Jamais Cascio: Peak Oil vs. Global Warming

Jamais Cascio talks about the P. Kharecha and J. Hansen "resources v. climate change" paper this evening, which was talked about here at TOD a few months ago (link). I thought I would bring the discussion over there to your attention.


It will be interesting to me to see how both peak oil watchers and anti-global warming activists take this report. I suspect that some oilers will dismiss it as not big news, since they already knew that society is going to collapse before we reach the worst of global warming; others might take it as an indicator that trying to deal with peak oil by producing liquid coal fuels (or similar fossil substitutes) is a bad idea, as it would eliminate the one slight benefit of peak oil conditions. I hope that climate watchers might have a generally more positive response, relief that the worst-case scenarios are even less likely than before. Unfortunately, I have a feeling that more than a few global warming-focused activists will see this report -- despite coming from Hansen -- as an attempt to reduce the urgency of the need to deal with anthrogenic carbon emissions.

What this report tells us, however, is that we can't simply focus on one crisis -- no matter how large and looming -- without taking into consideration the other key drivers of change. The onset of peak oil will alter how we deal with climate disruption, rendering climate strategies that don't take peak oil into account of limited value. Similarly, the fact of global warming must shape how our economies deal with a permanent oil crunch.

For both issues, the kinds of strategies most likely to succeed are those based on the precepts of an open future: innovation and experimentation; transparency and shared knowledge; and collaboration and shared responsibility. It's a future worth fighting monsters for.

Go on over and say hello.

I think their scenario is unrealistic. What they're saying is that a decline in the world's oil supply will prevent a lot of CO2 from getting into the atmosphere if coal is deliberately restricted.

So they're saying that we'll go sick and just burn all the oil we have, limited only by its physical availability, but have great restraint with our coal.

It just doesn't make sense. If we go sick with oil, why wouldn't we go sick with coal? If we have restraint with coal, why wouldn't we have restraint with oil?

Surely as oil becomes scarce we'll see more use of coal?

For reference, the IPCC 2004 report told us that 21st century emissions of 1,800Gt CO2e would give us 450ppm, and 4,100Gt would give us 1,000ppm.

However, already from 2001-7 we've added 315Gt, taking these levels to 1,500Gt and 3,800Gt CO2e.

But only 55% of emissions come from burning fossil fuels. It's fair to assume that other contributions will at best remain in proportion. In practice they'll probably rise; the places short of fossil fuel will probably cut down more forests, and deforestation already contributes around 17.5% of greenhouse gases.

So for example, with our current 49Gt CO2e emissions annually, and with 17.5% or 8.6Gt coming from deforestation, well 8.6Gt for 92 years is 789Gt CO2e. That is, just cutting down forests pretty much takes us to 450ppm, forget about the fossil fuels.

Hansen and Kharecha of course do say that there should be forestation programmes; but again that suggests planning and restraint. Why are we going to have planning and restrain for forests and coal, but not for oil?

But looking just at the fossil fuels, being optimistic and assuming they rise or decline in that same proportion, so that fossil fuels remain 55%, we can set the 450ppm level as requiring the burning of fossil contributing around 800Gt, and the 1,000ppm level requiring around 2,000Gt CO2e.

So burning fossil fuels and adding 800Gt of CO2 will give us trouble but not catastrophic, but if we hit 2,000Gt CO2 from them then all bets are off.

Considering our reserves and the emissions burning them gives, we have,

Oil reserves of 1317Gbbl@ 450kg CO2e/bbl give 593Gt CO2e
Coal reserves of 998Gt@ 2,350kg CO2e/t give 2,854Gt CO2e
Natural gas reserves of 6,074T cu ft@ 52.2kg CO2e/1,000 cu ft give 316Gt CO2e
For total emissions of 3,763Gt CO2e

Which is to say, if we burn up all our reserves we'll completely screw ourselves. Well, we all knew that already.

Current coal consumption is 6Gt, oil 31Gbbl, and gas 100T cu ft.

To keep contributions by 2100 under 800Gt requires a decline every year in use by 4% in each of the three. We would then have used only 15% of coal reserves, 55% of oil reserves, and 39% of gas reserves. It would mean that over any decade, use would decline by a third. This seems remarkably restrained over a period of 92 years.

