[p2p-research] no oil crisis?

Paul D. Fernhout pdfernhout at kurtz-fernhout.com
Fri Aug 14 23:09:51 CEST 2009

Ryan Lanham wrote:
> There are a lot of things being said here, so I'll say some more.
> First, it is not controversial that the world uses (today) about 88 million
> barrels of oil (give or take 3 million) per day.  We know from the incomes.
> Replacing that with algae or any other biofuel is simply impossible(.)
> There isn't enough farm and processing capacity to make such a crop, process
> it, and then distribute it with any logical economics as currently
> understood.  Coal, algae and all biofuels combined might (MIGHT!) provide
> 10-20 million barrels a day.  That would be a huge contribution, but it is
> years and years away.  Look into what Brazil must do to produce their highly
> efficient ethanol and you will begin to see the staggering problems of a
> massive global bio-fuel framework--even if you engage the oceans (and it is
> completely speculative whether and how algae might be farmed at scales
> necessary to contribute only a few million barrels a day).  It simply isn't
> workable in my opinion.
> Second, that 88 million barrel figure will rise at least another 20% and
> probably more like 30% before it falls.  So consumption is increasing.
> China is increasing consumption at 1/2%-1% a month.  It is mind-boggling
> when you think about it--a 55 gallon barrel is a pretty big thing.  We use
> 80-100 million of then per DAY!--plastics, gasoline, asphalt, motor oil,
> etc.
> The working number for proven reserves that can be accessed reasonably is
> about 1,000 billion barrels (1 trillion)--give or take 30%--most experts
> think a realistic number is about 700-800 bbbls.  So the math is rather
> easy.  We go through about 1/1000 of our remaining reserves every 12 days
> give or take.  So, in 12,000 days, give or take, we will be out of oil.
> These are ballpark figures, but good enough to have a policy discussion
> with.  In short, we have 30-40 years of oil if we drain and burn every
> drop.  As someone who has been alive for more than 12,000 days, I can say it
> isn't a lot.
> More importantly, as the supply declines, prices rises are inevitable--which
> will have unpredictable results including lower consumption, new technology,
> etc.  It may lead to other peaks and shifts in demands that have
> unpredictable effects on economics.  I am all for market innovation, but it
> probably can't solve this one completely...certainly not without massive
> government incentives to steer away from disasters that demand models will
> cause.
> The more important issue is carbon.  If we burn 1000 billion barrels of oil
> in the next 30 years, we will be at way far high end of carbon forecasts.
> Again, that's easy math.  Do it yourself to convince yourself.  That doesn't
> include massive coal use and many other sources of carbon in the sky like
> methane.  If we are there, temperatures will likely rise by 3-6 degrees C --
> perhaps as soon as 2040 -- an impossibly high number that will lead to
> destruction none of us can begin to fathom -- probably the direct death of
> at least 1 - 3 billion people.
> Where does all this leave us?  I think it's quite a pickle.  Some say it
> will lead to a new agrarian/local low footprint hippie model of life.  I
> seriously doubt that outcome, personally.  People will fight it in the
> developed world, and the developing world wants nothing more than to be
> developed.  There will be conservation.  There will be innovation.  There
> will be resource shifts to natural gas, nuclear, solar, etc.  It won't be
> enough.
> But I recommend you not listen to me.  I recommend you not read a book.  I
> recommend you not adopt a philosophy.  I recommend you research what you
> believe to be reasonable and credible numbers for possible productions,
> consumptions and technical changes (based on the histories of other
> technical changes) and then run the relatively simple model that leads you
> to your own views.
> It is a game of numbers.  There's no sentiment or emotion.  It's just a game
> of numbers.

Except much of what you said about difficulties in transitioning was 
disproven in this 1982 study called "Brittle Power". That has endless 
numbers, still mostly accurate. :-)
"Brittle Power: Energy Strategy for National Security is a 1982 book by 
Amory B. Lovins and L. Hunter Lovins, prepared originally as a Pentagon 
study, and re-released in 2001 following the September 11 attacks. The book 
argues that domestic energy infrastructure is very vulnerable to disruption, 
by accident or malice, often even more so than imported oil. According to 
the authors, a resilient energy system is feasible, costs less, works 
better, is favoured in the market, but is rejected by U.S. policy. In the 
preface to the 2001 edition, Lovins explains that these themes are still 
very current."

See also the related earlier work:

You say essentially that we use a lot of energy and that it is a "numbers 
game" and then you do hand-wringing saying, what are we going to do with 
such a big problem, like it all needed to be fixed by a few people? You 
outline enormous crises, and then essentially say any enormous approach to 
solve them is impossible, without providing any detailed justification.

There are about two to three billion adults on the planet (guessing). You're 
saying they are incapable of each installing a solar panel or working in a 
solar panel production factory? That they'd rather see half the world 
population die, rather than cut back some or produce more in synthetic fuel 
plants or Nanosolar PV plants? Yet at the same time you assume they will 
keep right on doing lots of other stuff. That is inconsistent, sorry.

