Beta
×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

'Peak Wood' Offers Parallels For Our Time

kdawson posted more than 4 years ago | from the fell-baby-fell dept.

Earth 604

Harperdog sends in a piece from Miller McCune looking back at the history of mankind's relationship with virgin timber. Again and again, civilizations have faced a condition of "peak wood," and how they handled it (or failed to) illuminates the current situation with regard to oil. The piece ends with a quote from the 19th-century social scientist and communist theorist Friedrich Engels, who is not generally thought of as an environmental seer: "What did the Spanish planters in Cuba, who burned down the forests on the slopes of the mountains and obtained sufficient fertilizer from the ashes for one generation of highly profitable coffee trees, care that the heavy tropical rains later washed away the now unprotected upper stratum of the soil and left only bare rock behind? ... Let us not flatter ourselves on account of our human victories over nature. For each such victory nature takes its revenge on us. Each victory, it is true, in the first place brings about the results we expected, but in the second and third places it has quite different, unforeseen effects which only too often cancel the first."

cancel ×

604 comments

Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

In other words (1, Insightful)

jhoegl (638955) | more than 4 years ago | (#32427782)

Life has unforeseen consequences.

Re:In other words (4, Insightful)

modmans2ndcoming (929661) | more than 4 years ago | (#32427826)

only to those too stupid to leap ahead with out thinking.

Re:In other words (4, Insightful)

timeOday (582209) | more than 4 years ago | (#32428106)

Or selfish enough to know full well - and do it anyways.

Re:In other words (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32428296)

Your mother loves it when I jack off in her face.

Re:In other words (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32428356)

littering and ... littering and ... littering and ...

Re:In other words (0)

MousePotato (124958) | more than 4 years ago | (#32427834)

shit happens?

wow.

Re:In other words (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32427878)

If someone came up with a grand unified theory, you'd say, "so, the universe functions a certain way. wow."

and this isn't merely that "shit happens." It's "short-sightedness causes shit that could be prevented from happening."

An earthquake, a volcano, a hurricane, an asteroid strike...these things are "shit that happens." Deforestation, global warming, pollution...these things are made to happen.

Re:In other words (0, Troll)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 4 years ago | (#32428154)

Only humans are arrogant enough to believe that they're "above" the other animals.

When do you see a monkey choosing cocaine over food in its natural habitat?

Re:In other words (4, Insightful)

Tuidjy (321055) | more than 4 years ago | (#32428200)

Actually, rats will push a button that sends an impulse to their pleasure center, and ignore food, sex, etc... Monkeys will easily get addicted to alcohol, some drugs, etc...

I think that the average human is still less likely that the average rat to die of hunger and bed sores because of an addiction. But now my girlfriend has gone to bed, and I better go play Mount & Blade while she cannot object.

Re:In other words (1)

tsm_sf (545316) | more than 4 years ago | (#32428286)

Actually, rats will push a button that sends an impulse to their pleasure center, and ignore food, sex, etc...

His point was that they do that when strapped into wire cages with hardware surgically attached to their skulls. An entirely sensible response to the situation IMO. Nobody has ever observed a rat pushing a cocaine lever in the wild.

Re:In other words (1)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 4 years ago | (#32428304)

My point exactly. [youtube.com]

Thank you, kind sir.

Re:In other words (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32428108)

It doesn't have to, but why should a cynic care?

Re:In other words (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#32428080)

Worse than that: Life has unforseen consequences and game theory demonstrates that, all too frequently, even forseeing a consequence won't stop you walking into it, face-first.

I Hate to Be the One to Point This Out (5, Insightful)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 4 years ago | (#32427786)

Engels (as in Marx & Engels) is one of the authors of the Communist Manifesto and largely a lot of the Communist doctrine. To use a quote from him and his research to debate oil usage would be pure suicide on a political realm because your opponent would have an easy time pointing out that a socialist -- possibly one of the earliest socialists -- did research to point out the horrors that Capitalism wrought upon the environment. The resulting suggestion for Cap and Trade or retarding economic growth in the name of environmental consciousness would be taken up by the opposition as the evil socialism from the old enemy of Communist USSR and readily gobbled down by the older American people. Because it's fairly common for the American people to choose to see things in black and white where someone is either 100% wrong or 100% correct. Complete and utter bullshit but that's the logic the summary will invoke and it would be impossible to use this logic in any sort of debate. To further this comparison in the United States at least, you'd do better to just re-research Engels' work looking at Peak Wood instead of trying to quote or cite him.

Re:I Hate to Be the One to Point This Out (3, Insightful)

Homburg (213427) | more than 4 years ago | (#32427820)

I don't think there's any point being scared of redbaiting - the US right already thinks climate change legislation is a socialist plot. If you're going to be accused of socialism anyway, you might as well see if there's anything useful to be salvaged from the early socialists.

Re:I Hate to Be the One to Point This Out (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32428078)

I don't think there's any point being scared of redbaiting - the US right already thinks climate change legislation is a socialist plot.

I thought it was just that not burning coal made Baby Jeebus cry.

Similarly, most of the Republican Congressmen apparently require despoiling nature in order to stop thinking about underage boys long enough to satisfy their wives - thus, we need to drill in the Arctic. I predict a massive baby boom about 9 months from now, given the massive oil spill in the Gulf. :)

Re:I Hate to Be the One to Point This Out (1, Insightful)

Lord Kano (13027) | more than 4 years ago | (#32428114)

I don't think there's any point being scared of redbaiting - the US right already thinks climate change legislation is a socialist plot.

If it's not, then why do all of the major schemes exempt the "developing world"?

LK

Re:I Hate to Be the One to Point This Out (4, Insightful)

cduffy (652) | more than 4 years ago | (#32428198)

If it's not, then why do all of the major schemes exempt the "developing world"?

Because the "developing world" will never buy in. From their perspective, we got where we got by burning our resources; if we don't let them do the same, it's Da Man keeping them down.