To keep contributions under 2,000Gt requires only a decline of 1% annually. This is essentially 10% in any decade. This seems more plausible.

Hansen and Kharecha's scenario with one lot of fossil fuels being guzzled up like mad and another lot being restrained makes no sense. More plausible is that use of all of them increases, or all declines.

Only a strong decline - of 4% each year for 92% - gives us eventual CO2 of around 450ppm; business as usual or a slight decline of 1% annually takes us past 1,000ppm. Burning the lot in this century means catastrope.

Now, I've previously pointed out that any particular individual in the West can make their impact only about one tonne of CO2, down from the 12 tonnes which is average for the US and Australia, or 5-10 tonnes for most of Europe. For everyone to be able to do this might take a decade or so of improvements in renewable energy availability, mass transit and so on.

Things individuals can control like transport and diet make up about half of all emissions. So total Western emissions could decline by around 40-45% over those ten years without any significant discomfort or decline in lifestyle for the average Westerner. The other half of society contributing emissions, in industry, commerce and agriculture, would then have to get their shit together and act.

I believe oil is a much higher quality, liquid energy source with fewer substitutes than coal, which is used so much for electricity. So I personally don't find it so absurd to have restraint for coal but not for oil. We have to get off the sauce sometime, why not start with coal?

Anyhow, thanks for your detailed analysis here.

And there are large coal reserves in the US and Russia. So if only two countries agree to stop using coal, the whole planet is saved (in a sense). The US and Russia have the tech to deploy other energy sources, while the Middle East has most of the oil and gas in tiny countries with little other way of earning a living.

BP reckons [1.5Mb pdf, but has oil and natural gas reserves, consumption, etc, so worth the download] that the world coal reserves are,

US, 247Gt
Russia, 157Gt
China, 115Gt
India, 92Gt
Australia, 79Gt
South Africa, 49Gt
Ukraine, 34Gt
Kazakhstan, 31Gt
Poland, 14Gt
Brazil, 10Gt
Or 828Gt of the world's 909Gt. The USA and Russia are 404Gt of this, and so are a substantial part of it. But the remaining 501Gt is more than enough to knock us over the edge.

Or if you want to consider production, the US and Russia together produce 1.363Gt of coal annually, leaving 4.832Gt of production annually. This gives us 13.8Gt CO2e of the world's 49Gt of greenhouse gas emissions each year; if carried over 92 years would give us a total of 1,270Gt CO2e. Again, that's plenty.

It'd need to be a truly multinational effort, I'm afraid. US and Russia alone won't cut it.

Thanks for digging up the numbers Kiashu.

I think there are few signs the US and Russia will stop extracting coal - even though the banks are starting to make it hard for would be coal burners to build new power plants in the US, Peabody and co are rapidly stepping up exports (see the NY article HO referred to in his coal post yesterday) - so it seems that coal will likely find its way up a smokestack somewhere unless the brakes are applied on a global basis.

Plus every man and his dog seems to be experimenting with coal to liquids (or at least thinking about doing so) now.

To be fair to Jamais and Hansen, they are simply outlining scenarios - unfortunately the BAU scenario looks the most likely by far at this point, which indicates that peak oil won't save us from global warming - far from it...

Optimism -->
Excitement -->
Thrill -->
Euphoria -->
Anxiety -->
Denial -->We're here. IMHO
Fear -->
Depression -->
Panic -->
Capitulation -->
Desperation -->
Hope -->
Relief -->
Optimism -->

"...which indicates that peak oil won't save us from global warming."

W/O oil coal doesn't get mined. If mined, it doesn't get shipped.

Collapse will decide how quickly AGW accelerates.

W/O oil coal doesn't get mined.

NAw, there is plenty of electric mining Eq. Getting the coal from the mine to the plants - that *MAY* need oil.

Which part of "coal to liquids" don't you understand ?

Does the phrase 'electric vehicle" mean anything to you ?

Why do people continually ignore existing, practical technology and come up with this "we need (crude) oil to mine coal, grow crops etc etc" ?

Talk about denial...

