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ENERGY, ECONOMICS, PEAK OIL, and POPULATION


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The attached paper (RESOURCES BELOW) was delivered at the Main Common Ground fair (CGF 2011), and subsequently expanded as a handout for the 2011 ASPO-USA conference. (p. 16a & 16b)

The purpose of this document is to subsume and condense the huge amount of background information and jump directly to a critical analysis of our human predicament as we steadily deplete the finite energy required for further economic and food stability.

Please read through the attached document and become pro-active. We’ve run out of time to face the perfect storm of peaking energy, ecological devastation, over-population, and economic collapse. The time to become involved is now. Feel free to use this document in any way.

Where are we?

Civilization is bumping along a peak of growth which can no longer continue and is beginning to contract or collapse depending on one’s point of view and whatever steps we, individually and collectively, take in the immediate future. We take for granted unlimited availability of convenient, concentrated fuels because this has been the case for the last century. Concurrently, we have evolved a debt-based financial system which allows us to borrow against expected, continuing future growth. Our food and transportation systems have fallen into almost total dependence on finite fossil fuel sources. Fossil Fuels provide 86% of our total energy. In addition, the extreme escalation in population made possible by the unprecedented availability of excess energy has severely stressed our ecological resources from clean water to soils to forests to fisheries and climate stability.

There are only two graphs used in this presentation:

Page 19

The first, “Peak Oil Update” (page 19) uses the data directly from the U.S. DOE to show world oil extraction increasing exponentially in the 20th century and then clearly leveling off in the last ten years. In hindsight (fact), conventional oil did peak at about 75 million barrels per day in August, 2005 just at the time a flurry of  “peak oil” books hit the market and this author (John Howe) gave the CGF keynote talk (Sept. 24, 2005) to introduce this subject. Since that date, the world has extracted another 180 billion barrels of oil by ever-more expensive and environ-mentally destructive techniques to desperately try and restart the growth process and keep up with the steady increase in population. But, nothing of substance grows or moves without energy. New offspring are brought into the world, but they cannot expect to grow and access ever-increasing food, fuel, and material commodities without concurrent energy. Some will argue that a more efficient use of limited energy will solve the problem of geological limits, but this imaginary panacea will only postpone the day of reckoning especially as new consumers increase in numbers and demands.

Page 20

The second graph, “Peak Oil, All Energy, and Population in a Two-Lifetime Span” (Page 20) attempts to build on the first graph and show where we’re heading in the next 50 years with various scenrios of fertility (children per female or CPF) combined with the poorly understood concepts of population momentum and “energy returned on energy invested” (EROEI). Meanwhile, we struggle to extract and compete for the remaining oil left in our finite planet. Those who argue there is “plenty left” or “the scientists (or economists) will find a substitute” are in total, factual denial of the laws of physics and geological limits of resource capital. Also  shown are the expected levels and dates of peak extraction for the other finite, fossil fuels. Way at the bottom are the equivalent energy contributions now, and possible from renewable sources: hydro power, are non-scalable because they are limited by the day-by-day input of solar energy.

The second graph includes a curve (R) showing the only possible scenario that will allow us to continue some semblance of our modern lifestyle, but with a 60% per-capita reduction in energy consumption in the next 60 years. This will be the context of the rest of this paper. If we were to COMBINE a fertility rate of ONLY one child per female (1CPF) PLUS a concurrent reduction in per-capita energy consumption of one percent per year, we could be on a downward trajectory that will reduce the total demand for energy, including food, similar to the decline in energy availability, as dominated by decreasing oil (shown in the curve “NO”, net energy after energy input for extraction, EROEI). The inevitable contraction of total energy available will happen whether we like it or not. But, by understanding and planning accordingly, we could reduce the total demand on a somewhat-controlled schedule and still have enough energy to avoid mass starvation, global turmoil, and competition between the remaining energy haves and have-nots. A controlled energy descent could be the bridge to a low-energy future.

As oil (40% of our total energy and absolutely necessary for agriculture and modern travel) declines, there will not be time to substitute coal, natural gas, or nuclear. Besides, these are also finite energy sources primarily for utility-scale electrical power or heating and offer no future for motive power as we know it now. This is because we have to take our energy with us when we travel. Coal, natural gas, and nuclear do not provide the convenience of oil. In the meantime, we continue to exacerbate the climate change problem by shifting more energy dependency to coal for electrical power with only limited potential for heating or transportation.

