Innovation is key to the survival of our society, Pt. 2 “The Peak”

As pointed out in my previous post, an elderly gent that made himself known to me has made the point (quite rightly) that by restricting our use of fossil fuels we will hinder the function of most of our current practices. I’ve said as much many times in previous posts and elaborated in some detail regarding food production here. Although I found a site that stated that in the US, it took 10 calories of fossil fuels to produce 1 calorie of food energy, this should be treated lightly. It is without a doubt an industry heavily reliant on fossil fuels, but it is difficult to place a line as to where the energy requirements are no longer on the farm or between there and the plate (indeed there are many related industries with overlap). What is easy to state, is that all our actions in industrialized communities are held up on pillars of fossil fuels.

I made the point in the previous post that as much as this aspect of our elderly friend is correct, it is cherry picked to illustrate his point and fails to take full respect for the situation. In this part of my continuing discussion, I wish to explore the idea of “peak oil”.

Peak Oil

Firstly, Wikipedia cover the subject well enough here, so I’ll only offer a basic rundown in this post.

Peak oil first appeared as an idea when, in 1956 Marion King Hubbard used a model to more or less accurately predict oil production trends in the US through to the 1970’s. It turns out to be a bell shaped graph – with production growing exponentially before slowing to an apex point (the peak point) and then fall away. Our friend on his alarmist campaign makes the point that in the 1970’s people were screaming out about peak oil – and rightfully so; for the US hit peak oil at this point, which causes a noticeable decline in the world production which did not reach the same values again until the 1990’s.

It’s a concern because following this apex, production can’t keep up, which puts pressure on all dependant industries.

At other times, we’ve simply moved to other places and dug wells there (one could put a strong case that much aggression has been in the name of this black gold under other guises – but that is the topic for others). However, there will be a point where the existing wells are slowing down and what remaining reserves exist are just too difficult to dig up. Looking at the reserves of fossil fuels, I already question our efforts to obtain material at the expense of mountains and our ability to safely pipe deep sea reserves.

It is obviously difficult to say when we’ll hit the world apex point – we definitely are willing to go to great effort to obtain the material which adds to complicate these predictions. However, if you looked at it solely from price, sure the barrel price is lower than the massive peak in 2008, but if we take into account the typically overlooked environmental costs (especially mountaintop removal, tar sands and now in the gulf of Mexico) and all the costs of aggression related to gaining control of reserves, the slow increase in barrel prices would surely becomes a sharper slope. Unfortunately such work would be open to debate, so I’ll only speculate on it here.

Regardless of all this, prices are always on the rise and will never drop significantly again. To say where world peak oil really occurs/occurred will be left to retrospect, but what is certain is that I will see my children get their license in a time where petrol will either be too expensive or cars will be powered by other means – and this is a trivial fact when you look at all the many industries that we currently rely on from their fossil fuel dependency.

Yes, I too worry about how much we rely on our energy supply, but I am not worried about regulations dooming us; I am worried about the inevitable retraction of this fuel and being ill-prepared to meet this challenge. It is difficult to say just when we hit the peak, but all forecasts suggest that I will ride the roller-coaster down the other side (an interesting commentary about securing the next major power supply, nuclear, can be found here).


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