Kiashu, thanks for this - you've articulated exactly my trouble with the report - while I agree with Jason it would be enormously wiser to leave the coal in the ground, and that all efforts should be made on that front, I have real doubts about whether it is possible as oil prices drive people in precisely the opposite direction. A friend of mine who sells heating devices tells me they are seeing a renewed interest in home coal stoves by people who can't afford to heat their houses with oil (the Northeast is heavily oil dependent for heating, unlike the rest of the US).

I appreciate Hansen's work, and I think the analysis is valuable, but I think that if we can not burn the coal, we can not burn the oil, and if we can't not burn the oil, we'll burn the coal too, horribly.


while I agree with Jason it would be enormously wiser to leave the coal in the ground, and that all efforts should be made on that front, I have real doubts about whether it is possible as oil prices drive people in precisely the opposite direction.

I think it's quite possible that people will decide to leave the coal in the ground. I just don't see why they'd pump the oil to the limits of what's physically possible, yet at the same time agreeing to keep the coal in the ground.

Either we have restraint with all fossil fuels, or with none.

And they completely miss deforestation, just blandly assuming that we could have some grand world forestation campaign. The fact is that people's efforts to stop deforestation came decades before any ideas about climate change were about. And yet still 17.5% of greenhouse gas emissions are from deforestation, illegal logging is rife and responsible for more than half the logging done in Asia, and so on.

That does not to me suggest that deforestation could stop, let alone be reversed. This is especially true in the Third World where most deforestation takes place, because... well, let's imagine that we stop pumping oil and gas and digging up coal. We in the West are wealthy enough to put in wind turbines and the like to make up for it. But what's Senegal going to do? Or Colombia? They'll cut wood and burn it, that's what.

So any effort at reducing greenhouse gases has to look not only at burning fossil fuels, which are after all just 55% of all emissions, but also at deforestation, and so on. If we don't want these countries to keep chopping down their forests, well first up we need to stop buying their timber, and second we need to give them an alternative. I'd begin building wind turbines not in Australia or the US, but in Senegal and Colombia and the like.

This would also help with rapidly rising in emissions countries like China and India, to show that you can have a good quality of life without burning fossil fuels.

Either we have restraint with all fossil fuels, or with none.

And they completely miss deforestation, just blandly assuming that we could have some grand world forestation campaign.

I think you are misunderstanding Hansen's intent. I believe (I have no direct connect to the man to test my hypothesis) the paper's intent is to show that restraining CO2 is possible. I don't think it is intended to show THE way, or THE best way to do so. They are outlining how the world's climate **can** be stabilized. Assigning to them comments such as "blandly assuming" shows lack of insight into the man and his work. He is well aware he is talking about massive shifts in economy, behavior, politics, etc.


Anyone can paint such a scenario. That's no challenge. The challenge is to present one which is plausible.

It's not plausible that we'll burn as much oil as we possibly can, yet have restraint with the coal, and regrow the forests. It's like imagining that a burglar will take your DVD player but not the cash sitting next to it. Either he refrains from theft, or he gets right into it.

Had H&K described a scenario in which all fossil fuel use was restrained, my response would be, "that's nice - how?" But they didn't do that, they presented a confused and implausible scenario.

The senarios in that paper are a little dated now. You might be interested in the action plan outlined in this talk given in February in Bloomington, IL. http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/2008/illwesleyan_20080219.pdf
In the same directory you can find the draft paper I was responding to with the coral post at the Real Energy Blog.


The thing is that there are quite a few coal-to-gas projects out there, and LPG and LNG conversions for cars you can do in a day for a couple of grand, and there are a growing number of gas-fired electricity generators out there.

So it's quite easy to imagine a number of scenarios where oil consumption drops due to peaking and coal consumption more than makes up for it.

I think their scenario is unrealistic. What they're saying is that a decline in the world's oil supply will prevent a lot of CO2 from getting into the atmosphere if coal is deliberately restricted.

It's delusional. It ignores the facts on the ground: we're in the middle of a nearly unprecedented coal boom. The reason - the world is desperate for more energy. This current massive coal fired generation building boom and massive expansion of coal exporting is meant to satisfy growing demand for energy that has nothing to do with the peak oil transportation energy challenge. Guess how many of the coal-fired plants now under construction around the world or in planning have incorporated carbon capture and sequestration technology.

