The only way to prolong oil and gas supplies is through efficiency. We have to use the 80:20 rule and focus on the areas that are the least efficienct in our lives - in my opinnion, these are cars and meat. The US has 200 million cars that consume 2/3rds of all of its oil. The US uses 25% of the world's oil, and so cars in the US alone use 16% of the world's oil [ref].
Personal vehicles require huge amounts of energy to get from point A to point B. A normal sized car has a 120hp (89.4kW) engine, which actually consumes more gasoline the slower the car is travelling, such as in city traffic, where average speeds are around 20mph with top speeds of 56mph (this is how the EPA tests city fuel efficiency at least). Using a 120hp engine is absolutely rediculous for this application. A recent study on althetes in the Tour de France shows that cyclists require only 246 watts to travel 20mph [ref], that's 360 times less energy than what is spent in a 120hp car to go the same average speed. A bike is the most efficient personal transportation device, 117% more efficient [ref] than simply walking. Of course, not everybody has a body that can generate 246 watts for a sustained period, so we must motorize bycicles, otherwise known as motorcycles, or better still, scooters. An electric scooter is the preferred way for getting from point A to point B in the city because it uses less energy than a car, but easier to sustain than a bike.
The second thing that we have to do is reduce our consumption of meat. Beef requires about 145 times more fossil fuel to grow than potatoes [ref]. David Pimentel of Cornell University calculates that it takes nearly twice as much fossil energy to produce a typical American diet than a pure vegetarian diet which works out to be an additional 150 gallons of fossil fuels per year for a meat-eater. So, the average American is using twice as much energy on a beef diet.
Finding a better way to get around in the city and reducing our intake of meat is the best thing we can do to prolong the oil and gas supplies. But, of course, running out of oil and gas is not the problem. The problem is in fact the environmental problems we will have if we use our oil and gas. The CO2 levels right now are at 370ppm. If we burn all of the oil that we know of, then CO2 levels will be 700ppm (by volume) [David Scott, International Journal of Hydrogen Research]. This is a huge problem. We have to stop using fossil fuels.
Every once and a while some of my friends and I have the discussion: Is social growth equal to economic growth? My argument is always yes, but our discussion is always lively and the other side always has a strong opinion and sometimes I have second thoughts.
My view is that economic growth (and of course energy growth) is closely linked to the advancement of technology that will allow cleaner water, better drugs (as in the ones that fight disease), new and better hospitals and better ways to communicate. Technology also works to reduce the price of these items and make them more accesible to everybody.
The other side of the argument though is that growth always comes at the expense of others. For instance, the life that the developed world has come to enjoy wouldn't be possible without the undeveloped world. Also, growth is by definition not sustainable in a finite bubble such as the Earth and so ultimately, growth will destroy society.
I think that technology can be used to improve the life of everybody though. For example, a better way to clean and pump water isn't required by the developed world but is needed by the undeveloped world. Technology improvements go to make those water purification systems cheaper and a side effect of technology advancement is economic growth.
These discussions never have a clear answer, but it's important to think about these things.
grqb writes | about 9 years ago
The cost of oil has risen by about 50% in the last year. This time in 2004 the cost per barrel of oil was about $35, now it's about $53. The reason why oil prices have spiked is because of many things: winter requires a lot of energy to heat homes, summer requires even more energy to cool homes, a good part of it is speculation that emerging countries like China and India will require more and more oil along with North America's dependence on the sweet stuff. In general, for economies to grow, they require more energy each year which means more oil. Peak oil is what happens when oil can't be extracted at a faster rate and so the demand for oil continues to grow but the supply of oil flattens out.
Respected analysts such as those at John S. Herold Inc, the first analysts to call BS on Enron, have gone so far as to predict when each of the big oil companies will peak, which they think will all happen by 2009 (Total S.A by 2007, Exxon Mobil, ConocoPhillips, BP, Royal Dutch/Shell and Eni S.p.A by 2008, ChevronTexaco by 2009). A recent report by David Coxe, an analyst working for the Bank of Montreal, said that the worlds largest oil field, Gharwar in Saudi Arabia, has started to decline, or peak. Other analysts such as Matt Simmons and Colin Campbell, the head of the Association for the study of Peak Oil (Aspo) all agree.
Of course Saudi rejects all notion that their oil fields will ever run out of oil, but promises by them to increase production last year failed to materialise and the recent 500,000 barrels per day increase was not Saudi Light crude as expected, instead the new oil was heavy, sulphurous oil that only a few refineries can use and is common when oil fields start to decline.
So, what does peak oil mean for all of us? According to James Howard Kunstler in Rolling Stone Magazine, it'll mean that we'll all have to move out of suburbia, grow our own food and accept that life will never be the way we once knew it. He also says that alternative energies won't help the US ween off of oil because they're not developing fast enough. This notion that alternative energies are underdeveloped was reiterated by a French bank, Ixis-CIB, who recently warned that oil could hit $380 per barrel by 2015. The analysts argue that this is possible because alternatives are not developed yet and the world will rely on oil no matter what the cost. The analysts also said existing new oilfield projects would not be enough to satisfy unprecedented growth in demand from developing economies, particularly China.
Energy is pretty important to the quality of our lives. Just to give you a sense of how important energy really is, the BBC was interviewing somebody from Iraq a couple of weeks ago and he could have been complaining about the kidnapings, the shootings, the corruption, but he was complaining about the fact that he only had electricity for a couple of hours a day. And imagine if you didn't have electricity, what would you do? You wouldn't be able to read slashdot, that's for sure. You wouldn't be able to have a shower or flush the toilet. If we didn't have enough electricity, we wouldn't be able to build or run hospitals. Basically, the difference between the developed world and the undeveloped world is that the developed world has energy and the un-developed world has no electricity. A person in Africa has only 500 watts of power on average. My girlfriends hairdryer alone uses 1000 watts of power.
An abundant and uninterrupted supply of energy is what allows our economies to grow, it's what allows people to have jobs, earn money, send their kids to school so that their kids can live a happy life and increase their standard of living. We're at a point now where our standard of living will have to change very soon because we just don't have enough energy to maintain our current rate of growth. This is why it is important for everybody to start conserving energy. If you want your children and their children to have a better life than you did, everybody has to stop wasting energy today. It's easy to do, just turn off your lights at home, dry your clothes outside instead of in the clothes dryer, try not to drive so much when you could be walking or biking and try to buy food that wasn't grown halfway across the world. Simple things done today will go a long way to ensuring a good future for you and your children.