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A Song Of Distant Earth
2004-Mar-12, 01:21 AM
This isn't directly related to astronomy perhaps, though it does have to do with our planet, humanity, its future, etc, and the issue is science-related. Moreover, I know our beloved guru the Bad Astronomer has a way with taking the bite out of doomsday scenarios, so I'm hoping he (and others) are able to put the whole thing somewhat into perspective. These two links were posted on another forum, and I'd like some input on exactly how plausible the scenarios outlined in them might be. These are the sites I'm talking about:

http://www.oilcrash.com/

and

http://www.lifeaftertheoilcrash.net/

While both come across to me as being quite alarmist or even sensationalist they do a good job of putting forward the problem of Earth's dwindling oil reserves. Apparently, the authors of both sites are almost convinced it'll be the end of civilization as we know it. A Mad Max type world, World War 3, you name it, it's apparently only a few years away. But exactly how alarmed should we be? Will the transition to other types of fuel and other resources really be that drastic? Will there be any transition at all? Are electric cars and such too late? I think everyone will agree these are serious matters that concern everyone, and while I think the time schedule both links set up is probably a little too pessimistic there's no denying Earth's oil reserves will eventually dry up. And then what?

There's another thread here on the forum about the BBC show 'If The Lights Go Out', which was broadcast yesterday I believe. The program wasn't about the oil issue per se but it certainly touched on it and made it clear the way we use energy right now might come at a terrible price. Those who've seen it as well might be able to give some additional comments. I don't know if the BA might bother with this, whether there's some debunking involved here (he only just did his rather great Hoagland debunking after all) but while not directly related to astronomy, as I said, I think it's safe to say the issue raised here is important and concerns us all. I'd definitely like to read your impressions and thoughts on it.

Peter B
2004-Mar-12, 01:34 AM
I had a quick look at the first site. It's alarmist, and its sentiments aren't reflected by those of people in the petroleum industry I've heard (one of my brothers is a petroleum geophysicist).

People have been warning of "no more than 30 years of oil" for something like a century, yet we're still using it.

Essentially, there's no point looking for oil unless there's a demand for it, which is why the known reserves always seem to be about 30 years' worth: as one field dries up, we look for more. Also, as technology improves, we can extract more oil from previously depleted fields.

Finally, we have centuries worth of coal and apparently even more of shale oil.

JohnOwens
2004-Mar-12, 01:58 AM
When I was running some numbers on this kind of thing, my pessimistic scenario didn't give us real problems until around 2060 or so. But I don't consider a marked increase in the price of oil like the "peak oil" problem mentioned in the OP's second link to be a big problem; heck, I'd consider such an increase a blessing in disguise, since we might finally start taking efficiency and alternate energy sources seriously if gasoline (petrol for you folks who watched the BBC show :wink: ) was costing $5-$10/gallon at the pump (.75-1.5 pound/liter). The first site is definitely overly hysterical; the second might be prone to some exaggeration and obfuscation (I didn't see any up-front date or even range of dates on a cursory examination).

Added: Oh, and treating the oil production curve as if it must follow an absolutely perfect bell curve is a gross oversimplification, and while I haven't read his own work, I would hope that this King Hubbert they credit would be insulted and mortified by their abuse of statistical methods.

Also added: Grr, and they don't do a very good job of writing the page for any browser but one on that second site. :evil:

P.S. While I'm sure BA wouldn't mind this kind of post at all, it'd probably fit in better in "BABBling" than in "General Astronomy".

Diamond
2004-Mar-12, 08:29 AM
The problem comes when trying to project the present into the future. Its perfectly possible that in twenty years time, most cars will use fuel cells rather than an internal combustion engine. This means that oil consumption will go down, because the efficiency is so much greater.

The best chapter on this prediction of oil crash is in "The Skeptical Environmentalist" by Bjorn Lomberg. He covers this topic particularly well.

eburacum45
2004-Mar-12, 10:33 AM
The second link annoys me somewhat;

the potential for solar energy is dismissed as trivial, while such absurd energy sources as cold fusion and zpe are discussed as good candidates.

Solar energy has a vast potential on this planet; but if the total solar flux in the solar system is considered, it could run a trillion civilisations like our own.

I suppose we should not neccesarily dismiss sonofusion yet, although I do have many doubts; it may well be hot fusion of helium3 and deuterium we eventually adopt for most of our needs, although fission would be the power source that would need to be developed if the peak oil predictions show any signs of coming true.

fredquimbo456
2004-Mar-12, 11:21 AM
But I don't consider a marked increase in the price of oil like the "peak oil" problem mentioned in the OP's second link to be a big problem; heck, I'd consider such an increase a blessing in disguise, since we might finally start taking efficiency and alternate energy sources seriously if gasoline (petrol for you folks who watched the BBC show :wink: ) was costing $5-$10/gallon at the pump (.75-1.5 pound/liter)

Reality Check from Brussels: A gallon of unleaded here today costs $5.05.
Prices have been at this level for the last couple of years. I'm looking out the window now, but I'm not seeing a lot of solar or otherwise powered vehicles out there. Heck, even the bicycles have gone.

