I wrote this several months ago for another blog. For whatever reason, I feel like posting it here.
Here is a cold hard fact: We are either at peak global oil production or going to reach it in the next 5 years.
I don't think people understand the implications of that fact. Let me say this is another way: Within the next 5 years, we will be on the downward slope towards completely running out of useable oil on the planet earth. Most geologist estimate that somewhere around 2030, our planet will be completely out of financially feasible oil reserves.
Ever since Al Gore's movie (An Inconvenient Truth), the nation and the world has been obsessed with the idea of global warming. Everyone is talking about "going green" to stop the release of greenhouse gases that are destroying global ecosystems, melting glaciers, and causing our storms to become more intense. The idea is noble... but HORRIBLY misguided.
The real crisis facing the human race is not climate change. It is, infact, RUNNING OUT OF OIL. Perhaps we don't quite appreciate how much of our modern lives is entirely dependent on the assumption that energy is cheap and limitless. Just about every single thing we do in this country can be traced back to oil.
Let me give you an example from just one day in my life. When I woke up this morning, the first thing I did was turn on the television. TV runs on electricity. Electricity comes mostly from oil (or other fossil fuels). Then I checked my email on my computer that consumes electricity that we get from oil. Let's not forget that many of the parts in my computer are made with plastic that can only be made from oil. Oh yeah... my computer was made in a factory using electrical and mechanical processes that need to be run with energy we get from burning oil. The same could be said about my television. Taking it a step further, both my TV and my computer were most likely made over seas, then had to be shipped to this country on big cargo ships that use tons of fuel to keep them running. Once they reached this country, they had to be loaded onto trucks that run on gasoline and transported to their destinations hundreds (if not thousands) of miles away.
That was just the first 5 minutes of my day. Are you starting to understand the crisis we face as a civilization? The United States especially has a huge problem. The model of suburbia was made possible because of cheap, abundant oil. 10 years ago (even now!) no one thinks much of anything about getting in their car and driving 20-30 miles to work every day. Imagine a world where gasoline is so scarce that it costs $100 per gallon. Now, even if your car got 30 mpg, it would cost you $100 per day to drive to work. A lot of people don't make much more than $100 per day at work. Our towns and houses are so spread out that public transportation is literally impossible to implement. What would we do? We'd all have to go back to living within a couple miles of where we work, so that we could either walk or ride a bike.
That brings up another thing... what will happen to our jobs??? I'll talk about my job. I work in a pharmacy. We get drugs and other pharmaceutical products that are made all over the world. First, the drug companies require cheap energy to power their research facilities. They also need plastics for their research equipment. Once they've researched a compound, they need machinary in order to mass produce it. Once the drug is mass produced, it needs to be packaged and shipped to distribution warehouses using ships, trucks, planes, etc. From there, they need to be transported to my pharmacy in order for me to dispense them.
The pharmacy is entirely dependent on our computer systems. We use the computer to keep track of patient profiles, to order meds, and pretty much everything else. This all runs on electricity provided to us by cheap oil. Imagine if oil goes away or becomes prohibitively expensive. Drug companies wouldn't be able to research new drugs. They wouldn't be able to continue making their present drugs due to the cost. If they can't make the drugs, then what am I going to dispense. What will happen to my job? I have no idea.
Think about how much we complain now about present gas prices. It's over $3.00 per gallon now, and everyone is going nuts. Let me put it to you this way... I just filled up my tank for about $43 the other day. My car has only been averaging about 21mpg (even though it's supposed to be getting 30 hwy mpg). Even with that less-than-stellar gas mileage, I can drive 300 miles on 1 tank of gas. For $43, I can travel 300 miles. Think about that. That's really really cheap. Think about how long 300 miles is. That gets you almost 1/3 of the way down the east coast line... and we think that's expensive. The documentary I just saw put it in these terms. 1 cup of coffee can cost about $3 depending on where you go. 1 cup of gasoline, even by today's prices, costs you about 20 cents. Gasoline is less expensive than bottled water right now. It's essentially the least expensive liquid we have, yet we complain about how ridiculously expensive it is. In 10 years, depending on how far along the downward slope of oil production we are, gas could be $15 per gallon.
What kills me is that NOBODY IS TALKING ABOUT THIS!!!! We hear about global warming every damn day, but no one even mentions how we're a little over 20 years from being completely out of econimically feasible oil. If something isn't done quickly, our lives are going to change dramatically. There are 6 billion people on this planet right now. It's estimated that without fossil fuels, the planet can only support 1.5-2 billion people at most. Without cheap oil, we cannot produce enough food to feed everyone. We won't have enough jobs to employ everyone. There's going to be another great depression that brings about starvation, rioting, and panic. BILLIONS of people are going to die because our way of life is just completely dependent on oil.
