Peak Problem

While many of us are rightly focussed on the twin challenges of peak oil and climate change, reader Greg Baker (meganerd) believes we have a lot more than just two problem 'peaks' to deal with. See what you think :-)

1. Our first problem is peak oil. This is happening now.
2. We have another major problem, and that is how we are going to scale up renewable energy power plants. We need to very quickly reach a very rapid rate of production -- "peak foil" and "peak coil". This will need to happen in the next few years.
3. We need to reduce our ecosystem impact so that we have future crop diversity, new pharmaceuticals and good health. That is, by 2030 or 2040 we need to have reached "peak spoil".

4. We need to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions, so that we won't have climate-changed induced greenhouse effect raising global temperatures -- i.e. "peak boil"
5. None of the above will be possible without population control, or at least, without the population peaking. Actually, since the environmental impact of children, students and the elderly is relatively small, what we really need is "peak toil".
6. Politically, the biggest time bomb we face is the masculinisation of the Chinese and Indian populations. The gender ratios are imbalanced in places, and probably presages cultural instability. With a lot of men and not enough women, the danger of "macho" politics and militarism is higher than it would otherwise be, which would throw environment protection out the window. This the problem of "peak girl".
7. Longer term, soil degradation could become a significant global problem affecting our ability to feed the world population, so "peak soil" needs to be considered.

You can add another one that is starting to rear its ugly head - "peak youth". Most westernised nations are under-populating to an extent that they are running out of children. The geriatrification of the population is the result and we can already see the effects of this in Australia.

Skills shortages, delayed retirement, baby boomer business glut are all symptoms of a population that is in decline. Australias answer to this in the past has been mass immigration and it is arguable (beside the improvement in food choices) that this has been a good thing. Culturally we are now so diversifed that we have no common culture on which we could rely to guide our actions in a crisis. The cultural response in 1914 was to saddle up and go and fight for empire. In this current war on terror, the response is either a big yawn, not my problem, take it to the streets in protest or make up a convenient lie to justify it. It is difficult to forsee that thousands of young Aussies will some day make the pilgrimage to Baghdad to marvel at the exploits of the Australian Iraqi Forces (2003-2036).

So Rudd has announced a timetable for the final withdrawal ?

So Rudd has announced a timetable for the final withdrawal ?

No, 'coz Dubbya whispered the secret 3-letter word in his ear during his recent visit.

I don't have the statistics for Europe, but I know many countries there have problems with both legal and illegal immigration like the United States. It appears that Australia does as well:

Population rates soaring across country

Given peak oil, peak coal, peak natural gas, peak water, peak arable land, peak uranium, peak phosphorus, global warming, etc., "peak youth" would seem to be the proper course of action in all countries. However, almost all countries are dead set on taking an opposite course and I wonder how many countries have even a possibility of a population decline. Russia is the only one that I can remember reading about - they declined in population after the collapse of the Soviet Union from what I recall.

Peak youth, even if it was a problem in some respects (it would be great to be of working age in such a society) would only be a temporary one, with many lasting benefits.

Culturally we are now so diversifed that we have no common culture on which we could rely to guide our actions in a crisis. The cultural response in 1914 was to saddle up and go and fight for empire.

You bring up an important point. What is really required is that our first allegiance be to humanity, and our second to our own country (which ever it is). Humanity now faces challenges that can no longer solved for anyone other than thru global cooperation. That's what's totally new in the world. That doesn't mean different nations don't have different interests and that haggling won't go on. But we will go under together if we don't get it together as a species.

Unfortunately, there's still enough hydrocarbons and metals in the ground to support one more gigantic spasm of bloodshed on a global scale, so that is far from excluded. But it's well worth avoiding if possible. Otherwise we'll have to do our best after the smoke clears and the radiation dies down. (The Iraqis are accumulating relevant experience as we speak.)

And all of these problems interact in a synergy. Peak complexity is just around the corner.

For all of the above to be addressed in any meaningful way we need
a great deal of Goodwill and Common Sense to prevail.
History sadly points to 'Peak Goodwill' as having happened sometime
before the birth of Christ.
As for Peak Common Sense ... well .. no-one seems to have discovered
a viable global distribution mechanism for that particular commodity.
So it's more a problem of supply rather than resource depletion.
Bit like Tar Sands really.