JohnOwens
2004-Mar-12, 11:27 AM
But I don't consider a marked increase in the price of oil like the "peak oil" problem mentioned in the OP's second link to be a big problem; heck, I'd consider such an increase a blessing in disguise, since we might finally start taking efficiency and alternate energy sources seriously if gasoline (petrol for you folks who watched the BBC show :wink: ) was costing $5-$10/gallon at the pump (.75-1.5 pound/liter)

Reality Check from Brussels: A gallon of unleaded here today costs $5.05.
Prices have been at this level for the last couple of years. I'm looking out the window now, but I'm not seeing a lot of solar or otherwise powered vehicles out there. Heck, even the bicycles have gone.

Damn, last time I was over that way, it was still only $3-4 or so. Of course, I think the dollar was stronger then, too. OK, maybe when it gets to $10-20/gallon, then?
Seems no matter how pessimistic I am about people, they still find a way to surprise me. :roll:

TriangleMan
2004-Mar-12, 12:00 PM
Song_of_Distant_Earth, you might want to check the financial statements for major oil companies. IIRC, their known reserves are reported there (it's one of the most important assets of an oil company). I believe Exxon itself has over a billion barrels of known, tangible reserves and Exxon is widely considered to use very conservative estimates. Other companies such as Shell and BP would have similar levels.

fredquimbo456
2004-Mar-12, 12:06 PM
And do you know why a gallon costs so much over here? It's because 70%, yes SEVENTY, are taxes. So for every gallon I buy the government pockets $3.53.

TriangleMan
2004-Mar-12, 12:14 PM
Okay, just took a quick look at both sites. They are rather alarmist and I won't deal with all of the specualtion of life after 'the crash' but the comments about 'peak oil' do have some merit. We are approaching a time when the worldwide demand for oil will outpace the supply. It didn't happen this year but in a few years time it may occur that the amount of oil used was more than the amount of new oil found by the companies. We are pretty close to that point now.

However this certainly doesn't mean that we're going to run out of oil in 5 years or other such nonsense! Current reserves, if no new oil were found or extracted, should last up to 25-35 years.

As the demand for oil increases the price of it will increase. This price increase will in turn drive research into alternative energy technologies or enhanced fuel efficiency - whomever gets a breakthrough will make $billions so a lot of start-up companies will get in on the action. As for fuel use, a solar/electric car may not be considered 'cool' right now, but when oil is $75 a barrel you can bet more people will buy one. Numerous times in captialist countries the supply pressure leads to innovation.

Forecasts of world-wide chaos show an immense lack of faith in the ingenuity of humanity.

fredquimbo456
2004-Mar-12, 12:15 PM
Triangleman, how far can we trust these oil companies? This from Shell:

Shell announced on January 9 that it was reclassifying 20 per cent of its proved reserves to less certain, unproved categories.

Full link: http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2004/03/09/1078594327877.html

Overstating assets is a great way to keep shareholders happy. It has happened before, I believe. :wink:

TriangleMan
2004-Mar-12, 12:42 PM
Triangleman, how far can we trust these oil companies? This from Shell:
Shell announced on January 9 that it was reclassifying 20 per cent of its proved reserves to less certain, unproved categories.
Coincidentally enough I was reading an article on that issue in Wednesday's New York Times. Oil reserves are a tricky thing to estimate - it's not an exact science. You'll only know for sure how much you have once you pump it out of the ground. Auditors would have their own experts to check the estimates but it is a diffcult item to nail down.

As for balance sheet/profit manipulations, the article also mentioned that most oil companies criticized Exxon's more conservative estimates, claiming Exxon used such methods in order to smooth out earnings over the long-term. In other words, they claimed that Exxon was manipulating its financials by underreporting its reserves. Of course the current Shell troubles must be leaving Exxon feeling pretty smug. . .

The article also doesn't change my conclusions - there is still plenty of oil.

frogesque
2004-Mar-12, 12:59 PM
As I see it, itís a question of lifestyles.

We complain about the price and availability of gas and petroleum products yet we consume far too much (both literally and figuratively). We drive about in inefficient guzzling autos and then whinge about the price of gas. We come home to houses that are equatorially hot (or arctically air conditioned) and lounge about in shirtsleeves then complain because we canít fit into the bathroom because we are so obese. The answer isnít bigger bathrooms!

Couple up a dynamo to that exercise machine stored in the loft, add a battery if you will and then pedal for a bit. You want to have a coffee then watch TV? Go ride your bike! Very quickly you will discover that it takes a lot of work to raise a 10oz mug of water from room temperature to boiling point and that electronics arenít terribly efficient.

