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Climate change policy: Oil's tipping point has passed

Posted on 1 February 2012 by John Hartz

This is a reprint of a news release written by Sandra Hines and posted on the website of the University of Washington on Jan 26, 2012.


Stop wrangling over global warming and instead reduce fossil-fuel use for the sake of the global economy.

That’s the message from two scientists, one from the University of Washington and one from the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, who say in the current issue of the journal Nature (Jan. 26) that the economic pain of a flattening oil supply will trump the environment as a reason to curb the use of fossil fuels.

“Given our fossil-fuel dependent economies, this is more urgent and has a shorter time frame than global climate change,” says James W. Murray, UW professor of oceanography, who wrote the Nature commentary with David King, director of Oxford’s Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment.

The “tipping point” for oil supply appears to have occurred around 2005, says Murray, who compared world crude oil production with world prices going back to 1998. Before 2005, supply of regular crude oil was elastic and increased in response to price increases. Since then, production appears to have hit a wall at 75 million barrels per day in spite of price increases of 15 percent each year.

“As a result, prices swing wildly in response to small changes in demand,” the co-authors wrote. “Others have remarked on this step change in the economies of oil around the year 2005, but the point needs to be lodged more firmly in the minds of policy makers.”


Oil Production Graphics 

J Murray, U of Washington/D King, U of Oxford/Nature
Source: US Energy Information Administration Annual Energy Outlook 2011

For those who argue that oil reserves have been increasing, that more crude oil will be available in the future, the co-authors wrote: “The true volume of global proved reserves is clouded by secrecy; forecasts by state oil companies are not audited and appear to be exaggerated. More importantly, reserves often take 6 - 10 years to drill and develop before they become part of the supply, by which time older fields have become depleted.” Production at oil fields around the world is declining between 4.5 percent and 6.7 percent per year, they wrote.

“For the economy, it’s production that matters, not how much oil might be in the ground,” Murray says. In the U.S., for example, production as a percentage of total reserves went from 9 percent to 6 percent in the last 30 years.

“We’ve already gotten the easy oil, the oil that can be produced cheaply,” he says. “It used to be we’d drill a well and the oil would flow out, now we have to go through all these complicated and expensive procedures to produce the oil.”

The same is true of alternative sources such as tar sands or “fracking” for shale gas, Murray says, where supplies may be exaggerated and production is expensive. Take the promise of shale gas and oil: A New York Times investigative piece last June reported that “the gas may not be as easy and cheap to extract from shale formations deep underground as the companies are saying, according to hundreds of industry e-mails and internal documents and an analysis of data from thousands of wells.”

Production at shale gas wells can drop 60 to 90 percent in the first year of operation, according to a world expert on shale gas who was one of the sources for the commentary piece. Murray and King built their commentary using data and information from more than 15 international and U.S. government reports, peer-reviewed journal articles, reports from groups such as the National Research Council and Brookings Institution and association findings.

Stagnant oil supplies and volatile prices take a toll on the world economy. Of the 11 recessions in the U.S. since World War II, ten were preceded by a spike in oil prices, the commentary noted.

Photo of James Murray

“Historically, there has been a tight link between oil production and global economic growth,” the co-authors wrote. “If oil production can’t grow, the implication is that the economy can’t grow either.”

Calculations from the International Monetary Fund, for example, say that to achieve a 4 percent growth in the global economy in the next five years, oil production must increase about 3 percent a year.

“Yet to achieve that will require either an heroic increase in oil production, ... increased efficiency of oil use, more energy-efficient growth or rapid substitution of other fuel sources,” according to the commentary.

“Economists and politicians continually debate policies that will lead to a return to economic growth. But because they have failed to recognize that the high price of energy is a central problem, they haven’t identified the necessary solutions: weaning society off fossil fuel.”

The commentary concludes: “This will be a decades-long transformation and we need to start immediately. Emphasizing the short-term economic imperative from oil prices must be enough to push governments into action now.”

Reference:

Nature Commentary: “Climate policy: Oil's tipping point has passed”, James Murray1 & David King

Nature, Volume 481, Pages: 433–435, 26 January 2012, doi:10.1038/481433a

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Comments 1 to 50 out of 75:

  1. Very interesting stuff. I'd just like to add that these more extreme sources of oil, oilsands, shale oil/gas, deep sea drilling, coal-oil conversion, all produce significantly more CO2, and also have significantly detrimental environmental externalities. These are not amazing technological breakthroughs, they are a path to climate suicide. The IEA says the world needs the oilsands at the same time they state that we will have locked into a path of catastrophic climate change by 2017.

    IMO, we need drastic, immediate changes to the current outlook for the next ten years.


    P.S. love reading climate news from tomorrow, today. What an amazing planet!
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  2. Like the renewable power industry there is a lot of speculation about how much 'new technology' will bring down costs of fossil fuel extraction. Until recently tar sands, shale gas, deep water oil, and other 'alternative' sources were all prohibitively expensive. New technologies and methods of extraction (e.g. 'fraking') have changed that, but it still isn't clear how much additional fossil fuel this will make available at prices lower than those of renewable power (which is also benefiting from technology improvements).

    What is clear is that we've passed the peak of 'conventional' oil. Without the new sources we'd now be facing massive economic consequences.

    This article suggests that 'alternative fossil fuels' will not be able to continue to support the demand gap and that their costs will drop more slowly than renewable costs. However, neither of those is a sure thing. Research funding, government regulation, and 'luck' will play a part in which technologies have the biggest economic breakthroughs.

