"Why should they be terrified?"
March 25, 2005 7:23 AM   Subscribe

Peak Oil discussed in the US Congress. Roscoe Bartlett (Rep. 6th District, Maryland - R) delivers a presentation on Peak Oil to the 109th United States Congress. More here and a backup of the full text with a bit more of an introduction by Rep. Gilchrest here (PDF)
posted by loquacious (48 comments total)
also see The Long Emergency
posted by fleetmouse at 7:58 AM on March 25, 2005

posted by Smedleyman at 8:06 AM on March 25, 2005

At some point, you pass the point of no return where there is not enough readily available high-quality fossil fuels to support our present economy while we make the investment we have got to make to transition to these renewables.

It's a shame the Republican party doesn't have more members like Bartlett - sensible, logical, a conservative in the truest sense. Conservatives conserve, dammit! I can't believe his party leadership actually allowed him time on the floor to discuss this.
posted by junkbox at 8:12 AM on March 25, 2005

Peak Oil will mean no more oleo or margarine. Oh, what dark days are upon us...
posted by AlexReynolds at 8:43 AM on March 25, 2005

Yeah, I was surprised he's GOP. But he doesn't exactly advertise that on his own sites, and I almost hesitated tagging him with the R until I finally found something on his calandar that noted attendance at a Republican rally somewhere.

I'd probably enjoy hanging out with him and discussing alternative energy - and each of us would probably learn a thing or two. He even seems downright likeable, and looks a bit like my Dad.

Then it turned a little sour when I was reading elsewhere on his main site where he was discussing the whole Federal Marriage Amendment thing and some of the other religious stuff. Ah, well.

However, in light of this comment in another thread (which is something I've always suspected) I wonder how much of this presentation is just more and more circuses, with very little bread fit to eat. And it's not coincidental that thread is primarily concerned with oil and politics as well.
posted by loquacious at 8:44 AM on March 25, 2005

Ah - Peak Oil... my favorite

I love how it comes back in vogue everytime oil trips above 30 a barrel.

You remember how it was "The End of Time - Cheap Oil Forever" back in 1998?

Think about this - If Peak Oil were true, why do the Saudi's dislilke long-term oil prices over 30?

Why does every major integrated and E&P company use prices in the mid 20's to make investment decisions?

If Peak Oil were the case then they would be dialling in 40 or 50/bl and turning Northern Canada into the worlds largest quarry.

It just doesn't add up. Elasticity of demand for oil is much higher than you think over the long to medium term

Also one constant in the last hundred years of Basic Resources is that things get cheaper and more efficient as time goes buy. Take a look at any commodity price in real terms and you'll see what I am talking about.
posted by JPD at 9:06 AM on March 25, 2005

Not to demean the post, but Roscoe Bartlett represented Maryland in the "coronation" last spring (discussed on mefi here). I'd hate to see this chalked up as lunatic ramblings of a lunatic.
posted by frecklefaerie at 9:20 AM on March 25, 2005

"Any commodity" does not equal easily accessible and extractable crude oil.

And that process of "cheaper and more efficient" is certainly flatting the Hubbert's Peak, and they talk about that in the article, and Hubbert actually planned these advances into his Peak Oil theory.

But "cheaper and more efficient" won't last forever when it comes to oil. It just means that we're probably going to have a steeper curve on the backside of the peak.

You can't compare oil to a commodity like, say, copper, or soybeans. All of these commodities - in fact almost all commodities, services, and resources (currently) require oil to extract and/or produce. Not to mention distribute and process.

As far as we know, oil is finite and non-renewable. There are some theories that oil may be the renewable product of some kind of litho-bacterial or thermal process we don't yet understand, but they're only theories and not proofs yet. If ever.

RTFA. I know you didn't read it, because you wouldn't have just stated all that.

