Peak Oil and the Extinction of Humanity
The follow arrived in my email today with all the looks of virus generated spam. I don’t know if it was, but it is an interesting message, and if viral spam, it is unusual in its content.
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Peak Oil and the Extinction of Humanity
Global conventional oil production peaked in 2000 and has remained about level since then. We are at the top of the "bell curve" for global oil production. It is expected that we will start sliding down the back side of the bell curve starting about 2008. The decline in oil production will be precipitous and humanity is about to go over a cliff. By 2025, global oil production is predicted to be reduced by about 50%.
We will know all of this for certain when we have the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. However, oil experts are shouting from the rooftops now, if anyone will listen. Do an Internet search for "peak oil" or "oil production peak" and see for yourself.
Unless alternative sources of energy such as wind, solar and geothermal are developed very soon, it will not be possible to develop them at all because production and transportation at this time depend on oil. If we continue on our present course, the human population on the planet will experience a significant die-off while oil production falls.
Biologists looking at parallels in nature and human history suggest that there is a balance between populations and their energy base. When the population exceeds their energy base, the population will decline until balance is restored. For humanity without oil and without a replacement for oil, the decline in population may be about 90%, though total extinction is a real possibility.
The only hope for the bulk of mankind to survive is to develop alternatives to oil now, before oil begins its decline. As a fuel for cars, compressed air is a practical possibility. A car is being developed in France that can go 300 kilometers (180 miles) on a tank of compressed air. It takes only $2 of electricity to fill the tank. The car has an onboard air compressor, so all you need to do is plug in the car each night and you can drive all day. Alternatively, "filling stations" can offer a quick recharge from large compressed air tanks.
Heat for homes and electricity for the power grid can be provided wind, solar and geothermal. All of these can be applied on a small scale to generate heat and power for homes and businesses. The enormous amount of energy needed for national electrical grids can be supplied cost-effectively by large wind turbines. The installation of millions of wind turbines around the world could replace the loss of energy from the decline in hydrocarbons Variations in the amount of wind in local areas can be offset by having grid-connected wind turbines widely distributed, so that the amount of wind averages out. By this means, wind becomes a reliable source of electrical power.
As oil production falls and global consumption continues to climb, oil prices will rise. Who knows how high the price will go? It will be bid up internationally. Everything that depends on oil will also go up in price. Anyone who wants to implement alternatives to oil would be well advised to do it soon, while the price of oil is affordable. If we wait, not only will the cost be higher, but the money available will be less because the global economy will begin to contract, unemployment will soar, and government revenues will decline. By some estimates, demand for oil will exceed supply starting about the middle of 2005.
It would be good for those who can see what is happening to let others know. Only collective action now can save the situation.
The United States has 5% of the world's population and uses 25% of the world's oil. China's oil consumption (7.6% of global consumption) has now passed Japan (7.4%), making China the world's #2 oil consuming nation. Oil consumption is increasing in all areas of the world, but the increase is most rapid in the developing countries. World oil demand since 1988 has increased 25%, from 65 million barrels per day (b/d) to 82 million b/d. In these sixteen years, European consumption is up 16%, US consumption up 18%, Japan's up 25%, and China's up 175%.
There are insufficient hydrocarbons in the world for the entire population of the world to rise to the American level of consumption. World oil production per capita peaked in 1979 and has been declining since then. Given rising global demand for hydrocarbons, it is possible that demand may exceed supply within the next few years, perhaps as soon as 2005.
In 1956, Mr. King Hubbert predicted U.S. oil production would peak in the early 1970s. Hubbert was widely criticized by oil experts and economists, but in 1971 Hubbert's prediction came true. U.S. oil production has declined 40% since 1971. Hubbert's methods of oil reserve analysis predict that a peak in world oil production is occurring now. At the same time, global demand for oil is growing rapidly. Shortages and rising prices are inevitable. Even a global recession would only postpone the approaching shortage of oil.
In 1995, Petroconsultants Pty. Ltd., a respected oil industry consulting firm, released a report called, "World Oil Supply 1930-2050". This report cost $32,000 per copy and predicted global oil production would peak around the year 2000 and decline 50% by 2025.