Technological advancement will come to a halt because we won't have enough cheap electricity. In actuality, technology will digress. Planes will be a thing of the past. Microchips, computers, televisions... they all are only possible because of how cheap energy is. Without cheap energy, those can't be produced. Our great cities will have to shrink down to a more manageable size. The suburbs will be completely decimated because they will be too spread out and far away from grocery stores and businesses. All the things that oil is responsible for that we take for granted will go away.
This may sound very much like a doomsday prediction. That's because it is. We've had our heads up our asses (or perhaps more appropriately up the oil companies' asses) for so long that its probably too late to solve the problem. We've never invested any time or money into alternative energy sources because oil was so abundant that it was practically free. Now we're faced with trying to find enough energy to power our modern day of life without using oil. The alternatives we have our bleak at best.
Wind Power- wind farms are starting to pop up in the midwest. However, wind is inconsistent, and even the biggest wind farms produce an amount of electricity that can only be described as a drop in the Pacific Ocean of our current and future energy demands.
Solar Power- While it is very true that the total amount of solar energy that falls on our planet in 1 day is 20,000 times more than the amount needed to power our civilization, we've yet to find a great way to harnass that power. Current solar panels only convert about 12% of solar energy into electricity, and that is under absolute ideal conditions. Obviously, you can't make solar energy in the absence of sunlight, so we'd have no electricity at night or on cloudy, overcast days. The deserts of the southwest USA are ideal for collecting solar energy, but unless we develop some way to transport all that electricity to every other part of our nation, it won't be enough. Solar panels are also very expensive to make, so as long as there is cheap oil, no company is going to invest the money to research and develop better ones.
Hydrogen- This is the big one everyone is talking about. "We'll use hydrogen to power our cars." Well, there are a lot of problems with that. First off, unlike oil, there is no hydrogen just laying around our planet. In order to isolate hydrogen, you need to separate it from water through electrolysis. As implied in the name, electolysis require electricity. Therefore, it requires electricity just to create hydrogen. Right now, we actually spend more electricity in oil to create a hydrogen fuel cell than we actually get back from using it. That's not going to help us. Even if we somehow do perfect this process and make it more energy efficient, we have the whole transport process. We have no infrastructure to transport hydrogen. We have no easy way to store it. In addition, it's nowhere near as good of a fuel as gasoline for our vehicles because hydrogen is such a small molecule that it will actually diffuse through our storage tanks even when we aren't running the engine. If you let a hydrogen fuel cell powered car sit for one week then tried to run it, you'd find that it would be out of fuel.
Biodiesel- Global warming people love this option. "We can substitute biodiesel for gasoline." In short... no, we can't. For one, it requires a lot of bio-products to make biodiesel fuel. It's absolutely impossible to make enough biodiesel to replace the gasoline that is required by the 700 million internal combustion engine automobiles that are in the world. Secondly, it requires a lot of oil just to make a gallon of biodiesel fuel.
Ethanol- See biodiesel. Currently, it takes 3 gallons of gasoline to produce 1 gallon of ethanol fuel. Plus, we'd have to have a cornfield the size of the US to get enough ethanol to power our country.
Nuclear- Other than the safety and environmental issues regarding nuclear power, I'll say this: In order to meet the world's current energy demand using just nuclear power, we'd need 10,000 of the largest nuclear power plants built. With all those power plants, we'd burn through the earth's supply of Uranium 235 in 20 years. 20 years is obviously not going to help us.
As you can see, no single alternative even comes close to replacing oil, except one... Coal. We have tons of coal reserves. Probably enough for a couple hundred years, infact. However, if we use that coal, then you'd really see global warming speed up at a catastrophic rate. Therefore, it's really not a viable alternative.
So... as it stands, we are a little over 20 years away from full-on oil crisis, and we don't have a single option that will even come close to meeting our energy demands. In other words, everyone should enjoy their cars, computers, and comfortable way of life while we have it because in our lifetimes, the shit is going to hit the fan, and everything we took for granted is going to come crashing down.
Perhaps if we started making preparations 20 years ago, we'd have a fighting chance of evading disaster. Even today, nobody is thinking about this. Car companies are still putting out 300 horsepower family sedans. Electronics companies are putting out all new gadgets. Everything is going on as if the problem doesn't exist. Our leaders are aware, but instead of spending money to develop the technology that might save our future, we're going into the middle east to fight wars over whatever oil there is left. Believe me... Iraq has absolutely nothing to do with terrorism. It has nothing to do with Sadam Hussein. It even has less to do with providing freedom for the population. We want to set up a democracy there, and in the middle east in general, that will allow us to have access to their oil. As oil becomes more and more scarce, you can expect us to be involved in more and more conflicts with whatever countries have reserves.
In the end, it all goes back to oil... and when you really look at the writing on the wall, we're all fucked.