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Fossil fuels at peak (11-part series)

Part 1: A Personal Peak Oil Discovery Process
by John Rawlins,
retired nuclear physicist, currently teaching Physics at Whatcom Community College (writing in Raise the Hammer)

Part 1a:
.. my worst fears are being realized, and my faith in any government "solution" is at absolute zero for this country. We consume far too much energy, and two-thirds of what we consume depends on fuels that are no longer reliable: oil and natural gas. Of these, oil is the most fundamental: almost everything that moves uses an oil derivative for fuel...

Part 1b: One of the more bizarre aspects of this entire discovery process is the reactions we experience from others when we try to share our knowledge... These reactions helped us decide to change our retirement plans - we will stay right where we are rather than move into the city of Bellingham where obtaining enough food and staying warm in the winter could be real problems a few years from now. Cities that do not plan and begin preparations for this future could soon become very unpleasant places to live.

Part 2: Predictions and Current Status
Oct. 2006 in Whatcom Watch
Both oil and natural gas supplies will soon be declining worldwide, and in the U.S. we already are experiencing a declining natural gas supply. Declining oil means reducing our transport fuel needs....

There appears to be no near-term combination of techo-fixes for the transport problem — which means we'll drive ever less, spend ever more and use ever more mass transit — at a rate of change of about 5 percent per year averaged over the world. That translates to half of today's oil use 14 years after peak, and one-quarter of today's oil use after 28 years. Because of considerations related to world oil available for export, the reality will likely be even more severe in the U.S. — we could be facing the one-quarter mark 20 years after peak.

Part 3: Peak Food and Population Overshoot
Dec. 2006 in Whatcom Watch
By far the largest population increase in the history of humans occurred in the 20th century, and the resources making that possible were oil and natural gas. Now that we face a very near-term decline in both of these resources, it is time to start planning how we will continue to feed a population of over 6 billion humans.

Part 4: Indirect Impacts of Peak Oil and Climate Change?
Jan. 2007, Whatcom Watch. For Parts 1-3, scroll down this page.
Because everything in today's industrial societies depends directly or indirectly on fossil fuels (oil, natural gas and coal), the impacts of peak oil extend to all aspects of today's way of life in all advanced societies.

Part 5: Resource Wars, Water Shortages and Famine
Feb. 2007, Whatcom Watch.

Part 6: Sustainable Food Production, Is Permaculture the Answer?
March 2007, Whatcom Watch

Part 7: How Other Cities Are Planning for Energy Descent
April 2007, Whatcom Watch

Part 8: Portland, Oregon, First U.S. City to Plan for Oil Decline
May 2007, Whatcom Watch
...Many cities and towns around the world are in the early phases of planning for energy descent. Bellingham and Whatcom County need to get in on this process, which has been made very simple if we follow the Portland model. That model is the result of considerable community input as well as courage on the part of their political leaders. We could use their report as a template, insert our local facts and figures, make the rather minor adjustments to their recommendations to suit ourselves, and probably complete the entire process in half the time it took for Portland.

...If we are to survive through the 21st century, we must make strong moves toward sustainability, ...If you want to participate in lobbying our local city and county council to follow the Portland process of planning for oil and natural gas decline, e-mail me at: [email protected]. Include in your e-mail subject line the words "petition signature" and I will let you know when and where you can go to sign a simple petition to that effect. That is exactly where the Portland initiative began.

Part 9: How the County Can Prepare for Energy Descent
June 2007, Whatcom Watch
Encourage local government planning, but don't count on success. Awareness of impending energy problems and likely impacts will not make you the life of a party should you try to discuss them with friends and acquaintances. Most people in our society simply don't want to hear about concepts that threaten their way of life and have the potential to make them feel guilty.

It is nevertheless important for citizen activists aware of peak oil and natural gas to urge their governing bodies to develop a plan such as the Portland one, titled "Descending the Oil Peak: Navigating the Transition from Oil and Natural Gas."

Part 10: Whatcom County Energy Descent
July 2007, Whatcom Watch
Consider Electric Vehicles; Deal with Heating Systems Now; Passive Solar Heating; Educate for Sustainable Living Skills; Convert Large Farms to Small Organic Farms.

Part 11: Nuclear Power: No Solution to Peak Oil
by John Rawlins (retired nuclear physicist), August 2007, Whatcom Watch
...Many Northwesterners might recall the WPPSS (pronounced woops, appropriately), Washington Public Power Supply System, fiasco. Construction started on five reactors at once in Washington state (1970s) but only one actually went into operation. The WPPSS construction program was a multibillion dollar financial failure, and most investors lost almost everything. I would no more invest in a new nuclear plant than I would leap from an airplane.

No country in the world has yet succeeded in actually disposing of any spent fuel or high-level nuclear waste. The U.S. spent-fuel-disposal program chose disposal criteria that I believe are inherently impossible to meet.

...The current fleet of reactors will begin shutting down around 2020 and will be largely gone by 2050. At present, nuclear power is responsible for nearly 20 percent of the country's electricity production (more like 10 percent in the Pacific Northwest). A new generation of nuclear reactors appears to have little future in the existing U.S. political and economic situation. In any case, it cannot help mitigate a near-term peak in oil supply.

John Rawlins has a B.S. in physics and a Ph.D. in nuclear physics. He retired in 1995 from the Westinghouse Hanford Co. at the Hanford site in Eastern Washington. Currently, he teaches physics and astronomy at Whatcom Community College.

Editorial Notes: Contributor DM writes: It's been a while since I've updated you on the Fossil Fuels At Peak series from John Rawlins. Not sure which was the last one you linked to, but he's now finished his series - wrapping up with Part 11 on Nuclear Power.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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