The Physical Cliff

by Solarevolution January 03, 2013 04:20

As Washington continues to deliberate over the fiscal cliff and the much-hyped notion that the US government is sufficiently functional to avert fiscal disaster, America's attention is being diverted from a much more profound cliff-hanger looming on the horizon.

The USA, Saudi Arabia and Russia are competing to see which country can "produce" the most oil. That translates into racing to see which country will reach the bottom of the barrel first. In their frantic race to the bottom, these countries are creating havoc on the ground -- destroying aquifers, watersheds, productive land, forests -- and on the high seas -- even to the point of attempting to drill in the Arctic Ocean where extreme conditions will thwart human arrogance.

Reports of production increases can be seen as just more warnings that the race to the finish is accelerating. Sadly those fossil fuelish players have little to show for a Plan B. 

Reports of profits can be seen as thieves bragging about who got away with the biggest heist. Oil only costs what it takes to steal it from our children's children's children. The notion that "they will come up with something to replace oil" is thoughtless and irresponsible. Tell those guys to be careful: they might stub their toes trying to kick the can down the road that far. The physical cliff may be closer than they think.          

In the decades to come, the fiscal cliff of December 31, 2012 will be remembered as a picnic when it is contrasted to the fall from glory which these great nations will experience as they slide down the physical cliff of rapidly depleting oil / gas / coal. 

Hubbert Rectangles

by Solarevolution June 18, 2011 13:01
Herman Daly defined sustainability as "equity extended into the future."
Inspired, I created a spreadsheet called, "Adults learning to share the future with their children."

Still not knowing quite where to start, I had to think it through. In Peak Oil circles we talk a lot about Hubbert curves. But in the wider world out there, more often than not we find people making reference to Hubbert rectangles: "We have enough [oil/gas/coal/uranium] to last for X years."

In other words, we carry on blithely -- Business as Usual ("BAU") -- and then plop! we're down to ZERO, just like that!

Plus, rectangles are much easier to model than curves. So off I went ... and created 3 scenarios. One, the rectangle: we use it all up at today's rate and then it's smack dab zero. Second (unrealistic) what if we cut back immediately and spread it out evenly over a long period of time -- 1000 years, or whatever you say? Third, create a policy at some deliberate enlightened decline rate and move off fossil fuels as quickly as possible.

Here's one variation of these 3 scenarios -- using "25 years [of oil/gas/coal] left." Our options are:
#1) be done with it quickly -- the black rectangle
#2) drop supply at 10% per year (orange). Clearly some people aren't going to be happy about this.
#3) for reference, we drop immediately to a 1000 year rate. (At least this is less un-sustainable.) 

You can find the spreadsheet here if you would like to play with it.

If you're wondering how big a rectangle to draw, you might want to try any of these values I obtained by googling "Years of [oil/gas/coal] left" (precise wording using quotes):
  • Oil: <50, 40, 49
  • Gas: 53, 20, 8, 10, 60, 4.
  • Coal: 200, 141, 300, 250, 500, 100, 400, 10
These numbers came up just from the first page of links, things like: "there is about 20 years of natural gas left in the world." Some of them were national, some were global figures.

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