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Has World Oil Production Passed Its Peak? 1250

dido writes "Princeton University geology Professor Kenneth Deffeyes has been studying world petroleum production data and has come to the conclusion that the world hit peak oil last December 16, 2005. If he is correct, total world oil production will never surpass what was produced last December. From the article: 'Compared to 2004, world oil production was up 0.8 percent in 2005, nowhere near enough to compensate for a demand rise of roughly 3 percent. The high prices did not bring much additional oil out of the ground. Most oil-producing countries are in decline."
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Has World Oil Production Passed Its Peak?

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  • wow. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by eobanb ( 823187 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @02:05AM (#14730326) Homepage
    If this is true, it's extremely important news to practically everyone on the planet. With a 3% discrepency in what we produce and we consume (and presumably that discrepency will grow for a while), it's essential that we begin to displace oil with other energy sources. Essential. We are completely screwing ourselves otherwise. I mean right now, I'm sitting here reading slashdot instead of writing a paper that's due tomorrow. That's a really bad idea. But sacrificing what literally powers our lifestyle and existence as we know it is doubtlessly a whole lot worse.

    And the scary part is, we've procrastinated for so long, I'm not so sure that we'll find a suitable replacement in time, at least not before there are widespread disruptions in global energy supply.
  • by Soong ( 7225 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @02:11AM (#14730352) Homepage Journal
    Efficiency and cutting back in every way. A big STFU to all the Hummer owners out there.

    And maybe over-population is part of the problem too. Stop screwing around!
  • Why the peak? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ChePibe ( 882378 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @02:17AM (#14730381)
    Is this peak simply an artificial creation - an attempt by oil cartels such as OPEC to limit production and maximize profits on a finite resource - or due to some technical issue or actually pumping oil? The author also seems to support simple extrapolation by stating that "By 2025, we're going to be back in the Stone Age" rather than attempting to analyze the actual cause of the problem.

    Perhaps I've missed something, but I do not entirely trust his conclusions. If what I've stated is incorrect, please feel free to correct me.
  • by ePhil_One ( 634771 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @02:19AM (#14730390) Journal
    Basically, no matter what the students did to conserve, and what they did to increase the resources, the "world" pretty much always ran out of fuel and resources by the year 2020

    So he wrote a program to demonstate the effect of exponential growth, and modeled some lame "conserve" and "research" options that didn't really effect the growth rate. It was a simulation designed to always come to that conclusion. Big surprise that it always led to that conclusion, huh?

    Being college I hope somebody spoke up and challenged his assumptions, I also recall models that projected the population continuing to grow exponentially, though the reality has been far from that. Yes resources are being consumed far faster than they are being generated, but at the same time technology is moving fatser than ever too. My 295hp car just got 28 mpg on a 3 hour trip today, in 1978 that car would have gotten about 6-12mpg (since there were no 295 hp new cars in 1978, we'll have to estimate). One thing to keep in mind is that we DO have renewable sources of energy, and technology continues to lower the production costs of these while the non-renewable sources will continue to rise. At some point the two lines cross and we'll switch in a big way. The USA is real good at solving these problems.

  • Re:Ethanol (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jcr ( 53032 ) <jcr@@@mac...com> on Thursday February 16, 2006 @02:21AM (#14730399) Journal
    Ethanol is a hell of a lot closer than the far-fetched hydrogen economy proposed by the US's current executive administration.

    If ethanol is economically viable, then let's quit giving Archer Daniels Midland tens of billions of dollars in corporate welfare, and see whether people still buy it.

  • Re:wow. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by amliebsch ( 724858 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @02:23AM (#14730408) Journal
    And the scary part is, we've procrastinated for so long, I'm not so sure that we'll find a suitable replacement in time

    DON'T PANIC! Even if we have reached "peak oil," however that is defined, it will be a long process. Production will start a long, slow decline, and prices will start a long, steady rise. New conservation methods will come on line as prices rise, consumption will fall, and lifestyles will change, further slowing the process. And we can always fall back on nuclear energy.

  • by HeavensBlade23 ( 946140 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @02:25AM (#14730420)
    We can only expect these problems to get exponentially worse with all the growth in China and India. Hundreds of millions of people getting wired for electricity and generally starting to use petroleum for the first time will come with a high cost indeed.
  • by Hao Wu ( 652581 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @02:31AM (#14730439) Homepage
    If you are reading this... sometime try browsing a Slashdot story on energy or global warming at "0" or even "-1".

    You will then understand what it means to live in a bubble, where controversial issues are fully settled by politics and personal biases.

    (One might also realize how popular elections are lost and won, despite the "genius" expressed in this forum.)

  • Re:Use more oil... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by abdulwahid ( 214915 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @02:34AM (#14730459) Homepage

    The faster we use up all of the economically obtainable oil, the sooner people can stop whining about using it all up and the sooner we can get on with whatever is next.

    The trouble is it doesn't work like that and the sooner people reaslise the better. Moving to any new system first of all takes years but secondly takes energy. For example, how many cars and gas stations in the US? How long would it take to convert all of those so that they can fuel hydrogen cars and to change all the gas stations to be hydrogen ready? What about the new facilities for producing the hydrogen and transporting it to the gas station?

    Obviously this all take time and energy yet these are the two things we don't have. If we really have crossed the peak we can expect to see energy prices start rising dramatically. The existing oil, which will be there for some time, will cost more and more to extract. It will also eventually take more energy to extract than is gained from it as a fuel, thus no longer making it a fuel source even though there is oil left in the ground.

    Cars are just the start of the problem. There is also electricity generation, fertilisers, plastics and many other products that are hydrocarbon based products. These also have the same problems of high energy and financial costs for moving to a new system.

    What is really needed is urgent action and a cut back on life style. This may be a hard decision go make (and not something that will make politicians popular) but if we don't do it. Nature might just force a change in life style upon us.

  • Re:Ethanol (Score:3, Insightful)

    by NoMoreNicksLeft ( 516230 ) <john.oyler@c[ ]ast.net ['omc' in gap]> on Thursday February 16, 2006 @02:48AM (#14730513) Journal
    It's not that simple.

    With current consumption, we'd have to farm an entire continent basically, just to make up for how much oil we use. So, do we tell the people of South America or the people of Africa, that they have to move so we can build our giant ethanol farm?

    Nuclear is the only way, and we really need fusion. We should have spent $400 billion on a crash fusion program, not on the Iraq folly.
  • by Theatetus ( 521747 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @02:48AM (#14730518) Journal
    I'm much more interested in how you came up with a food crisis. North and South America already produce way more food than is necessary

    For that matter, Africa also produces more food than its population could consume but has large swathes of famine. Why? Because the hunger problem is now about how much food there is, but where it is and who has it. It's a question of (mis)distribution, not production.

    So, if we suddenly couldn't afford to gas up our trucks, all the food being made in Kansas and Iowa couldn't get to Baltimore and Chicago anymore. And, after about two days of that, the Superdome during Katrina would look like a playground scuffle.

  • by DECS ( 891519 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @02:49AM (#14730520) Homepage Journal
    So the price of oil goes up momentarily for what, a year? And this analyst decides that, since oil producers didn't instantly develop the technology to extract hydrocarbons from shale, or find a whole new set of oil reserves in areas we haven't even yet begun to look, that its all downhill from here? What bullshit.

    That sounds an awful lot like the 1970's analysts who said we'd have no oil at all by 2000.

    Or the brainiac reporter who insisted that Apple's iPod was not going to have any effect on Mac sales after interviewing 10 iPod users who didn't also buy a Mac on their visit to the Apple store in 2004.

    Anyone can rub together two brain cells and write a report that glosses over market realities with some sensationalist simplifications.

    Basic economics indicates that that the market can fall behind reality for several years. But obviously, at some point when oil rises to a level where it can comfortably stay, all kinds of results will kick in: conservation, alternative fuels, alternative oil discovery, alternative oil sources. To suggest that we've hit the end of the oil pan is plainly retarded.

    We've only known about the middle east's oil for most of a century. There's plenty of places we haven't looked, and more we know about and chose not to exploit because either the market can't support it yet, or there is lower hanging fruit, or there are political or environmental concerns we can't resolve yet.
  • by Theatetus ( 521747 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @03:03AM (#14730568) Journal
    Yes, yes, I know; its not economic to refine it. Only when the price is under $30/barrel. What are we at now? $55? $60?

    Eh... money isn't the only issue. You also have a basic problem of thermodynamics. It takes X calories to extract and refine gasoline that will release Y calories when burned. As extraction gets harder, X grows. Once X == Y, an oil field becomes an energy sink, not an energy source, even if there are centuries worth of oil left in it.

