainly cheaper to look for it in the middle east. As someone else noted, there are economic reasons and not just geological ones for production to have shifted to the mideast.

But I'd bet that the likelihood is one major unspoken reason that US troops are in Iraq.

If all we'd wanted was for them to pump gas, all that would have been necessary was to let them do it.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:13 PM on January 11, 2004

I don't see anything worse than burning in hell in your list*, VeGiTo ;)

* though IIRC a brief enumeration of those associated costs was included in the original essay even though I left it out of my summary; that's why he was the famous philosopher and I was the dumb-ass student I guess. And of course the piece was postively Swiftian, in the finest sense of that term; if it hadn't been educational, I might have even enjoyed it.
posted by boaz at 8:36 PM on January 11, 2004

ROU_Xenophobe ("it's not like oilmen were looking desperately for more oil in the US and failing to find it.") - this is not a question of personal preference. US oil wells became unprofitable for continued oil extraction because oil reserves in the US declined. Up to a point, one can always squeeze another drop from a bottle or from the ground, as it were - of oil, water, wine, whatever. But each drop so squeezed becomes increasingly difficult.

It is very strange to me that the "conservatives" here on Metafilter seem to be arguing that resources on a finite, bounded planet (the Earth) are boundless. A.A. Bartlett, in his Congressional testimony which I posted above, chose to call the "resources are limitless so we should use them up as fast as possible" position the "liberal" one.

And it is, logically so.

"Let me understand this clearly...it is your contention that the Bush Administration decided to spend upwards of $400 billion in Iraq, SO FAR, simply for the off chance that a huge deposit of oil even exists?" - BlueTrain, you are reading an awful lot into my comment. I was trying to suggest that an increased US troop presence in the Mideast (especially in Iraq, given that it has the 2nd largest proven oil reserves in the World) would help the US insure the continued flow of oil. Or do you think that two wars with Iraq in little more than a decade occurred more or less at random?

I am not saying that oil was necessarily the prime motivation, or the only one. But, as a motivation for the war, it certainly figured prominently.

boaz - this is a bit more of a bread-and-butter issue, wouldn't you say? It's not theological at all. It's empirical.

But I do agree with your (whatever you'd call it, and if I understand you correctly) - "Soylent oil is made of PEOPLE! [/possible-solution caveat="requires us to eat more cheeseburgers."] - exactly. I think that using as much oil as we currently do is dumb. Humans are very inventive. We already have thought ourselves out of that cul-de-sac. We just need now to implement those solutions which have already been invented and which tend to be even more profitable than the old oil-intensive methods.
posted by troutfishing at 8:50 PM on January 11, 2004

But as with any analysis involving uncertainties, you have to employ probabilities in your calculation. Would the result be the same if I only assign a 0.00001% chance that there exists a God who would send me to Hell where I would then burn for eternity if I don't believe in Him, whereas the costs I incur now for believing in Him (e.g. not having sex) are a 100% certainty?

My apologies if your famous philospher actually did include rigorous probability analysis in his essay.

Okay, enough derailing. =P
posted by VeGiTo at 8:55 PM on January 11, 2004

boaz: Pascal's Wager
posted by billsaysthis at 8:55 PM on January 11, 2004

Does 'Hubbert's peak exist' - yes.
Is the peak idea, not necessarly the timeframe correct? Most likely yes.

But it is a peak, not a cliff. There is a sloping downward volume for price graph.

Can we humans support the present and expected population load without it being proped up with hydrocarbons? Not without massive solar energy. (Hint: Hydrocarbons - Old solar energy. Wind - Solar energy. In fact the atoms that make up the keyboard you type on is the result of long ago solar energy in the form of elements that are more complex than Hydrogen)

Does humanity have a good 'solar energy plan'? Some countries are doing better than others. (HINT: The US of A is lagging)

Is the downside of the AS BAD as the website wants to say? No. But the last president who had an energy POLICY was an Engineer who was trained to think about power. And, well, his history is still vilified.
posted by rough ashlar at 8:56 PM on January 11, 2004

Thanks, billsaysthis. I was thinking Hume for some reason (probably because he was a famous critic of theological proof), but you're entirely correct there.
posted by boaz at 9:00 PM on January 11, 2004

troutfishing: despite the article, the real conservative thinking is not that oil on this planet is boundless, but that human ingenuity will figure out an alternative by the time oil really becomes unaffordable.

