Urgent Evoke

A crash course in changing the world.

As I have shared in a previous blog, I came into Mission 3 with little information on the global energy crisis. I have spent the past couple of days bringing myself up to speed and what I have read so far has totally scared me. Energy resources are depleting at a rate much faster than the mother Earth can replace. So, if 2005 was the year of global Peak Oil, worldwide oil production in the year 2030 will be the same as it was in 1980. However, the world’s population in 2030 will be both much approximately twice that in 1980 and much more industrialized (read oil-dependent) than it was in 1980.

Consequently, worldwide demand for oil will outpace worldwide production of oil by a significant margin. As a result, the price will skyrocket, oil. Big deal I hear many people say – if fuel prices get high I will just drive less or better yet, drive a hybrid car.

But, if you are focusing solely on the price at the pump, buying a hybrid car, or getting some of those energy efficient light bulbs, you are not seeing the bigger picture. In addition to transportation, water, modern medicine, plastics, computers and all high-tech devices, mass quantities of oil are required for food production. Here are some interesting facts:

• Cultivating one hectare of maize in the United States requires 40 litres of petrol and 75 litres of diesel.
• Pesticides and agro-chemicals are made from oil
• Commercial fertilizers are made from ammonia, which is made from natural gas, which is also peaking in the near future.
• Most farming implements such as tractors and trailers are constructed and powered using oil-derived fuels.
• Food storage systems such as refrigerators are manufactured in oil-powered plants, distributed using oil-powered transportation networks and usually run on electricity, which most often comes from natural gas or coal. Like oil and natural gas, coal too is peaking in the near future.
• In the US, the average piece of food is transported almost 1,500 miles before it gets to your plate.
• In Canada, the average piece of food is transported 5,000 miles from where it is produced to where it is consumed.

But what about alternative energy systems like solar panels hydrogen fuel cells, biodiesel production facilities, nuclear power plants, wind turbines etc I hear you ask. Well these are manufactured using petroleum and petroleum derived resources. Most of the feedstock (soybeans, corn) for biofuels such as biodiesel and ethanol are grown using the high-tech, oil-powered industrial methods of agriculture. In short, the so called "alternatives" to oil are actually "derivatives" of oil.

Much of the research I have read suggests that issue is not so much “fuel running out” as much as it is “not having enough” to keep our economies running. It seems that without Civilization as we know is coming to an end soon.

All this sounds like a doomsday cult prediction to me so my question to you all is – IS THIS FACT OR FICTION?

Views: 105

Comment by PJE on March 22, 2010 at 11:40am
This sounds pretty much correct to me. If time and energy are used now to replace unsustainable infrastructure there is time. There is time to be flexible and ingenuious. Don't be afraid, humans resist change but they also manage(and have) to do it all the time, so actually they are brilliant at it.
Comment by Starling on March 22, 2010 at 11:43am
Thanks for writing this Shakwei Mbindyo - I think it is correct as far as I understand it. I wrote a post about this stuff recently (as part of my ACT2 objective) which you might find interesting - "the real price of oil".
Comment by Gilda Lorena Arias on March 22, 2010 at 11:47am
It is scary, and you right, we are in the middle of a “fuel running out” global crisis because is true in your country as is in my country, and the changes we need are not going as fast as we needed. The other problem related is, what you mention about we are calling "alternatives" to oil are actually "derivatives" of oil, so the change we pushing is not a change at all. But I truly have to tell you, I realize the problem and I agree with your point of view, the big problem is that I have no idea how start to change it. I feel powerless in from of this.
Comment by Victor Udoewa on March 22, 2010 at 12:04pm
It's not fiction, but the severity of the problem is unknown. That part could be off. In school and university cla**** and workshops and seminars, people classify oil and petroleum as non-renewable energy sources. You did not do that which is correct. Oil and Petroleum are actually renewable. The earth replenishes that every time leaves fall and are packed into the ground, everytime animals die and people die, everytime anything organic falls back to the earth. Of course it then takes millions of years and pressure for those organic materials to become the fossil fuels we use today. What you have said is correct: it is the rate at which we use it that is problematic. We use fossil fuels faster than we replenish them making them "locally non-renewable in time." [but in geological time it is renewable]

So the question is are the predictions correct for when we'll outstrip the supply? This I'm quite unsure. If you do a quick google search about past wrong predictions of global oil peaks, you can see many have been wrong in the past. I remember being taught about predictions as early as the 70's and then the 80's and the 90's. These days many oil companies refrain from making oil peak predictions just saying that they feel it will last for a long, undetermined time. What normally happens is that we think it will peak, and then new discoveries are made and we don't reach that peak.

