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Peak oil

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Apr. 28th, 2004 | 10:31 am

This weekend multiple shocking things happened regarding Peak Oil.

First off, I've learned that there are other people out there interested in the issue. There's a meetup and an activist interested in this also put together a web site peak oil action.org. There's even a documentary. I'm not the only one

On saturday i went to a discussion about peak oil and I utterly shocked myself--I took the more optimistic viewpoint.

I can argue that there are solutions possible, albeit unpleasant ones.

A simple viewpoint that some authors have proposed is that without oil civilization ends. Somehow at least 5,000 years of human civilization has managed to get by with little more than muscle. Anything humanity accomplished prior to the 1800s can certainly be done in an energy limited society.

Lets say we discover that we can't fuel our cars any longer and that we need to rebuild our cities to use mass transit and make walking more convenient. You can do this by depopulating suburbs and moving people back into the cities. If enough people were sufficiently motivated, they could take apart the suburb McMansion and drag the components to some central location with nothing but hand tools.

It would suck, but it could be done.

I suspect one might also be able to drag the turbines out of a natural gas power plant and go build a solar thermal power plant. If you didn't have the infrastructure to use computer control to redirect the mirrors to focus the light, it'd still be possible to just use people to redirect the mirrors--It's grunt work, but it'd work.

I think that as long as we avoid liquefying coal to continue to drive (and thus melt our planet) and we manage to avoid a total war over the scraps of resources humanity should be able to struggle through. Some number of us will starve, a large number will have to get used to a lower standard of living, but a lower standard of living is not "the end of civilization".

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Comments {7}

Null pointer

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from: lawnchair
date: Apr. 28th, 2004 11:07 am (UTC)
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One thing we didn't do over 200 years ago is feed 6 to 10 billion. Total energy in, food today has more petroleum energy content calories than recent solar photon calories.

I would like to think that a Cheops sized group of grunts, but with some modern insights, could build one or two of these:

http://www.wentworth.nsw.gov.au/solartower/

But, my first assumption is that there will be a big boom (cringing pun) in nukes. Whatever your take on nukes, as energy gets more expensive elsewhere, the French model will be looking more attractive to more former NIMBY people.

-=-=-=-

Also, while I want to think the suburbs will depopulate, it's difficult to see exactly how. There are twice as many Americans today as at the end of WWII. Centre cities are somewhat less densely populated than in the heyday of city life (parking ramps and freeways replacing human space), but not much less dense. Add that to rural depopulation, and cities must be much larger or more numerous than they were.

I do see the suburbs being rebuilt as functioning cities of their own around transit hubs. But, the invisible hand will have to start slapping much harder for it to start.

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Diane Trout

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from: alienghic
date: Apr. 29th, 2004 12:59 am (UTC)
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I hope they manage to get that tower built soon, I certainly wouldn't want to be the grunt dragging cement up a kilometer.

As for nukes, they too have a hubbert-style peak, I think I saw a reference that nukes would only be able to supply our current energy needs until later this century. If you're going to have to rebuild your infrastructure, you might as well aim for something that'll last a bit longer.

Some of the peak oil people have proposed that the suburbs will be the slums of the future as all the richer people buy property closer to where they work driving the poor out of the cities.

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Null pointer

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from: lawnchair
date: Apr. 29th, 2004 05:48 am (UTC)
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I certainly wouldn't want to be the grunt dragging cement up a kilometer.

The Rube Goldberg in my mind has all sorts of ways to do that.

nukes

Depends. The (amazingly American) US style 'refine a lot, burn a little, bury' model will peak somewhere soonish if we totally relied on it for our current lifestyle. It's worth noting that we have the technology to extract 5 times (or more) the currently extracted energy from every kilo of fuel we want to put in Yucca Mountain. So far, Uranium's been cheap and reprocessing a taboo. And, again, I'm not sure how I feel about us monkeys and Plutonium. But, I feel quite confident that some group in the next 1000 years will be purposely digging up Yucca Mountain to get to our 'waste'.

closer to where they work

There is the flawed model that wealthier people work and will work in the centre city. Currently, some do. But, just as many, and probably more, suburban dwellers work in suburbs. Not the suburbs they live in, mind you, but suburbs. Those ChemLawn green business parks have more executives and professionals than the skyscrapers. All the doctors, lawyers, architects? Generally live in suburbs, work in suburbs. All the nail-care techs and sandwich artists, too. Makes hub-based public transit inconvenient, no.

Also, in a permanent recession, there are going to be a lot of unemployed people, including those in skyscrapers. Exactly how many 'Vice President for Internal Auditing for a Logistics Consultancy' jobs do we need? Or QuikTrips, as crunch goes along. What I find impressive in Eastern cities, is that not too long ago, you had functional factories in the middle of town. Six blocks from my dad's house in New Jersey, one factory made ball bearings, another telephone handsets. There's a lot of things we don't make anymore, and the factories we have are often very exoburban. I think people will group themselves around enterprises that are doing something useful. The suburban dwelling, downtown working, mid-level management teams aren't.

(Just refining my own head, since no one else wants to discuss. Thanks!)

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Diane Trout

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from: alienghic
date: Apr. 30th, 2004 12:10 am (UTC)
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Where did you see the reference that it was possible to extract more energy out of fissionables? Though I do agree with you that someone in the future will be trying to reuse our nuclear waste. (I also think the future of mining will probably be american landfills).

I do think that peak oil will take care of globalization. If transportation costs go up sufficiently there's no point in making products in places where labor is cheap. This might help ameliorate some of the job losses. Instead of middle management getting stuck in mcdonald's jobs, they can go back to some manufacturing. I wonder how many of the factories are still sitting around rusting, and how hard it would be to bring some of them back on line?

I also wonder how much is really necessary. I recently read The Collapse of Complex Societies which argued that a society is in danger of collapse when they've reached a point where they continue to invest in something that is no longer useful to them.

(e.g. for the western roman empire, their early conquests were profitable enough to pay for the conquest and set them up for the next war. However toward the end of the empire the region they were controlling was so vast that each additional attempt at expansion cost them far more that it paid. But instead of realizing that they needed to change they kept following this particular dead end.)

One of the interesting ideas proposed by that book was that sometimes the most economically viable choice is to break down into a less complex society so as to escape from the unnecessary administrative expenses.

So if we lost the media that was encouraging us to fill the emptiness in our lives with stuff, how much production really needs to happen? I also wonder if we can switch from having a few over-employed people to a large group of under-employed people. If there's less work that needs to be done, instead of leaving most unemployed perhaps we could try and spread the work around.

(Not that I know how you can convince the capitalists to do this.)

I also wonder that as fuel becomes more expensive and people are forced to walk places, perhaps organizing to deal with the change in society will be easier. (At least those unemployed masses walking around without much to do are more likely to interact with each other than stressed workers stuck in cars as they hurry to their job.

Yay! someone to discuss this with, perhaps I'll be able to escape feeling overwhelmed with how bad it might be and develop a more realistic view.

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Null pointer

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from: lawnchair
date: Apr. 28th, 2004 01:29 pm (UTC)
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Of interest, I'll bet.

http://www.earth-policy.org/Updates/Update39.htm

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Diane Trout

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from: alienghic
date: Apr. 29th, 2004 01:00 am (UTC)
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Wow, thanks. I was wondering when food prices were likely to start spiking.

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Freya

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from: moonglade
date: Apr. 30th, 2004 12:18 pm (UTC)
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electricity and transport?

I guess transport will hit first what with the cost of transport pushing up the cost of goods etc, but surely the huge and monumental problem with the end of oil is plastics!

Take a look around you!!!!

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