In fact, like you said, the alternatives may already have been thought of. We just need an incentive large enough for us to justify the huge initial investment hurdle needed to be overcome in order to implement these alternative technologies.

And guess what, that incentive will come in the form of "price". When the scarcity eventually turns severe, the shortage will be reflected in the high price of oil, which in turn would finally provide the economic incentive for private individuals and companies to make the switch. In the end, this problem which has its root in a capitalistic society will be solved by capitalism itself. This is what the "conservatives" are really thinking.
posted by VeGiTo at 9:03 PM on January 11, 2004

In the end, this problem which has its root in a capitalistic society will be solved by capitalism itself. This is what the "conservatives" are really thinking.

By no means am I speaking for troutfishing, but your statement is false. Capitalism also causes loss of jobs through movement of labor; capitalism causes profitability to be the determining factor when deciding what projects require attention; capitalism chooses money above the citizen. Capitalism, VeGiTo, is a by-product of civil society, and NOT the other way around. Therefore, capitalism has no ethical structure, nor does it plan for the future. If our society decides that oil is a rapidly depleting resource, our society will use capitalism to produce a solution. Capitalism doesn't produce solutions on its own.
posted by BlueTrain at 9:12 PM on January 11, 2004

BlueTrain: "Capitalism will produce a solution", or "we will use capitalism to produce a solution", as long as others get my drift, both statements serve the purpose. I am no post-modern intellectual, and I have no interest in debating petty linguistic matters with you.
posted by VeGiTo at 9:18 PM on January 11, 2004

trharlan said what I wanted to say much better.
posted by VeGiTo at 9:20 PM on January 11, 2004

You ignored my retort in favor of a phrase that appears to agree with you, which in all actuality, within its context, clearly disagrees with you.

Capitalism is not searching for an alternative to oil. Society is. Why? Because several scientists have claimed that the burning of fossil fuels is destroying our environment and the supply of oil may be depleting. Capitalism doesn't give a shit about the environment, because it's not profitable to care. Nor is it profitable to research alternatives to fossil fuels. Society has determined the need for protection of the environment and alternatives to fossil fuels. Therefore, capitalism WILL NOT plan for the depletion of oil. Capitalism's bottom line is the dollar. Society's bottom line is the continuation of society.
posted by BlueTrain at 9:26 PM on January 11, 2004

And BTW, in this day and age, energy, like water, transportation, and shelter, are necessities that must be delivered for a society to survive. If you privatize necessities, you sell society's future to a handful of people who can afford to purchase it. And if that's not clear enough, how the hell do you think these people became wealthy in the first place? Civil society.
posted by BlueTrain at 9:29 PM on January 11, 2004

Interesting, as the website doesn't mention the most promising green fuel technologies such as biodiesel, which costs roughly $2 dollars a gallon and is currently in use.

In addition, his argument regarding food delivery issues becomes benign as the diesel engine does not require a conversion to run biodiesel, and a majority of food is delivered via diesel engines.

Do you think a reformulation of his grand vision would allow him to continue on in his law field, get married, have a family, and leave a meaningful life that the previous 'oil peak' problem was preventing?
posted by jazzkat11 at 9:57 PM on January 11, 2004

US oil wells became unprofitable for continued oil extraction because oil reserves in the US declined

In part. Also because there's not much use in looking for oil in the US when there are cheaper reserves to exploit elsewhere.