  • by FusionJunky ( 205375 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @03:05AM (#14730571) Homepage
    uhhhh..... to control strategic resources for the future?
  • by ahodgson ( 74077 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @03:10AM (#14730587)
    Hubbert predicted that US oil production would peak in the 70's. He was right.

    Based on his formulas, world peak oil production should occur during this decade.
  • missing the point (Score:4, Insightful)

    by SupahVee ( 146778 ) <superv@mischievo ... minus herbivore> on Thursday February 16, 2006 @03:13AM (#14730605) Journal
    What everyone so far seems to have missed is not "what are we gonna use to drive our cars back and forth to work with?!" but, "How the hell are we gonna feed ourselves?"

    Oil is food, people. Don't think so? imagine the lines of connection going back from your local mega-mart - very little food is grown locally anymore, it all gets shipped in, and we, as faithful 'consumers' consume what's presented to us. Wanna move closer to a farm? Nice try, that wont work either, most food cannot be grown or survive without the very extensive use of, you guessed it, petroleum based pesticides.

    Oh, well we can switch to a hydrogen based economy! Wrong again, can't make hydrogen without oil. Can't make fancy electric cars without a current reserve of oil.

    Get a bike, get spare parts, and start riding, it's gonna be a long 75-150 years, everyone.
  • by montguy ( 773490 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @03:14AM (#14730610)
    But, being the terminally unhappy people they are, they'll just blame Bush and not MoveOn.

    Quite the contrary. Most people I know who would fit in that description are quite happy about it
  • by Dr Kool, PhD ( 173800 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @03:15AM (#14730615) Homepage Journal
    World food production has reached its peak!! Food demand is growing without bound, this is a complete disaster that threatens to destroy humanity. It's all over, the sky is falling, and we're all going to die. By 1850 we will all be dead!!! [economyprofessor.com]
  • by homer_ca ( 144738 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @03:25AM (#14730657)
    "The more efficient you are, the less they'll produce. Prices will not change."

    We're talking about the survival of human civilization, not bargain hunting at the mall. If we're more efficient, the oil companies produce less, the oil lasts longer, and it buys us some time to build out the energy infrastructure to supplant oil.
  • The short answer (Score:2, Insightful)

    by javaDragon ( 187973 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @03:28AM (#14730664) Homepage

    If it hadn't US troops would not be all over the pipeline areas.

  • by FleaPlus ( 6935 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @03:29AM (#14730669) Journal
    (This is from something I wrote up a couple months ago, regarding a question I asked Professor Deffeyes during a Q&A session after a talk he gave at my university. If anybody has a better answer, I'd honestly be interested in hearing it.)

    Today there was a talk in Beckman Auditorium by Kenneth Deffeyes [princeton.edu], Princeton professor emeritus and author of one of the more popular books on that ever-popular meme, peak oil. He discussed his belief that we had hit peak oil sometime around this past Thanksgiving, and that oil prices are going to fluctuate wildly and rise in the next 5 years of so.

    During the Q&A period I went up to the microphone and asked the following: During your talk you briefly mentioned the futures market. Currently on the oil futures market, you can purchase a contract for a barrel of oil to be delivered in, say, the year 2010 or 2011 which is actually cheaper than a barrel of oil today. What are your thoughts on why this is the case?

    In his response, he had mentioned that he had been asked a similar question after he gave his talk at Merrill Lynch, basically: "If you really think oil prices are going to rise, why don't you put your money where your mouth is and buy up futures contracts?" He said to them that he wasn't too knowledgeable about futures contracts, and afterwards read up on them a little and found some of their intricacies bewildering. He said that he would want to purchase futures options for the coming few years, due to the extreme price fluctuations he expects, followed by regular futures in the longer term.

    I'm not sure I bought his answer. Although I'm not sure about how far ahead one can purchase futures options, regular futures can definitely be purchased for 2011 [tradingcharts.com], which should be well into the period of soaring prices he predicts.
  • by SchwarzeReiter ( 894411 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @03:38AM (#14730703)
    No, this was not just a program he made up, I think that program was based on the paper Limits to Growth (Meadows et al. 1971), which was written about exactly the same scenarion, the world running out of resources, because of massive population increase, and massive consumption increase, and came with a program (the version I saw was in basic, but I think the original was some other programming language), which simulates a dynamic system, which is basicly a very simple modell of the world. It has since then had a follow up Beyond the Limits (Meadows et al. 1992).

    So maybe you shouldn't dismiss it, just because it does not fit in your picture of the world.
  • by Clockwurk ( 577966 ) * on Thursday February 16, 2006 @03:39AM (#14730707) Homepage
    But there are many areas where some minor federal intervention would be very useful.

    The first thing the govt. should do is reevaluate the way it calculates fuel economy. The current system is grossly innaccurate, and doesn't give consumers a true picture of the gas mileage they can expect. Consumer Reports had an article about this and the auto industry rep. basically said that the auto companies know how the govt. tests, and optomizes their vehicles for the test (gear ratio tweaking, using prototype vehicles, etc.). Changing the test methods would give consumers more accurate information so they can make a more informed decision.

    The second thing the govt. could do is raise the minimum required fuel economy and make light trucks subject to the gas guzzler tax. I work at a Dodge dealership and the fuel economy of new vehicles is attrocious. A new durango gets 14-18 mpg and pays no gas guzzler tax. A station wagon that got similar mileage would have a several thousand dollar tax associated with it. Treat SUVs like the cars that they are replacing and you will find that fewer people will buy one.

    The third thing that the govt. and EPA could do to help is to standardize fuel grades. Under the current system, refiners have to produce something like 60-70 different blends to comply with various state enviromental regs. The govt. could reduce this clusterfuck by having perhaps 2 or 3 different blends; one blend for urban/enviromentally sensitive (pacific northwest, etc.) areas, and one blend for areas where pollution isn't as big of a problem. Current refineries in the US are running at or above full capacity, and this would help ease that situation, and allow oil companies to put current resources to better use.

    In addition to the step above, I firmly believe that the govt. should raise minimum octane ratings for gasoline. If the US had higher octane ratings, we could use higher compression ratings, and turbochargers would be a lot more effective, allowing smaller displacement engines (like most japanese cars have) to produce the same horsepower as a larger naturally aspirated engine but with increased fuel economy.

    Obviously, these aren't complete solutions to Americas oil addiction, but they are things that would help.

    P.S. while writing this post, I came across an interesting ad [sierraclub.org] that the sierra club ran in the new york times on Ford's 100th birthday. 100 years of "progress" indeed.
  • by ppanon ( 16583 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @03:47AM (#14730733) Homepage Journal
    The US market drives low emission vehicles

  • by 246o1 ( 914193 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @03:47AM (#14730734)
    cast the first stone. Sure, that's a great moral philosophy, and it would be nice if people weren't so sanctimonious, but it runs into problems when used to dissuage VERBAL criticism.

    When you say that people in America or Europe who try to lesson the damage they are doing to the planet shouldn't bother trying to convince other people to do the same through social pressure, you are basically saying that it's not worth doing any good unless you can do infinte good. Your foolish rhetoric can be used to justify any amount of waste, and to (bizarrely) criticize those who are TRYING to act ethically.

    If the social pressures of the Left in America were to reduce the ecological footprint of everyone from 60 times that villagers to 50 times that villagers, a few hundred million villagers would be able to increase their consumption of the Earth's resources by 10-fold with no extra strain on the environment over the current model.

    Furthermore, pressures for ecological soundness would, as has been shown in most market situations, drive further innovation in that direction, the opposite of the effect that SUV purchases have.

    If you are unwilling to understand that small improvements are better than no improvements, you might as well just kill yourself now, since the logical extension of your espoused philosophy would be that if your life is not perfect in every way, none of the good in it matters.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 16, 2006 @03:55AM (#14730757)
    I think you innocently forgot the easiest solution, the ones humans have always used, it's called "taking". On a small scale it is known as theft and is illegal, on a large scale it's called geopolitics and usually includes wars. We are in one right now,check the headlines (unless you really think iraq/iran/afghanistan/venezuela, etc, "disputes" are all about something other than oil and natural gas) there are a rough handful of major powerblocs in the world, and around 1/4 resources required left for this and the next generation. Each of those powerblocs need all that there is available. There is very little at all for the generation after that, no matter where they are. The powerblocs are lining up resources *now*, first come first served with the most power wins. We can see who is occupying what now. The second and third tier get some dregs. We can see those guys running around the planet "buying" long range energy and mineral resources now. Again, both the above are simple verifiable data. Fourth tier folks got zip, and never will get zip, you can see that now if you look at severely under developed nations. They are out, too late. Once the dregs that the second and third tier nations are using start to go, they will be looking really good to everyone, sloppy seconds or not,so that's when the *really big* wars will start, because human society pretty much always winds up with megalomaniacs as leaders. And if you give them any sort of excuse, they susually go for the insanity option. Just their nature is all, not even weird or unusual to see it. There's been a few exceptions in history, but not too many, most world "leaders" are batshit powermad insane. Their "closest advisors" are pretty much all batshit powermad insane. They are all surrounded by large gents who follow orders without question. They control all the serious guns. All them guys above dig power and wealth. Power and wealth are measured in oil and fighter planes and missiles, etc, now. That stupid money thing is to keep people amused more than anything else, real wealth is tangibles and all the big guys know this, they use money as political tools now.

