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  • Friday, November 25, 2005

    In peak oil news

    From Common Dreams:

    Even if nothing disrupts the projected flow of Middle East petroleum, Energy Department consultants warned earlier this year that "the world is fast approaching the inevitable peaking" of global oil production -- a problem "unlike any faced by modern industrial society."

    They wrote that the United States and other nations are in a race with the clock to find alternative sources for oil, "the lifeblood of modern civilization," and avoid potential economic disaster.

    After years -- or even decades -- of sitting on the fringe of the world oil debate, the issue of what to do when production dwindles is starting to get attention in Congress. Last week, a bipartisan group of eight U.S. senators, including Minnesota Republican Norm Coleman, proposed legislation to accelerate the nation's shift to new energy sources in the nation's transportation sector, which guzzles 14 million barrels of oil each day.

    Warning of a potential crisis, they proposed billions of dollars in tax incentives to spur development of vehicles powered by electric batteries, diesel, Minnesota-manufactured ethanol and exhaust-free hydrogen fuel cells. In the House, Rep. Gil Gutknecht, R-Minn., and 15 co-sponsors want all U.S. gasoline to contain a 10 percent blend of renewable fuel, as only Minnesota requires now.


    [ Former CIA Director James ] Woolsey said in an interview that the administration is no longer "just asleep on these issues," but that the government still isn't moving swiftly enough to bring new technologies to full-scale production.

    "We have done very little really, as a country, to promote the development and marketing of energy alternatives," said Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minn., a former state energy and economic development commissioner. "We've given lip service to them."

    By "renewable fuel" they are unfortunately talking about biodiesel and ethanol, both of which require more energy in their production than they provide. Sorry, biofuels are not going to do it.


    At 11/28/2005 12:54:00 am, Blogger Jez said...

    How about nuclear? I say let the economy crash.

    At 11/28/2005 02:17:00 am, Blogger DJEB said...

    Nuclear is expensive and dangerous and currently relies on fossil fuels to build the plants and mine the uranium. (I read one government source saying uranium reserves in North America have got 50 years at current rates of usage.) Then there is the problem of toxicity. Using the stuff is extremely foolish. The French are working on a spent fuel recycling technique to create new fuel but that system is not yet ready. However, were we even to try to replace oil with electricity from nuclear generators, we would soon discover some problems:

    We would need massive generating capacity.

    There are no electric cars to take over the current fleet.

    There are no electric motors capable of moving our largest vehicles like tractors, transport trucks and mining equipment and nothing for airplanes. (Remember roads require huge amounts of energy in their maintenance.)

    Getting hydrogen via electrolysis experiences a loss of energy in the process and we have no infrastructure for doing this - no fleet of cars, industrial hydrogen collectors or filling stations.

    Wind would be a better answer for electricity production. But you still have the same problems if you try replacing fuel oil.

    In our past, we've had replacements waiting in the wings - wood to coal, coal to oil - and in each case the replacement gave more energy per unit of fuel than the last. This time, there is nothing waiting in the wings to replace oil. You say let the economy crash? Let it or fight against it, it will crash either way. The blips that have cause problems in the past (like the 1997 Asian crisis) are nothing compared to the problems facing the economy in the future.

    The real problem is the food supply. Food production shot up in the 20th century and the population followed suit. That production has already hit a peak (1999) but the population has not. Just the problems from Katrina and Rita already have a number of U.S. farmers sitting out the 2006 growing season due to oil costs (natural gas shocks have led to increased fertiliser prices as well). First there is the immediate problem: China's reliance on grain imports of which the U.S. is a supplier. But what happens after the peak? Before oil, we used to be able to feed 1.7 billion people. How are those extra 4 billion plus people going to be fed? I have no idea how to keep them alive. Are they all immediately going to switch to permaculture systems right as prices cause a production crisis? If so, how do they know how to get the timing right? If there is a way to avoid significant starvation, I don't know what it is.


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