Egyptians built the pyramids and whilst they may have had some mineral oils it wouldnít have been used for transport. Similarly with Stonehenge; the inner blue stones (approx 5 tonnes each) were quarried in Wales and moved about 250 miles. The outer stones (40-50 tonnes each) were obtained from a site about 20 miles away. No one knows for sure how it was done but Iíll lay odds they didnít have a drop of WD40.

Fossil fuel is finite, regardless of how many billions of barrels are in reserve or tones of coal in un-worked seams and even if they werenít OXYGEN is the other part of the burning question and good breathable oxygen is definitely finite.

Challenge:

Design a lifestyle that is non-dependant on fossil or other non-renewable resources. (remember, solar panels, wind turbines, nuclear installations, etc. all require fossil fuel for their production so no cheating).

Put human beings on Mars? Fine Ė I can think of a few candidates :) but letís also look after the one planet in our solar system that we know can support life.

fredquimbo456
2004-Mar-12, 01:26 PM
Couldn't agree more, Froguesque. A change of lifestyle is a big part of the answer. Unfortunately, that would annihilate the market-economy as we know it. We'd be stuck weaving baskets for the tourists.



Couple up a dynamo to that exercise machine stored in the loft, add a battery if you will and then pedal for a bit. You want to have a coffee then watch TV? Go ride your bike! Very quickly you will discover that it takes a lot of work to raise a 10oz mug of water from room temperature to boiling point and that electronics arenít terribly efficient.




Don't forget to plug some generators to the playground installations at your local park or school.


Just for kicks, has anybody ever calculated how much electrical power a busy gym could generate? Could it power its own needs or even more?

eburacum45
2004-Mar-12, 02:36 PM
Fossil fuel is finite, regardless of how many billions of barrels are in reserve or tones of coal in un-worked seams and even if they werenít OXYGEN is the other part of the burning question and good breathable oxygen is definitely finite.
Sorry, but that is just plain wrong. This is an astronomy website; planetary atmospheres is something we should discuss with authority. Ninety per cent or more of the oxygen in our atmosphere was produced hundreds of millions of years (or even gigayears) ago by plants which are long buried in the ground as fossils. If all the plants now alive in the world were to be killed and burnt to produce carbon dioxide the oxygen levels would only go down by a few percent.
We would then have far too much carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, but -
oxygen is not a problem.

.
(remember, solar panels, wind turbines, nuclear installations, etc. all require fossil fuel for their production so no cheating).
Solar panels could power the world ten times over once the solar economy was in place and a mass-production system developed; but they would cover approximately a fifth of the entire land surface of the world.
So we could accept such a loss of land surface- (mostly desert)
or
build these pv arrays on floating islands in the oceans- you can also use OTEC technology to extract heat from those same oceans...
or
use fission power (which does produce more energy than it consumes) to tide us over till fusion power is available.
(the second two options are not exclusive of each other)

Put human beings on Mars? Fine Ė I can think of a few candidates :) but letís also look after the one planet in our solar system that we know can support life.
Sure- I am not in a hurry to colonise anywhere- by the time we can colonise Mars we will have enough energy to solve the wealth problems of Earth's population with plenty to spare.

frogesque
2004-Mar-12, 06:01 PM
frogesque wrote:

Fossil fuel is finite, regardless of how many billions of barrels are in reserve or tones of coal in un-worked seams and even if they werenít OXYGEN is the other part of the burning question and good breathable oxygen is definitely finite.

eburacum45 wrote:

Sorry, but that is just plain wrong. This is an astronomy website; planetary atmospheres is something we should discuss with authority. Ninety per cent or more of the oxygen in our atmosphere was produced hundreds of millions of years (or even gigayears) ago by plants which are long buried in the ground as fossils. If all the plants now alive in the world were to be killed and burnt to produce carbon dioxide the oxygen levels would only go down by a few percent.
We would then have far too much carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, but -
oxygen is not a problem.

Perhaps my post was emotive rather than technically PC and I should have written good breathable air but I stand by what I said, whichever way you thow the dice oxygen is still finite. Sufficient, possibly, but it's still quantifiable and hence finite.

I am in favour of solar energy and wind generation and actually made a working wind generator out of scrap odds and ends as an experiment. On a good day I could get about 10W out of it. I'm no back-to-the trees woo-woo either, more a realistic cautious kind of engineer who would rather fix a problem before it happens rather than try to clean up the mess afterwards.

The problems with wind and solar energy are the attendant factors of energy storage, conversion, inversion, distribution and decomissioning of componets and systems after they have passed their usable lifespan. All these factors, whether they be batteries, fuel cells or even mining the ore for the coper wire that's required to couple them up take energy to manufacture. That has to be taken into the energy balance for a totally self sufficient system otherwise we are just kidding ourselves. I don't object to using fossil fuel as a means of jump starting the process but it has to be a sustainable system with a usable nett energy output.

daver
2004-Mar-12, 06:40 PM
it has to be a sustainable system with a usable nett energy output.

I'd add reliable. Minimal environmental impact (which is probably corelated with "compact") would also be a plus.