Now, could you explain what motivation the "socialist plotters" have to exclude the developing world? I don't see how the evidence you present supports your conclusion.

Re:I Hate to Be the One to Point This Out (5, Insightful)

Lord Kano (13027) | more than 4 years ago | (#32428274)

From their perspective, we got where we got by burning our resources; if we don't let them do the same, it's Da Man keeping them down.

So what? They're developing nations. If the rest of the world says so, they have to abide anyway. I say this not because I think that the "world community" should be pressuring sovereign nations on how to conduct their economic business but to prove a point. If it's wrong to force them, it's wrong to force me.

Now, could you explain what motivation the "socialist plotters" have to exclude the developing world?

Fair question. Restricting emissions in the industrialized world will have a negative impact on heavy industry, manufacturing is the biggest example. It will immediately result in leading countries not being able to compete on the world market with "developing" countries. The amount of emissions won't be changed by much in the long term because all of the emissions that are coming from currently industrialized nations will in short order end up coming from developing ones. The clear result will be to depress the economies of developed nations while inflating the economies of developing ones, when the outcome is that clearly predictably it's not unreasonable to think it's the intended one.

China has an enormous capacity for industrial production but somehow China and India were exempt from Kyoto.

LK

Re:I Hate to Be the One to Point This Out (5, Insightful)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 4 years ago | (#32427998)

This is where the expression, "even a broken clock is right twice a day" comes into play. Just because someone had some other ideas that were bad doesn't mean all their ideas are bad. America's founding fathers, who any true American patriot reveres, weren't exactly correct on the slavery issue, after all, but they were very wise about many other things. No one is right 100% of the time; we all have our failings, or certain ideas or principles that aren't correct.

Re:I Hate to Be the One to Point This Out (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32428226)

And how do you know which ideas of your America's founding fathers were right and which were wrong? You're taking the current standards of your place and time as right and wrong which. It's all relative

Re:I Hate to Be the One to Point This Out (2, Insightful)

tsm_sf (545316) | more than 4 years ago | (#32428326)

America's founding fathers, who any true American patriot reveres

I actually just finished sacrificing a goat to Jefferson. May he grant me a thousand blessings.

Oh Boy - (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32427794)

This can of worms.

In before a tsunami of Malthusian fearmongering and doomer porn. Just sayin'.

We are predators (1)

assemblerex (1275164) | more than 4 years ago | (#32427808)

by design; we do not conserve, we consume.
Changing to cultivation is a relatively new thing, and we're really novices at it given things like the dust bowl were only 75 years ago.

Re:We are predators (4, Insightful)

grcumb (781340) | more than 4 years ago | (#32427972)

by design; we do not conserve, we consume.

Tens of millions of Farmville players would like to disagree.

Okay, seriously: As near as anyone can tell, organised human society became possible with the rise of agrarian societies, so stewardship and resource management are rather central to the human condition.

We are predators? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32428340)

Not sure that describes the situation quite so well, since herbivores would consume every resource they had access to if something didn't cull their population.

Collapse by Jared Diamond (5, Informative)

slagheap (734182) | more than 4 years ago | (#32427814)

The book Collapse by Jared Diamond (who also wrote "Guns, Germs, and Steel") covers several historical cases of societies that collapsed. Deforestation is the main trigger that comes up in most of the stories. He also makes parallels to our current relationship with oil.

Re:Collapse by Jared Diamond (2, Funny)

rtyhurst (460717) | more than 4 years ago | (#32428012)

I get "peak wood" looking at Natalie Portman.

Re:Collapse by Jared Diamond (1)

inKubus (199753) | more than 4 years ago | (#32428160)

I also recommend The Golden Spruce by John Valliant, which recounts the history of forestry while examining the life of a specific, one in a billion tree--an albino spruce tree known as the "Golden Spruce". It's extremely interesting to me that the middle east was once a forest and is now a desert. And much of the Mediterranean and Europe and now there's not much left. Obviously some can be made to grow back, but so much valuable soil has been lost to the sea from deforestation.

Comparing apples and oranges (1, Insightful)

Enigma2175 (179646) | more than 4 years ago | (#32427818)

Comparing timber to oil is not a valid analogy because timber is a renewable resource. We can plant more and within enough time for it to be economical there is more timber. For oil to be a renewable resource we are going to have to bury a lot of organic material for a long time.

Re:Comparing apples and oranges (3, Insightful)

modmans2ndcoming (929661) | more than 4 years ago | (#32427848)

it is only renewable if it is used in such a manor.

One just needs to look at Easter Island to see how "renewable" trees were to the natives.

Re:Comparing apples and oranges (1)

blackraven14250 (902843) | more than 4 years ago | (#32427902)

Very true, but I think the point was that it at least has the potential to be easily and quickly renewable, whereas oil does not over a reasonable time frame.

Re:Comparing apples and oranges (1)

modmans2ndcoming (929661) | more than 4 years ago | (#32427926)

And? it is a stupid point.

Re:Comparing apples and oranges (1)

blackraven14250 (902843) | more than 4 years ago | (#32428024)

No, it's not. You had a point in saying it's only renewable if it's planned properly, but renewable over the lifetime of trees is much different than renewable over the lifetime of oil. You just can't make new oil in a sustainable way and at a useful pace, whereas with trees it's both possible and relatively easy to do on a short time scale.

Re:Comparing apples and oranges (2, Insightful)

erice (13380) | more than 4 years ago | (#32428058)

Easily, sure. Quickly? I think not. In a time when businesses operate quarter to quarter, it takes decades to grow a tree and a century or more for the most valuable hardwoods. Old growth trees are still being cut. Why do you think this is?

Re:Comparing apples and oranges (5, Insightful)

starfishsystems (834319) | more than 4 years ago | (#32428032)

Yes, exactly.

