Peak Oil Means Peak Danger for the World

by Val Germann

It’s finally here, almost certainly, the all-time top in the world wide production of “oil” from all sources. As for conventional petroleum, what most of us think of as “oil,” that top was passed a couple of years ago, as has been discussed before here at Star Phoenix Base.

And so it is that in spite of prices about as high (in real terms) as they have ever been there is no new net production ready to come on stream. No, the world is topped-out, maxxed-out for oil and the future of black gold is downhill as far as the eye can see.

This fact has set loose a scramble for petroleum such as has never been seen before, driven in part by the rampaging demand of countries like India and China, especially the latter.

The Chinese have sent their negotiators to the far corners of the globe and signed oil agreements with more than a dozen nations, regardless of politics in most cases. They have deals with the Sunnis of Saudi Arabia, still their #1 supplier, and with the Shiites of Iran. China is getting oil from Angola, the Sudan and Venezeuela as well as from Yemen, Qatar and the Emirates. Nigeria is now a major supplier for the former Celestial Empire and in return the Chinese are helping build Nigeria’s road net. It’s a full-court (or rather full-planet) press from the Far East, one with dire implications for the future.

Stark illumination on the causes of the current oil rush and the likely consequences are provided in a recent article by Paul Chefurka on The Oil Drum website. This excellent piece contains a number of terrific illustrations and I would like to crib a few of them, both to give our readers here the general idea and to encourage the close reading of this article. It is worth one’s time.

However, these illustrations do not reproduce well so I will content myself by describing just two of them, beginning with Mr. Chefurka’s view of world total NET energy production, from all sources, out to 2050. This is of special intererst to me because I performed a similar exercise in 1995, using publicly available data, and arrived at a world peak in net energy, from all sources, in about 2030. Mr. Churfka’s illustration does likewise, showing a peak at that same time followed by a shockingly rapid falloff beyond 2035.

This rapid decline must take place because the NET energy of all fossil sources declines rapidly after the mid-point in their production is reached, a problem we have also discussed before here at Star Phoenix Base. It is this factor that throws a big wrench into coal as a savior of world energy in the decades to come. Yes, there is plenty of “coal” left in the world but it’s increasingly either harder to get at or of ever-lower quality. Either way, the usable energy in coal per-ton is already declining, on average, and will be rapidly declining a generation from now.

This leads to the largely ignored yet crushing factor in all of this energy business: per-capita world energy, another in Mr. Chefurka’s illustrations. For hundreds of years, until quite recently, there was more usable energy available to humanity, per person, every year, year after year. This growth in per-capita energy made possible the industrial revolution and the following revolutions in agriculture and even public health. But we are now facing a decline in world per-capita energy, one that will see that quantity halved over the next 25 years.

Here is a tremendous threat to our world, to world order and even human survival. Without abundant and growing energy supplies modern society as we know it cannot be maintained. Without that abundant and growing energy supply the billions of people currently in the developing world will never make the move to a safe, stable First World status. However, many of them will no doubt be able to acquire a First World weapons arsenal, even as they are denied everything else. One does not need much in the way of imagination to envision what happens next.

About Val

I am a long-time teacher of science and astronomy with a strong interest in resource conservation and the environment.
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