Are you prepared? Edit
Minor conservation efforts such as driving a hybrid (the author drives a Prius) may reduce your personal costs and allow you to divert the savings for greater personal changes, but they have virtually NO significance in the overall picture.
The oil I don't burn is bought and used by someone else, perhaps as farm chemicals. Virtually nothing we do today has any meaning if your goal is our children living as adults in a world still powered by oil.
In a manner of speaking, we are living in a theme park, what we experience as our life support infrastructure is no more real for the long-term than the experiences of an amusement park visit. No fossil fuel use is sustainable. No function based on such is sustainable. No economy based on fossil fuels is sustainable. No government program based on the economy of a fossil fueled society is sustainable.
Conservation does not remove the conundrum of embedded fossil fuels in our food, without which the industrial food infrastructure that feeds the present population fails.
In the big picture, we need to end all dependence on non-sustainable factors, STARTING with fossil fuels. As an example, if this country gets cut-off from foreign oil, in a matter of weeks virtually everything we see and experience as modern society will shut down. Is your personal "life support" and "security" arrangements ready for this?
No conservation measure for oil is going to make anything "better" unless it is linked to a program to end our addiction in the time the conservation programs allows. Absent such a link, conservation that merely provides "more of the same" prompts a larger and more dependent population, and portends a greater "hangover" to our oil party.
Unless you are, as Heinberg comments, "Waiting for the magic elixir", your children need to understand the scope of the situation and know how to obtain the essentials of life in a sustainable manner, and how to avoid the worst of the collapse that he and other peak oil advocates present.
Even if global population was in decline, draconian conservation methods may not allow for remaining fossil fuel use to continue long enough for global population to lower to sustainable levels. The transition period to a post oil paradigm promises to be an unpleasant, dangerous time, during which individual survival may be difficult, and with a significant risk that civilization itself may be lost.
Fossil fuels represent an essentially nonrenewable resource of untold millions of year’s accumulation of energy, which our use destroys in a comparative blink of the eye.. In the manner we use much of it, we destroy other aspects of the environment. Burning it for energy is silly, but at least when we are forced to stop, the impact is not directly life threatening. Perhaps our greatest insanity is our use of fossil fuels as fertilizer, pesticides, and powering machines to greatly expand food production, and the population that has grown far beyond levels that can be sustained in an environmentally favorable manner on renewable resources.
Population stability Edit
Central sustainability issue
The problem with peak oil is not gas guzzling SUVs, diesels or two stroke engines spewing fumes, or the energy embedded in our food.
It's what we can do, what we have, and what can be sustained absent non-renewable resources. To those newly arrived to the concept of peak oil, and the realization of how dependent we are on the destruction of non-renewable resources…
There are roughly as many humans alive now as existed cumulatively throughout all of recorded history prior to the industrial revolution. That means that a large proportion of all the geniuses - and monsters - who have ever lived are alive today. Most of the modern infrastructure has been constructed in a single lifetime, and was not designed or engineered to last.
In the big picture, the world is NOT going to sustain 6+ billion people absent the green revolution crops (dependent on fossil fuel derived fertilizers and pesticides), the engines and machines that pump the groundwater (beyond renewal rate), plow the fields, process the food, etc.
No matter how bad we may think things could become, we must keep our heads, and teach our children to do the same. Hopefully, we will not reach a point where our government intrudes on family decisions. But short of affirmative limits being imposed, we can at least "lobby" for elimination of misguided incentive to expansion.
Communities can slow their population growth by removing the many visible and hidden public subsidies that support and encourage growth. The Tragedy of the Commons (Hardin 1968) makes it clear that there will always be large opposition to programs of making population growth pay for itself... Those who profit from growth will use their considerable resources to convince the community that the community should pay the costs of growth. In our communities, making growth pay for itself could be a major tool to use in stopping the population growth...
But if you have done the right thing and turned your community into a permaculture paradise, there is still the question of how to you prevent your community from being overrun?
Scope of the oil situation Edit
United States exampled
For the moment the U.S. is the largest single nation oil consumer, with the highest average per person oil use. Let's look at the basic oil facts for the United States to try and start to put the situation in perspective.
The United States Department of Energy (DOE) estimates that in 2004 the continental U.S. remaining traditional oil supply was somewhat less than 22 billion barrels (BBL). The widely debated (whether to drill or not) Alaskan wilderness fields represent probably another 10 BBL. DOE also estimates that U.S. 2004 use was 7.5 BBL (elsewhere estimated at 10 BBL/Year). Where do you imagine we could possibly get annual energy income from renewable resources equal to the fuel equivalent of 10 billion barrels of oil?
The remaining domestic fossil fuel bank account represents less than 3 years of present demand, but of course the remaining wells CANNOT be pumped fast enough to meet that demand. U.S. defense use is (2005) was estimated at around 123 million barrels per year (1% to 2% of total U.S. use), with 72% of such being in the form of jet fuel. The 2006 “Annual Energy Management Report” indicated the Pentagon used 116,800,000 barrels of petroleum, which is 1.1% of U.S. annual use.
If we just had to keep our military machines in operation, our (2006) remaining internal supplies could meet current military fuel needs for well over 100 years, but the supplies CANNOT operate any significant portion of the economy, including weapons construction, or even current food.