In fact, worldwide conventional oil production did peak in 2000. We are on a bumpy plateau the top of the bell curve for global oil production. People will become more aware of this when we start to slide down the far side of the bell curve.
One of the reasons oil production will decline precipitously is because the size of oil reserves around the world have been overestimated. The "value" of oil companies is directly related to the size of their reserves, so there is an advantage to them to manipulate these estimates. OPEC countries have an agreement that limits their export quotas of oil in proportion to their reserves, so they also have an incentive to inflate their reserve estimates. Plus, there is a big difference between total reserves in the ground and reserves that may be ultimately recoverable.
Oil initially is very easy to extract because it is under pressure and flows to the surface automatically. However, as the oil flows, the pressure is reduced and the oil becomes increasingly difficult to extract. When oil is first pumped from a well, it can take the energy of one barrel of oil to get 100 barrels of oil from the ground. This is called the Energy Profit Ratio (EPR). Today on average it takes the energy of one barrel of oil to get ten barrels of oil from the ground. When it takes the energy of one barrel of oil to get one barrel of oil from the ground then the Energy Profit is zero and there ceases to be any benefit from the activity. (When the Energy Profit Ratio is 1/1 = 1, then the Energy Profit is zero.) According to a Swedish study done by a team from the University of Uppsala, ultimately recoverable world oil reserves are 80% less than previously thought
When examining alternatives to conventional oil, it is important to think not just in terms of money, but in terms of energy in versus energy out. Canada's tar sands, for example, require 7 to 8 barrels of water plus the energy of two barrels of oil to obtain three barrels of oil (the water ends up polluted in holding ponds that may eventually be as large as Lake Ontario). Coal is experiencing declining efficiency as a source of energy. At one time coal had an EPR of over 50, but has since fallen to an EPR of 8. The EPR of coal is expected to turn negative by 2030. Coal, natural gas and uranium have their own "Hubbert" curves. Nuclear energy is surprisingly inefficient when you include ALL the costs associated with nuclear power plants. The Energy Profit of nuclear energy is barely above zero. Costs often ignored when considering nuclear power include: radiation, accidents, production of bomb material, vulnerability to terrorist attacks, no liability insurance, and storage of radioactive waste for many thousands of years
There is not enough natural gas in North America to supply all the gas powered electrical generating plants presently on the drawing boards. Natural gas production in U.S. and Canada has peaked and is declining in both countries. If your home is heated by natural gas, you might want to start looking for an alternative because no one can guarantee the supply of natural gas. We suggest that each homeowner consider installing a ground source heat pump to heat and cool the home.
Sources of the world's energy:
The above list clearly shows the world's dependency on hydrocarbons (oil, natural gas, coal). Everyone knows that hydrocarbons are a finite resource and will run out one day. However, the general belief is that we have at least two or three decades before this event happens. The surprise is that on a planetary scale conventional oil is peaking NOW, and that problems begin NOW when production levels off and then starts to decline. The growth of the world economy needs energy, and if oil is peaking then the energy to grow can no longer come from oil. Unless alternatives to oil are found and developed, the world economy will stall and then contract in step with declining oil supplies. In truth, the population of the planet is faced with an emergency unlike any world war or plague or other disaster in its experience. We can fight like rats over a declining resource until no oil and no people are left, or we can work together on a planetary scale to usher in a new post-hydrocarbon era of peace and prosperity for all.
How a Population Goes Extinct
"A population that grows in response to abundant but finite resources, tends to exhaust these resources completely. By the time individuals discover remaining resources will not be adequate for the next generation, the next generation has already been born. And in its struggle to survive, the last generation uses up every scrap, so that nothing remains that would sustain even a small population." - Dr. David Price
In the above list, the tiny 1% of total energy from "other" highlights the complacency of many nations, but things are changing. Denmark now gets 21% of its electricity from wind. Germany began a rapid development of renewable energy 12 years ago. Iceland is working to eliminate oil imports. The Canadian province of Prince Edward Island gets 5% of its electricity from wind and other renewables, and is planning to increase this to 100% by 2015.
There are those who would take a "wait and see" attitude before taking action. This is a formula for disaster, because oil is needed for all production, including the production of wind turbines, solar cells and other potential alternatives to oil. Delay makes the transition increasingly difficult. The actual peak for oil production will be known for certain after the fact. Politicians who wait for this certainty are gambling with the lives of their people and deserve to starve and freeze in the dark with them. Why would anyone want to take this risk? For the people of each country, there is no downside from beginning to create a post-hydrocarbon era now.
