Saturday, November 20, 2010

Cheap Oil

No more burying my head in the sand. I'm finally starting to inform myself about why this crisis is just around the corner ... and it's depressing as all hell.
It's more than the fact that the oil taps are running low. We all know how deep our hunger and addiction to the lifestyle oil provides goes. Here are some other things I learned from reading Why Your World Is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller: Oil and the End of Globalization :

Demand in developing countries is off the charts. No amount of energy savings gained by tightening our belts or 'off-peak' discipline will ever counter the amount of energy being consumed in places like China and India. They finally get to have a taste of our lifestyle ... and all the problems that go with it.

Local oil is subsidized to make oil more affordable for developing countries, but it also hurts investment in the local oil industry. With oil consumption on the rise, there is less left to export and this causes oil export prices to rise even more.

I didn't know this, but OPEC countries are burning oil to produce electricity. Rapid population and economic growth means high power demand (again, less oil to export). Saudi Arabia is also running out of fresh water because they are draining their aquifers for irrigation. This means they are burning more oil for desalination plants, which of course are energy intensive. Thanks!

And then there's also the fact that there's more money to be made with oil as a petrochemical than just burning it (like our planet needs more plastic shit).... less and less oil folks.
More and more countries are repatriating their oil and kicking internationals out (except for Canada). Yes, the tar sands ... will not save us either. Oil sand extraction is COSTLY. It also requires an enormous amount of energy to process, referred to in this book as a low energy rate of return. What will happen when natural gas is diverted elsewhere to more financially attractive demands? And if and when environmental laws finally tighten up? Bye bye tar sands.Off-shore oil is not the answer. Fast depletion rates, costly rig repairs from severe storms and environmental devastation from spills make this a non-starter.

Forget about nuclear too. Too many years to become operational + costly + lots of downtime = disappointing yields. What about bio fuel? We've already learned that stealing from our food supply to feed our cars is utterly foolish. But what I didn't know was that the energy return from producing ethanol is almost negative -- planting, fertilizing, harvesting, processing, transporting all require a lot of energy.

Hydrogen? Not unless you can afford a million dollar car. It too has a low energy return because it takes a lot of energy to produce and is expensive (and dangerous) to transport. Surely solar and wind? Nope. Energy leaks don't make either particularly efficient. Plus you'd need to install panels all across a piece of land the size of New York State just to power the US vehicle fleet. It's certainly an 'alternative', but not a replacement.

And speaking of efficiency, I found it incredibly depressing to read about the rebound effect in this book. All of the technological gains in creating energy efficiency (following the energy crisis of the 70s) has actually increased consumption. Yep. Those Rabbits of the 80s used less energy which brought oil prices down so what did that afford .... bigger more energy consuming vehicles to fuel (and bigger houses to heat/cool to boot).

So there you have it -- things are BAAAADD. The rest of the book talked about how our world will get smaller. It reaffirmed everything I've already learned. Travel, exotic cuisine, year-round produce, bargain-basement prices, over-consumption, long commutes ... these WILL be history. I really can't stop thinking about this (wait, could this be a new obsession? :-P). What can I do now, this very minute, to prepare myself and my family? How can I wean myself off this lifestyle because I really can't ignore it any longer. xx

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