There was no option for the natives of Easter Island to plant new forests, once the last tree had been felled. There was no potential renewability for them. They couldn't even build seaworthy craft to go in search of seedlings. In a word, they were FUCKED. And they did it to themselves.

So every historical and archaeological record that bears on how we handle the extremes of resource management is instructive, insofar as it tells us about our patterns of past successes and mistakes.

We live with a finite set of resources at the bottom of a massive gravity well isolated by millions of miles of hard vacuum from anything else at all. We are consuming many of those resources at an unsustainable rate. If we don't want to end up like the people of Easter Island, we'd better not take any of it for granted.

Re:Comparing apples and oranges (1)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | more than 4 years ago | (#32428434)

In a word, they were FUCKED. And they did it to themselves.

It seems be a lot more complicated than the over-simplified stories that are commonly told. For example, it looks like climate change - the "little ice age" [wikipedia.org] - had as much to do with the deforestation as anything else. Also there are reports of trees on the island long past the initial population collapse.

Re:Comparing apples and oranges (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32428222)

No, using it to build manors is probably not very sustainable.

Re:Comparing apples and oranges (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32427854)

It's not so renewable that it can't run out...

Abiogenic Petroleum (0, Troll)

hsthompson69 (1674722) | more than 4 years ago | (#32427870)

It's also quite possible that petroleum products do not come from buried organic material, but are created as methane is synthesized deep beneath the earth's surface, and it combines into more complex hydrocarbons as it percolates up. The Russians have been working this theory, very successfully, for decades. "Fossil" fuels may not really be made out of fossils at all.

Re:Abiogenic Petroleum (3, Informative)

modmans2ndcoming (929661) | more than 4 years ago | (#32427906)

Or, someone could read about the idea and see it is considered bunk.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abiogenic_petroleum_origin [wikipedia.org]

Re:Abiogenic Petroleum (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32428052)

If you're going to call something bunk, try to cite a reputable resource.

Re:Abiogenic Petroleum (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32428360)

Or in the case of the parent, don't cite one at all.

Re:Abiogenic Petroleum (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32428148)

Oil and natural gas contain helium. If oil and natural gas are just liquified dinosaurs, then where does the helium come from?

Re:Abiogenic Petroleum (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32428218)

From alpha decay of radioactive isotopes, same as most helium?

Re:Abiogenic Petroleum (1)

hsthompson69 (1674722) | more than 4 years ago | (#32428280)

How many radioactive isotopes should we find in a dead dinosaur, on average?

Re:Abiogenic Petroleum (1)

KDR_11k (778916) | more than 4 years ago | (#32428432)

How about C14 for a start?

Re:Abiogenic Petroleum (1)

hsthompson69 (1674722) | more than 4 years ago | (#32428272)

Methane atmospheres on other moons and planets, and "organic" molecules found in comets and other extra-terrestrial bodies seems to provide us at least some concrete examples of hydrocarbons without the prior presence of life. Asserting that this theory is bunk seems a bit of a stretch.

I know they've synthesized hydrocarbons using non-organic materials in a laboratory...has anyone ever compressed a dead fish or tree and created petroleum in a lab? I'd be very interested if anyone has a citation for that.

Re:Abiogenic Petroleum (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32428046)

And it was just a matter of time before one of these clowns emerged with their "non-arganic organic oil".... :(

Re:Abiogenic Petroleum (0)

hsthompson69 (1674722) | more than 4 years ago | (#32428240)

Q: Is methane organic?

Q: How is it that various moons in the solar system have methane atmospheres?

Were there dinosaurs and buried plant life out on the moons of Jupiter long, long ago?

Re:Abiogenic Petroleum (2, Interesting)

NeutronCowboy (896098) | more than 4 years ago | (#32428068)

Why is is it that every time there's a weird theory floating around, someone comes up and says "The Russians did it/are using it, so it must be true", without there ever being a shred of evidence for the Russians either having used or done it?

Is it because it is so far away, or because some people can see it from their houses?

Re:Abiogenic Petroleum (-1, Troll)

hsthompson69 (1674722) | more than 4 years ago | (#32428232)

Here's a shred for you:

"In 1970 the Russians started drilling Kola SG-3, an exploration well which finally reached a staggering world record depth of 40,230 feet. Since then, Russian oil majors including Yukos have quietly drilled more than 310 successful super-deep oil wells, and put them into production."

http://www.icdp-online.org/front_content.php?idcat=695 [icdp-online.org]

Re:Abiogenic Petroleum (2, Informative)

NeutronCowboy (896098) | more than 4 years ago | (#32428342)

Not sure where you got your quote from, but it wasn't from the link you gave, and the entire site doesn't hold a single reference to Yukos. Not completely surprising, because it is the webpage for International Continental Scientific Drilling Program - nothing to do with Yukos. Not to mention that drilling a super-deep well has nothing to do with whether the drill probe found an economically viable field.

Re:Abiogenic Petroleum (0)

hsthompson69 (1674722) | more than 4 years ago | (#32428306)

Apparently it was Saturn's moon, Titan, that was observed to have hundreds of times more hydrocarbons than all the known oil and natural gas reserves on earth:

http://www.esa.int/esaSC/SEMCSUUHJCF_index_0.html [esa.int]

Strange, considering the dearth of biological life forms there.

Re:Comparing apples and oranges (2, Informative)

bersl2 (689221) | more than 4 years ago | (#32427880)

In that the societies mentioned were consuming much faster than the resource could renew itself, I think it to be a valid comparison. Nothing mentioned in the article involved replanting of trees, to my knowledge, but maybe someone knows differently.

Re:Comparing apples and oranges (1, Insightful)

TrevorB (57780) | more than 4 years ago | (#32427914)

Almost, but not quite. We use wood as if it were non-renewable. Certainly it will grow back if replanted and properly cultivated, but the "peak" principle of a limited resource still holds.

