Quantcast

Web Letters | The Nation

Web Letter

Somewhat belatedly I have just come across this interesting article. The article is quite naturally, and rightly, USA-centric, but I had a calculator handy.

It appears that for $385 million your government feels it worthwhile to build six more ethanol plants. They will theoretically produce some 130 million gallons of ethanol per year.

Doubtless some time-poor politician--quite possible not too bright and only any good at politicking--saw this number and thought it was a lot, and therefore authorised the expenditure. But the numbers show it to be a useless exercise, probably intended to get a headline somewhere because the number 130 million sounds like they are doing something.

A hundred and thirty million gallons is 3.095 million barrels. Still sounds a lot? But that is per year. Per day, that is the princely sum of 8,480 barrels. The world consumes approximately 85 million barrels per day. So your $385 million seed capital will make the splendid contribution of just 0.0001 of global requirement.

Gentlemen, you need to use a lot less energy. And so do we, I'm not feeling superior!

Robert Trueman

Llanfair Caereinion, Powys, Wales

Oct 12 2008 - 6:08am

Web Letter

Klare is right to emphasize the looming challenge of Peak Oil, more accurately the imperial project to control oil reserves and the huge investments needed to keep liquid petroleum fuels flowing in the coming decades. But we and the world can't afford to let this happen, permitting the fossil fuel regime to continue because it will guarantee global warming ecocatastrophe. The latter is imminent unless we force a shift to solar starting now (see latest IPCC report and Jim Hansen's papers). The peak in fossil fuel production and consumption must come as soon as possible, driven by a rapid conversion to renewable energy and more efficient use of energy, rather than the reserves still in the ground. In other words catastrophic climate change will likely come sooner than any hypothetical extension of the fossil fuel regime.

Klare still does not take the issue of climate change seriously enough. His main reference to global warming in this article is misleading: "Although determined to keep expanding the supply of conventional petroleum for as long as possible, government and industry officials are aware that at some point these efforts will prove increasingly ineffective. They also know that public pressure to reduce carbon dioxide emissions--thus slowing the accumulation of climate-changing greenhouse gases--and to avoid exposure to conflict in the Middle East is sure to increase in the years ahead. Accordingly, they are placing greater emphasis on the development of oil alternatives that can be procured at home or in neighboring Canada." But the required reduction carbon dioxide emissions must include avoiding these oil alternatives, including fossil fuel and greenhouse intensive biofuels such as ethanol from corn (note its nitrous oxide emissions). We must act now to start a radical reduction in carbon emissions from burning fossils fuels, especially coal and oil, to avoid irreversible change of global climate to an ecocatastrophic state.

In an article last spring (The Pentagon v. Peak Oil), Klare asserted that " it is apparent that the world faces a profound shift in the global availability of energy, as we move from a situation of relative abundance to one of relative scarcity." But there is certainly no prospect of real scarcity of energy when the sun supplies in one hour the entire world's energy consumption in one year. Tapping into the sun's immense energy flux to Earth by the myriad technologies of solar power (wind, photovoltaics, solar thermal etc.) would provide abundant energy for global society for the foreseeable future. But we must start now! Solarization, demilitarization and conversion of fossil-fuel intensive industrial agriculture to agroecologies are necessary and achievable.

The biggest obstacle is the one Klare identifies, the nuclear military industrial fossil fuel complex. Its radical reduction will insure a much more peaceful, just and sustainable world for our children and grandchildren. Otherwise, perhaps as soon as one or two decades, the world will be even more dangerous and miserable than the living hell for hundreds of millions we now experience.

Klare cites an estimated $20 trillion cost for new infrastructure needed to prolong the fossil fuel regime. How much will a global solar energy transition cost? One rough estimate of the cost can be inferred from the Trans-Mediterranean Interconnection for Concentrating Solar Power Plan, which focuses on using the Sahara for high efficiency solar conversion. The projected cost to provide 700 trillion Wh/year of electricity production capacity by 2050 is about 400 billion euros. Scaled to global electricity consumption now of about 15,000 trillion Wh/year, a likely upper limit considering the vast savings of energy from implementing efficiency, gives a cost estimate of about $8 trillion euros, roughly half the projected cost for fossil fuel dependence. Of course, solarization will entail the appropriate regional mix of many technologies already mentioned, but this transition at the tempo required appears impossible without the free up of resources from rapid demilitarization, starting with Imperial USA. The global military budget is now about $1.4 trillion.

