Oil-Less Life

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<Peak Oil Background<

Rather than the negativity ( quite justifiable for USA residents ) surrounding this issue among realistic web-sites, we wish to examine the challenges and possibilities the rest of the world will face. But before in any future gazing exercise lets not forget the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse litany of catastrophes.Out of scope problems ...... ................


Corollaries:

There are a whole bunch of variations on the theme that Peak Oil heralds the end of technological civilization. Some are more intellectually rigorous than others, but most raise important question for any forward strategy beyond, see Collapsing Fears for details.

Along similar lines ( to Duncan's 'Olduvai Theory' ) is Perry Arnett's article "There Must Be A Way Of Knowing How Much Oil  Currently Exists." which closes;-

"Y2K: Y2k was the perfect reverse analog to the future. Why? because all the stuff that might have happened didn't, which is the reverse of what lies ahead. Why is that? Y2k didn't happen, largely, because  things were fixed, or remediated. But there is no remediation for a dry oil well. .................. There is no remediation for the loss of the cheap, readily available, high content energy sources the world has  been living off for the past 150 years. When they are gone, they're gone. And most of our lifestyles with them."

 

Arnett's whole article along with another by him "Tipping Points" inadvertently divulge why such theories seem so credible in the USA today. The simplistic mindset of laissez faire consumerism exacerbates the corrosive effect a loss of market confidence will have on the nations whole purpose, thence the social frabric's viability.


But: EMP

While generally dismissing the corollary that Peak Oil will herald an inescapable 'Sliding' to a New Stone Age, there is one notable exception. The EMP temptation.  ElectroMagnetic Pulse  weapons will send any targeted area back to at least the 1930s if not quite the stone age in a blink of an eye. EMP literally fries any electronics more integrated than big old valves. All of the sophisticated computer control systems under-pinning modern life;- electricity, water & gas provision; modern communications of digital telephone systems, radio & TV, broadcaster & receivers; building control systems for lifts, air-conditioning etc; transport vehicles with any on-board computers; cash-registers; self-serve petrol-pumps; Teller-machine & on & on,  simultaneous just die to unrepairable lumps .   One  nuclear bomb exploded outside of the Earth's atmosphere at altitudes of 40 to 400 km will produce a nation-wide EMP. Smaller E-bombs can take out whole cities or just a specific block. While various countries militaries may be able to protect a few odd of their hardened-vehicles, the rest of societies technological fabric evaporates. Any nation with a nuclear weapon  could pull off country wide EMP attacks. Everybody else  including terrorist can build  smaller E-bombs for a more local mayhem. For lots more frightening details check-out Dr Karl's talk about "EMP - The Gentle Killer", episodes 1,2,& 3.


Estimating the Future

The Global Hubbert's Peak {see the pdf file  " Hubbert Center Newsletter # 97/1 " } is a bell curve with the area under the curve equating to the volume of oil available. The first half of the curve to the Peak shows how oil consumption rose over time as more discoveries enabled more production.  As oil availability rose, ever more desirable way to utilize oils unique properties where deployed ever accelerating demand.  Conversely as time elapses beyond the peak, oil reserves thence supply will irrecoverably fall.  As supplies become scarcer hopefully they will be consumed where they are of most benefit. The use of a resource that is the most beneficial typically is the most obvious thence the first to be discovered.  (Because of the complexity of technological social  interaction this rubric does not always hold).  So to get a very rough feeling for a future of dwindling oil, for every year after the peak count backwards from the peak into the past for the bygone equivalent of what life that many years after the peak will reflect.  This will be particularly true for agriculture and personal mobility and resulting social dynamics.  But the world of ideas, achievable or sustainable technology and custom will inevitably make the future as different as our own life is from our forebears. 

      Now fortunately this can all be encapsulated as a formula;-          

Be = Po (Ya * ff )

Where;-   "Be" is the " Before Equivalent year ",
                "Po" is the year that Peak Oil is believed to have been, or will have reached in/ by.
                "Ya " is the number of " Years After " the Peak.
                 *   means multiple preceding variable by following variable.
                " ff " stands for " foolishness factor ".  Nominally equated to a value one for rough calculations assuming that everything (population, environmental health, energy demand etc) magically  remain static after the peak passes.  The "foolishness factor" can be as a complex as folk care to make it reflecting changes in population, oil reserves, technology, living standards, environmental health, climate change or anything that maybe meaningfully quantified for inclusion as a multiplier in the formula.

 For a simple taste let ;-
      ff = 'estimated world population of future year' divided by the 'world population at Peak Oil'.  

       Because as we travel back in time the world population that previous existed will at first be smaller than what is current, a variation that gives a better approximation could be;-
      ff = 'estimated world population of future year' divided by the 'world population at approximate ' Before Equivalent year'.  (Note: Without some complicated recursive  programming you can not calculate, and substitute  "Be" on both sides of the formula simultaneously.) 
 

Most commentators would agree that without oils spectacular energy density and utility  the world's current population is not sustainable for the long term (ever on after a few hundred years). Thus a more enlightening way to calculate the "foolishness factor" would be to first determine what number you believe represent a sustainable world population without oil.  By common reckoning now 2,000,000,000 folk is fairly widely agreed to be the sustainable post-oil world population target.
Calculate;-
     ff  = 'estimated world population of future year' divided by your predefined sustainable world population without Oil.


Ramifications:

Oil has been the dream fuel of humanity. Plentiful, dirt cheap, easy to handle and process, liquid in all climates, with a fantastically  high energy density.  There is no alternative to oil that shares all of oils matchless advantages. { A reasonable scholarly examination of this is Walter Youngquist's paper "Alternative Energy Sources" at www.hubbertpeak.com/youngquist/altenergy.htm unfortunately though written in 2000 some of his source material, thence his assertion are already very dated,  with a couple now being plain wrong.}  Bio-fuels can never be as plentiful and cheap as oil was, as there is simply not enough arable land to grow the need quantity of bio-fuel crops as well as food crops for humanity.  Natural gas is an even more limited natural resource than oil and would be quickly exhausted if currently oil usage was exclusively switched to natural gas. Heavy oil alternatives like tar-sands and shale-oil are far more expensive to extract making each barrel of oil roaring expensive.

With little argument the biggest impact of rising liquid fuel cost is going to be viability of various modes of transport thence  the social and economic geography of humanity. Gasoline,  Diesoline,  Avgas will all become markedly more expensive,  even industry pundits of the 'Peak Oil is decades off' school of thought are projecting that increasing demand and falling production will raise price by two to five times more in real terms (adjusted for inflation) by the end of this decade.

As the cost of liquid fuel rises the discretionary wastage should fall.  Fuel cost will become a major factor in determining the suitability and location of various human activity.  In time energy cost will supplant labour cost as the major consideration of an  enterprises viability.  Globalization will in part unravel as international transportation cost of trade dramatically climb and 'the tyranny of distance'once again becomes a factor in world cultures. 

>Implications    

 

 

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Copyright © Rupert Edwards 1998-2006
Last update: January 2006 Southern Summer
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