Imagine what this coal boom will be like when peak oil hits. Desperation to burn coal will rapidly ramp up into a frenzy. The one part the report gets right is that coal may peak sooner than many expect.

Didn't Kjell Aleklett find that even with coal, there's still not enough carbon in the ground to get to 500ppm?

I don't think he found that at all. Their guess about coal reserves is just a guess though perhaps more educated than some. They note that the energy value of U.S. coal may already have peaked, but that's not the same as a CO2 peak. They surmise that Russia will be the last great coal exporter, but they don't know how much coal Russia will be able to mine and produce. No one can yet determine with any kind of accuracy when the coal peak will come.

Coal is the industrial energy source of both first and last resort. The re-electrification of transportation will preserve industrial civilization for a while. Coal will not be able to cover both baseline electrical demand plus that project. Nuclear, wind and concentrated solar power will play a role. The real energy collapse comes not when oil peaks but when coal peaks.

Fair enough, thanks.

The papers on energy reserves and how much CO2 they would produce and, thus, their effect on climate were all done prior to Hansen. et al.'s new work on sensitivity, so those papers need to be reconsidered through that new constraint.


The large figures for available coal reserves ignore;

declining EROEI due to deeper, thinner seams demand reduction due rapid price increases
possible carbon caps/taxes (or maybe not)
public displeasure over CTL, syngas
extra coal need to power CCS (unlikely)
oil use in coal extraction eg in mine trucks
lower output if employees can't drive

I think the ongoing increase in coal use will come from places outside public conscience eg exported coal, greenwashed combined coal/biomass inputs or from coal stations de-mothballed due to high NG prices. For these reasons I think coal usage will peak within a decade but stay on a high plateau.

EROEI has no effect on greenhouse gas emissions, unless the energy in comes from renewable sources. If it takes 10 tonnes of coal to mine 90 tonnes instead of 1 tonne to mine 99 tonnes, still in the end 100 tonnes were burned.

Caps and taxes are a bit unpredictable. Some countries are trying for cap and trade, some for trade, some for taxes, some are introducing a carbon tax while reducing other taxes, so that available money and thus overall consumption are unchanged, and so on. It's far too early to guess their exact effects. In any case, the historical effect of high prices - whether naturally high or high due to taxes - has been to decrease consumption immediately after the tax is introduced, and then as people get used to it consumption rises again.

Public displeasure over CTL and synthgas will no doubt be great. Public displeasure over high petrol prices will be great, too. We'll see which wins out.

And so on. I don't see any of these affecting available coal reserves in the long run, still less affecting what percentage of the reserves will be burned up.

You need constantly increasing carbon taxes and viable alternatives to fossil fuel burning to get people to stop using the stuff.

"If it takes 10 tonnes of coal to mine 90 tonnes instead of 1 tonne to mine 99 tonnes, still in the end 100 tonnes were burned."

It is output we are after. In your examples we need to mine and burn 110 tonnes to get 99 tonnes of output at 10:1 EROEI and mine and burn 100 tonnes to get 99 tonnes of output at 100:1 EROEI. When the ratio drops substantially below 10:1 the distinction becomes a lot more significant.

First up, your maths is off. 10:1 EROEI means 10 units in for each one out, so it'd be 1,000 tonnes burned to get 100t of output. 110t to get 99 tonnes would be 110:99, or basically 1.1:1.

Secondly we might be after output, but that doesn't mean we're going to get it.

We may only be physically able to dig up 100 tonnes of coal. So the result of a declining EROEI is that more of the coal we dig up goes to digging up coal, and less goes to something actually useful.

Basically coal these days is like oil in that it's being produced as fast as they possibly can. For example, here in Australia the limit is the port of Newcastle. At one stage there were 56 ships lining up waiting outside the port to take on coal. Then an unexpected storm came up and beached one of the ships.

Pretty ironic, really... the ships lining up to get the material to create climate change got struck by some results of climate change.

Anyway, we're reaching physical limits in how much coal we can produce. The limit sure as shit isn't demand. Not with China building all those coal-fired plants and us buying all the junk.

I don't think we're close to physical limits on how much coal can be produced yet.

Rail and port bottlenecks aren't real physical limits - they can (and probably will) be increased in fairly short order, and our coal exports will accelerate. Ditto for the US (and probably others).

your maths is off. 10:1 EROEI means

Both of your "maths" are off as is also your logic.