I know it's long and pithy, but they address your misguided economic points and talk about how it's not immediately obvious and easy to see the patterns that are developing. The usual tried and true rules of economics don't map well to this problem.
posted by loquacious at 9:20 AM on March 25, 2005

Thanks, loquacious, I was going to say RTFA but you beat me to it.
posted by 40 Watt at 9:25 AM on March 25, 2005

JPD .. Hubberts Peak is/was real. It's only a matter of time, even the US Govt says so. I'm not sure why you think Oil is going to become cheaper, it's not like copper which can be recycled or steel or food which can be increased in supply to meet demand without limit. There is only so much oil.
posted by stbalbach at 9:36 AM on March 25, 2005

In line with known economic theories, energy itself as a commodity may become more plentiful and cheaper. We've already seen a little of that. Hopefully it will continue. But not oil itself.
posted by loquacious at 9:44 AM on March 25, 2005

And good eye, frecklefaerie. It's a mad world indeed.
posted by loquacious at 9:45 AM on March 25, 2005

Re reading my comment I don't think I was clear about my point. However I did read the energybulletin article before my original post

1. Oil is a depleting resource - I don't know why you seem to think I denied that.

2. Oil is a commodity and to argue that it is somehow different than any other is factually incorrect.

But those two comments really have little to nothing to do with why I believe "Peak Oil" is chicken little-ism .

What I am tryng to say is that - yes supply is most assuredly finite, but as that pushes long-term prices up by only a few dollars from where the marginal producer makes zero economic profit today (mid 20's), this incremental cost leads to investments in energy efficiency that lead to a decreasing intensity of hydrocarbon use. At the same time that this is occuring we see the continued improvements in technology that actually allow deposits that are non-economically viable today to become rational in the future.

So you get demand growth slackening, and a production cost curve that doesn't really move all that much
posted by JPD at 10:06 AM on March 25, 2005

Oh yeah empirical evidence of this would be post the 70's Oil Crisis
posted by JPD at 10:08 AM on March 25, 2005

JPD: the point Bartlett makes repeatedly is that investments in energy efficiency do not automatically lead to reductions in usage. He cites the examples of a small business owner who insulates, etc., saves $500 on his energy bill, and reinvests it into his business, making it larger and ultimately consuming as much energy as he did before; and the homeowner who can buy a more energy-efficient refrigerator, but as a result of that efficiency fridges are made bigger all the time and we now spend more on refrigeration as we ever did.

In other words, and extrapolating this to the economy as a whole, reducing per capita energy consumption only results in an increase in overall consumption, which increases energy use, and nothing is stopping the overall growth in energy use.

I'm not sure Bartlett has got a solution to this larger problem.

Maybe we just get it over with. Keep driving SUVs and pump ANWR dry. The faster we run out of oil, the sooner we'll solve the problem.
posted by beagle at 10:27 AM on March 25, 2005

China's oil appetite is growing by absurd leaps and bounds. That will help us get there.
posted by beth at 10:29 AM on March 25, 2005

I give up. You all assume I am some SUV driving Neo-Con fascist for disagreeing with you.

I actually think high oil prices are great, specifically because it forces people to invest in energy efficiency.

Beagle- Do you have evidence of your point? Do we actually spend more on powering our refrigerators today then we did 30 years ago?
posted by JPD at 10:34 AM on March 25, 2005

JPD: At the same time that this is occuring we see the continued improvements in technology that actually allow deposits that are non-economically viable today to become rational in the future. ... Oh yeah empirical evidence of this would be post the 70's Oil Crisis

There aren't any big sources of additional oil production that aren't already economically viable at today's and forecast prices. The Canadian oil sands you mentioned are already under very rapid development. Given the immense scale of those operations, they cannot be expected to increase much more quickly than they already are. After 1974 was a totally different situation - there were huge amounts of untapped non-OPEC reserves that were readily available as a source of additional production. There is no such thing today.

There were some rather serious economic problems blamed on the 70's oil shocks. We are somewhat more dependant oil now than we were then, what with increased globalization, oil-intensive farming, growth of suburban populations. Then there's the situation in China, which complicates things but probably won't make it any easier to deal with a global oil production peak, given the macroeconomic situation there.

In 1974, oil usage in the US briefly declined by 6% or something. Consumption was back above its pre-shock levels with just a year or two. The pace of global producion growth was slowed down for a while, but there wasn't any significant lasting reduction in demand, even with all those new fuel-efficient cars on the road. Of course, it wasn't just demand price elasticity that reduced consumption, there was an actual supply shortage. As there will be again. This time though, it will not be so easy to recover from. On the other hand, this time we have a few years to prepare for it in advance.
posted by sfenders at 11:19 AM on March 25, 2005

Beagle: By definition reduction in per capita energy consumption would decrease overall consumption.