    This is not hard to see what is going to happen.

    Oh ya, "technology" will solve the problems all right, by reducing the population levels around the globe to a few percent of what we have now. Look right now, that's where the bulk of the really important cash for tech R&D is going, and where a ton of the brains wind up working. Inefficient as various governments can be, combine them with big factories and they "manage" to come up with a few pretty horrendous toys.

        It is going to suck hard.

        We'll keep building crap throw away stuff right up until it is too late to do anything important about it, because no leader would ever stay in power long (I am speaking first, second, third tier where they have a semblance of elected government, fourth tier are always run by pure anarchy and warlords) if he spoke the truth to the people, that they would need to drop their lifestyle down to a fraction of what it is now to eek another century out of what we have left.they just aren't going to do that to any extent beyond a few noises.

      And we'd need to be doing it yesterday.

      And it hasn't happened so there ya go.
  • by localman ( 111171 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @03:56AM (#14730760) Homepage
    You're right! If I can only reduce my load on the system by 20%, I might as well not bother at all. Heck, if we're going to run out of resources anyways, and pollution is going to overtake us, let's just run everything into the ground as fast as we can.

    Okay, enough sarcasm. I think you're probably right that in your comparison with America, Europe, and the tribesman and their relative impact. Problem is we don't know what exactly is sustainable, and we don't know how long it will take to get there. I think the current American lifestyle is unsustainable -- if everyone on the planet lived as we did it wouldn't work. But I don't think we all have to live as tribesmen either. This is a false dilemma that has come up ever since Regan said "I won't have Americans freezing in the dark".

    I believe there is a comfortable lifestyle that is sustainable. I think technology is a part of that, but until it catches up I think conservation is another part of that. I'm one of those people everyone hates who recycles as much as I can, tries to avoid waste, buys organic products, and yes, even drives a Prius. What can I say: I am not willing to become a subsistance farmer, but I am willing to vote with my dollars for more sustainable ways to do things. I don't see how that's bad.

    Is my current lifestyle sustainable? Hell if I know. Hell if anyone knows. I doubt it. But I'm doing what I can reasonably do as a working stiff to encourage things in what I think is a sustainable direction.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 16, 2006 @04:00AM (#14730772)
    Your comment about the footprint on nature is important. Think about this, though.

    I live in a studio apartment. I use energy efficient lightbulbs. I recycle. I mostly walk, but very occasionally take the bus. I haven't driven in five years.

    Really, how much larger is your footprint than mine?

    Now, my lifestyle is mostly maintainable because I'm young, it's true, but a Hummer still takes *five times* as much gas as an energy efficient vehicle. You don't need a Prius to get around 50 MPG.

    It also reduces traffic efficiency because it's slow to accelerate and blocks peoples' view. Even apart from gas consumption, it takes vastly more resources to build a Hummer than to build a S.M.A.R.T. car.

    Worse, people generally drive in SUVs alone. A vehicle that could carry four people is carrying only one. A carpool in an efficient vehicle is therefore *twenty times* as efficient as the usual SUV trip.

    When you get to that kind of difference it really does become a moral imperative. You're using more than your share, and you're not even *trying* to get down to what your share might be.

    "I'll never use as little as a starving villager does, so I might as well use as much as I like."

    That doesn't fly.
  • by atiti ( 954895 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @04:02AM (#14730779)
    what surprises me is everyone talks about the usage of oil as a fuel, but I would be more worried about is plastic... They will find a way around oil as a fuel, they already made several alternatives, but what I haven't heard of is something that substitutes plastic in case we run out of oil.
  • by Errandboy of Doom ( 917941 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @04:08AM (#14730800) Homepage
    Despite all this noise about peak oil, oil futures remain reasonable [about.com], and oil prices are coming down in light of new supplies [bloomberg.com], suggesting that our access to oil isn't nearly as stripped as doomsayers want us to believe.

    China and America have already begun investing in alternative sources of energy, all while new refineries are being built to increase supply. The futures market sees this as evidence that oil is heading for oversupply, just like it did in the mid to late 1990s.

    If you're convinced that the market is mistaken, well, maybe you're right. But rather than argue with me, I have some simple advice for you: buy. Prove how convinced you are by putting your money where your mouth is, and if you're right, you'll amass a fortune. You can buy us all copies of Mad Max [imdb.com] with the words "I told you so" painted on the front in sweet rare crude. Thales will tell you, [wikipedia.org] there's nothing that says "I'm smarter than you" like money.

    But if anyone was confident enough in their predictions of peak oil to bank on it, the futures market would adjust to reflect it. Why hasn't that happened?

    It hasn't happened because this apocalyptic pessimism is shortsighted.

    I'm sympathetic, it's easy to get worried when you're told something is finite, though its consumption is increasing. But in a market, if consumption is increasing, that's a good sign nothing's wrong. Consumption will increase only so long as it's unproblematic, then it will slow, a market is a proportional negative feedback system [wikipedia.org].

    To further allay any fears, keep in mind the imminent end of oil has been predicted routinely for the last 125 years [ncpa.org].

    Before that, the exhaustion of coal was the fun thing to predict. While we're less reliant on coal these days, we still have mountains of it to mine. Cheap oil, not depletion, brought about the end of the coal era. And likewise, cheap x, not depletion, will bring the end of the oil era.

    Even if all this analysis is wasted breath, if peak oil has certainly and suddenly hit and we're all staring at a future of expensive oil, even then, I'm still not worried. [R]ising oil prices are... an invitation to corn and coal and hydrogen. For anyone with a fresh idea, expensive oil is as good as a subsidy [wired.com]. Expensive oil only means we shift to something else, probably something cleaner, and I'm fine with that too.
  • End of Cheap Oil (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MikeyNg ( 88437 ) <mikeyng@gmaCHEETAHil.com minus cat> on Thursday February 16, 2006 @04:14AM (#14730818) Homepage
    Peak oil is not about the decline of oil, it's about the decline of CHEAP oil. Some would dismiss peak oil as another Malthusian doomsday. However, one needs to consider the fact that oil is such a huge part of our lives, and the discovery of cheap oil (and the fertilizer made from petroleum products) helped stem the tide. It's not simply energy, it's also plastics and a multitude of other products. While we *may* find alternative sources of energy, can you imagine a life without cheap plastic? Go through your day today and see how often you use plastic.

    Oil will always be present on our planet. The problem is that the Return on Investment (ROI) may be severely diminished. Right now, it's cheaper to find, drill, and transport oil than it is to use it. If it becomes more expensive to find and transport oil, we will have to find another source of energy. In case you hadn't noticed, energy consumption is going UP and not down.

    It's not something to take lightly. There are people working on it, but we really need alot more effort behind it. I'm imagining bacteria in a petri dish consuming all of the resources. If people don't wake up soon, we could easily be faced with a situation where we simply will not be able to find a solution. Consider that research itself takes up resources, which will become more scarce and valuable. There is a doomsday possibility out there, but I like to hope that some governments will wake up and put alot of effort into finding alternatives. Humans should hopefully be able to think their way out of the petri dish.
  • by mOdQuArK! ( 87332 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @04:22AM (#14730838)
    If anyone's causing the problem, it's OPEC manipulating the supply.

    Quite frequently recently, OPEC has been producing at 100% capacity and still not producing enough to keep the price of oil down. This is one of the oft-quoted symptoms of the "Peak Oil" theory.

    If anything will solve the problem it's capitalism, the most efficient resource allocation system known to man, and still practiced nowhere better than the USA.

    All that means is that what oil is left will be efficiently allocated by selling it at $20/gallon when it becomes scarce enough.

    Also, if you think the U.S. is one of the best examples of a purely capitalistic system in the world, you're still living in the pre-Great Depression era. China's current economic policies make it _much_ more capitalistic than the U.S. (although not democratic) right now, including all the bad parts of capitalism like screwing over the poor people.