Firstly, erOei means: (energy returned) OVER (energy invested).
So 99 returned for 110 invested gives you an erOei of 99/110 (which is less than unity).

However, one cannot logically get into that situation if you're doing coal for coal.

Once erOei drops close unity (1:1) it means you're burning up all the coal you just dug up just to get the next batch of what you started with. There is no profit in such an operation. People will stop even before erOei drops close to 1:1 because there will be better places for them to put their money, like the bank with a yield of 0.1%/annum (after Bernanke gets done with his money returned on money created game).

You have it backwards. 10:1 means 10 tons out for each ton in. E means energy, RO means return on, and EI means energy invested. The net energy is 9 tons per ton used.
Back in the 18th century the Newcombmen steam pumps used nearly half the coal mined which in turn led to Watt's innovations. By the mid 19th century nearly half the coal was used to power steam trains and to make steel for new railroads. In the mid 20th century due to the difference in prices there were many coal burning steam trucks (lorries) used in Britain. It was particularly the case during WW II rationing. Even though they were not as efficient as diesel or petrol engines the economics of the situation kept the steamers going. The world still has many coal burning steam locomotives in regular use in India, China, and Africa nearly 70 years after the introduction of diesel-electric locomotives. This is something those promoting some new miracle energy device need to keep in mind. Economics still trumps efficiency.

Yes, that's what I get for posting late at night after a few beers :)

We really must stop using coal and oil and gas or the atmospheric CO2 will reach a tipping point and plunge the entire planet into a superheated hellstorm. Make everyone shut down their coal fired power stations immediately.

Make the gummint build ... wind farms and solar ... thingys, hey!, they can wheel out those reverse engineered alien saucer power units, gravitic aren't they? lovely, Pipe the farts of 100 billion cows into a biogas facility or mine the oceans for that hydrate stuff, see its not difficult. Dont worry about transmission line copper losses or those pesky thermodynamical laws, we can change the laws of physics with the power of earnest sobbing.

I'm quite happy sitting in the dark knitting yoghurt to keep warm and everyone else should be too. And then in a few short years we can reduce global CO2 to zero and live in harmony with Gaia and aaaaalllllll the cuddly bunnies.

Thankyou for the sarcasm, it's most helpful.

The planet is not going to turn into a superheated hellstorm whatever we do, nobody's saying that. What they are saying is that what we do affects the planet, and thus the people on the planet, and that these effects can be very severe and cause a lot of suffering, chaos and misery.

It's best to avoid suffering, chaos and misery if we can, or at least have less rather than more of it.

The laws of physics, chemistry and biology certainly allow us to live quite decent and respectable lives without completely fucking things up. We need not live in caves. Again I point to the one tonne CO2 lifestyle, which is far from living in a cave, though the idea of walking or biking half a mile to the shops may seem an intolerable imposition to some of the more lazy and spineless among us.

Useful change is not easy, and I don't think we can be zero carbon, but we can be quite low carbon compared to today.

In many discussions, but especially on the internet, there's a reductio ad absurdum, a fallacy of the excluded middle, a rush to extremes.
"I don't believe in capital punishment."
"What?! So we should just let them all go?"
"I'm in favour of capital punishment."
"What?! So we should shoot people for jaywalking?"

These extremes are not the only options. There exists a sensible middle ground, absolutely miles of space in which to find a sane opinion.

And the same's true of preventing or mitigating climate change, and reducing fossil fuel use.

Or we can just descend to helpless, hopeless, and useless blather and sarcasm like you've done.

Green with a Gun? Excellent.

'To avoid catastrophic climate change' I will indeed spend my personal carbon credits on green electrons freshly minted by Natures' Breath, borrow old clothes to wear and switch to hand tools and grow my own turnips.

Thanx! :)

You don't happen to work for netvocate do you? Paid to go around making stupid comments, climate change denial and so on?

Or are you just a common troll and plain old fuckstick?

Kiashu - no abuse please.

As for the sarcastic nonsense preceding Kiashu's comment - give it a break will you ?

It doesn't add any value - if you want to make some sort of worthwhile criticism of something please go ahead, but your gibberish is just a waste of space so far.