Perhaps you meant individual reduction without the context of a nationwide conservation effort is effectively useless? i.e. My fuel efficient 4-cylinder car does not do much good if it just lowers fuel costs for someones tax subsidized Hummer (or other vehicle over 6000 pounds), and they drive 12 miles to the supermarket to pick up a pack of sporks.

JPD: Hey, I saw you driving over those hippies in your SUV! jk.

Extracting formerly non-viable oil sources is a great band-aid on the problem, but whatever mystery process is developing new oil, it's seems to be happening in geological time.

I'm not sure if oil prices follow normal supply-demand rules. Obviously, they can't get too far off the mark or market forces will force a correction, but there are probably substantial manipulations in terms of OPEC concessions for favorable foreign policy treatment, etc... (15/19 Saudi 911 terrorists, no problem?). Other (whatchamacallit externalities?) factors could include either a belief that some magic nuclear technology will bail us all out. The other possibility affecting calculations of risk regarding future oil prices / stockpiling could be an assumption of the investors that "oh, well if an alternative energy supply isn't found the whole world goes up in flames anyway, and there's no safe place to put my money".

On the bright side, we might develop some plant based fuel source (hemp again? Can't do it, JPD ran over the long haired hippie who was researching it), or nano-technology mining techniques for extracting formerly non-viable deposits. Solar technology has almost reached viability, and nuclear tech is underutilized.

I guess if peak-oil is true Americans should be thinking now about the tough infrastructure problems that may take 30 years to sort out. If we can develop more efficient cars/highways, is that the best system, or will rail triumph? What about the weird monorail-convoy concept they were working on in Holland? Can America develop efficient public transit in a car culture? Is it worth the effort, or will automated highways be the solution (forced drafting behind other vehicles limiting air drag, is rolling friction too great to catch up to train/monorail efficiencies?)
posted by BrotherCaine at 11:35 AM on March 25, 2005

2. Oil is a commodity and to argue that it is somehow different than any other is factually incorrect.

I don't know. I'm just some guy, y'know? Not an Econ major.

But it seems like Oil would behave differently and fall under a different set of rules then, say, oranges. Everything these days relies on oil, including the production and delivery of oranges. That's what makes it different then any other commodity to me. It's a sort of meta-commodity. Without oil - with the current means and methods of producing and distributing all other commodities - everything else gets effected.

But those two comments really have little to nothing to do with why I believe "Peak Oil" is chicken little-ism.

To be sure, it is a form of chicken little-ism, but if we don't raise awareness about the issue the period before we solve the problem is going to be mighty unpleasant. The Oil Crisis of the 70s was at least partially artificial in its scarcity, and probably mild compared to what would happen in a real global oil crisis.

this incremental cost leads to investments in energy efficiency that lead to a decreasing intensity of hydrocarbon use. At the same time that this is occuring we see the continued improvements in technology that actually allow deposits that are non-economically viable today to become rational in the future.

Hubbert actually addresses this in his theory, as does the presentation about Hubbert's Peak Oil theory. The thing is, these "continued improvements" have happened and are already happening. We're already enjoying these benefits, and it's one of the reasons why we're currently and still enjoying cheap oil.

Whether or not we're approaching the limits of this technology I don't know.

The thing is is that we may already be so far down the slope on the backside of the Hubbert Peak and so far into these extraction and production optimizations that we're just setting ourselves up for a harder crash. (Which Hubbert also talks about.)

Do you have evidence of your point? Do we actually spend more on powering our refrigerators today then we did 30 years ago?

Each individual refridgerator may consume less energy, but there are now a lot more refridgerators. Also, many more affluent homes now have more than one fridge, not excluding deep freezers and the like. Not to mention the rise of fast food and other food service industries and the like.

I give up. You all assume I am some SUV driving Neo-Con fascist for disagreeing with you.