  • by rcs1000 ( 462363 ) * <rcs1000.gmail@com> on Thursday February 16, 2006 @04:23AM (#14730840)
    For an academic, this is a dangerously unthoughful piece. Or rather, while it is quite possible we have passed peak oil production, the understanding of economics in the piece are terribly naieve.

    If oil production continues to decline (which it may well), then prices will rise. We'll see $100 oil. But, and this is the big but, if we see $100 oil then world oil demand will not rise 3%, it'll be down 5%. High oil prices mean less consumption of oil.

    This happens in several ways: firstly, in areas like power generation, then oil become more expensive than (existing) competing technologies. Oil fired power stations cease to make sense relative to coal fired ones. (And it is no surprise that we are seeing an upsurge in interest in nuclear.)

    Secondly, economic growth slows - especially in areas which are energy intensive. The price of a Ryanair, or Easyjey, or SouthWest Airlines plane ticket rises to reflect higher oil prices. Fewer people fly. Airlines mothball planes. Oil consumption falls.

    Thirdly, we will see purchases (and usage) of cars change. In the 1970s, the average horsepower of a new American car more than halved. When people make the school run, they'll use a little car rather than their SUV. It's a fair bet too that we'll see hybrid sales rise and rise. (Similarly, we'll see the proportion of ethanol in diesel increase.)

    Finally, rising oil prices make other energy sources economic. There is a wonderful piece from the IEA on the various costs of different power sources. Solar isn't cheap now. But if the oil price is $150 a barrel, it doesn't look so bad.

    The Princeton professor poo-pooes oil sands, but if the oil price is more than $100, then there'll be an awful lot of energy produced from them. Similarly, we'll see coal to oil plants (again), and no doubt a second commercial gas hydrates "mine".

    So: if we have passed Hubbert's peak, we'll see our energy consumption fall, and we'll see the proportion of energy production that is oil fall. This will not be painless. But nor will we return to the stone age. We may well see GDP growth drop to subnormal levels - perhaps even for a decade - but this is very different to total economic collapse.
  • by mOdQuArK! ( 87332 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @04:28AM (#14730853)
    We need people who believe in humanity, to help it become better then it is, not someone who pushes it down.

    If you ignore the broad spectrum of human behavior when planning for the future, you _will_ end up being crushed under the heels of some bastard who values stealing your possessions more than they value your life. Any plans for the future need to take the actions of such bastards into account.

    People who don't acknowledge that some bad apples can really screw over the rest of society are politely known as dreamers, and rudely known as morons.

  • by mikerich ( 120257 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @04:30AM (#14730856)
    The more efficient you are, the less they'll produce. Prices will not change.

    Not true, OPEC has always stated that oil should be in the $30 to $40 barrel range, not in the high sixties where it has been for a long time. They recognise that over $50 per barrel, it becomes economic for consuming countries to invest in alternative sources of energy such as oil sands and tar. Overpriced oil hurts producers long term plans.

    What is almost unique about this situation is not that oil production is being throttled such as 1973-74 or 1980, it is that demand is running way ahead of supply. OPEC has called for consumers to cut back on consumption as there isn't enough infrastructure to get the stuff out of the ground, move and refine it fast enough to meet current let alone future demand.

    Saudi Arabia is practically the only major producer that is planning on major increases in production in the near future, but there are plenty of geologists who believe that the Saudi reserves have been wildly overstated and that there is no way the country can ever meet these figures.

  • Re:Oil sands (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Zog The Undeniable ( 632031 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @04:31AM (#14730863)
    With respect, the return to an agrarian economy ain't gonna happen. As soon as an energy crisis arises, we're going to start building nuclear reactors like they're going out of fashion. You can run your cars on nuke-electrolysed hydrogen and heat your home with nuke electricity. Uranium supplies a problem? Use fast breeder reactors. OK, you're going to upset a few people and need a small army to protect the reactors from fundamentalist nutters, but no way are people going to accept a Pol Pot style regime.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 16, 2006 @04:33AM (#14730872)
    So what you've suggested is that there is no point in trying to minimize your oil consumption at all, and that if you use any oil you might as well be a complete glutton about it. Right... That's utterly idiotic but is something the rest of the world has come to expect from the average American. In many countries in the world you can't help but use oil to some extent to live a somewhat normal life, but that hardly means that trying to limit oil consumption should be disregarded entirely. How comical this would appear to somebody who has never seen a motor vehicle is entirely irrelevant and is an argument that would only appease complete idiots.

    So keep driving to work alone in a vehicle that's meant to hold eight people just because you think it makes you look "cool". In reality, it makes you look like a sad pathetic retard who's compensating for a lack of self esteem.
  • by brianthesmurf ( 954896 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @04:37AM (#14730893)
    Saying " keep in mind the imminent end of oil has been predicted routinely for the last 125 years" is worthless. 125 years ago the state of scientific & technical knowledge was hardly on a par with today. There are very good reasons for thinking peak oil is here. And to all the people who start saying "tar sands" - it not even sure that tar-shale has an economic EROEI (i.e. it takes a helluva lot of energy to get the oil out). Various sources quote about 1.5 for this as compared to 30 for middle east oil. Aditionally simply relying on the magic of the free market to sort this one for us ain't going to work. Free markets (and the civilizations on which they were based) have collapsed in the past due to lack of raw materials - we need tech solutions to exploit alternatices and government incentives to develop those quickly.
  • by tconnors ( 91126 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @04:55AM (#14730947) Homepage Journal
    I use energy efficient lightbulbs.

    Do you know why they are 20 times more expensive than normal bulbs? Because they take approximately 20 times more resources to make (the lighting field is highly competitive, so the cost to you basically reflects the cost to manufacture them). So if you don't save more than the $10 extra to manufacture one energy efficient bulb, over its lifetime, in saved electricity, then you have done more harm than good.

    I bought a whole bunch of energy efficient bulbs. Most of them died within a year because they don't like dirty electricity and being cycled rapidly -- shorter than the average lifetime I get out of normal bulbs (despite the marketing blurb explaining that they last 8 times longer). The only energy efficient bulbs I have retained are the ones in the living/lounge room -- ie, the ones that are on for a substantial part of the day and are kept on for hours at a time without being cycled, and if they last 1 year, then I have likely saved >$10 in electricity, hence they have acted as a net energy saving.

    Unfortunately, so much of the stuff that uneducated environmentalists (it /is/ actually possible to be an educated environmentalist, you know, and I attempt to be one) and politicians come up with are really bad for the environment. Obtaining alcohol from corn/cane sugar (never understood why Americans love getting their sugar from corn, blech!) costs far more in energy to run the harvesting/transport/refining equipment than you get out of the alcohol in the end.

    If only people that had an actual influence on these things (politicians, businesses) performed triple-bottom-line analysis; unfortunately, the only people that do this currently are people who don't have to answer to share holders.

    I recycle.

    Again, a lot of energy. Is it really so hard these days to simply limit your consumption in the first place? Heck, I'm regretting that I may have to soon replace my 5 year old laptop, because even fvwm is getting too bloated.

    Anyway, I really ought to go ride home. I feel guilty now for getting a bike with carbon forks.
  • by i_am_not_a_bomba ( 904443 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @05:02AM (#14730967)
    Your rant stinks like the new attack of 'moral relativism' that American 'conservatives' have started to throw around at everyone they don't like (themselves being among the worst offenders when it comes to bending their morals).

    The idea that unless you're an African villager you can't point out great waste is beyond ridiculous.

    Lets try it from a lefties perspective...

    Unless you stop using the socialist, nationalised road system, you can't possibly say that Communist Russia was excessive, only someone in libertarian Somalia has the 'moral authority' to say that.

    That sit nicely with you?

    Of course not, but you will bend your morality to fit your argument anyway, as you have done. Now when some neo greenie comes along in this thread and screams that we *should* be living like African villagers you will argue that he is an extremist and he just goes to show how rediculous 'liberals' are, and you will have snuggly wrapped yourself up in a blanket of self righteousness smirking that your 'right' and everyone else is 'wrong' totally ignoring the issue at hand which doesn't matter just as long as you feel like you have won the argument.
  • by Yvanhoe ( 564877 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @05:04AM (#14730972) Journal
    SUV are the inverse of terrorist : you fight them at home in order to not have to fight them elsewhere. The problem is not with 30% of americans owning a SUV, it is with the 10% of chinese that can afford to do the same...
  • by Ravatar ( 891374 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @05:10AM (#14730990)
    We're not talking about the survival of civilation, we're talking about profit. If survival was at stake, we'd have moved to alternative energy sources years, even decades ago. It's not like fossil fuel being limited was news for the past 50 years.
  • by beofli ( 584044 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @05:12AM (#14730992)
    If you are unwilling to understand that small improvements are better than no improvements, you might as well just kill yourself now, since the logical extension of your espoused philosophy would be that if your life is not perfect in every way, none of the good in it matters.