A marketing problem:

Before the beginning of the fossil-fueled industrial age, about 150 years ago, humankind lived in a precarious balance within the limited carrying capacity of the local resources. The alternative was a nomadic life to continually access new resources or to follow a moving food supply and adapt to weather change. Now, we want to continue the easy, temporary, high-energy lifestyle we’ve known only in our lifetimes. There are many web sites and books explaining our crisis some written years ago before anyone would listen. There is no shortage of “gloom and doom” messages, but unfortunately, most people would rather hear optimistic answers even in the face of reality, math, and science. The picture is further clouded by a well-funded barrage of feel-good advertizing from energy companies, politicians, the financial industry, and anyone else hoping to prosper from business as usual and continued growth. Can’t we just get the party going again? The included biography includes a few resources. Most of the books are available on http://www.Amazon.com with reviews. There is even a book titled, “There Are No Limits of Growth” (LaRouche, 1983). One chapter suggests colonization of Mars with thermonuclear power to get there, along with nuclear fusion we can expect on our planet  The world does not need another book. It needs action!

A call to action:

Our only hope now is for a grass-roots movement by a huge number of people who are not ready to give up on the future of civilization including any hope for an acceptable life for themselves and their descendants in the very near-term future. To be proactive requires much personal energy and persistence. A most depressing observation is the large number of people who “know” but refuse to get involved. Like, the hurricane is coming, can we all help with the dike? Or would we rather listen to the optimists and maybe it will miss us.

Please read the full paper (.pdf) in RESOURCES below and disseminate this information in any way possible and don’t stop there. This presentation will be on my website (http://www.solarcarandtractor.com) under the link, Common Ground Fair 2011. Other related links are LEARN and the triple crisis (Why is gas so expensive ?)

Thanks,

John Howe Howe@megalink.net

John G. Howe is a semi-retired mechanical engineer running his own company, Howe Engineering Co., since 1981. He works 175 acres of mixed farm and wood lot in New England, http://www.solarcarandtractor.com.  He is author of “The End of Fossil Energy.” Mr. Howe became a serious student of energy issues as a farmer and while manufacturing bicycle-powered generators and thresher/winnowers for resale. In recent years his increasing concern about the demise of fossil energy has led to publication of three editions of his energy book with the following subtitles, which read successively: First edition (2004) “A Plan for Sustainability,” Second edition (2005), “The Last Chance for Sustainability, and Third edition (2006), “The Last Chance for Survival.”

RESOURCES:


PDF document:   Energy, Economics, Peak Oil and Population

Comments on "ENERGY, ECONOMICS, PEAK OIL, and POPULATION"

  1. OEIC default avatar Don White January 08, 2012 at 7:13 pm

    John’s attached paper (.pdf document) is one of the best I’ve read, and I’ll be recommending it to many. It is both quite readable and a detailed discussion of the downhill slope that lies ahead. Our growth economy is over, and it is unaffordably wasteful to keep trying so hard to resurrect it. Those economists advocating a steady state economy should be heard. But it’s the same old choice between near term pain and near term gain.

    I’ll just add something not appropriate for his article, namely that this downhill slope we are inextricably on is likely to have cliffs, more abrupt descents caused by trigger events. Examples of such events for us might be a Near East war, the failure of the euro, dollar losing reserve status, a US Fukishima, and more. It is critical that we take action now, - as individuals, as members of a local community, and as vocal constituents of our inattentive political ‘leaders’.

    Much of what we can do individually is toward the goals of using less energy and being more nearly self-sufficient re food. This site is a splendid resource.

  2. OEIC default avatar David Hauber January 19, 2012 at 11:58 pm

    This is a good article. I disagree that those who say we are running out of oil “are in total, factual denial of the laws of physics and geological limits of resource capital”. There is in-fact plenty of oil in the earth, it’s just that it is becoming prohibitivy expensive to extract.  Prices will just continue to increase and we will continue to send more of our money to the Middle East.  We import about $1B of oil every day!
    It’s time we woke up and put our money to work at home improving our efficiency and economy at the same time.  This is precisely what this website is promoting!

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