Add to this that as a species we desperately need land for food cultivation. We don't have enough right now, even with advanced farming techniques, to feed everyone. Not all harvested forests are replanted.

At some point we'll be able to harvest less wood than the year previous. Eventually it will go down and hopefully plateau. It won't be the same shape peak, but it will peak nonetheless.

Re:Comparing apples and oranges (3, Informative)

Martin Blank (154261) | more than 4 years ago | (#32428010)

Forests in the US have been increasing for almost the past 60 years. More wood is grown than harvested by a ratio of 3:1, and significant acreage has been returned to forests, in part because more responsible timber farms have been created over the decades. We may have at one time reached peak wood, but usage and growth patterns changed, and that is no longer the case.

Other nations may have problems with their forests, but the US is not one that does.

Re:Comparing apples and oranges (5, Interesting)

gothzilla (676407) | more than 4 years ago | (#32428090)

That is set to reverse. The price of wood has dropped so low here in the south that many timber companies can't afford to stay in business and the huge plots of land they grew trees on are in danger of being sold. If that happens, they will most likely be cleared for development or cattle and will never again grow forests.

I live in an area surrounded by forests that are planted and cleared for use by lumber companies and paper mills. We fear the closing of lumber companies because it will mean our forests will start shrinking.

The really sad part about it, is the huge number of enviro-nutbags that want lumber companies out of business in a completely backwards effort to "save the forests."

I really want to get a tshirt that says "Save the trees! Use more paper!"

You're right. It's the floor. (5, Insightful)

weston (16146) | more than 4 years ago | (#32428014)

Comparing timber to oil is not a valid analogy because timber is a renewable resource.

True. The question is -- if we tend not to do well with even renewable resources, how well are we likely to do with exhaustibles... at least, without some greater discipline than we've got now?

Re:Comparing apples and oranges (3, Insightful)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 4 years ago | (#32428020)

The problem is that our economies work on much shorter timescales than trees. If we destroy all the forests, our economies collapse and people starve or relocate. Sure, a couple of generations later the forests may regrow, but that's a lifetime or more to humans. Worse, forests only regrow if you put a lot of effort into planting them properly. Left to their own devices, they don't; a few trees may regrow, but it takes millenia for a whole forest to regrow from a few trees by natural reproduction. Humans have only started replanting forests within the last century at best, and then mainly for business purposes (timber harvesting), using fast-growing trees.

Re:Comparing apples and oranges (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32428048)

We consume forests faster than they can grow. Only the cheapest pines can keep up with us and even then trophy home developments are consuming logging lands in the US.

Re:Comparing apples and oranges (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32428084)

Yes, but virgin timber (aka Old Growth forest) is not renewable, at least in our lifetimes. Maybe after >500 years. So while more renewable than coal or oil, it is an effectively non-renewable resource. Good thing we don't depend on virgin oak trees for sailing ship masts anymore, or for making Ships of the Line, for that matter. Or English yew, for our longbow corps. Too bad Lebanon Cedars are practically gone. Read the story of the guy over there who takes clay & soil and makes balls with cedar tree seeds in them, and johnny appleseed style, just throws them out wherever? The clay and soil bind the seeds, protecting them long enough in the harsh terrain, to give some of the seeds a fighting chance of maybe sprouting and starting a new tree. Hopefully in a generation or few, they'll start to repopulate the hills etc. and make that area a little more livable (if only the cockhats on all sides would stop being assholes)...
Now what to do about Haiti? Look at it compared to its next door neighbors. You can tell where the border between the two countries is from satellite photos, the deforestation in Haiti (for cooking and charcoal) is so extensive...

Other lessons learned the hard way...the industrialist who in the 70's made a wood pulp processing plant, floated it up the Amazon to a huge tract of cleared jungle he had planted in some hybrid eucalyptus trees, with the mad hope of making a go of making wood pulp cheaper than even British Columbia (at the time)... I remember reading about it in National Geographic as a kid... I think he eventually succumbed to the same jungle soil degradation. First crop of pulp trees worked OK, but after that, soil was shot and eroded off, just like every other slash-and-burn agricultural plot in Amazonia.

Re:Comparing apples and oranges (3, Insightful)

ozmanjusri (601766) | more than 4 years ago | (#32428122)

Comparing timber to oil is not a valid analogy because timber is a renewable resource.

Then think energy, not oil.

The oil we're using with such wild abandon is valuable to us because it is comprised of densely stored solar energy from millions of years ago.

That's not a lot different from using lumber stored in forests, and when the stored item runs out, we're reduced to using the much less dense renewable versions.

It's not impossible, but it does take more effort than simply collecting the stored versions.

Re:Comparing apples and oranges (2, Interesting)

watookal (1085275) | more than 4 years ago | (#32428192)

Sure, WOOD is renewable, but FORESTS are not.

What I mean is that man cannot create the complex ecosystems that exists in a forest. And we are more dependent on these ecosystems than most people realise. Reference: "The Revenge Of Gaia" by James Lovelock. It's a really good book.

Lessons? (3, Insightful)

ImABanker (1439821) | more than 4 years ago | (#32427822)

"What lessons from the multiple experiences of Peak Wood can today’s society learn for addressing global peak oil?" - On the surface it would seem that the lesson is that eventually a new resource will come along that made all the worrying about the dwindling resource irrelevant.

Re:Lessons? (0)

hsthompson69 (1674722) | more than 4 years ago | (#32428330)

Mod parent up. The fact that we've had predictions of doom in the past that we've survived is actually a fairly good reason for optimism when it comes to challenges of the future.

Interesting article (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32427846)

Yes, I did read it.

The parallels to the lust of wood with the lust of oil seem to be fairly well made in the whole ravaging thing.

But what I found to be the most unfortunate part of oil vs. trees is that in the past we could always go out and explore because the world wasn't completely explored. Nowadays, we know where most? oil reserves are so the old idea of "Well we're running out, let's go find some more!" doesn't work at all.

