Peak Oil Postponed. Opportunity Lost.

There used to be a fear that peak oil was going to be massively disruptive.

(Image treehugger.com)

The real danger is that it is not.

Shale fields, tar sands and deep water drilling are ramping up to produce hundreds of billions of barrels of fossil fuels in coming decades. This will keep downward pressure on fossil fuel prices and provide a disincentive to alternate energy research and marketing relative to a peak oil scenario.

“The fossil fuel age will be extended for decades,” said Ivan Sandrea, president of the Energy Intelligence Group, a research publisher. “Unconventional oil and gas are at the beginning of a technological cycle that can last 60 years. They are really in their infancy.” (1)

If governments world-wide do not recognize the threat that this represents and put a stop to it, our technological civilization may well have run it’s course. As our carbon emissions continue to rise we will reach the point of facing a choice to geo-engineer the climate and bio-engineer a food chain, or collapse and like the many species we share this planet with face a real risk of extinction.

Geo-engineering the climate may be within the realm of possibility.

It would be a long shot given our limited understanding of climate. We’d more than likely just make things differently bad, or make things worse. (2) Maybe we would get it right enough to keep the planet habitable though, with some mass migrations and adaptations to adjust for rising oceans, droughts, floods … the kinds of things we’ve been seeing beginnings of in recent years and will face some consequences of, even if we stopped our carbon emissions now.

Bio-engineering a food chain seems less possible.

On land, unconventional fossil fuel reserves can provide inputs for growing (while further impacting climate) and we could probably manufacture artificial pollinators. Change from farming outdoors to farming indoors on a large scale. Take your pick of energy sources for artificial lighting and temperature control. Build to avoid or withstand hurricanes and tornadoes.

If the ocean food chain breaks down though, do we have some capacity to replace the approximately 85.3 billion kg of fish we currently take from the ocean each year? (3) Don’t say “farmed fish” because we feed our farmed fish wild fish. (Is that why farmed fish have higher levels of persistent organic pollutants? (4)) How do we replace 85.3 billion kg of fish? I’m stumped there.

Maybe we should just wean ourselves off fossil fuels now, eat less meat and hope our oceans can recover. (5) For that to happen, you and I need to make it happen. Do all those little things like switch to LED lightbulbs and use cloth bags at the grocery store. Then do all those bigger things like write to government representatives, drive less, give donations, volunteer, participate in the Occupy movement, and vote.

We can still make peak oil happen. But we need to make it happen.

(1) http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/26/business/energy-environment/new-technologies-redraw-the-worlds-energy-picture.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&ref=science

(2) http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/jun/15/ipcc-geo-engineering-climate

(3) http://www.unep.org/greeneconomy/Portals/88/documents/ger/GER_3_Fisheries.pdf

(4) Hites, RA, JA Foran, DO Carpenter, MC Hamilton, B Knuth, and SJ Schwager 2004. Global Assessment of Organic Contaminants in Farmed Salmon. Science 2004: 226-229.

(5) http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5hipbi-mn7by4mFZ6veqVQ0OEmu9Q

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One Comment on “Peak Oil Postponed. Opportunity Lost.”


  1. When we think of oil, we picture the gas tank analogy. When the needle reaches E for empty is when we are in trouble. The world does in fact have a trillion barrels of oil left to produce. The real analogy is like a Pearl Harbor reconnaissance plane flying its mission over the ocean. The plane flies as far as it can for as high as it can. The pilot fulfils the mission of aerial photography of enemy positions. At a certain point though the pilot knows he must turn around at the HALF WAY point of the gas gauge to make it back home. When the needle reaches at half the tank the pilot MUST RETREAT and DESCEND to make it back to base. When the world has produced as much oil as it ever can in one day (peaked), when it has flown as far as it can for as high as it can the world economy MUST RETREAT and DESCEND.
    Thanks.


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