    The problem with small improvements is that people think they did good and stop there. Sometimes things must get worse before there is momentum for change. In the end, we cannot predict if any of our actions are good or bad for the world in the long run. Also plain Chaos Theory will tell you that. For me, the best philosophy for life is still the Christian moral: Love God and not the material world, and secondly, love your fellow human beings, and do not judge.
  • by Spy Hunter ( 317220 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @05:12AM (#14730996) Journal
    All that means is that what oil is left will be efficiently allocated by selling it at $20/gallon when it becomes scarce enough.

    You're forgetting that the high price will drive people to alternatives in droves, and the enormous boom in the alternative energy industry will lower prices with economies of scale and drive more R&D investment. Before long the world's energy sources will be far more diversified, efficient, and eco-friendly; possibly even cheaper; and it will be *because* of high oil prices, not in spite of them. Because capitalism works.

    Also, I don't actually think OPEC is causing a major problem, because I don't think there is one. But if there was one, it could only be caused by market manipulation of the type OPEC tries to practice. And I didn't mean to say the U.S. had the most purely capitalistic system (absolutely pure capitalism is probably not a system I'd like to live under). I just think the U.S.' capitalistic system is the best (despite its many flaws) (and hence the flame-retardant gear...).

  • by aussersterne ( 212916 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @05:17AM (#14731010) Homepage
    The fact that you don't like the answer or feel that it's not "fair and balanced" doesn't automatically make it wrong. Life is not fair and balanced. Cause leads to effect. Every effect cannot have all causes, no matter what you have been told or how much you want to believe that there is no global warming, that we are bringing freedom to the Middle East, that Reagan and Nixon weren't crooks, or that we won't run out of oil. Americans are spoiled brats, conservative Americans doubly so.

    Reality is not "fair and balanced."
  • by TallMatthew ( 919136 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @05:54AM (#14731098)
    Weak kneed leaders in the U.S. have been totally 100% cowed by irrational environmental types who do not use any of this data or statistical evidence or engineering facts to oppose anything but "green".

    Been to Chernobyl lately? Try walking around without a radiation suit and when you get back home, you can mutter to yourself about "irrational environment types" as you count your tumors. Hey look! I just got another one on my nuts!

    There is no panacea. Our societies are going to regress for lack of forward-thinking by people in power (and those who put them in power).

  • by Dusabre ( 176445 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @06:18AM (#14731171) Homepage
    Meadows was debunked and highly criticized for his results.

    Garbage in = garbage out.

    How can you even refer to a study carried out thirty years ago?

    There might be a future oil crisis but as far as other resources are concerned, there are plenty.
  • by RzUpAnmsCwrds ( 262647 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @06:37AM (#14731226)
    Been to Chernobyl lately? Try walking around without a radiation suit and when you get back home, you can mutter to yourself about "irrational environment types" as you count your tumors. Hey look! I just got another one on my nuts!

    There is no panacea. Our societies are going to regress for lack of forward-thinking by people in power (and those who put them in power).

    Other energy sources, including hydro, coal, and natural gas, have resulted in more deaths per MWh than nuclear power. Nuclear power is the safest large-scale energy source in use today - and that's with 1970s-era technology and safety systems.

    Although it is difficult to estimate the death toll (there were only 56 direct deaths), typical estimates place it at less than 4,000. Compare the Chernobyl accident to the Bhopal disaster, which killed at least 15,000 people. Few people seem to be against the manufacture of industrial chemicals, despite the fact that the Bhopal disaster alone killed more people than nuclear power ever has.

    You can spread FUD about nuclear power, but at the end of the day, our options are limited. We have growing energy needs, and the energy source that has demonstrated the best potential to generate significant quantities of energy with minimal carbon emissions, contained waste, and essentially limitless reserves of cheap fuel (with the use of fast breeder reactors) is nuclear fission.

    Mishaps can and will happen. Well-designed plants decrease the chances of serious accidents and help to contain accidents when they do occur. Three Mile Island is a perfect example - no deaths have been linked to what was, by all accounts, a serious disaster. The TMI-2 reactor enclosure did its job and prevented the spread of radiation, and TMI-1 even continues to operate reliably to this day.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 16, 2006 @06:58AM (#14731271)
    No, you need hot water. Is natural gas the only way to heat water as far as you know?

    This whole debate is bollocks. We use oil because it's cheap. As it becomes more expensive we'll a) start exploiting more expensive oil deposits such as the Canadian shale, this will continue until b) it's cheaper to grow ethanol or bio-diesel or harvest sunlight or build nuclear reactors etc etc etc. Quite frankly, oil will NEVER run out, because there will always be plenmty left that is just WAY too expensive for us to extract.
  • by rcs1000 ( 462363 ) * <rcs1000.gmail@com> on Thursday February 16, 2006 @07:01AM (#14731280)
    I don't think you get it.

    Capitalism does one thing really well. It allocates scarce resources efficiently. As oil diminishes prices will rise and demand will fall. The market will clear. This isn't good news for consumers and those of us raised on $15 a barrel oil. It isn't good news if you own a gas guzzeling SUV. It isn't good news for unemployment.

    But it isn't the end of the world. We will end up living in a more energy efficient world. We will end up using other forms of power (solar, nuclear, coal, gas, etc.) Humankind will not be wiped out. Democracy will not die.

    You state that capitalism can't deal with this. I think this is the only thing capitalism does well. It will wean us off oil by making us pay increasing amounts per barrel. It will force us to make choices about how we spend our hard earned cash: on gas for my SUV, or on a bicycle.

    What alternative do you propose? Panic, perhaps? Socialism? Neither has been particularly impressive. If you want to ease the transition you could raise gasoline taxes, forcing consumption down now. (I wouldn't be opposed to that.) But this is using capitalism, and using the mechanism of the price signal.
  • naive (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jesterpilot ( 906386 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @07:05AM (#14731293) Homepage
    Did you ever read Jared Diamonds latest book? Bottom line: civilisations collapse at the top of their power, because they rather die than give up their status symbols. So yes, if the choice is driving a hummer and starving, or riding a bicycle and eating, people will keep on driving until it's to late.
  • by ErikZ ( 55491 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @07:21AM (#14731356)
    "Quite frequently recently, OPEC has been producing at 100% capacity and still not producing enough to keep the price of oil down. This is one of the oft-quoted symptoms of the "Peak Oil" theory."

    Why would you want to keep the price of oil down?

    Yes, people would *like* to have cheap gas. But that's impossible in the long term. Let the price of gas go up, people use less. Eventually it will get high enough where alternate forms of energy are more feasable.

    Trying to artifically shortcut to this state tends to blow up in our faces though. So, don't worry, be happy.
  • by Alioth ( 221270 ) <no@spam> on Thursday February 16, 2006 @07:33AM (#14731390) Journal
    In true slashdot style, I've not read TFA, but in general I think the concern is not so much running out of oil (we know there's a tremendous amount left in various places), but running out of CHEAP oil. It's cheap oil that makes our way of living what it is now. There could be 500 years of oil left, but if it's not cheap oil, our lifestyles will dramatically change.

    The sources of oil you mention all have one thing in common: none of them are cheap oil.
  • by Chanc_Gorkon ( 94133 ) <gorkonNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday February 16, 2006 @07:56AM (#14731448)
    Everyone I see saying tar sands and shale is to expensive to extract the oil from it....it's too expensive NOW. What's to say that Shell or someone else doesn't come up with a cheap process to extract the oil?
  • by Ginger Unicorn ( 952287 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @08:23AM (#14731524)
    We won't be presented with a viable alternative energy infrastructure until fossil fuels get so depleted that they no longer produce a profit for big energy companies.

    We all know Capitalism and ecomonics are driven by supply and demand, but it is important to realise that neither of those factors are naturally regulated any more. Before the industrial revolution supply was dominated by the relative scarcity of pretty much everything, and demand was purely about getting what you need to survive for the vast majority of people.

    Since mass production was invented the scarcity of almost everything has been potentially negligable. Anything we need, we have the resources and technology to churn it out by the ton. In order for the economy to function demand must match supply as closely as possible. The sensible thing to do would be to cut back on production so that it matches the real demand. But then individual suppliers can't out-compete each other by virtue of economies of scale, so what is the alternative? Artificially increase demand. (the exceptions are monopolies and cartels which can reduce supply and increase price since they have no competitors.)