It is very strange to me that the "conservatives" here on Metafilter seem to be arguing that resources on a finite, bounded planet (the Earth) are boundless

Who's conservative? I've never claimed to be any such thing.

A clever reader will note that I began my comment by stating that of course the oil will run out eventually or soon. I just thought your argument was not a good argument that it would run out soon, because it assumed that the only reason oil production would decline in a given country is that it's running out of oil, ignoring other reasons why production might shift elsewhere. That does not mean I think it will last forever, or even for a hundred years, just that I thought your argument wasn't solid.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:40 PM on January 11, 2004

jazzkat, I was wondering about biodiesel myself. I can't run it this winter in my jetta tdi, but I love it the other 9 months of the year.

Clearly there is a total energy loss when you account for everything that goes into production, but soybeans do a really great job of cleaning the air and they repleanish the soil depleated by corn (which we must continue to grow to feed the mad cows).

OT- who was the brilliant MoFo that came up with the term mad cow? It is catchy and to the point. And the bane of cattlemen everywhere.
posted by jmgorman at 11:04 PM on January 11, 2004

jmgorman: According to the OED and via the UK's Sun newspaper it appears to have been a butcher called Colin. The NYT used it the following year.

OED: 1990 Sun 22 May 3/2 He put a sign in his window saying: ‘The only mad cow in this shop is my wife.’..Cocky Colin, 42, thought up the slogan to dispel customers' fears over BSE disease in cows.
posted by biffa at 4:06 AM on January 12, 2004

Therefore, capitalism WILL NOT plan for the depletion of oil.

Capitalism (which by the way is more of an abstraction than "society") will benefit from neglect of the problem far more than it would benefit from an intelligent and proactive response to the problem.

When oil gets scarcer and expensive, and sustainable alternatives have NOT been developed in the interim, nuclear will be an easier sell. Nuclear is a much better proposition for capitalism (big capitalism, anyway) because there are natural chokepoints in the supply chain and insurmountable barriers to entry for the small player. Unlike bio or solar, for example, but those require planning and years of development. For the incumbent energy companies, doing nothing is the most intelligent, self-serving thing right now..
posted by George_Spiggott at 6:49 AM on January 12, 2004

"there's not much use in looking for oil in the US when there are cheaper reserves to exploit elsewhere." - ROU_Xenphobe - OK, there's a good distinction here that you are making. The US could be sitting on oil reserves which are as vast as in the Middle East but simply more expensive to recover. In fact, this is not the case, even by liberal estimates.

There's a quite simple dynamic going on here. Oil which is most easily recoverable is pumped first. When all of that is gone, production shifts to the less easily recoverable oil and - if new technological methods haven't emerged to make that oil substantially easier to pull out of the ground, prices go up. Now, in reality, the situation is much more fluid than that simple description would suggest. Extraction methods are improving every year. But it is crucial to note that none of the improvements in oil extraction technology have restored the US to it's former peak of oil production, in 1971, as predicted in 1956 by M. King Hubbert.

The Hubbert Curve describes the fluid interplay between market forces and oil reserves, and it is not so much about the size of theoretically recoverable oil reserves as it is about the cost of oil recovery. So - if some radical new technology were to suddenly emerge, which made marginal oil reserves suddenly dramatically cheaper to extract, the "Hubbert Curve" would no longer accurately describe US oil production. But such a reversal has never happened so far, despite tremendous technological advances.

"I just thought your argument was not a good argument that it would run out soon, because it assumed that the only reason oil production would decline in a given country is that it's running out of oil, ignoring other reasons why production might shift elsewhere." - sorry, I thought what I just described, above, was implicit. But it is not if one has not read a bit about the Hubbert Curve.