So we populate the planet to the tune of 6.5 billion people, coupled with energy demands of 200 mbd of fossil fuels, approach peak oil and realize global warming is upon us, then start to get real serious about sustainability. Kind of like termites eating a piece of wood that's floating out to sea. Sort of looks daunting doesn't it? Maybe the whole thing can be turned around. I suppose first realizing the problems is the first step to solving them. I want to be positive. Really I do. Please, give me a reason to think this runnaway train will have a happy continuance.

I suppose first realizing the problems is the first step to solving them. I want to be positive. Really I do. Please, give me a reason to think this runnaway train will have a happy continuance.

I cannot currently see much reason for optimism. At this point we are still at the starting gate. The vast majority of the world, including the governments and industry leaders, does not realize there is any problem and are proceeding as if there are infinite resources that will sustain infinite population growth and infinite economic growth. It appears we will have to peak in something, whether oil, or food production, or fresh water usage, before step 1 - realization that there is a problem - occurs.

However, there is one thing that is a source of some hope - wind energy. Although still a small percentage (1% of so) of electrical production, it has been growing at outstanding rates for 15 or so years. Solar is also promising and there is reason to be optimistic about energy from ocean waves and ocean currents.

Off topic a bit, some time ago there was an old reference book regarding Farming or raising crops mentioned several times. I had put it on my "cart" at Amazon. My wife was in my account ordering books for our kids and by accident deleted it. Do any of you recall or know the title of that book? It was spoken highly of by many posters.



In New Mexico we are looking at albuquerque water problems which may be connected to peak electricty, peak oil and peak natural gas?

Aussies, San Juan and Navajo coal mines are operated by Broken Hill Properties [BHP] Billiton.

There may be problems in the near future with coal supply.

San Juan Mine Statistics
San Juan Coal Company - BHP Billiton Mine site size

17 square miles

Annual yield
7,800,000 million tons

Daily production
17,810 to 19,810 tons per day (average)

Estimated life span

Through at least 2017

New Mexico had a decrease of 2.6 million short tons in 2006 to end the year with a total of 25.9 million short tons, a decline of 9.1 percent, which was attributable to the decreased production levels at BHP’s Navajo and San Juan South mines.

The electric power sector (electric utilities and independent power producers) accounts for about 92 percent of all coal consumed in the United States and is the driving force for the Nation’s coal

San Juan coal mine.

How do I find production data for coal in New Mexico?.

I can't tell if that last one was a question that answered it self or not, but there is also the EIA.

It doesn't sound like ABQ's water problems have anything to do with energy but rather just taking water from the aquifer faster than it is being replenished.

Here is a report with a lot of info on the aquifer (from a term paper for a small college in Kansas?, and in the most ridiculously large font possible on a web page -- plus centered!):

None of the alternatives will ramp up liquid fuels, so you have a big problem. The other problem is that the ramp up will use a lot of oil, natural gas, and coal, and only give us electric power. No one has a realistic action plan of how to use this electric power for agriculture and transportation -- the main problems. Writing that this can be done is one thing, providing the actual plans and explaining where the capital will come from is another thing.

I enjoyed this 'meganerd' diatribe. Primarily since I am one :). So Kudos!

I think the peak girl problem in China, India, and other countries could cause real trouble quite soon. A shame female birth is discouraged in these places. I commented on this issue as it hasn't been talked about much.

I agree -- Peak Oil is happening now. Recently saw a commercial about how the US has enough oil to power 60 million automobiles for 50 years. Immediately, I wondered about the other 190 million...

Peak oil is a problem...

And yeah, climate change is a big issue...

Otherwise, you really sound like a "The world is going to end tomorrow" type.

Seriously, this is starting to sound like a 'peak' fade. (Not to discredit peak oil, that's really happening or going to happen very soon)

Thinking about peak this and peak that, I was wondering there must be a common denominator. I'm not a thermodynamics expert and I'm not sure I'm stating it this way, but what we could be facing is Peak Entropy Rate.

The rate that free energy in all its forms has maxed out in the rate it can be converted into Entropy; whether it is oil, food, soil, water, or finance they cannot be accelerated any further.

Its not the fall that kills you, its the sudden stop at the end.

You've got to have just the right accent to get number 6 to rhyme.

I'd add number 8) the rules to manage 1 through 7 are going to get more and more complex. At some point, they may get so complex that we can't even remember them all. Thus we may also face the problem of peak Hoyle.

Edmond Hoyle


Peak Hoyle! Very, very good. At least supplies of high quality wit are not declining. Just as well, as we'll sure need a few laughs on the other side of Hubbert's curve

Thanks! I wonder if peak H2O-ills covers another issue missing from the list?