Or are you just a common troll and plain old fuckstick?

Mocking the seriously silly concern being expressed by all who expect bandaid solutions to the hemorrhage is a useful & legitimate role on these boards.

don't...feed...the...troll. Must...not...feed...the...troll.

...and I don't think we can be zero carbon...

The dead don't respire.

These extremes are not the only options. There exists a sensible middle ground, absolutely miles of space in which to find a sane opinion.

There is no sane solution to an insane situation. Modern human technological civilization is unsustainable, i.e., is insane. It's futile trying to "fix" something that can't be, shouldn't be, doesn't deserve to be, fixed. The point of the "troll's" mockery is to poke fun at the desperate propensity to attempt futile fixes of unsolvable problems. Such mockery is appropriate on this board. Conformity to an insane paradigm is itself insane. That's what the sarcasm points out. As much as you may resent it, the "troll" is the sane one here.

...and I don't think we can be zero carbon...
The dead don't respire.

No, but they decompose, giving off methane which is a more potent GHG than the CO2 from respiration :-<

Living underground is not a bad idea. In much of the world it would eliminate the need for air conditioning thereby substantially reduce the need for coal power plants. Even in temperate climates it reduces heating costs by 90% which cuts the demand for nat gas. There is a good reason why many of our ancestors were cave dwellers. In some ways they were smarter than us.

It's best to avoid suffering, chaos and misery if we can, or at least have less rather than more of it.

And yet human history seems to lack choosing what you have declared 'best'.

In fact, in many cases, it seems man seeks out what you are claiming is best.

So, given human history - exactly how does this end well?

Advocate A believes in Global Warming, does not believe in peak oil.
Advocate B believes in Peak Oil, does not believe in global warming.
All policies promoted by both advocates will be the same EXCEPT:
Advocate A will promote bio-fuels.
Advocate B will promote CTL and Oil Shale. If Advocate B is really cynical he will promote Bio-fuels in order to drive up the price of food and preemptively starve people in developing countries and save the CTL and Oil Shale for later when there is a more sustainable population level.

I don't understand why it's A not B or B not A. That seems a cluelessly limited way of looking at Peak Oil or climate change. And it leaves out too much: economic inequality, environmental toxicity, and duh! GROWTH! There is simply no way that one disaster is going to make another better. No matter what set of crises, solutions must apply to more than one at a time. Systemic.

We have a lifestyle, economy and a business class that are destroying our homes and killing us off. Not today but in the near future. We ourselves don't really want to make the necessary changes - it's biological and very difficult to overcome even on a personal level. The business class actively opposes changes and works hard to make matters worse - they will do everything they can to maintain their wealth and power.

Short of 1000 Gandhis leading marches to shut down factories around the world and blocking highways, ports and commerce - make it ten thousand - what avenues for change exist? Where will the ten thousand come from? Where will the thousands marching behind each of them come from? What will they eat? And will they wrap themselves in those blankets the Army hands out?

Until the system(s) falter there is no opening for improvement. Throwing cherry bombs into the mix and pulling at the house of cards will help a bit to introduce some small amount of chaos, but I cannot guess how bad things need to get before the system loosens up. Shiva dances with Gaia. That might be the ice shelves collapsing, Greenland's ice cap melting, drought across the US midwest, widespread failure of water sources, pandemic. It might be as simple as Iraqis blowing up pipelines and the disruption of gas supplies somewhere else. Until there is chaos in the system, there is no opening.

Another way to look at it: It's not whether the planet is over the tipping point w/r/t CO2 or resources, but whether we as a species have gone over our own tipping point. That constrains the solutions even more. And it is probably much of what underlies US military planning.

cfm in Gray, ME

I think engeneering is lagging.

If oil hits 200 dollar a barrel (which many people here believe will happen in a few years), you can add hydrogen from windmills or HTE from CSP to the CTL process. This reduces CO2 and enhances yield. My first estimates are that this becomes profitable by 200 dollar a barrel.

So, start building those CTL things, but do it in the desert of on places with high wind (Texas?).


Paraphrasing Mae West: "If ya got it, burn it!"

Paraphrasing Mae West: "If ya got it, burn it!"