I downloaded monju_bosatsu's "Response to Hubbert Peak Models", from earlier in this thread, and was rather surprised that - although it presents a rather technical argument - it excoriates adherents to the Hubbert Peak theory without acknowledging M. King Hubbert's successful prediction of the decline in US oil production. Further, the author of this scholarly work, which may indeed be a valid criticism of Hubbert's followers, nonetheless seems to imply that oil reserves are determined by market forces. "The primary flaw in Hubbert-type models is a reliance on URR as a static number rather than a dynamic variable, changing with technology, knowledge, infrastructure and other factors, but primarily growing." This equates, in my mind, with a sort of magical thinking. Belief does not in itself, I think, tend to create oil reserves.
posted by troutfishing at 6:53 AM on January 12, 2004

Fair 'nuf.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:58 AM on January 12, 2004

BlueTrain, your comments demonstrate that you have a best a cursory understanding of economics.

Your assessment that capitalism is not currently searching for an alternative to fossil fuel because it is not profitable, you are right. However, you seem to imply that capitalism will not come up with a solution in the future when the scarcity of oil, and you are wrong.

Like I said already, even though it is not yet profitable for corporations to invest in research, development and production of alternative energy, it eventually will, when the price of oil is sufficiently high. Scratch that - in fact, R&D activities in this field are already happening in the private sector. Even though it is not yet profitable, there already are a lot of publicly traded companies that are persuing alternative energies, in anticipation for future profitability caused by our future needs. These companies are mostly losing money now, but people are buying their stocks because of their expected future profitability. (For example, look at Ballard, a Canadian fuel cell company, has about $1.5 billion USD market cap but never had a single profitable quarter.)

This is just one example of the prescience of capitalism. Don't ever doubt the entrepreneurs - in many cases they have a much better foresight than any policy makers you will ever encounter.

This free market system we have in place, and the individual actors that are part of it, which I call Capitalism, and you can call it a capitalistic group of people, but whatever it is, it will find a way to solve the scarcity problem. You seem to want to label it something else because Capitalism is a bad word for you, and you can call it whatever you want, labels are unimportant to me.

Again, you were right that the bottom-line of capitalism is the dollar. But if you imply that the dollar is not enough of a motivation or a viable solution to eventually come out of our greatest laboratory which we call Capitalism, then you are, once again, wrong.
posted by VeGiTo at 8:37 AM on January 12, 2004

trharlan: Don't worry about population growth, because short of confiscatory taxation, killing babies, or forced sterilization, it's not a problem that the government can do a damn thing about.
Not at all. The biggest success stories in curbing population growth in the developing world, were to a large extent a result of government policies, both heavy handed (China) and less so (campaigns and incentives, i.e. Thailand and India).

VeGiTo: "human ingenuity will figure out an alternative by the time oil really becomes unaffordable."
Hans agrees, he just thinks there will be a small lapse:
"Humanity always adapts to challenges. We wil just adapt to this, right?
Absolutely. Just most of us won't be here".

And as for our greatest laboratory: I'd be interested to know the relative amount of capital that governments have invested in fusion research as compared to private investments.
posted by talos at 9:02 AM on January 12, 2004

Hans posits a rapid decline in oil production that would wipe out the majority of humankind, while most economists simply don't think this is in the cards. What's most likely to happen is that oil production will gradually decline, oil price would gradually rise, and corporations would find it increasingly profitable to persue alternative energy.

There's no reason to believe that oil production would all of a sudden drop off a cliff, and there is absolutely no way that our current food over-abundance (food shortage in certain areas is a problem of distribution, not a problem of total production) would disappear overnight and cause mass starvation. The impact of oil shortage on our survival is greatly exaggerated.
posted by VeGiTo at 9:26 AM on January 12, 2004

Seems like, on this thread at least, that there's only two ways to look at this problem: (1) society is doomed, or (2) be a pollyanna (i.e.: "someone somewhere will discover and implement an alternative means of energy production some time soon"). As always, I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

I do think it is likely that spiking oil prices will provide large corporations incentive to invest in alt. energy, but based on how profitable the status quo is, it will probably not happen in advance of that. I'd like to see Shell and Exxon devote more resources thereto, but I'm not optimistic about that.