David Schwartzman

Washington, DC

Nov 22 2007 - 11:50pm

Web Letter

Excellent comments from Dan Kelly. I was involved in prospecting foroil in 1973 and subsequently worked as a seismologist. I came acrossthe Russian Theory of oil formation in New Scientist magazine many yearsago.

I do believe however, if that theory is true, that the rate ofregeneration is miniscule compared to the rate of extraction. Inaddition, M.K. Hubbert’s observations on reservoir production anddepletion still holds. We will eventually empty all the oil fields.

One reason for the high cost of current oil appears to be that theproduction rate has indeed peaked and most oil producing countries areon the downhill side of Hubbert’s curve.

In any event, when the oil is gone, along with other resources such astop soil, aquifers, fisheries and rain forest, it will cause a shift tolocal, sustainable communities and a global reduction of population.

Toby Grotz

Prairie Village, KS

Nov 12 2007 - 3:32pm

Web Letter

I think it's important to investigate all theories before we settle on a definitive analysis. In this respect, I'd like to share an interesting article I came across a couple months ago.

Dan Kelly

Madison, NJ

Nov 8 2007 - 7:28am

Web Letter

I've been following this issue for about six years, with increasing concern. Although I'm a subscriber to The Nation, the way I got this article was from my Google Alert for "End of the Petroleum Age." This was the first alert on that subject in a long time.

The silence has been deafening. When I have brought up Hubberts Peak and Peak Petroleum in general audiences I have found that the average intelligent person is oblivious to the issue, totally unaware.

If the housing bubble and sub-prime mess is causing as much trouble as we're seeing, just imagine what will happen when all the mass of Americans who are burdened with excessive consumer-debt start getting hit with job losses and high prices. I truly believe it's the end of the world as we know it, for real, coming at us full speed.

I also believe that one of George Bush's great crimes is the horrible negligence and cover-up of this issue (along with climate change and others). Impeachment may not come now, but it will come some day (unless we fall under the cloud of total fascism).

Back in 2002 I prepared a report, which presented to the R&D Board at Saudi Aramco, on the impact of global R&D trends on Saudi Arabia and Saudi Aramco. And in that report, I clearly stated that the imminent end of the Age of Petroleum could lead to vastly revamped efforts at alternative fuels, but that policies of oilman George W. Bush would probably mean that the Saudis didn't need to worry about any innovative alternative that would decrease the value of their one valuable export. I don't think I had realized at that point the serious damage would come at and after the Peak.

Another article I read on this subject previously made a good point, which is that when you're climbing a mountain to the peak, you don't know how preciptious the drop is on the other side until you get there. If you're forced to go over, you better hope it isn't a straight drop.

Todd W. Peterson

Washington , DC

Oct 26 2007 - 2:21pm

Web Letter

Great article! The more awareness about declining oil production, the better. Here are two forecasts, completed in October 2007, which show the oil probably already peaked in 2006--from Energy Watch Group and from The Oil Drum.

I especially liked your last sentence: "The safest and most morally defensible course is to repudiate any 'consensus' calling for the use of force to protect overseas petroleum supplies and to strive to conserve what remains of the world's oil by using less of it."

Tony Eriksen

Sydney, Australia

Oct 25 2007 - 8:23pm

Web Letter

Outstanding article--thank you. Indeed the energy problem for the transportation sector looms ominously. No other energy source is as energy efficient as oil. At a minimum price increases will outstrip our economys ability to absorb them.

In layman's terms, the economy will suffer. This is not a one-off event but a long-term trend that will undermine the very foundation of our economy as it exists today.

Consumers will find products that require large amounts of transportation energy will rise precipitously. This means gas, of course, but it also means food. Should food stocks be diverted for diesel and ethanol in any meaningful way, food will skyrocket in price. And it will not stop.

As more and more of consumer resources are used for food and fuel, all other areas of the economy will shrink, causing layofffs and bankruptcies on a massive scale. The banking and financial sector of the economy will tumble. Growth will be a thing of the past. Permanent unemployment and increasing hunger will cause social and political instability.

In the future countries that are extremely fuel effficient will be the winners. Needless to say, ours is the most fuel inefficient economy in the world save the massive exporters like Venezuela and Saudi Arabia.

To say that there is any military answer is to court WWIII. It is time we accepted reality and planned accordingly.

Michael McKinlay

Hercules, Ca

Oct 25 2007 - 5:22pm