Don't give up. You're probably right that I and others reacted prejudicedly because we're so used to people coming in and just spouting off, and usually when someone dismisses Peak Oil in such a manner they are usually some form of NeoCon. But then again, this Peak Oil presentation was presented to Congress by a Republican who is admittedly religious, which is why I found it so fascinating and even a little strange. And at once hopeful and frightening, as I can't help but wonder with the jaded part of me if there's some part of the story behind that that I'm missing.
posted by loquacious at 11:56 AM on March 25, 2005

Do you have evidence of your point? Do we actually spend more on powering our refrigerators today then we did 30 years ago?
Thanks for responding to that, loquacious. And JPD, I was just quoting Mr. Bartlett: "And the gentleman from Maryland (Mr. Gilchrest) mentioned our increasing efficiency. We have done a great job. Our refrigerators today are probably twice as efficient as they were 20 or 30 years ago. But instead of a little refrigerator, we have a big one. Instead of one, we may have two. So I will bet we are using as much electricity in our refrigeration as we ever used."

He cites this, and the small business energy conservation story, as an example of the Jevons Paradox, which is, by "solving" a problem you can sometimes make it worse, ie., energy conservatin has just helped us grow our economy faster; the Green Revolution just helped the world extend its "caring capacity", and now when we run into new limits of growth we have a bigger problem then what we started with in terms of mouths to feed.

Anyway, you can dismiss Peak Oil or accept it, but you have to agree that a crunch is going to happen somewhere among the major interrelated curves of global economic development: population, energy supply, food supply. Or perhaps the crunch will come first in a lesser curve that's part of the same complex of relationships, like global warming. I agree with Bartlett up to a point but in the end I don't find he offers any real solution other than a Manhattan project on energy. What we actually need is a Manhattan project on global sustainability in all areas.
posted by beagle at 12:54 PM on March 25, 2005

If Peak Oil were true, why do the Saudi's dislilke long-term oil prices over 30?

Do they really?

July, 2004: Despite pledges to increase its output, Saudi Arabia, OPEC's largest producer and exporter, produced about 9.13 million barrels a day of oil in July, down from 9.52 million barrels a day in June, according to Petrologistics.

March, 2005: Saudi Arabia's March oil production fell 250,000 barrels a day on the month to 8.95 million b/d as the kingdom was slow to lift supplies to meet unexpectedly strong demand, preliminary data from leading tanker tracker Petrologistics said Thursday.

Oil prices have been well over $30 since then, and over the past year they have actually decreased production? That's a little bit alarming.
posted by sfenders at 1:11 PM on March 25, 2005

Solar technology has almost reached viability

I would say that solar energy is already viable. Also, if solar energy received even a fraction of the subsidies that petroleum did, we would see solar panels on most every rooftop. Take a look at Germany and Japan today and you'll see what I mean. Same for rail transit. And we know what Congress and the White House currently think about subsidies for rail. (can we say AmTrak?)

The fact that this guy was allowed time to present the subject of Peak Oil to Congress means little in the reality based world. Cheney would have him for breakfast if such actions impacted the profit margins of the corporate oil industries by even a penny.
posted by nofundy at 1:20 PM on March 25, 2005

Photovoltaic (sp?) Solar panels cost too much to produce and require petro chemicals. Solar and all the other renewables combined have a long way to go to "replace" the cheap energy we get from oil.

BTW there are a great number of Republicans and Neo-cons who are very concerned - in the strategic sense - about Peak. In fact quite a few used Peak as THE justification for our aggressive military presence in the middle east.
posted by tkchrist at 3:13 PM on March 25, 2005

If Peak Oil were the case then they would be dialling in 40 or 50/bl and turning Northern Canada into the worlds largest quarry.

40 to 50 a barrel, you say?

Turning Northern Canada into the world's biggest quarry, you say?
posted by clevershark at 3:37 PM on March 25, 2005

The future of energy isnt really about replacement per se, its about diversification. Oil is going to be here for a long time, but a planned gradual shift which involves a variety of technologies and strategies is going to be required and soon.

The real issue, like global warming showed us, is that it takes time for the message to get through all the pro-government, pro-business filters to reach the point where people will actually be concerned about the future of oil. Suddenly it will be very stupid to assume oil prices and oil availability will be the same forever and ever. That day hasn't come, yet.
posted by skallas at 3:40 PM on March 25, 2005

The biggest problem with peak oil is that it sets a deadline for some very important things... like industrial agriculture. You can not do industrial agriculture without petro-based fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, medicines, additives, and so on.

At the same time, we have an upcoming pandemic that's going to wipe out a lot of our population.