Looking at the way we've been treating oil so far, it really seems like people are still stuck in that mindset. Folks just recently seemed to realize that when we're out of oil we're out of oil. And that's probably what hurt us the most in the present day. The article speaks of unforeseen consequences, but we seem to be ignoring the simple, foreseeable consequence of having no oil.

Well, hope solar, nuclear, and all of that turns out well. Wouldn't want to go back to pre-industrial times due to lack of energy.

Re:Interesting article (2, Interesting)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 4 years ago | (#32428038)

It doesn't work quite like that. There's lots of oil reserves that haven't been discovered, and also some that have, but are not cost-effective to exploit. As the price of oil increases, those reserves will be exploited. Tar sands are one example of this: they require a lot of energy to process and refine (unlike light sweet crude), so it's not as profitable as better-quality oil.

Of course, if the price of oil triples, making many of these reserves profitable enough to exploit, that price alone is going to cause other problems, probably causing people to seek out other sources of energy.

And also, this doesn't take into account the environmental cost, as we're seeing with the BP disaster. And aside from the incalculable environmental cost, the cleanup has a giant cost too, which is going to figure into companies' plans as a giant risk.

Re:Interesting article (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32428338)

There's lots of oil reserves that haven't been discovered

I...what? How do you know this?

also some that have, but are not cost-effective to exploit.

Ah, well this one makes sense.

Also, yes I was ignoring the environmental cost. The article covers that quite well. All I was going into was the idea that in the past people could trick themselves into thinking they had a limitless resource by saying "There will always be more beyond the horizon" so they felt fine using all they had. Nowadays, such a thing is...doable, but a bit harder. Saying there's a lot of oil undiscovered, though, would be part of it, yes. Unless you can prove there's lots of undiscovered oil, which is kind of hard without actually discovering them making them no longer undiscovered oil, you're just giving into wishful thinking.

And no, past performance is not quite a good indicator here. If we found a trillion gallons of oil this year, that does not mean we'll find another trillion next year. It could just mean we've found it all.

Re:Interesting article (1)

CyprusBlue113 (1294000) | more than 4 years ago | (#32428354)

No they won't, because the price doesn't matter at all once it takes more energy to extract than is released. It could be a billion dollars an ounce and it still wouldn't be cost effective.

Please don't use "peak" with regard to non-oil. (2, Informative)

dwarmstr (993558) | more than 4 years ago | (#32427858)

Please stop using "Peak" when referring to non-oil resources. Wood is renewable. The production of wood can be sustained, or can be engineered to increase over time, depending on management resource. You can't do that with a finite resource like oil. And don't use the term for mineral resources either. You can almost always find another deposit, with a slightly lesser yield than the one you just mined. That continues until you are mining the ocean for elements. It's a matter of how economic the resource is to mine. Oil is none of that. You can't find 0.5ppm oil in some soil somewhere like you can with gold or uranium or neodymium or whatever fearmongering element you wish to be afraid about.

Re:Please don't use "peak" with regard to non-oil. (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32427954)

You can't find 0.5ppm oil in some soil somewhere like you can with gold or uranium or neodymium or whatever fearmongering element you wish to be afraid about.

Clearly you don't live along the gulf coast.

Re:Please don't use "peak" with regard to non-oil. (5, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#32428050)

Your point sounds more plausible than it is: Biological resources(wood, fish, etc.) are in principle renewable. That is, there exists one or more courses of actions that allows a steady yield in the very long term, or even increased yields. However, in practice, if a human population cannot adhere to one of those courses of action, they will deplete the biological resource(sometimes just to the point where it is no longer economically relevant, sometimes to the point where the remaining population is no longer self-sustaining, and becomes permanently extinct). In fisheries management, for instance, it is a simple point of fact that we have hit, and passed, "peak" yield for dozens of wild species. Same goes for really nice big chunks of hardwood. We have plenty of structural steel, and crappy pulp-pine; but anything that took 200 years to grow is getting thin on the ground.

Since, (barring extinct species with no DNA on file), one can always, at least in theory, restore a population back to its old levels, or above, and exceed the "peak", we can refer to it as a "local maximum" if you wish.

As for oil, it is actually pretty similar to other minerals. In many respects actually more convenient. Oil is, basically, a very convenient source of energy, and hydrocarbons in chemically convenient configurations. The entire planet is absolutely covered with at least one, often both, of those, just in less economic forms. Solar, wind, tidal, plants, worms, poor people, etc. The problem isn't that we are going to run out of energy, or run out of hydrocarbons; but that we will run out of convenient energy and hydrocarbons. This is pretty much exactly the same game as other minerals, where the problem isn't running out; but having applications that used to be viable being priced out.

"Scarcity" rarely means that there is literally no more of something. It just means that some people can't afford it. More scarce means that more people can't afford it. That's the problem. Supply isn't a binary thing "oil exists = all is well" or "neodymium has disappeared = apocalypse". Supply is a matter of degree. If the cost of the cheapest watt goes from X to X+1, the scope of activity that you can afford just shrank. If the cost of a gram of the element you need goes from Y to Y+1, the same.(worse, since most flavors of mineral extraction require energy, when the cheapest watt goes from X to X+1, the cost of every mineral will increase).

Re:Please don't use "peak" with regard to non-oil. (2, Funny)

dwarmstr (993558) | more than 4 years ago | (#32428260)

I would be happy with your suggestion of using the term "local maximum" instead of "peak". Biological resources are renewable. Oil is not, and once you've used the resource, it's gone. You can't recycle burned petroleum like many metals. You can't regrow it like a southern pine plantation.

Re:Please don't use "peak" with regard to non-oil. (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32428066)

Except that peak refers to production, not reserves. Yes, trees continually replenish themselves (as some argue oil does). However, the cheap trees are gone, and (like fish stocks) the cost of increasing production is extremely high. The fewer trees there are, the less rapidly you can grow more to increase production.

