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We were wrong on peak oil. There’s enough to fry us all

George Monbiot, Guardian
… The automatic correction – resource depletion destroying the machine that was driving it – that many environmentalists foresaw is not going to happen. The problem we face is not that there is too little oil, but that there is too much.

We have confused threats to the living planet with threats to industrial civilisation. They are not, in the first instance, the same thing. Industry and consumer capitalism, powered by abundant oil supplies, are more resilient than many of the natural systems they threaten. The great profusion of life in the past – fossilised in the form of flammable carbon – now jeopardises the great profusion of life in the present.

There is enough oil in the ground to deep-fry the lot of us, and no obvious means to prevail upon governments and industry to leave it in the ground. Twenty years of efforts to prevent climate breakdown through moral persuasion have failed, with the collapse of the multilateral process at Rio de Janeiro last month. The world’s most powerful nation is again becoming an oil state, and if the political transformation of its northern neighbour is anything to go by, the results will not be pretty.
(3 June 2012)

Peakonomics: why the oil price slide is temporary

David Strahan, Petroleum Review via Strahan’s blog
… Anyone who still doubts the centrality of oil depletion in driving the crude price should read a recent working paper from economists at the International Monetary Fund. Entitled The Future of Oil: Geology versus Technology, it sets out to test the idea that the ten-year rise in the oil price can be explained by geological constraints. The group found that incorporating Hubbert-style depletion analysis into their model led to “dramatically improved” forecasts of both production and price. “By far the most important reason is that geology doesn’t want to release that much more oil unless you really press the price button”, said Michael Kumhof, one of the authors. As a consequence, the paper forecasts real oil prices will soar to $180 by 2020.

There’s not much to surprise a peak oiler here perhaps, nor many in the City; Barclays Capital has forecast $185 per barrel in 2020 for some time. But the paper is significant, being the first mainstream economics model to demonstrate the overwhelming influence of oil depletion over oil prices, and effectively debunk the shibboleth that rising prices will solve peak oil as many economists have long insisted.
(July 2012)

Peak Plastic: One Generation’s Trash Is Another Generation’s Treasure

Debbie Chachra, Discover Magazine
… I’m a materials scientist by training, and one aspect of peak oil I’ve been thinking about recently is peak plastic.

… if we’re running out of oil—some experts say we are near the point of peak oil, after which the output only declines—that also means that we’re running out of plastic. Compared to fuel and agriculture, plastic is small potatoes. Even though plastics are made on a massive industrial scale, they still only account for about 2% world’s oil consumption. So recycling plastic saves plastic and reduces its impact on the environment, but it certainly isn’t going to save us from the end of oil. Peak oil means peak plastic. And that means that much of the physical world around us will have to change.

Plastic is more than just water bottles and Tupperware. If you’re indoors, look around. There’s a good bet that much of what’s in your field of view is made of plastic. Paint. Carpeting. Upholstery. The finish on a wood floor. Veneer on furniture. And that’s before you go into your kitchen, or bathroom, and never mind a subway car or a hospital (disposable, sterile medical supplies, anyone?). Plastic is so ubiquitous that it’s almost invisible.

In the last century or so, chemists and chemical engineers have developed thousands of plastics for use in tens of thousands of applications, if not more. That means that we’ll need to find replacements for these oil-based plastics for every one of those uses.

Debbie Chachra is an Associate Professor of Materials Science at the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering, with research interests in biological materials, education, and design. You can follow her on Twitter: @debcha.
(2 July 2012)

Peak Blame
KMO, C-Realm
KMO welcomes Mark Robinowitz of back to the C-Realm Podcast to discuss why both the mainstream political left as well as the right in the United States cannot address the demands of Peak Oil in a realistic way. Republicans have rebuked Navy Secretary Ray Mabus for attempting to ween the Navy off of fossil fuels because they see finding alternatives to petroleum as a Democratic partisan issue. Established environmental and social justice organizations are still holding onto unrealistic Green Technology and Green Capitalism paradigms and have yet to come to terms with the fact that the project of the 21st Century will be figuring out how to equitably distribute a shrinking pie. One thing unlikely to be in short supply as the realities of diminishing fossil fuel reserves make themselves unmistakable: blame. Mark hopes that we can achieve Peak Blame sooner rather than later and get on with the grown-up work of figuring out how best to deploy our remaining energy resources.
(27 June 2012)
Audio at original.