Maybe the two will balance one another out and save us from ceaseless global warming at the same time.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:00 PM on March 25, 2005

If oil is so plentiful - howzcome were goin' to war over it?

I think that's a good point skallas - what is the greed vs. survival factor here and what are the costs related to oil and will those (cleaning up pollution, etc) drive down the overall efficiency of using oil.

I think it speaks volumes however what Bush says and what Bush does.
His ranch has a "passive solar design, in addition to the geothermal heating and cooling system, allow it to reap much of its indoor and poolside climatic equilibrium from renewable energy sources independent of the electricity grid."

Bucky Fuller got into this issue a long time ago - the question still stands why don't we all have this?
(We might not be running out of oil - but profit, ah, that's another issue)
posted by Smedleyman at 4:05 PM on March 25, 2005

I would say that solar energy is already viable. Also, if solar energy received even a fraction of the subsidies that petroleum did, we would see solar panels on most every rooftop

If only. Photovoltaic efficiency seems to have levelled off around 35%. Their high cost of manufacture, power conditioning requirements, and low capacity factor mean that solar electricity costs at lest four times as much as the going rate. This despite government incentives, and unprecedentedly low interest rates. There is lots of investment in improving efficiency (driven by the very deep-pocketed satellite market) and costs (even the big bad oil companies are pushing it), but there is a LONG way to go.

I think the point of the Hubbert's peak is that these technologies will become viable as oil becomes more and more expensive to get.

I do share your hope that we can arrive, through government intervention, at a more reasonable power mix sooner than later, so we won't suffer such a big blow to our economic growth.
posted by Popular Ethics at 4:21 PM on March 25, 2005

Think about this - If Peak Oil were true,

Peak Oil is the end of CHEAP OIL. The wells that return the most barrels for the least input are exploited 1st. Wells that require more effort are brought on line later. The later wells cost more.

But, tell ya what. You can 'mock' the idea of Peak Oil all you want. Jimmy Carter tried to move the worlds largest oil consumer off of the oil addiction. The group that followed trashed the move from getting off of oil.

The present leadership claims that the US of A shoudl move to an "Ownership Society" - lets see how much "ownership" Americans will take of the bed they've made.
posted by rough ashlar at 4:22 PM on March 25, 2005

BTW there are a great number of Republicans and Neo-cons who are very concerned

Please provide proof. Actual action. Vs words.
posted by rough ashlar at 4:27 PM on March 25, 2005

One day we will run out of coal. Coal is unlike any other commodity. There is no replacement for it. Beware of Peak Coal!
posted by euphorb at 4:50 PM on March 25, 2005

One day we will run out of coal. Coal is unlike any other commodity. There is no replacement for it. Beware of Peak Coal!

OK I'll bite. While the US is unlikely to run into a coal supply crunch for a few hundred years Coal is inapplicable to the transportation sector, and has far worse emissions than any other source (even radioactive emissions.). Do you really want that as your country's fallback?
posted by Popular Ethics at 5:03 PM on March 25, 2005

Yay for coal! You can even turn it into gasoline!

During his campaign for the Presidency, George W. Bush pledged to commit $2 billion over 10 years to advance clean coal technology - a pledge he has subsequently carried out in the National Energy Policy and in budget requests to Congress.

Of course, once we start using coal for everything, we'll use it all up in less than a hundred years.
posted by sfenders at 5:42 PM on March 25, 2005

Gassified coal is only "clean" if:
- you don't consider disposal of the highly toxic ash, and
- you don't consider CO2 an emission.

Of course climate change is way lower down these guy's priority list compared to the US economy's exposure to rising oil costs. Hence the government's clean-coal, anti-kyoto propoganda blitz.
posted by Popular Ethics at 5:58 PM on March 25, 2005

Toronto Dominion Bank's chief economist is a big believer in the large effects of Peak Oil. As are a lot of people that are paid to think long-term. That doesn't include Cheney et al.
posted by anthill at 6:53 PM on March 25, 2005

Without a doubt, we're headed for some intensely interesting times.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:59 PM on March 25, 2005

Verily, "clean coal" is one of the great oxymorons of our time. And "peak oil" is a phrase I expect we'll all be hearing frequently in future years. A "crash program" including expanded use of liquified coal (along with improved efficiency of use, among other measures) still might not be enough to avoid serious problems, according to this recent forecast completed by SAIC for the US Dept. of Energy:

Waiting until world conventional oil production peaks before initiating crash program mitigation leaves the world with a significant liquid fuel deficit for two decades or longer.
Initiating a crash program 10 years before world oil peaking would help considerably but would still result in a worldwide liquid fuels shortfall, starting roughly a decade after the time that oil would have otherwise peaked.