    Make everything disposable so that people buy everything over and over again, and flood the public conciousness with advertising and create a culture of mindless consumption.

    The more we waste, the more profit is made by somebody. This is the inevitable culture that is fostered by capitalism and economics. Its endemic. Its not a conspiracy or evilness or whatever, it is purely the way it works.

    It is not coincidence that hybrid cars only become commercially available once oil peaks. And it isnt some conspiracy by the automotive industry and the oil industry. It the mechanism by which capitalism works. If we concentrated all non essential resources on figuring out cold fusion or finding some other viable energy source we would probably have it licked very very quickly. So why don't we? No one profits.

    Once it is no longer possible to profit significantly from oil then we will see the right amount of effort expended on alternative energy. By then i only hope the environment isnt totally ruined.

    Capitalism is an anachronism that is destroying our planet and causing pointless suffering to thousands of starving people around the world. Unless we lift ourselves out of that rut things will never get better, and i genuinely believe the human race is capable of so much more than this.

  • by martin100 ( 780105 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @09:01AM (#14731649)
    the survival of civilization? cmon, wake up. when oil becomes too expensive. (it isnt now, it is very affordable, everyone buys it constantly) then money will go to alternatives instead of oil, then those will become more efficient and finally replace oil as our main energy source. there is nothing to worry about.
  • I BELIEVE!!! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by abb3w ( 696381 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @09:27AM (#14731846) Journal
    Once X == Y, an oil field becomes an energy sink, not an energy source, even if there are centuries worth of oil left in it.

    See Energy Returned on Energy Invested [wikipedia.org]. Which, as an aside, doesn't mean it won't be used at all; such oil might be a good way to turn nuclear power into plastics. It just means such oil won't contribute to a solution for the energy crisis.

  • Problem is we don't know what exactly is sustainable

    That's pretty much the nail on the head right there. There's no such thing as one sustainable lifestyle. Sustainability just means renewability. So while everyone is moaning and groaning about how the Americna lifestyle is unsustainable they are forgetting to mention the fact that it is high technology that increases the level of sustainable lifestyles. Until solar power, ethanol, etc "sustainable" meant "what you can build with your hands". It is only thanks to advanced research that we may actually get a sustainable lifestyle that also involves such frivolous things as running water and medical treatment.

    People who are all into "you can't justify going farther than you can walk" are the perfect example of a cure that's worse than the disease. If you can't go farther than you can walk you may save the environment but you completely decimate human society. Cities can not exist, universities can not exist, the bottom falls out from underneath society. You get a bunch of isolated pockets of survivalists who have no time for literature, art, or communal society. It's just neo-luditism. Why bother trying to save modern civilization if the answer is to destroy modern civilization? And by modern civilization I don't mean things like shopping malls. I have in mind things like physics, mathematics, chemistry, biology, history, and essentially all the human intellectual capital that rests on our ability to talk to one another over long distances and support specialists who don't have to tend their own fields every day.

    Technology has made possible our ability to live the type of lifestyle that we currently live. Technology, in my opinion, is also crucial to increasing efficiency to a point where maintaining a semblance of this lifestyle can be done sustainably. It's no questions that we've annointed convenience as king of efficiency and we probably would have to give up things like hummers and civics (and priuses) to really become sustainable. But the question is - do you want to give up these for smaller, ethanol-driven vehicles or for your bare feet?

  • by Killall -9 Bash ( 622952 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @09:50AM (#14732011)
    the human race survived for thousands of years prior to the advent of the combustion engine and discovery of the uses of crude oil
    I don't think there were 6 billion people on the planet thousands of years ago. Providing even the most basic of needs (food, water, shelter) is not possible on such a large scale with a pre-industrial level of technology. Not unless 6 billion people want to become farmers.
  • by AlpineR ( 32307 ) <wagnerr@umich.edu> on Thursday February 16, 2006 @09:55AM (#14732054) Homepage
    As a chemical engineer, sloppy reasoning like this makes me cringe:

    "Compared to 2004, world oil production was up 0.8 percent in 2005, nowhere near enough to compensate for a demand rise of roughly 3 percent."

    How exactly is demand measured? Does he mean consumption? Consumption must equal production, otherwise we would be rapidly draining/filling enormous reserve tanks. Current production is around 70 million barrels per day. Overproduction of 3% would fill a large oil tanker [energybulletin.net] every day with nowhere to go.

    This is a common misunderstanding in talking about oil production. "Oh no, we're consuming 100% of the oil we produce. The world will end next Tuesday!". Do you buy twice the food you need at the grocery store? Will you starve if you have company over next week and your demand goes up? No, you will buy (drill/research) more food when you need it.

    And did we really need a graph to show linear interpolation between 0.9812 trillion and 1.00748 trillion barrels? The author assumed that the total world supply of oil started at 2.013 trillion barrels, so the halfway point would be reached in 2005. The production rate stayed near his estimate, so the halfway point stayed in 2005. Wow. December 16, 2005 is a day which will live in infamy. Unless of course his supply estimate was off by 0.5%. Then February 28, 2006 shall be a day which will live in infamy. Obviously, the author of Beyond Oil [amazon.com] is just trying to sell more copies of Beyond Oil [amazon.com].

    I do believe that the world's energy future needs attention. I think we'd be wise to invest $100 billion in fusion and renewable energy, rather than spending ten times that on destroying and rebuilding nations. But I don't think crying wolf is a wise way to change policy.


  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 16, 2006 @09:59AM (#14732093)
    Who said that just because something costs 10 times as much it must need 10 times as much energy to produce? The bulbs cost more because the materials and gases used to make them are more exotic than the low tech incandesent bulb (which is so advanced that it involves running current through a high resistance wire to heat it up). Flouresent bulbs involve exciting a gas to produce the light.

    Costs will continue to come down with increased volume... and tolerance of shorter cycles will improve.

    I'm not saying that compact flouresents are the cure all of the world... or even particularly suited for you (if they really only last 1000 hours in your house)... but saying that cost is a direct reflection of energy input is laughable. That would be like claiming that a Hybrid is a net energy loser compared to its ICE brethren just because it tends to cost more... completely ignoring the actual energy saved over it's useful life.
  • by bombadillo ( 706765 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @10:37AM (#14732455)
    Great post. I completely agree with you that there are two many good natured environmental moves that actually aren't that good for the environment. Great point about compact flourecents only making sense in stable lighing environments like living rooms. Another great example is the new PVC windows. The window industry is marketing them as energy efficient windows. The problem is they only last 20 years and over the 20 years they won't safe enough energy to offset the costs of production and installation. It's actually better to keep your wooden frame windows that can last 100 years if kept painted.

    Obtaining alcohol from corn/cane sugar (never understood why Americans love getting their sugar from corn, blech!) costs far more in energy to run the harvesting/transport/refining equipment than you get out of the alcohol in the end.

    Yep that is "Big Corn" talking. The Corn industry has a strong lobying arm and continues to waste our tax money on this. I was glad that Bush said we have an Oil addiction. However, as soon as he mentioned ethanol I knew he wasn't serious about curing America's addiction. The real promise lies in diesel which is already in our infrastructure and could easily replace gasoline in the next few years if things get serious. If 1/3 of our autos switch to diesel we could safe roughly the amount of oil we import from the Saudis. Combine that with the prospect of Bio-diesel and diesel-hybrid engines and you get some seriously green engines in a couple of years compared to what we have now.
  • by Safety Cap ( 253500 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @10:56AM (#14732643) Homepage Journal
    By saying "replacement," you're assuming that the parents die when the kids are born.
  • by mysticgoat ( 582871 ) * on Thursday February 16, 2006 @11:12AM (#14732796) Homepage Journal

    I challenge your assumption. A world population of less than 2 billion survived for tens of thousands of years before the use of petroleum products. That doesn't say diddlely about the current situation, where the population exceeds 6 billion. This recent increase in population (all of it within living memory: go talk to somebody in their 80s about their childhood) has been powered by fossil fuels. The continuing population growth is unsustainable without a continued increase in energy production and will probably follow the classic pattern of a short plateau (as increasing die-offs balance new births) followed by a catastrophic drop to sustainable levels.

    I suggest that you review Economics 101, giving special attention to the reasonings of Malthus, and the reasons why his dismal predictions have not yet come true. You will find that his equations are correct and that his predictions have failed because new sources of energy have occasionally been added to the mix. Now for the first time an energy source is being gradually subtracted from the mix.... This is indeed dismal science.