Liberate the carbon! Why else did Gaia evolve the entropic ape, if not to get the reduced carbon back in circulation? Soon the Cenozoic comes to an end and the "Age of Mammals" is over. With the atmosphere and surface oceans replete with CO2, the poles become ice free and the great coal swamps return. Biodiversity recovers and no organism remembers, or cares, what the rusting ruins in the jungles were for, back in the days when the ecocidal ape, long extinct, was hellbent on ruining a nice little planet.


Glad I don't have children.

Gaia didn't evolve us (yeah, I know you didn't mean it and it's a rhetorical trope, but anyway) - we're just bad luck, the sort of shit that happens in a random universe, like the Deccan traps or that nice big meteorite 65 mya that set the stage for the mammals, and eventually for us to do all this in the first place.

We were here, we are here, and one day we won't be. Those are the ultimate facts of human existence. It would have been better had we never been at all, but I suppose those of us of the right inclination (me included) can take some consolation from the 'one day won't be' bit.

On second thoughts, naaaahhhh. Nothing can ever make up for the horror of the 'we were here'part.

(If any of you are having difficulty with what I am saying here, just try a little exercise and picture as much as you can of the actual human suffering that has occurred thoughout recorded history. Then wonder what could possibly redeem any of it.)

Listening to J.S. Bach's Brandenburg Concertos (volume up, preferably)...(especially the Presto from #4) doesn't make you a little, teensy bit wistful about humanity?

We used the Millennium Institute's T21 model to model several policy options. Good based ethanol > +4% USA energy supply, 20% of liquid fuels, no more USA food exports.

CTL also was disappointing in it's results, although I do not have them memorized.

The best policy option was a combination of two (adding conservation would make it even better).

A maximum push for renewable energy (used ACORE goals) combined with building non-oil transportation. Electrified inter-city railroads, Urban Rail, bicycles and walkable neighborhoods.

The scale of investment would be $250 to $400 billion for electrifying much (not all) of US rail lines and increasing their speed and capacity enough to make them faster than and as reliable as trucks.

Perhaps $60 billion/year for Urban Rail, etc.

The results are the highest GDP, lowest CO2 emissions, and lowest oil use of any policy option studied.

Best Hopes,


Presumably distributed power sources would be very helpful in electrifying railways?

This technology sounds hopeful for that:

Sachs says that today, solar cells cost about $2.10 per watt generated. When manufactured at a commercial scale, the first cells incorporating his new technology will cost $1.65 per watt. Planned improvements will bring down this cost to about $1.30 a watt, he says. To compete with coal, the cost will need to come down to about $1 a watt, something that Sachs predicts can be achieved by 2012 with further improvements in antireflection coatings and other anticipated advances.


I am envisioning a system with the rail tracks having panels adjacent to them.

Development of solar along these lines strike me as much more probable than some of the announcements, for instance by Nanosolar, which seem to be largely press announcements for the purpose of meeting funding milestones - although of course it is possible that they are further along than that.

I think some have not understood the rationale behind James Hansen's peak oil paper. These are his steps:

(1) Emissions from oil and gas are resource constrained
(2) It is impractical to capture CO2 from burning oil and gas
(3) Oil and gas will be burnt anyway (realistic!)
(4) Calculate CO2 concentrations from burning oil and gas
(5) How much coal can we burn on top of oil and gas if we do not want to exceed 450 ppm
(6) Design the coal phase out in such a way that CO2 concentration is kept under that limit

Now of course his limit is 350 ppm which means that we have not only to reduce emissions but get that CO2 out of the atmosphere again.

What has not been discussed here is that peak oil will complicate our efforts to de-carbonize our economy.

No matter which energy you prefer to REPLACE coal fired power plants, these are massive civil engineering works:

(a) mass-produce windfarms and/or solar power plants and bring them to their remote locations
(b) build nuclear power plants
(c) build 1,000 of kms pipelines to connect coal fired power plants to suitable underground CO2 storage sites
(d) drill 1,000 of wells for geothermal projects

All this requires freely flowing diesel for construction machinery and transport of materials and mechanical equipment.

But what will happen if that all gets stuck in diesel shortages???

This is the real drama now unfolding. The only way we can try to solve this probelm is that governments set aside - by legislation - oil and gas fields for the sole purpose of serving as an energy INPUT into all those projects listed above.