Initiating crash program mitigation 20 years before peaking offers the possibility of avoiding a world liquid fuels shortfall for the forecast period. [20 years? So we might be okay as long as we get started by 1990 or so.]

Without timely mitigation, world supply/demand balance will be achieved through massive demand destruction (shortages), accompanied by huge oil price increases, both of which would create a long period of significant economic hardship worldwide.

In related news, the IEA is making ready their plans to deal with "emergency supply disruptions".

In the event of an activation of IEP emergency response measures, each IEA Member country will be expected to immediately implement demand restraint measures ... such as "speed restrictions and compulsory driving bans."
posted by sfenders at 7:12 PM on March 25, 2005

Uh, my point was that we used to have an economy dependent on wood for energy, then coal and whale oil, and now oil. We didn't run out of trees, coal, or whales because we transitioned to a better source before fully depleting the previous one. Was my comment really that difficult to decipher?
posted by euphorb at 10:15 PM on March 25, 2005

Was my comment really that difficult to decipher?
It wasn't clear that you were referencing a past transition, especially since coal still provides 50% of US electricity, and so much marketing energy being spent promoting it.

The great risk that Bartlett and the IEA write about in the FPP, and sfenders links, is that the transition to whatever's next won't come without a major (as in depression major) economic impact. Taking steps to change our energy-behaviours now is prudent risk-management.
posted by Popular Ethics at 11:06 PM on March 25, 2005

we transitioned to a better source before fully depleting the previous one.

AND EXACTLY WHAT are 'we' going to transition to that has the same price point as cheap oil?

posted by rough ashlar at 3:30 AM on March 26, 2005

rough ashler, and others:

Hybrid energy capturing/distribution systems, which after investment and maintenance, is darn near free energy.

And "free energy" is exactly the mindset we vigorously need to work towards, which would require not a retooling in our energy-networks, but in our thinking.

We need to eliminate this "oh, energy? it just comes out of the wall socket/fuel pump/natural gas line" mentality and take at least partial responsibility of our own energy production and consumption. We need energy decentralization and less "broadcasting" of energy and more local production of energy where it is consumed.

Passive heat exchanges and thermal solar for heating. Tidal bore power. Wind turbines. Natural gas. Photovoltaic solar for electricity. Heat sumps. Biomass energy for methane and methanol. BioDiesel. The list of solution-specific options goes on and on.

Unless we come up cheap with fuel cells and a cheap and clean way to crack hydrogen, or some kind of nearly-magical breakthrough in fusion, the truly best solution isn't any one single solution, but rather extensive microapplications of the ideal solution for each small problem.

For example, most computers don't require much DC current and amperage to function, and a lot of power is wasted in converting from AC house current to conditioned DC current, so photovoltaic solar with battery, hydrogen or flywheel storage would be a good medium for powering those.

But attempting to heat a house with photovoltaic energy would just be silly and wasteful with today's yields of PV solar. But using architectural features as passive heating and cooling would be just right for it, as would heating water for heat pumps to warm the floors and walls with water, but obviously not very practical for running a computer.

We need to eliminate the "live in the suburbs and work in the urbs" model of doing things where huge buildings are maintained just to do mostly needless and wasteful face-to-face busywork that could be accomplished from home just fine. We need incentives and zoning permissions to encourage DIY energy experimentation and active installations. We need a whole psychological shift in how we look at "gainful employment" and elevate the kind of self-investment I talk about here and elsewhere to the same vaunted status as working for somebody else for a paycheck.

Current residential zoning and building code laws generally discourage experimentation, favoring vanilla aesthetics and style over true functionality. Every home could have a modern wind turbine and/or rotor, and/or PV solar, and/or thermal solar. People could start local energy co-ops and exchange groups. Yeah, a lot of this solutions would piss off the NIMBY-type person, and many may be aesthetically alien to us. But what would you rather have in your backyard? A noisy windmill? Or nuclear waste? Isn't a windmill or array of solar panels a much more beautiful thing than smog?