  • And warfare (Score:5, Insightful)

    by plopez ( 54068 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @11:13AM (#14732807) Journal
    And another part of the problem is warlords interrupting supply and 'taxing' (extorting money for passage) supplies being shipped. Often times there is plenty of food, but no safe way to deliver it in the quantity needed (air drops can only do so much). If the warlord of Iowa, for example, started blocking food shipments to Chicago you would see Katrina like things happening in Chicago also.

  • by Dr. Spork ( 142693 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @11:51AM (#14733274)
    See this article:

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/03/05032 9132436.htm [sciencedaily.com]

    If you make ethanol from corn, what you produce will not even be enough to run the tractors of your ethanol farm. If you count all the energy costs of farming, you consume six units of energy to produce one unit of ethanol energy. And you destroy perfectly good land. This must be the dumbest investment ever, and the only reason people talk about it is because they want to win over "rural voters" who are slobbering for federal farming subsidies (tax handounts). Fucking leeches!

  • Peak Oil... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ovit ( 246181 ) <dicroce@gPERIODmail.com minus punct> on Thursday February 16, 2006 @11:59AM (#14733372) Homepage
    I first heard about Peak Oil about 2 years ago.

    For a couple hours, I scanned websites, and read the ramblings of many predicting calamity and the end of the world...

    These days, Peak Oil is getting more and more attention... But I don't worry about it...

    As oil from current sources becomes more and more expensive alternative sources of energy become relatively cheaper... I heard recently that the oil sands in Canada have about as much oil as those in Saudi Arabia, but that it is 6 times more expensive to extract... Let's say gas suddenly costs 12 dollars per gallon... Well, I could afford to drive OCCASIONALLY... I would probably ride a bike to work... But it need not mean "The END of the WORLD! ARGH!" Like these Peak Oil nuts believe...

    We currently have Nuclear power plants. We will not run out of oil over night, and these nuclear plants will not stop functioning immediatley... We will build more of these...

    At worst, we MIGHT have to cut back on some consumption... But human ingenuity will satisfy demand...

  • by Kelbear ( 870538 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @12:09PM (#14733502)
    Parent is insightful. Was talking about this awhile ago, Malthus had come up.

    I'll try to save the wikipedia link. Thomas Malthus noted that population grows exponentially(more people means more people to mate, which means more people...etc.). However, agricultural production grew at a linear rate(this is a rough simplification, plant a field, get a crop, plant 2 fields, get 2 crops).

    Plotting the linear line and the exponential curve would have the two intersecting at some point. After this point, you don't have enough food to sustain further population growth, everyone at this point lives at only subsistence levels.

    Inventing new technologies and using resources more efficiently is how this Malthusian equilibrium is thwarted. Agriculture hasn't grown as a linear line, instead we find "kinks" in it where technology increases the productivity faster than population growth.

    Instead of referring to food in particular, you can imagine other resources in place of food, like energy. Unless we develop technology to produce energy at a rate faster than a growing population will consume it, we will be in deep doodoo.

    We won't be able to sustain civilization by allowing supply and demand forces to shift us to accepting a lifestyle on little oil. Hopefully, the prices for oil will increase at a slow rate, slow enough that economies manage to struggle along while the high price on oil increases the economic profit of developing alternative energy sources.

    The key is keeping alive long enough for new tech to appear. As long as the technology keeps being developed, we won't have to live at a Malthusian equilibrium. Faster technological development can be acquired by producing higher levels of education and research.
  • by ardor ( 673957 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @12:12PM (#14733537)
    Speak for yourself. Actually, just operating at the TOP of the Maslow hierarchy is optimal. I am a passionate coder. An Amish way of life would mean for me to give up the thing I really like to do. Its like taking away a writer's pen or typewriter and forever denying him any chance of writing ever again. In short, "back to nature" means to give up LOTS of thinking and science. This may be your dream, but it is certainly not mine.

    Also, you forget about the medical problems the Amish have.
  • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @12:55PM (#14734001) Homepage
    There's actually a good bit of truth to that. It's funny listening to the logic of a lot of people on this board. It goes something to the effect of:

    1) Oil companies want to make more money, so they make prices run higher.
    2) Oil is scarce, so instead of producing more, they're keeping it scarce to keep prices high to make more profit.
    3) If people become more efficient, they'll reduce supplies to keep prices high to make more profit.
    4) If more oil is found, they'll do the same.

    Notice something? People here always seem to assume Higher Prices = More Profit, Company Happy. If that were the case, where does it cut off? Why isn't crude $500 per barrel? Because that would devastate the oil industry.

    They're not idiots. They know very well that high oil prices encourage research into alternative energy sources (which sabotages their long-term profits). They know that high oil prices cause worldwide recessions/depressions, which reduces oil demand (thus sabotaging their immediate profits). They don't want either of those situations; thus, they always try to optimize for a balance point which maximizes their income without A) causing the public to be upset enough that governments or companies start funding a lot of alternative energy development, and B) causing worldwide depressions/recessions.
  • The question is... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by kilgore2 ( 902724 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @01:36PM (#14734444)
    does the futures market still exist and continue to function as it presently does as demand exceeds supply by a significant amount? Oil supports the thing we like to call "the military/industrial complex" and there's a reason that the word "military" comes first. Who will do without? The military? I doubt it very much. Do they play by typical economic "rules" when they need something? History says that they don't... The real question here is what social and political evolution will occur to compensate for the gap between increasing demand and dwindling supply.
  • After Oil (Score:2, Insightful)

    by sepharious ( 900148 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @01:50PM (#14734592) Homepage
    Based on the information I've researched on the subject of alternative energy it becomes readily apparent that there is no silver bullet solution to oil. The available alternatives are all useful and should be developed but no single one of them can replace oil. It becomes more reasonable to start talking about solar and wind generation as a source of primary electricity which can be used for many things including production of synthetic fuel in the forms of biodiesel, ethanol, and as primary energy for thermal depolymerization, each of which would allow us to keep our current infrastructure while changing the source. A particular advantage of TDP is production of crude oil which can be used for all those nifty oil based products like plastic (and yes I know that they discuss plastic as the most effecient feed source for TDP, I refer to using organic feedsource). Also, solar and wind technologies (which is "free", discounting initial contruction costs and maintenece) can be used to generate the energy necessary to extract the less viable oils such as oil shale, tar sands, and some of the more energy intense forms of oil field extraction. And as we go alone we can start shifting to a more electricity based society for our transportation and production needs, i.e. electric cars and plants powered by electricity. A particularly important part of this will be transportation of this energy generated. As it stands at the moment long distance transmission of electricity results in huge losses to heat from the resistance in the lines. A solution to this would be a national network of superconducting transmission lines (similar in topography to the internet backbone) which would allow production of electricity anywhere without huge losses getting that energy back to civilization. These transmission lines are already in production and have been used on a limited scale in industrial applications, further development would allow us to lower cost and improve performance of them. Such a plan would eliminate problems of NIMBYism as you could place offensive and unsightly power plants in the middle of nowhere where nobody cares about what it looks/smells like. I would suggest vast solar generation in the Southwest, vast wind generation in the Rockies and Appalachians, and wave/tidal generation along the uninhabited areas of the coast. All of these technologies have had huge gains in efficiency and pricing as the demand for them has increased. Europe is leading the way in alternative energy with Germany recently installing wind turbines that are far more efficient than previous designs (and boy are they HUGE). And all the people that have talked about a changeover in terms of the Manhattan Project or the Apollo Missions is absolutely correct. If you consider that a few billion dollars carefully utilized to setup such a system is trivial to the HUNDREDS OF BILLIONS we've spent other countries (which happen to be major oil production nations) you begin to understand that the mouths will always be where the money is. But I contend that building such a system would benefit our enconomy far more than any other solution. It would be similar to the New Deal during the Depression, thousands of jobs would be created both during construction and the maintence afterwards. The Bush administration loves to talk about "national security" but true national security would be being free from extranational influence on the American way of life. Imagine an America where we are completely self-sufficient, all energy, raw materials, and consumable goods produced within our own borders. That sounds like national security to me.
  • by abb3w ( 696381 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @02:04PM (#14734736) Journal
    a finite resource will be depleted at a rate such at, on average, its price rises at the interest rate

    Hotelling's rule... which assumes an otherwise stable economy. Of course, the problem is that diminishing petroleum supplies are likely to have substantial effects on the economy, including wide spread inflation.... which does what to interest rates?

  • by Master Bait ( 115103 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @02:27PM (#14734969) Homepage Journal
    But the first-world lifestyle consumes vast amounts of energy. Energy production has peaked. So how does the third world get their cars and roads and air conditioning and TV sets?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 16, 2006 @03:07PM (#14735385)
    People who are all into "you can't justify going farther than you can walk" are the perfect example of a cure that's worse than the disease. If you can't go farther than you can walk you may save the environment but you completely decimate human society. Cities can not exist, universities can not exist, the bottom falls out from underneath society.