There is no question in my mind, that given infinite time, mankind will come up with alternative energy sources to wean itself off of its dependence on fossil fuels, but the critical question is, will it happen in time? Very difficult to answer this question until we get further down the road. Hans offers that it's already too late, I disagree... but neither he, nor I, nor Hubbert has really done enough data crunching (according to Michael Lynch's paper) to back any our theories up... so, it's just my opinion versus his. So much for scientific rigor.

Regardless, it is hard for me to accept the die-off scenario that these doom 'n' gloomers posit, but to be sure, exponentially increasing oil prices (driven by rapid depletion of reserves + diminishing new reserve discovery) could result in global economic collapse, and what mighty follow is a world that is politically very different than what we know today. Mass die-offs? I guess the only parallel I can come up with was the plague in the Europe during the middle ages. As bad as that was, and as long as it lasted, it only managed to wipe out 1/3 of the population. Hans believes a theory that had the global population shrinking from 8B to 500million as a result of this. I just don't see it happening. But by what calculus does he arrive at a world of 500MM People (presumably comprised of roving bands of motorcycle riding desperados raiding self-sufficient communes). Forgive that, I just watched "Mad Max" again yesterday.

Gotta wonder about anyone that believes that they can predict the future of society with such precision. This really gets more in science fiction than anything else.
posted by psmealey at 10:07 AM on January 12, 2004

If there was a massive, rapid die-off to 500M people, wouldn't the survivors have to deal with a plague generated by all the festering bodies? No way would they be able to sanitize/bury that quantity in time. So there goes the rest of humanity!
posted by billsaysthis at 11:49 AM on January 12, 2004

If there was a massive, rapid die-off to 500M people, wouldn't the survivors have to deal with a plague generated by all the festering bodies?

No, but dog food sales would plummet for a few weeks.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:06 PM on January 12, 2004

Two words: Thermal depolymerization.
posted by darukaru at 12:27 PM on January 13, 2004

For the past several years, I've been mostly convinced that the shit is going to hit the fan in my lifetime. I feel like I'm sitting in Rome, watching Nero play his fiddle and biding my time until the Vandals tromp on through.

Athens fell from grace because of their dependence on imported wheat. The most notable turning point was the Sicilian Expedition where the invading Athenian army was obliterated.

Environmental collapse and mass extinction are all but unmentioned in the press. The unimaginably huge AIDS epidemic in Africa is page 17 news and safe sex in the States is no longer the norm. Syphillis and AIDS are gaining a new stronghold in promiscuous American subcultures.

Wasteful vehicles are bought when they're not ridiculously needed. I met a single mother who rides her bike all the time, but the majority of able-bodied adults I know do not. The gap between the rich and the poor in America is insane, not to mention the gap between the first and third world.

The undenably finite oil reserves are going to run out someday and all the research I've seen says it will happen within my lifetime and probably within my youth. Meanwhile, culture is headed towards more waste, not less, and current activism isn't winning over hearts and minds fast enough to reach our populist leaders, let alone our corporate whoring ones.

Whether the science pans out or not, survivalism is starting to look like the only way I'll ever meet even a fration of my life goals of living a life with love, morality and the pursuit of self-actualization. Seeing as how I've been grooming myself for a career of academia, activism, literature and technology, I'm not exactly sure where to go from here. It appears that the last thing the world needs right now is another technopundit.

Do I burn out quick and fast as a peaceful activist martyr? Pursue love? Ignore the world and hope it goes away? Start stocking up on canned goods?

Well shit. My first instinct after reading this type of stuff is always to go back and read all the contradictors' posts so I can feel safe again. I'm the rare someone who actually cares about this stuff and I really want to stick my head in the sand.

I guess the self-actualized thing to do would be to go to the big Dick Cheney "Clean Energy" protest going on this afternoon. If Nero's going to play, I want to hear the music and feel the heat of the fire.
posted by Skwirl at 1:00 PM on January 13, 2004

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