Isn't self-sufficiency the real American dream? A dream we have seem to have mostly forgotten.

Sounds like a lot of work and energy, right? And perhaps even the sort of thing that falls under Jevons Paradox?

It is a lot of work, and it would take a huge investment in energy to make the stuff, to educate people about it, to design and install it, to fine tune it. Which is exactly why we need to do it now while we still have oil. Oil for energy for manufacturing, and oil for advanced materials and composites. Not later when oil is becoming ever scarcer and ever more expensive and it becomes a panic to try to find a new solution. Because these solutions aren't going to magically spring out of a hole drilled in the ground, or be collected and harvested from the sea, or chopped down in the forests. We need to invent them and implement them, and real soon now.

And hopefully, stepping outside of the fossil fuel loop bypasses Jevons Paradox - but only in light of solving the problems of having a diminishing supply of oil.

It probably does little for food production, hunger, and the like, except maybe make our oil last a little longer so we can use it for materials instead of merely burning it.
posted by loquacious at 4:57 AM on March 26, 2005

Oil for energy isn't the biggest problem we face. There are ways of using electricity for almost all oil-for-energy applications.

The big problem is that oil is fundamental to so very much of our economy.

Without oil, we can't produce adequate fertilizers to support the population.

Without oil, we can't produce the plastics that make so much of what we own (a) possible and (b) cheap.

Those two factors alone are pretty, um, intense.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:35 AM on March 26, 2005

fff:There are ways of using electricity for almost all oil-for-energy applications.

Um, where exactly is the electricity going to come from if it doesnt come from oil? Aside from coal amd natural gas, all other electricity producers have a much lower EROI (Energy Returned On Investment) than oil. This is like saying "when we run out of oil we will all just switch to hydrogen!" Besides the obvious cost of new infrastucture, hydrogen is merely an energy carrier. It must be manufactured, and right now the vast majority of hydrogen is manufactured using (guess what!) oil.

a) Fetilizers could maybe be replaced with more traditional insect deterrents (birds, bats, organic methods).

b)I will agree with you on plastics, however. The industrialized world uses huge amounts of plastics. These are a direct product of oil, and I think if we really see Peak Oil we will be lacking many things plastics give us. On the other hand, if Peak Oil does come in the next 10-20 years plastic will be the least of our problems.
posted by sophist at 1:22 AM on March 27, 2005

"Is... is that plastic?" -Hoggle, The Labyrinth

It absolutely astounds me how much plastic there is. I mean, think about it. Look around you and imagine every single plastic item gone.

Now take away even more stuff, because like me you probably didn't include some things with plastic or plastic derived coatings or films. Teflon pans, insulated wiring, tapes, adhesives, etc. And more. Synthetic fabrics. Insulation.

Now take away even more stuff, because we probably forgot things like greenhouse fruits and veggies, strawberries, and lots of other foods that used plastic in their production. (For example, mass-produced strawberries generally use mechanically applied plastic ground and "tent" sheeting to optimize and extend year-round growing.)

And I know I'm not even thinking of everything.

Sure, we could make rudimentary plastics from hemp oil or soy, but that's a whole different kind of chemistry. AFAIK no one is making any advanced polymers or high performance synthetic materials from these natural sources.

And to me that's one of the most immediately accessible strong arguments for why we should conserve oil and not just burn it for fuel. There's so much useful - if not essential - stuff we can make with it. And when it's gone, it's gone.
posted by loquacious at 5:17 AM on March 27, 2005

You'd think business/government people would understand this whole energy thing better. Just like their portfolios, energy solutions need to be diversified. I don't see what's so hard to understand about that.

Yes, serious choices will have to be made, and money will have to be spent, (either by individuals and/or government), but these would be long-term capital investments, not short term expense spending.
posted by Beansidhe at 6:05 AM on March 27, 2005

sophist: where I live, almost all our electricity is produced via hydroelectricity. I can't imagine burning oil for electricity.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:22 AM on March 27, 2005

If hemp seed oil was good enough fo George Washington, it's good enough for me.
posted by m39 at 1:48 PM on March 29, 2005

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