"Peak" is an entirely appropriate term to apply to oil production, timber production, fish production, whale oil production, coal production, natural gas production, and any number of other natural resources that are being harvested at faster than their replenishment rate (at a viable price).

Just because some morons say that there's no such thing as peak oil because there's plenty of oil left sitting around in fields impossible to exploit doesn't mean that we should all change our terminology.

Re:Please don't use "peak" with regard to non-oil. (4, Insightful)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 4 years ago | (#32428082)

No, it's exactly the same, at least the comparison of mineral and oil deposits. There's lots of oil deposits that are too costly to exploit at the moment, but will become profitable as oil prices rise. It's the same with metals mining, where it's starting to become profitable to mine the ocean floor. There's all kinds of resources that aren't exploited because they're too costly.

Wood really is the same; sure, you can regrow it, but it takes a LOT of time to do so, and it takes investment. Forests don't just grow by themselves; it takes millenia without any disturbances for a few trees to reproduce into a forest. To regrow a whole forest in a generation or two requires a fair amount of work by humans (cultivating seedlings, and planting them) which costs money. It also takes up land that can be used for other things, like agriculture. So if you overharvest you run out of wood until a new forest grows 30 years later.

And yes, you can find oil in soil. It's called tar sands and oil shale.

Re:Please don't use "peak" with regard to non-oil. (1)

CyprusBlue113 (1294000) | more than 4 years ago | (#32428374)

No, because again, price is irrelevant when it takes X or more units of Y to extract X units of Y from something.

Re:Please don't use "peak" with regard to non-oil. (4, Insightful)

starfishsystems (834319) | more than 4 years ago | (#32428096)

Nonsense. You can find oil almost anywhere. It's a byproduct of biomass. You probably have at least a litre of it in your kitchen in one form or another. So the argument that "peak" is a term to be reserved for non-renewable resources means that it should not be applied to oil either.

In fact, the notion of peak production has to do with sustainability: that is, the relative rates of production and consumption. Resource exhaustion is another topic entirely.

Re:Please don't use "peak" with regard to non-oil. (2, Informative)

dwarmstr (993558) | more than 4 years ago | (#32428312)

Oil in Peak oil refers to petroleum. I don't have a liter of petroleum in my kitchen.

Re:Please don't use "peak" with regard to non-oil. (2, Insightful)

ThrowAwaySociety (1351793) | more than 4 years ago | (#32428276)

So, you're saying we're going to brick the planet?

they didn't mention rapa nui (easter island) (1)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 4 years ago | (#32427864)

which is the best story of what happens when human overpopulate and use up all the resources (civilization collapse is the result)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Easter_Island#Pre-European_society [wikipedia.org]

According to legends recorded by the missionaries in the 1860s, the island originally had a very clear class system, with an ariki, king, wielding absolute god-like power ever since Hotu Matua had arrived on the island. The most visible element in the culture was production of massive moai that were part of the ancestral worship. With a strictly unified appearance, moai were erected along most of the coastline, indicating a homogeneous culture and centralized governance. In addition to the royal family, the island's habitation consisted of priests, soldiers and commoners. The last king, along with his family, died as a slave in the 1860s in the Peruvian mines.[citation needed] Long before that, the king had become a mere symbolic figure, remaining respected and untouchable, but having nominal authority.

For unknown reasons, a coup by military leaders called matatoa had brought a new cult based around a previously unexceptional god Make-make. In the cult of the birdman (Rapanui: tangata manu), a competition was established in which every year a representative of each clan, chosen by the leaders, would swim across shark-infested waters to Motu Nui, a nearby islet, to search for the season's first egg laid by a manutara (sooty tern). The first swimmer to return with an egg and successfully climb back up the cliff to Orongo would be named "Birdman of the year" and secure control over distribution of the island's resources for his clan for the year. The tradition was still in existence at the time of first contact by Europeans. It ended in 1867. The militant birdman cult was largely to blame for the island's misery of the late 18th and 19th centuries. Each year's winner and his supporters short-sightedly pillaged the island after the victory. With the island's ecosystem fading, destruction of crops quickly resulted in famine, sickness and death.[citation needed]

Arguably, the timber examples are even less (5, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#32427866)

Heartening than they appear. Oil, unless you subscribe to one of the abiotic origins/provided by Jesus to empower the American Way of Life(tm) theories, is in more or less fixed supply. The exact number varies based on the price and the available technology, which dictate exactly how crazy the techniques are that you are willing to use to get at the stuff; but it is more or less fixed. You can't have "sustainable" oil production by making sure only to harvest adult oil and restore any juvenile oil you accidentally catch back to its natural habitat.

Forests, on the other hand, are a population, not a mineral resource. If you are willing to forgo some short-term profit, you can generate modest returns more or less in perpetuity. If you aren't, you'll find yourself with a fancy new lunar resort. Anyone who destroys a biological resource isn't, as with a mineral resource, simply reaching the inevitable sooner rather than later, they are effectively pawning an annuity for pennies on the dollar.

With oil, the only real questions are 1). "Will we invest some of the convenient energy and chemicals in finding another source of the same before the first runs out?" and 2."How far will we go, in terms of sacrificing other resources(ie. drilling in the middle of highly productive fisheries or digging up large chunks of canada and boiling it down for tar) in order to secure that one?" There is no question of whether or not we will be "sustainable"; because, for mineral resources, there is no such thing, only a question of how fast you want to dig up the supply you have.

Re:Arguably, the timber examples are even less (2, Insightful)

Eskarel (565631) | more than 4 years ago | (#32428248)

Oil is not a mineral resource, it is organic not mineral, there is not a finite supply, and it is renewable. A sustainable oil industry is theoretically possible, though of course largely impractical.

Theoretically new oil is being created all the time and will continue to be created for the rest of eternity. The rub of course is that we've used up the majority of the oil created in the last billion years or so in the last century, so our rate of use is quite a bit faster than the rate of resupply.