    If you're trying to suggest that before Henry Ford, we didn't have cities, universities, or society, then I think you need to find another history book.

    You get a bunch of isolated pockets of survivalists who have no time for literature, art, or communal society.

    Riiight ... and Newton and Da Vinci drove Hummers.
  • by SubtleNuance ( 184325 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @04:07PM (#14736077) Journal
    The Answer: Population Control.

    Scary I know. Fact is we cant have this many people with this standard of living -- EVEN if the West declined to much lower levels.

    The U.N. needs an international convention on Population Control.

    Sorry to say. If not, were going to have a collaps / die back. Ever grow fruit flies in a closed container of agar? Day 1: 4; Day 2: 15; Day 3: 50; Day 4: 200; Day 5: 10.

  • (Try 2) (Score:3, Insightful)

    by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) <akaimbatmanNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday February 16, 2006 @04:48PM (#14736484) Homepage Journal
    The reduction in farmed land is pretty insignificant and takes place mostly on "highly erodable land" or in buffer zones around water. Neither of these are very appealing places to put back into rotation.

    That's not entirely true. We've lost a lot of smaller farms as the farming industry has been consolidated into larger firms. As a result, we've dropped from 1.2 billion acres in the 1960's to ~968 million acres [rppi.org] in 1997. That's over 200 million acres (or about 20% of previous capacity) to explain away as poor farmland!

    The real answer is, of course, more complex. Farming technology has increased considerably, upping production across all farmland. Production is so high that it's been driving down prices and making it more profitable to convert the land to other uses. (Especially if it's not the creme de la creme of farmland to begin with.) Of the land that's left, the U.S. government actually pays farmers to leave some of it unfarmed. This helps prop up the market by artificially driving down supply to keep pace with the demand. If the demand were to suddenly rise, that farmland would become more profitable to use rather than leave empty.

    The second point would be a good one except that replacing crude with corn would take a lot of land. Much more than we make up in increased yields.

    That's my point, though. We can use the extra farmland we have lying around That 200 million acres could easily produce ~100 billion gallons of ethanol just from corn. Now if we factor in increases in Sugar Cane production (which is exceedingly poor in South America mostly due to farming through manual labor and wasteful burning of crop husks that could be recycled, and otherwise poor in the states due to overall low demand) we could easily produce enough Ethanol to offer E50 and E85 blends to all consumers. Futher increases in production plus the addition of Bio-diesel to power our trucking infrastructure could easily make up the difference to eliminate petroleum altogether.

    In any case, there is a thread about algae elsewhere in this commentary that is worth thinking seriously about. There is also the possibility of using one of the microbes Venter found in his current voyage to extract hydrogen from water.

    I'm definitely open to these sorts of concepts. However, in the short term Ethanol allows us to reuse our existing infrastructure and vehicles while new technologies mature and roll out to the market. Plus we have an existing supply to start from that can be ramped up with demand. For all we know, E85 blends with the petroleum coming from algea could be the way of the future. :-)
  • Re:MOD PARENT UP (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jelle ( 14827 ) on Thursday February 16, 2006 @10:17PM (#14739023) Homepage
    "You can replace all of the world's power with a tiny fraction of the US desert southwest's almost worthless 50$/acre barren desert land alone with solar thermal (1.4kW/m^2, 20% atmospheric losses, 70% day/night/seasonal losses, 30% efficiency -> 100W/m^2 avg; 52M GJ/day -> 600 GW -> 6B m^2 -> 6000 km^2; New Mexico is 315,194 km^2)."

    It's not exactly that simple. I'm not sure, but I don't think the highest space-grade solar cells get 30%. A better guess would be 10-15% for silicon solar cells. Now, there is the second problem. There is not enough high-grade sand to make that much square kilometers of silicon of the quality required to get that kind of efficiency. So, you would have to go to much lower quality sand, further reducing efficiency, but without reducing production cost. And there is the third problem. Silicon solar cells bottom out at around $5/Watt, so even if the other problems are dealt with you are looking at $3T just to build the total solar plant (not pricing distribution, land usage, political project delays, etc).

    Now, that is not to say there isn't hope, because various labs/companies are working on non-silicon solar cells, and some labs are claiming target prices of $0.5-$1/Watt, and some claim good efficiencies too. Not all together (yet), and very much still in laboratory phase, not much experience with durability, etc. But it's hope.

    My point is that it's not that simple, but we're on our way, and it needs more time.
  • by theStorminMormon ( 883615 ) <.theStorminMormon. .at. .gmail.com.> on Thursday February 16, 2006 @10:39PM (#14739155) Homepage Journal
    I did say that cities are necessary for art. However it is a simple logical fallacy to take that to mean cities "cities exist to produce art / literature / culture." I agree with you that cities were formed initially around natural resources. In fact the oldest cities were formed around one central resource: water. Need for this resource is just as critical today as it was several thousand years ago. Cities that exist in fertial rivers basins have existed there for millenia. At the opposite end of the spectrum you have western ghost towns were a population sprang up around a resource (eg gold) that was quickly depleted leaving no further reason for the city to exist.

    There are two essential things to notice, however. The first is that "resources" vary greatly by technology. Thousands of years ago salt was a valuable natural resource because there were no methods for extracting it from sea water economically. Now, however, there's no reason for a city to form around a salt deposit because it's simply not that rare. One thing that has increasingly become a resource, however, is the people themselves. If you look at the truly large cities like London or New York of Tokyo they don't exist because of some exploitable natural resource: the city becomes the resource. You stick the UN in New York because so many people are already there. So I disagree with your depiction of cities as transitory phenomena that sort of pop up and fade away as resources are found and exploited. As time goes by the natural resources become less rare, the cost of transporting them goes down, and the values of cities themslves (call it intellectual capital if you like) goes up. So cities increasingly become independent of transient economics.

    The second thing to note is that cities don't just change where we live, they change how we live. The reason that cities are essential to the development of art and culture is simply this: they allow people to specialize. If you have 10,000 people spread out over 10,000 square miles they can not efficiently all trade with one another and therefore everyone has to be a generalist. If you have 10,000 people in 1 square mile you allow for specialization. Basic economics teaches that specialization and trading ALWAYS result in greater aggregate production by definition. It's this surplus of production that allows people to dedicate more or all of their time to fulfilling non-immediate needs. Translation: they can work on anything from epic poetry to particle physics as a direct result of the fact that they live in proximity to other people.

    Now of course the definition of "proximity" also changes with technology. If we ever have the tech to reliable just bean oursleves around then - while gathering points would still be important - there would be less need for us to congregate in order to specialize. On a lesser scale the car has done this already - allowing suburban sprawl (although in my opinion this is a bad thing).

    So - to respond directly to your post - I think your "dead animal" analogy is inherently flawed. Cities are no longer built around the dead animal of fossil fuels. If that were true - the oil fields would be huge metropolises. Clearly wateris more important and transport of fossil fuels is cheap enought that even though our cities depend on fossil fuels their location is independent of the location of those resources. So if you take fossil fuels away and replace them with any other power source the need for having cities is literally unchanged. Ur and Babylon existed well before industrialization and served the same purposse then as cities do today: provide an environment favorable to specialization.

    Once you realize that the question of living in cities is wholly independent from fossil fuels (and while we're at it I think cities are more efficient than maintaining the same standard of living in a distributed environment) you realize that if the Mars colonies are pissed about a lack of resources it will be due to suburbanization - not urbaniza
  • by David Gould ( 4938 ) <david@dgould.org> on Thursday February 16, 2006 @11:36PM (#14739442) Homepage

      Mass is conserved. You're removing about 75,000 lb of matter (perhaps 80% of it carbon) from each acre of this system (per year). This has to come from somewhere. Where's that?

    Oh yeah, he forgot to mention that the system also removes huge amounts of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, helping to mitigate that other big problem, climate change (formerly known as "global warming"). I just knew there had to be a catch! Bastard!

    Seriously: yes, you've correctly pounced on a less-than-fully-technically-accurate use of the phrase "closed-loop system". You could have just invoked Thermodynamics: "Ha-ha! It's not a closed system because it's using energy from the sun!" Or even simpler: "Oh yeah, wise guy? If it's a closed system, how are you gonna get teh oil out?"

    Of course the biodiesel has to be made out of something. The point is that it can be a resource-friendly system because it can be a sorta "closed-ish loop", with respect to irrigation.

Help! I'm trapped in a PDP 11/70!