THE PEAK OF WORLD OIL PRODUCTION AND THE ROAD TO THE OLDUVAI GORGE
When you live on a boat for 3 years, you become very aware of the base elements that sustain a comfortable quality of life onboard. Most of us have solar panels, generators and massive alternators that keep our batteries topped-off. This in turn keeps our refrigeration cold and enables the use of the watermaker to sustain our fresh water supply for drinking, showers and dish washing. Fresh water and cold food are undoubtedly first world concerns. However, all it takes is a couple of weeks without a refrigerator and fresh water to realize just how important those two elements of life really are to most of us that have become accustom to the modern world. I am quite certain that even the most conservative of us cruisers is completely dependant on diesel fuel to sustain our quality of life while at anchor and sailing.
Soooo...what if "Peak Oil" is real and we are running out of the critical energy source that sustains our modern existence? The thought process associated with depleting oil supplies leads even the most optimistic sailor down a dark path of horrific scenarios. The good news is that "Peak Oil" means we don't need to worry about Anthropogenic Global Warming anymore...and thank goodness for that! However, before one can consider the implications of such devastating events, it is necessary to understand the critical elements of our modern world that would lead to a rapid decline in the present quality of life that most of the first world population enjoys.
The United States Census Bureau estimates that the world population exceeded 7 billion on March 12, 2012. The world population has experienced continuous growth since the end of the Great Famine and the Black Death in 1350, when it stood at only 370 million. Current projections show a continued increase in population with the global population expected to reach between 8 and 11 billion by 2050. There is no denying that the human population is growing at an exponential rate like that of a well fed bacterium. The primary reason this rate is possible is the modern methods of food cultivation and medicine. Unfortunately, both food cultivation and medicine is completely dependant on affordable petroleum supplies.
Most people do not realize that without petroleum, the world wouldn't have the ability to produce massive quantities of pesticides, fresh water, fertilizers, and fuels to run farm machinery. If "Peak Oil" is real, it will soon be impossible to grow enough food to feed the current population, much less the current growth rate. In addition, most all items used in modern medicine contain petrochemical derivatives. Some of the main categories are medications, synthetic rubber, clinical disposables, sterile packaging and even the stainless steel and titanium joint replacements are completely dependent of petroleum.
So what if "Peak Oil" is real and we are fast approaching the depletion of crude oil? Unfortunately, present day alternative sources of energy will not save the world from a systemic collapse that would occur over the next 40 - 50 years. This is the case for several reasons, but mainly because of a problem of "net energy": the amount of energy output is not sufficiently greater than the amount of energy input. All alternative forms of energy are so dependent on the very petroleum that they are intended to replace that the use of them is largely self-defeating and often irrational. Alternative sources ultimately do not have enough energy producing capacity to replace 30 billion barrels of oil each year...or even to replace just a small fraction of that amount.
So what if "Peak Oil" is real? How will the remaining energy be used to maximize the development of alternative energy sources before it is too late?
Energy Returned on Energy Invested versus Energy Content: Source The Oil Drum
The Oil Drum: Why EROI Matters
"Most economists are not too concerned about peak oil (if they think about it at all) because they believe that markets will generate substitutes from which markets will choose. But today's markets often give very misleading signals about the potential of various fuels. The boom and bust of ethanol is an obvious example. I have been working on this issue for 40 years and have no idea what might be an adequate qualitative and quantitative substitute for petroleum except possibly and with enormous difficulty something based on electricity."
State University of New York
College of Environmental Science and Forestry
Syracuse New York
Comparative Costs per kWh of Alternative Energy Sources