Die Energie von morgen

Ferdi Schüth, DRadio Wissen
Der Energieforscher Ferdi Schüth über die Energiewende und die Zeit danach

Die Menschheit verbraucht immer mehr Energie. Weil fossile Energie aber zum einen endlich und zum anderen klimaschädlich ist, müssen wir neue, alternative Quellen finden.

Die Hoffnung für ein neues Energiezeitalter liegt auf den erneuerbaren Energien, also Sonnen- und Windenergie oder Wasserkraft zum Beispiel. Allerdings bringen diese Träger auch Probleme mit sich. …

Ist die Senkung des Energiverbrauchs eine realistisches Ziel?

Rund ein Jahr, nachdem Deutschland beschlossen hat, aus der Kernenergie auszusteigen, hat die Akademie der Wissenschaften in Hamburg ihre Sommervorlesungen dem Thema Energiewende gewidmet. “Handicap oder Chance?”, so lautete die Frage im Titel der Reihe, die sich zum Beispiel darum drehte, wie realistisch unsere Ziele zur Senkung des Energieverbrauchs und von Emissionen sind, wie zukünftig die Energieversorgung sichergestellt werden kann oder welche neue Probleme neue Energiequellen mit sich bringen. In diesem Rahmen referierte der Energieforscher Ferdi Schüth über die Herausforderungen für unsere Energiesysteme durch “Peak Oil und Klimawandel”.

Zur Person Ferdi Schüth

Ferdi Schüth, 1960 in Warstein geboren, studierte Chemie und Jura in Münster. 1995, mit gerade mal 35 Jahren, trat er die Professor für Anorganische Chemie an der Universität Frankfurt an, seit 1998 ist er Direktor und Wissenschaftliches Mitglied am Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung, seit 1999 außerdem Honorarprofessor an der Ruhr-Universität Bochum. Schüth hat für seine Arbeit zahlreiche Auszeichnungen erhalten, unter anderem den Leibniz-Preis sowie den Hamburger Wissenschaftspreises 2011 “Energieforschung”.
(2 July 2012)

Peak oil and the lost message of the carbon tax

Tom Holland, Online Opinion
Whether or not one believes in human-induced climate change, with the Carbon Tax’s introduction [in Australia] on Sunday, it is worth remembering the fundamental reasons for its conception. The Carbon Tax debate, which has been memorable for its hyperbole, but not its content, has obscured why we contemplated it in the first place.

The concept of an Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) has two core aims: firstly, the reduction of carbon emissions with the intention of retarding global warming. and secondly, to shift our economy away from reliance on fossil fuels. This second aim, arguably far more compelling, has been neglected in the national discussion.

… While the majority of Australians continue to believe in human-induced climate change, their faith that an ETS in Australia will help rectify this has fallen dramatically. When it was the “greatest moral challenge of our time”, over half of people felt that “if we didn’t act now [on climate change], it would be too late”; but most recent polling suggests only a third now support aggressive climate change action.

Some concern is well founded. It is true that Australia, while having very high per-capita carbon emissions, contributes only a small fraction of global industrial output of the gas and our ETS alone would not make a substantial impact. With the giddy days of Copenhagen behind us, national governments are faced with more pressing financial concerns and the uptake of complementary schemes internationally will be significantly delayed, possibly leading to capital leakage. Moreover, comparisons to other international schemes suggest that Australia will ultimately tax carbon at an unfavourably higher level than its competitors.

However, domestically, the dramatic reduction in support is due to a very successful campaign by the Coalition. The Opposition has deployed a consistent, vehement approach to the Tax, telling voters that it will spell existential crisis for exposed industries, and more importantly, financial pain for average Australians. On a point-by-point basis, much of what Mr. Abbott has argued can be identified as hyperbole, or in some cases simple untruth; but the tactic is aimed at inducing electoral fear and shutting down more substantive debate, and it has worked very well. Voters are fearful of manufacturing job losses and cost of living increases, and will ultimately move with hip-pocket concerns over high-minded environmental aims. The real failing of the Government, and the Greens, is that they have been goaded into tit-for-tat rebuttal of Abbott’s sometimes fanciful claims rather than committing to a coherent and sustained argument for the tax.

Even accepting that the Carbon Tax will do little to reduce global carbon emissions, its second aim – a shift from fossil fuels on a whole of economy scale – is worth pursuing.
(2 July 2012)