Why can't we make oil in the oceans with big bioalgae farms? We have 
trillions of dollars a year to play with related to energy -- that's a lot 
of construction funds, and the USA just put trillions into the banking 
system with a few swipes of the pen, so it is easy to do. Why can't we pave 
all the roads with solar panels? We already in the USA have 1% or so of the 
land devoted to roads, way more than it would take to power the country 
entirely from PV. It seems to me this is just handwaving on your part about 
saying big solutions (even if implemented at the peer level) are impossible, 
sorry, IMHO.

The fairest thing you say, IMHO, is that the market is treating the systemic 
risks of social unrest or market mispricing as external costs and ignoring 
them. Well, I'd agree. But, as in a previous proposal, one little law with a 
US$200 tax per barrel of fossil oil (or equivalent in coal or natural gas) 
with the funds redistributed as a basic income would fix that in short order 
(with some handwaving on may part. :-) And that is just one of many possible 

And you say global climate change will cause great problems unless we do 
something different, when it is already too late not to prevent major 
ongoing consequences of global climate change. No proposal that has 
seriously been politically considered will do anything but slow the rate of 
increase of adding to the problem (that is, the problem will continue to get 
worse every year with more CO2, but it won't get even worse a whole lot 
faster with adding more CO2 than we are already adding). What kind of 
solution is that? We still need to relocate people, build seawalls, build 
new cities inland or floating in the oceans and so on. We still need to deal 
with the fundamental unfairness of making mostly people in the South pay for 
  200 years of industrialization in the North. So, all the efforts to slow 
the increase in CO2 production rates miss the whole point of the problem 
IMHO, including this point of equity and fairness.

We need much deeper change. And Peak Oil scaremongering is not helping. I 
just put in Nazi and Coal into Google and got this as the top link of a blog 
post from 2006 (I didn't know there was such a site as "Peak Oil Debunked":
"Previously, we've described the efforts of Dr. Anthony N. Stranges -- a 
historian from Texas A&M. Dr. Stranges is an authority on Nazi coal 
liquefaction, and manages the Fischer-Tropsch Archive. The following link is 
another well-researched resource on Nazi coal liquefaction from a military 
site. The paper was written in 1981 by Dr. Peter W. Becker of the University 
of South Carolina, and gives numerous interesting details on how liquid 
fuels decided the outcome of WWII in Europe. Octane played a surprisingly 
critical role. The paper also describes some (apparently aborted) plans by 
the West Germans to scale up coal liquefaction in the early 1980s."
"The Role of Synthetic Fuel In World War II Germany: implications for today?"
"Still, between 1938 and 1943, synthetic fuel output underwent a respectable 
growth from 10 million barrels to 36 million. The percentage of synthetic 
fuels compared to the yield from all sources grew from 22 percent to more 
than 50 percent by 1943. The total oil supplies available from all sources 
for the same period rose from 45 million barrels in 1938 to 71 million 
barrels in 1943.27 ... A word of caution, though. The magnitude of the 
problem facing this country has another dimension that should not be 
underestimated. At the peak of their synthetic fuel production in 1943, when 
half of their economy and their armed forces ran on synthetic fuel, the 
Germans produced 36,212,400 barrels of fuel a year. At current rates of 
imported fuel alone, that quantity in this country would last all of four 
and one-half days!"

So, if one country could do that with technology 70 years old in the middle 
of being bombed continuously, you are telling me the USA could not do 
likewise even if the demand is one hundred fold more?

Again, I think we should move to renewable. But that one historical 
situation shows how Peak Oil is out of touch with technical, economic, 
physical, and social reality. Do we have a problem with oil? Yes. Can we 
easily solve that problem in multiple ways? Yes. (Where by easily, I mean, 
easily relative to the scale of a US$60 trillion annual world economy and 
easily compared to two or three billion adults to work on that problem, and 
easily compared to lots of advanced technology for alternatives like 
Nanosolar PV and energy efficiency.)

Looks like that blog is still pretty active years later:

They have stuff like this:
"I consider myself to be a person of above-average intelligence and a 
critical thinker, and yet I was sucked in by the 21rst century's equivalent 
of a doomsday cult. I was ripe for the picking. ... I began to see the 
doomer viewpoint for what it is: dogma. A dogma is something you have to 
believe, without questioning it. And I began to see the hidden agenda of the 
powerdowners, namely, to bring about their utopian vision of the 
neo-agrarian society, no doubt with themselves its leaders. They know that 
most people won't willingly accept a return to centuries past, because most 
people are like me. We like our modern first-world lives! Some of us wish 
more people in the world could have the same lifestyle, even if it means 
sharing what's available a bit better. But if people can be convinced that a 
powerdown is as unavoidable as gravity, they may bring it about simply by 
surrendering to it and not looking for alternatives. Scratch the surface of 
the powerdowner philosophy, and you'll find Marxism dressed up in radical 

--Paul Fernhout

More information about the p2presearch mailing list