Even for the big oil companies, there is no longer any risk of loss by the development of competing sources of energy. The oil companies have sold their oil and made their profits. Their industry is now beginning its inevitable decline. Watch the newspapers and you will see that the oil companies are already beginning to consolidate and sell their assets. Employment in the oil industry has declined from about 1.6 million people to just over 600,000 in the last 20 years. The number of operating drilling rigs has dropped by half during that time. Since 2001, oil companies have spent more money exploring for oil than they have earned in new oil discovered.
Energy Source Energy Profit Ratio (EPR)
Nuclear..........Slightly greater than 1
Oil from tar sands............................1.5
Liquid Natural Gas (LNG)...............2
Coal with scrubbers........................2.5
Ground source heat pump..............3
Newer solar devices such as thin film panels and concentrating systems can have an Energy Profit Ratio as high as 15. Large wind turbines can have an EPR as high as 50. Given that the EPR of wind and solar is so much higher than the EPR of oil or coal, it makes more sense to invest available resources in wind and solar rather than exploring for more oil or digging out more coal. The best location for solar is in deserts, both because the amount of sunshine is maximum and also because the land is not otherwise being used for agriculture. Solar roofs are also a productive use of space, generating both electricity and hot water.
Wind energy is cheaper than electricity generated by coal or nuclear energy. Due to recent price increases for natural gas, wind power is now competitive with electricity generated by natural gas.
Wind turbines generate electricity only when the wind is blowing. By connecting wind turbines to the electrical grid, fluctuations in the amount of wind in local areas averages out. By this means, wind becomes a reliable source of energy.
"Maps of European wind conditions reveal that the continent's present electric power consumption could be supplied 100-fold with onshore installations alone; offshore installations add enormous additional capacity...By 2003 the installed capacity already reached 39 GW." - Rudolf Rechsteiner (Swiss MP)
Replacing oil will require a mix of alternatives. Europeans use half the energy per capita compared to North Americans, for a comparable standard of living. This illustrates the potential for energy conservation in North America. Vehicles can be propelled by compressed air, batteries, hydrogen, etc. However, this choice will be made by the end user. The main task at hand is to develop a primary source of energy. Compressed air, batteries, and hydrogen are energy carriers or storage devices, they are not a source of energy. Wind power, solar power, and geothermal energy are primary sources of energy.
As oil supplies fall and demand rises, there will be a steadily growing gap between supply and demand that must be filled by alternatives if the global economy is to avoid collapse.
"By some estimates, there will be an average of two percent annual growth in global oil demand over the years ahead, along with, conservatively, a three percent natural decline in production from existing reserves." - Dick Cheney, 1999.
"Under the best of circumstances, if all prayers are answered there will be no crisis for maybe two years. After that it's a certainty." - D. Matthew Simmons, Energy Advisor to George W. Bush, August 2003.
Some experts are predicting that the first half of this century will be characterized by "resource wars" as nations fight over declining oil supplies. If you deduct the energy cost of resource wars from the already low Energy Profit Ratio (EPR) of oil, it is readily apparent that these wars would be a waste of energy. If you calculate the number of wind turbines each country needs based on Dick Cheney's estimates (3% decline of oil production per annum plus 2% for growth) or the estimate by Petroconsultants Pty. Ltd. of a 50% reduction in oil production by 2025, you will readily see that every available scrap of energy needs to be invested in energy conservation and wind turbines if people and the economy are to survive.
Wind energy offers:
- quick construction (2 - 20 weeks), global availability
- low capital cost (cheaper capital cost than coal or nuclear per kilowatt hour of electricity produced)
- winter and summer production peaks (depending on location)
- no emissions, no disposal costs (compare to nuclear), no fuel required
- steadily falling costs due to mass production and more efficient installation
- wind generated electricity is immune to oil and gas price fluctuations
- there is enough wind to supply ALL energy requirements many times over everywhere in the world.
Wind power in the last six years has maintained a yearly growth rate of 26 percent and is the fastest growing electrical generation technology worldwide.