It IS true that there have been oil peaks regionally such as in the US and the UK. They are producing less than their maximum peak years (I believe this was in the 70's for the US which is why they import so much oil), but the paragraph above was talking about global peaks. It IS also true that the rate of new discoveries around the world is declining as well. But there is disagreement as to when the peak will occur. Some say 20, some say 30 years. Some don't say.

In my short experience in and out of government, it highlights the problem between science and policy. Science may say one thing and that is just science. But what politics and policy does depends completely upon values. And the values of leaders (elected, representative, or authoritarian) may not align with where science points. We are behind in a transformation and shift away from oil dependence, globally. A few countries are not and have done well such as Iceland and its use of geothermal energy (they are well suited geographically to take advantage of such energy).

So in short, what you wrote is correct. We're not exactly sure when, though. But it will happen, and it will be bad. Usually at the point that such "distant" problems become immediate will policy decide to make it a value and act. +1 for vision.
Comment by Linda Holt on March 22, 2010 at 12:20pm
I think we are at the end of one way of doing things, a way that showed us how easy it is to damage the ecosystem with thoughtless greed. I am hopeful that a new culture and technology is arising from the fall of ways "that looked right to a man, but only leads to death" to bring about the kind of sustainable, thick economy fuel sources we are learning about in this game. I am particularly encouraged by the possibilitity of biofuels from agricultural waste as it provides the opportunity for local and regional energy self-sufficiency and energy that does not have the negative impact on the environment that other non-renewable energy sources have.
Comment by Lim Wei Chiang Bryan on March 22, 2010 at 12:49pm
one thing i noticed is that you inter-twined two of the biggest lifelines of human existance - energy (oil, fuel, gas) and food (maize, soy, corn). I would like to propose a bold alternative. Please read the following articles on my blog.

1. Change the way we eat (filed under ACT1) talks about how we should make a big change to what we eat as it's harming our planet. Change from meats to plants; lower portions and eat organic food, preferably from local farms.

2. Cary Fowler (Seed Bank) Although climate change's looming, we have the resources to cultivate climate-ready crops. They will be able to withstand a different environment - different temperatures, rainfall patterns and other cycles. If we succeed, there is little harm to our food supply.

3. Nuclear Fission (filed under LEARN3). With nuclear fusion by using deuterium harvested from the sea, we can get our energy from an abundant source.

I'll try to answer any questions following the readings.
Comment by Omri or something on March 22, 2010 at 1:04pm
Oil is running out, but it seems people are beginning to find alternatives to its use.

Hydrogen is the best alternative in my eyes, though not a very popular one.
I think it can be produced using geothermal energy and moved around to power everyone. the bye product after burning is good clean water. what else could we ask for?
Comment by Massive Attack on March 22, 2010 at 2:28pm
Fact. I wish it was fiction, but by then many countries have pledged to power at least 20% by renewable. Not enough? There's where the problem is. A massive investment is needed from whoever can chip in. Will that be enough? We'll see.

It's heartening that countries like switzerland, Denmark & even China are moving towards renewables faster & faster. The US is slowly starting to come around, except for some states, mainly California, that are far ahead of the curve.
Comment by Jan Lampe on March 22, 2010 at 2:30pm
yeah, you make a valid point - still, i believe in human ingenuity to overcome these issues.
Comment by Samuel Freilich on March 22, 2010 at 3:27pm
Omri: Hydrogen is a rather lousy alternative for portable energy storage. Because hydrogen atoms are so small, it leaks out of most containers. Its corrosive. Existing natural gas pipelines couldn't be used to transport hydrogen, they'd have to be retrofitted, and even then the level of leakage might be unacceptable. The energy density of hydrogen is actually quite low. I'm annoyed by talk of "the hydrogen economy", it seems to be motivated more by the futuristic sound than practical considerations.

That isn't a huge obstacle, there are actually plenty of good, clean ways to store electric power. The problem is that retrofitting any portion of the vehicle fleet takes a lot of resources and energy, and once that's done you need a lot more electricity generating capacity.

Lim Wei: As for fusion, a sudden breakthrough may well happen, but the question is how much generation capacity can be brought online in the next decade or two. A massive effort to build more solar or wind power might well be more easy than building hundreds of new nuclear power plants. Likewise for maintaining new wind and solar farms, running nuclear reactors is significantly harder.

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