Re:Arguably, the timber examples are even less (0, Flamebait)

Maxo-Texas (864189) | more than 4 years ago | (#32428318)

Legalize Hemp and you get huge amounts of hemp oil and plastics from hemp oil.

Until we legalize Hemp, we are not really being serious.

Peak Oil is Peak Wood (1)

istartedi (132515) | more than 4 years ago | (#32427874)

Before oil, there was a lot of clearcutting in the eastern US. A USA awash in oil can afford something like Shenandoah National Park and the Blueridge Parkway, with oil-fueled cars loaded with sightseers. If we don't manage to form a proper energy policy, the forest that we have "saved up" there will start to look like what it was in the 19th century: fuel for locomotives.

Of course, that probably won't happen until we blast the top off every mountain in West Virginia to get cola.

Re:Peak Oil is Peak Wood (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32428156)

Of course, that probably won't happen until we blast the top off
every mountain in West Virginia to get cola.

Do we actually need to blast? Couldn't we just tell the locals there's free meth hidden 200 feet underground and let nature take its course?

Jews for Nerds! (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32427894)

Jews, also known as kikes, hebes, hymies, yids, gold niggers, oven magnets, hook noses, sheenies, swindlers, criminals, "firewood", and Arabs in denial are a subhuman species of reptilian extra-terrestrials and adherents to one of the world's oldest major religions, called "Judaism", otherwise known as "The Worship of Money" or "Eating Arab Babies".

Judaism was the world's first master race theory. The Jew religion teaches that Jews are the Chosen People of God and that there is a sacred mystical quality to Jew DNA. In olden times, Jew prophets would, under the command of YHWH, frequently lead the Jews on genocidal rampages against neighboring populations, and even today Jew leaders often cite Jewish religious ideals to justify their ongoing genocide of sandniggers. Judaism ironically found its mirror-image inversion in the anti-Jew Aryan racialism of the Nazis.

Despite only being 0.22% of the world's population, Jews control 99% of the world's money. Not only do the Jews control the world, but also the media, the banks, the space program, and LiveJournal's porn communities and Gay communities. All Jews possess the following features: an extremely large nose, fake boobs, curly hair that reeks of faggotry, one of those gay hats, a love of coke, a law practice, a roll of money, a small cock, or shitty taste in dental hygiene.

Jews invented both Communism and Capitalism. Karl Marx, of course, was a Jew, which was why he understood money so well, and in fact he was converted to Communism by another Jew, Moses Hess, the actual founder of Zionism, who ghost-wrote Marx's The German Ideology. Capitalism was created when Christian Europeans threw away their morals and decided to embrace Jewish practices like usury (see: John Calvin). Jews were the first group to create a sophisticated banking system, which they used to fund the Crusades in order to pit Christians and Muslims (both adhering to religions derived from and controlled by Jews) against each other to kill as many people as possible in a macabre human sacrifice to YHWH.

The Jew banking system was based on fraud and lies, so when it inevitably collapsed, the Jews just pwned as many people as possible by unleashing the Black Plague on them. Later, Jews economically controlled medieval Venice (the first modern maritime trade empire), and then crypto-Jewish merchants economically controlled the Spanish Empire, including the slave trade. Openly Jewish bankers orchestrated the Dutch Empire and founded Jew Amsterdam (later Jew York). Later the Dutch Jews moved to London because they thought it would be a better base for a global empire, and actually brought a Dutch nobleman, William III, with them, who they installed in a coup d'état (more like Jew d'état, amirite?) as new King of the British Empire. For hundreds of years, Jewish bankers controlled global trade through their bases in Jew York City and London. European colonialism was, through its history, essentially a plot whereby Jews could gain control of gold and diamond mines in poor countries and increase their stranglehold over the global economy.

Jews also enjoy slicing up baby penises for fun, some even enjoy sucking them. See below.

Jews also created Jew search engine Google, so now they can find all Jew information on Internets.

Some suggest that we should use Jews instead of dogs to sniff out large amounts of concealed cash or anything else worth smuggling at airports due to their sensitive Jew noses. Obviously, this is a horrible idea, because the pay is bad, and the dirty Kikes would probably form a union and demand moar money, thus increasing the burden on taxpayers everywhere.

Easter Island (1)

starfishsystems (834319) | more than 4 years ago | (#32427918)

Roland Wright speaks eloquently of another tragedy of the commons involving timber. This one took place on Easter Island, and it is a stark reminder to us all of what may come from presuming that our resources are infinite or necessarily renewable.

Easter Island is barren now. It was once heavily forested. But, as Wright recounts, "The people who felled the last tree could see it was the last, could know with complete certainty that there would never be another. And they felled it anyway."

http://freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1285440/posts [freerepublic.com]

Re:Easter Island (1)

Beelzebud (1361137) | more than 4 years ago | (#32427976)

My god, the comments at that site are amazingly retarded.

Re:Easter Island (2, Interesting)

chx1975 (625070) | more than 4 years ago | (#32428168)

As Jared Diamond says in Collapse that's not true! There were smaller and smaller trees re-growing and the island being covered by great trees were just a distant memory. It did not happen like 'dense forest -- all big trees felled - - barren' but rather gradually and slowly.

Stockmarket (1)

sourcerror (1718066) | more than 4 years ago | (#32427946)

I hope the stockmarket will price oil properly when we reach the peak. I mean, there's too much money in stake for not doing so. When we'll have higher than 100$/barrel oil for an extended period without hope for it to become cheaper, that will enable green technologies.

Re:Stockmarket (1, Insightful)

gothzilla (676407) | more than 4 years ago | (#32428140)

It won't enable green tech. It will just make expensive sources of energy relatively cheap. It will also devastate the poor when it happens too. We have to use whatever energy is the cheapest and most abundant. Not doing so is a death sentence to people who don't make that much money.