The economic benefits from becoming self-sufficient for energy are substantial. Why import oil and send the nation's wealth overseas when all the energy needed is readily available at home? Development of wind energy creates five times more jobs than an equal investment in nuclear energy. A new profession of skilled workers retrofitting homes and businesses for energy independence and increased energy efficiency would create many thousands of jobs that could not be easily "outsourced" to China or India. Becoming self-sufficient for energy will make the economy less vulnerable to disruptions in oil supply and allow the nation to abstain from "oil wars". Widely distributed energy supplies give the economy resilience in the face of adverse weather, terrorist attacks, and other disruptions. Increased efficiency in business and industry would make the economy more competitive internationally.
Given time to adapt, we can collectively respond to any challenge. Delays in starting adaptation to a post-petroleum world will make the transition increasingly more difficult. If you wait until oil runs short, EVERYTHING will cost more, including alternative sources of energy, because at the present time everything is made and transported with petrochemicals. This means that "market signals" in the form of rapidly rising oil prices and shortages will come too late. If you want to build a post-petroleum economy you need to do it while there is still enough oil. This means NOW. In a sense, the ability of humanity to develop a post-petroleum economy before oil runs out is a test of its intelligence, and those who fail will not survive.
Hydrogen vs.Compressed Air
Many people believe that the fuel of the future is hydrogen. Certainly hydrogen will play a role. However, we believe the fuel of the future is air.
Look at the inefficiencies involved with hydrogen. Electrolysis of water to produce hydrogen and oxygen is about 75% efficient. So there is an initial loss of 25% of the energy input.
A gas turbine or fuel cell is about 30% to 40% efficient at converting the hydrogen back into electricity. So at best you have lost 60% of the remaining energy.
Plus the hydrogen is a very light gas and must be highly compressed or cooled and liquefied before it can be used as a fuel for automobiles and other vehicles. Given that the gas is going to be compressed anyway, why not use compression as the store of energy and forget about all the previous steps? Compressed air is an excellent store of energy and compressed air engines are very efficient and economical to build and operate.
Compressed air can be used as fuel for vehicles, and can also power a generator to provide electricity for homes and businesses.
For more information, do an Internet search for "compressed air engine", "compressed air car", etc.
It is entirely possible for each home to become self-sufficient for energy Installation of a ground source heat pump costs about $15,000 and can provide all the heating and cooling the home requires. A small wind turbine and solar panels, plus batteries and an inverter can provide all the electricity a home requires for a total cost of about $15,000. When the compressed air car becomes available, it can be recharged at night by plugging into the house power. The car's onboard air compressor will recharge the compressed air tank. The cost of the car is expected to be less than $15,000. So for about $45,000 each home can get along just fine without oil. It is not necessary to go to war for oil, nor is it necessary to bankrupt the country or for the population to die off.
The above cost could be reduced by each community installing large, efficient wind turbines to generate all the electricity the community requires. The electricity grid would provide back-up power for the community. Then each homeowner and business would be responsible only for heating/cooling and transportation.
"I would therefore like to address the men and women of America: You belong to the most powerful nation on Earth, an immensely wealthy country, populated by people who want to live their lives with compassion and integrity You have a great and noble task ahead of you. Each of you can be as powerful as the most powerful person who ever lived. If you or your child were threatened with a lethal disease, you would do everything in your power to save that life. This is the analogy that you must now apply to the planet and in particular to your country. America must rise to its full moral and spiritual height to reach its intended destiny - the nation that saved the world." - Helen Caldicott
"There is no additional supply." - OPEC President Purnomo Yusgiantoro, August 3, 2004.
"All great crises were ignored until it became too late to do anything about it." - Matthew Simmons
For more information do an Internet search for "peak oil" or "oil production peak". There are also many books available on the subject.
This non-commercial, non-partisan email is being distributed as a public service to alert humanity to the coming oil crisis and the need for action NOW if disaster is to be averted. Please pass this information on to others in order to stimulate informed discussion and action. This issue affects the peoples of all nations, cultures, religions, and races. We are in this together and constructive action everywhere in the world is the best solution.
Questions and comments may be sent to the author:
17-7000 McLeod Road
Niagara Falls, Ontario L2G 7V7