DOE indicates the U.S. only pumps 8% of our own use. Emergency measures might increase the pumping rate significantly, but it is doubtful it could even reach 50% of present use.
U.S. timeline - worst case Edit
Posit that there is a 10 day supply of oil and fuels "in the pipeline" at any given time. Oil production (pumping rate) in the U.S. passed peak production in the early 1970’s, and has been in decline since then. If the U.S. gets cut off from foreign fuel supplies, in 10 days the commercial supply drops to about 8% of expected demand. With a slow decline we might have something like that for perhaps 20 years final exhaustion.
Food alone may represent 20%+ of the U.S. annual use. In a United States cut off from foreign oil, using present industrial farming, we might be able to feed 40% of the current population, which would preclude any internal use of oil to expand domestic production, or rework infrastructure for a solar economy. The U.S. is reported to have 4% of the remaining global supply. This puts the global supply at around 800 BBL.
We need to act to eliminate this dependency before an emergency is upon us.
Global depletion Edit
Recent (2004) global oil use approached 30 billion barrels (BBL) per year. 800/30 = 26 years (2030). Using more optimistic estimates of remaining useable supply, at recent consumption rates global oil supplies still may be exhausted before 2040. Even if you completely eliminated the U.S., the time for global depletion is only delayed by around 30%.
But of course, demand is not stable. In fact it rises every year. Perhaps the most significant factor is the expanding use in China. In 2004 China burned around 2.4 BBL, or about 8% of the annual global use. This was a 14% increase from 2003.
If every other nation on the Earth held their use to 2004 levels, and China increased yearly at their recent rates, depletion would occur around 2024. But long before depletion, we encounter the challenge of demand exceeding pumping rate.
Fossil fuel value in perspective Edit
When demand exceeds possible supply, expect prices to rise. A price / work comparison of oil in terms of human labor, perhaps pointless, but nevertheless presented: A human can work at around 75 watt per hour (256 BTU). In the U.S., minimum wage is something like $5.25 per hour. A gallon of fuel may be able to do 144,000 BTU of work, or around 562 hours of human labor.
At the U.S. minimum wage each gallon is doing the "work" of over $3,000 worth of human labor. Oil has annually provided in recent years energy to power civilization that is roughly equal to the dedicated labor of 250 billion slaves, who do not have to be feed, provided clothing, shelter, medical care, days off, etc.
Conversely, one hour of human labor (75 watthour) not enhanced by a need for a functioning mind, is worth the same as about 3/10 of one ounce of gasoline. At say $3.00 per gallon, one hour of such mindless human labor would be worth just over ½ cent. In electrical terms at 8 cents per kwh a hour of mindless human labor is “worth” 6/10 cent. There may be up to 1,200 billion barrels of oil left that can be usefully obtained. 1,200 billion barrels of oil is difficult to envision, but at this time it is what the infrastructure of present day civilization is dependent upon. To put this "best case" quantify of oil in perspective, how much would it be if it were already pumped out, and divided equally among everyone on the planet? Your personal "best case" share, upon which you are betting the future of your children, grandchildren,, etc. would be around 7,600 gallons. Do you want your future dependent on the quantity of oil that fills an above ground swimming pool 5' deep and 16' in diameter?
Big picture Edit
Best case timeline
The known available & remaining "fossil" alternatives, if energy is not used at any rate greater than 2005, put humanity in a timeframe that is essentially:
2030 - Pick you own year for effective
depletion of traditional oil. +5 - Time gained from tar sands +22 - Time gained from shale oil +20 - Time gained from coal to oil +30 - Time gained from easy uranium
2107 - Most optimistic “fossil” options end
The author believes the above timeline is far too optimistic, but it can at least be argued using known data, and assuming no increase in demand, no increase in population, and global peace is enforced. At the end of course, the population must somehow plummet.
2006 - Global population around 6.6 Billion.
It can be argued that a sustainable global population can not exceed 1.2 billion, essentially what it was before the oil party started. Population demographics are such that if a one child per couple guideline was rigorously followed, we might expect natural attrition to lower the population to 1.2 billion by 2087. The real-world situation of course is that overall the population continues to grow. Despite the "bad press" absent immigration and pro-population growth government programs, the population in the United States would be stable or maybe in a slow decline, EXACTLY WHAT IS REQUIRED.
In contract China requires a new city the size of Philadelphia EVERY 30 DAYS.
Eliminate fossil fuel dependency Edit
Whether to avoid global warming, or due to effective depletion of fossil fuels, we will be forced to stop burning such. Look at what DOES NOT work without fossil fuels, or the ongoing input of fossil fuel derived molecules (such as pesticides and fertilizers), and start your own steps toward sustainability. The present global civilization evolved in a paradigm of continued growth in population and energy use, neither of which is logically sustainable. We need to look at what is needed for a sustainable civilization, starting our picture from the grass roots up.
If you want to influence a country’s intellectual trend, the first step is to bring order to your own ideas and integrate them into a consistent case, to the best of your knowledge and ability. Required is honesty, knowing what you do not know, constantly expanding your knowledge, and NEVER evading or failing to correct a contradiction. This means development of an active mind as a permanent attribute. -Ayn Rand