On the other hand, global warming will limit the potential for almost all other alternative fuels. Tar sands, oil shale, coal-to-liquids, these are all climate nasties. Even biofules will be limited by the extremes of both drought and flood, also lack of fertilizer.

So we are sliding slowly into what in system dynamics is called "deadly embrace".

The deadly embrace between peak oil and global warming is my worst case scenario.

Another scenario could also be that the financial system melts down and there is no money to fund all the necessary projects.

The financial meltdown of the 1930s prevented what would have been called World War Two. There was no way Germany could afford rearmament. Not having access to oil prevented Japan from expanding its empire.

*clap* *clap*

That does not seem like such a big issue. Solar panels require 200 times less hauling than coal per unit energy delivered and the residential roof area is sufficient to cover 46% of net generation: http://mdsolar.blogspot.com/2007/08/roof-pitch.html
So, once we stop wasting diesel on coal trains, there should be plenty to cover the rest of the infrastructure needs. Then you can leave out the pipelines as well. Nuclear looks like a loser, but the wind farms should have a pretty good payoff: http://mdsolar.blogspot.com/2008/01/eroie.html


At the end of his landmark book "Collapse" about why civilizations fail, Jared Diamond (I cannot recommend reading or listening to it enough!), discusses one of the most frequent questions he's asked: "Which environmental problem is the most pressing?" His reply is both frustrating for the questioner and telling about the above discussion. Paraphrasing him: “They all are. If you are in a boat with too many holes to plug, is it the large one or the small one that will eventually sink you? The answer is, any one of them will.” As all of us try to look into our crystal balls (pun intended), we keep trying to figure out which is going to be the most critical issue and how will it occur. The answer is the world will not survive unless we:

1) Get the world population back down to under 3 billion and it really should be less that 1
2) Shift from a consumption/mining society to a sustainable one.

I realize that in those two steps I’ve basically said “And when a miracle happens we’ll be all right”, but that’s the bottom line. I think that the above discussion exposes the most important part of peak oil debate. I feel that the truly exceptional articles on this and many other sites have proven beyond a doubt Peak Oil will occur before 2020 and may have already occurred in 2005. I feel we should now start a companion debate which is which is "What will we do? How should western society respond to this impending disaster? What plans can we formulate and vet in advance, so that when the fall can no longer be ignored, we have solutions in addition to the, “We told you so's.” Preparing and vetting plans for all anticipated scenarios is standard practice for Emergency Response. In the same way, there is a large amount of research, studies, simulations, and analysis that will need to be performed to reach some basic conclusions. Creating a framework of questions and needed answers would be a first step to determining “What should we do?” From many of the truly exceptional articles and comments posted here, I feel that this group is certainly up to the challenge. For peak oil, let us become the source for policy and solutions for dealing with it (Peak Oil First Responders? POFR…There’s got to be a catchy acronym in there somewhere). This is not meant as an attack members or anyone in the discussion above, but as a call to arms.

As oil production falls, I expect to see a situation that parallels the failed Viking Greenland outposts, which overused their scarce turf grass for fuel, building, and fodder (Sound familiar? It's in Collapse). The rich and powerful bought themselves the right to be some of the last to die. Since oil will run out long before coal, expect to see a drowning man scramble to use coal for everything. Whether we have leaders who will recognize what is really happening, and use coal as a true life preserver to create a sustainable society, remains to be seen. I am afraid I am not optimistic on this account. At least here in the U.S., our economic and political systems only look to the next quarter and election cycle, which now never ends. I cannot imagine either political party risking loosing the popular vote in West Virginia by being the first to tell them to stop mining coal. However, if the group has vetted numerous “Plan B’s” for whatever happens, then we will be in a position to guide the debate and hopefully help mitigate the disaster(s), regardless of which their sequence, interaction and final form.

(Peak Oil First Responders? POFR…There’s got to be a catchy acronym in there somewhere).

Yes, it's Peak Oilers First to Respond (POFTR) or in full, 'Peak Oil Order - First To Ever Respond Seriously', or POOFTERS.

(Let this be a warning to everyone as to the importance of completely parody-proof acronyms ... seriously)