Green tech will take off when someone figures out a way to create energy that's more plentiful and cheaper than oil, coal, or gas. Until then it's simply not viable. Our current "green" tech can't even survive on it's own without subsidies. It's nothing more than the stuff of fantasies.

Look around you. I bet you can't find a single thing that was not made with nor shipped with oil. Green tech will never completely replace oil. It's one of the most useful resources we've ever found. It won't be replaced until we invent star trek replicators.

Re:Stockmarket (1)

Black Gold Alchemist (1747136) | more than 4 years ago | (#32428208)

Oil can be replaced by green tech. First, one could use wind turbines to synthesize oil [dotyenergy.com] . Wind turbines are quite cheap, even without subsides - they just produce most electricity when no one is using any. That sounds like a great time to make fuel and plastic. Second, you could do the same thing with nuclear powerplants. Third, one can use arrays of mirrors to heat up trash and produce oil [inhabitat.com] .

ahahahahahaha (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32428202)

*gasp*
ahahahahahaha...
haha..
*sigh*

It's way too late for that. The "stockmarket" now consists primarily of middle-class idiots gambling with their retirement savings, backed by consumer protection agencies and politicians ready to go on TV and cry about "speculation" and "obscene profits" every time another crotchling pops out that can't get cheap loans to buy a gas-guzzling car and all sorts of foreign plastic crap and a house it can't afford and a college education it will barely comprehend and healthcare to maintain it's fat oreo-stuffing ass and a pension funded by debts passed onto whatever crotchlings it produces during it's sad, miserable, subsidized role in the neverending ponzi scheme of fraudulent stupidity that is American capitalism.

You'd be better off playing russian roulette with a Deringer than betting on the stock market to price anything properly in such a retarded environment.

There have been lots of peaks (4, Insightful)

d1r3lnd (1743112) | more than 4 years ago | (#32427950)

Peak Whale Oil, for example. Of course, the rising cost of whale oil led to the development of new technologies and new sources of energy - like kerosene.

There are many, many, many examples of people pointing out the impossibility of then-present trends continuing. Of course, if trends can't continue, they won't.

If you want an American patriot as an example instead of Engels (communism! gasp, shock, horror) take a look at Gifford Pinchot. An early leader of the Conservation movement, first Chief of the US Forest Service, quite a guy. Peak timber, peak ore, peak coal - he wrote about 'em all, back in the day.

While it's well and good to be aware of these things, and the market tends to reward those who make some smart bets on that basis - human beings have always found ways to satisfy their wants. Some are more sustainable than others, but necessity is the mother of invention, and sustainability/entropy is really only a concern when faced with a finite "universe." Technology is the key that gets us out of that box, and if we have to consume resources in order to make new ones available to us, well - such is, has been, and will be life.

Many societies have failed (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32428212)

human beings have always found ways to satisfy their wants

This suffers from selection bias. Many people failed to satisfy their needs. They died. History is the story of the people who survived. It would be more correct to say that some human beings have always found ways to satisfy their needs. The ability of modern society to adapt for a few hundred years may not be indicative of much. There have been plenty of examples of societies that collapsed. Jared Diamond's book provides examples both ancient and modern.

As to technology, in his book The Collapse of Complex Societies, Joseph Tainter argues that it too suffers from diminishing marginal returns:

It is not that R&D cannot potentially solve the problems of industrialism. The difficulty is that to do so will require an increasing share of GNP. The principle of infinite substitutability depends on energy and technology. With diminishing returns to investment in scientific research, how can economic growth be sustained? The answer is that to sustain growth resources will have to be allocated from other sectors of the economy into science and engineering. The result will likely be at least a temporary decline in the standard of living . . .

Technological innovation and increasing productivity can forestall declining marginal returns only so long. A new energy subsidy will at some point be essential.

Oil is energy condensed from millions of years of sunshine into a convenient storage format. Can we find a new energy subsidy comparable to it? I don't know. Even the best motivations and technology are no guarantee that our particular society can avoid wrenching change or collapse.

Geof (anon as I spent mod points)

Cut the "it is renewable" crap (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32427962)

Timber is only reneweable in a generic sense. Firstly as many example abund, if you destroy an ecological strata or whole system, it is hard to recover or never recover. So by cutting a VARIETY of wood for timber, and replacing by a monoculture of some timber easy usable by the industry. I won't again cite all the danger of monoculture and the destruction of a whole strata ecological stratta. But fact is that you lost all that diverse sort of wood and plant and replaced by a single one. OK , you say, but there is still some wood stuff available. That is misisng the point that in some part of the world, even that is LOST. Topsoil get washed because there is no suffisent rooting to hold it on, top soil get poorer, forest are destroyed to make place for other culture, and in some place water/climate is getting scarce/harsh enough that that renwable wood isn't renewed. Sure it ain't always the case, but wood is only renweable if top soil are taken care of, and only if you dismiss the diversity of wood essence as being essential. So only with a very short sighted view on the problem.

One thing that history has taught us is (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32428206)

that history never teaches us anything and we are doomed to repeat it.

Have to laugh (bitterly) (4, Interesting)

Maxo-Texas (864189) | more than 4 years ago | (#32428298)

Any time these conversations come up, the only real solution (reducing the population to about 2 billion) is ignored by everyone.

Which means, we really are not going to solve the problem before it blows up in our face.

Reduce the population to 2 billion and the earth becomes verdant and rich within 50 years.

It's possible to peacefully reduce the population to 3 billion in 50 years. Just stop saving people who have more than 1 child per 2 parents and stop providing tax incentives for second children.

But it's not going to happen. We are going to 9 and probably 11 billion people with all the hell that results from that.
By my current math, it happens a little while after I die.

Re:Have to laugh (bitterly) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32428380)

Reduce the population to 2 billion and the earth becomes verdant and rich within 50 years.

Probably not, it would just mean that the nations that didn't control their population would control the nations that did.

Load More Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?