Tuesday, February 15, 2005

File under: "Earth, Stewardship of"

The oil age began in 1859 and peaked in 1970. The oil endowment allowed us to use the stored energy of millions of years of sunlight. Unfortunately the fossil-fuel honeymoon is almost over.

It has been estimated that without coal, oil, or natural gas, it would take several planets just like Earth to support the current number of humans living.

World oil discovery peaked in the 1960's. Since 1999, the discovery of large oil and gas fields has collapsed: sixteen in 200, eight in 2001, three in 2002, and none in 2003.

There are half a billion cars and trucks currently in use around the world.

We will not be rescued by the wished-for hydrogen economy. Our daily enjoyment of oil and gas has given us the energy equivalent of three hundred slaves per person in the industrialized nations. No combination of alternative energies will permit us to continue living the way we do, or even close to it.

All the major systems that depend on oil, including manufacturing, trade, transportation, agriculture, and the financial markets that serve them, will begin to destabilize. The boundaries between politics, economics, and collective paranoia will dissolve.

from The Long Emergency, by James Howard Kunstler, to be released by Atlantic Monthly Press in May, 2005.

Is any of this even half-right? Well, the last paragraph is certainly correct. All of the major systems of "this modern world" certainly do depend on fossil fuels. The computer I write on, and the one you read on now, are probably powered by natural gas or coal. The amount of petroleum available to be exhumed is certainly finite, and burning coal until it all runs out is simply not feasible. Nor will coal or natural gas or even hydrogen power ships that traverse the seas; or jets that circle the globe; or trucks that haul tons of material at a time. Sooner or later, whether or not it really represents the energy of 300 slaves per person, or just one slave per person, that energy flow will stop. And as dependent as we are on such energy, no diminution in it will seem gradual or easy; it will come suddenly, it will be sharp.

And what happens then? Have we been forcing the earth to yield crops? Has the "Green Revolution" been no more than a magicians's illusion? If the earth can sustain the output, can we sustain the fertilizer needed to force that output?

What happens when half a billion cars and trucks in the world go dry? What happens when energy supplies are simply reduced, when demand fully exceeds available supply? Will a million million Chinese simply take up their bicycles again? Will the rest of the world accept darkness so we can bathe in light?

Bless to me, O God,
My soul and my body;
Bless to me, O God,
My belief and my condition;

Bless to me, O God,
My heart and my speech,
And bless to me, O god,
The handling of my hand;

Strength and busyness of morning,
Habit and temper of modesty,
Force and wisdom of thought,
And Thine own path, O God of virtues,
Till I go to sleep this night;

Thine own path, O God of virtues,
Till I go to sleep this night.

No comments:

Post a Comment