    For purposes of avoiding global warming it would be nice if we could write off fossil fuels as economically unfeasible, but the reality is that we just can't know how the 'R&D race' is going to play out. I think there is some cause for hope in the fact that fossil fuel producers are just trying to keep costs from growing too much while solar power is projected to drop below current 'grid parity' over the next decade (it already has in some places). That should make a transition to renewables inevitable, but leaves alot of uncertainty about how much GHG levels will increase before we get there.
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  3. In the US, our politicians are obviously in the pocket of the carbon barons. Whether for climate reasons, economic reasons, or to extract ourselves easily from volatile Middle East politics, developing alternate energy is an obvious solution.

    Instead, all we get is "Drill, Baby, Drill."

    It feels a bit like Rome in 477 AD.
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  4. I'm much more interested in the climate science side of this stuff so my question may be out of place but... Why is not valid to say that "global warming has stopped" based on 15 years of data but it's ok to conclude that "oil production has stopped" with just 5 years?
    I understand that we are talking about two whole different systems here but still... it doesn't feel right.
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  5. Daneel

    One (the atmosphere) is a dynamic system bouncing chaotically around a mean set by the planetary energy budget, and the other (conventional oil) is a depleteable resource whose state can be inferred from other information besides the time series (reserves, price behavior, production trends). In short, there are physical reasons to believe these systems are different and consequently there will be different standards for assessing them. It would almost certainly be foolhardy to apply to the same criterion to both of them.
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  6. Daneel

    When your car gets the hiccups it is probably running out of fuel. The longer the hiccups continue, the more certain you can be of being stranded. It is not, however, certain that you will end up on foot in some backwoods place where creepy people with genetic defects do nasty things to strangers.
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  7. Further to Stephen Baines
    In addition, Foster and Rahmstorf (2011) - see Dec 20 2011 report is SkS - showed that by adjusting the global temperature anomaly for ENSO, volcanoes and solar cycle effects, the resultant composite global temperature upward trend appears to have statistical significance over a time span much shorter than 30 years (only 11 years).
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  8. Daneel - you can also do accounting. Tally up production heading for retirement and tally new scheduled production to get an indicator of how much production you will have in the future. IEA does that - and they are sounding warnings. Actual oil production depends on political factors as well but it cant exceed the total productive capacity. Unfortunately it is hard to actually estimate this when SA wont lets its reserves be audited.
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  9. Daneel, your question is flawed in construction in that it suggests it would be accurate to say 'global warming has stopped' but for the timeframe chosen. That is not the case. It is invalid to say 'global warming has stopped' because it hasn't.

    If you take a trend or moving average of global temperature anomalies over the past 15 years it shows warming.

    If you take a trend or moving average of oil production over the past 5 years it is essentially flat.

    In short, they are described differently because they show different results.
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  10. I have alerted Professor Murray about this post and have invited him to participate in this discussion thread.
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  11. I think the second plot addresses Daneel's (in my view interesting) question: it provides an additional source of evidence for the apparent production cap in the first plot. The sharp change in gradient and the distinct clustering of the data points provides independent evidence of a change in the elasticity of supply or demand (just as for example satellite energy balance readings provide an independent test of whether the earth is still warming).

    Of course that doesn't preclude the possibility that production can be introduced at the $100+ price point but with a lag longer than 7 years.
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  12. Daneel,
    You need to consider that it has been forecast for decades that oil would run out in the early years of the 21st century. So the question is: when we see oil running out as expected is it really running out? Compared to Climate Change where we expect the climate to keep getting warmer and we see data that says it is still getting warmer in spite of claims to the contrary.

    Canada oil sands are not economic at less than about $100 per barrell. The people who want to build the pipeline obviously think oil will only go up in price.
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  13. Doc Snow, one of the primary components of the price of coil is actually the price of gasoline... because you need to move the coal. Oil and gas can be sent through pipes, but coal has to be loaded into trucks and hauled around. As the price of gasoline goes up so does the cost of transporting coal from extraction sites to power plants, and thus the overall price of coal. This can be seen in that spike in coal prices you mentioned... which exactly corresponds with the spike in gasoline prices.

    So yes, there is still plenty of coal around, but the cost of coal power is going to continue going up so long as it requires gasoline to transport it.
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  14. Doc,
    There are also many issues with government and industry estimates of coal reserves. Much data is secret. They mine the best deposits first so only third and fourth rate deposits are left. It is difficult for a non-expert to sift through the conflicting claims to determine how much coal can really be extracted economically. When you look at the obviously fudged claims about oil (see link above), it makes you wonder how much coal there really is to be extracted. For example they measure coal in extracted tons of coal, but new coal mines have lower quality coal which has a lower heat content per ton. Because they need more coal they do more environmental damage extracting it. Eventually even West Virginia may say enough.
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  15. A very good book on the topic of peak oil is "Beyond Oil - The view from Hubbert's peak" written by Kenneth S. Deffeyes who is both a geologist and second generation oilman. The book is written in 2004 and predicts that peak oil would be in 2005, based on Hubbert's peak theory.

    It has a serious topic, but manages to be an entertaining read at the same time. My favourite quote is the one about the efficiency of modern drilling sites: "The crew on site will consist of a driller and a dog. The driller is there to feed the dog. The dog is there to bite the driller if he touches anything."
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  16. "Given our fossil-fuel dependent economies, this is more urgent and has a shorter time frame than global climate change,"

    Uhm ... didn't the IEA say that we are on pace to surpass the level of CO2 in the atmosphere that is considered safe by scientists by 2017? Is the argument that oil demand will become economically critical before that point?

    http://www.skepticalscience.com/news.php?n=1112

    "The headline conclusion of the WEO11 report is that, while the 450 target is still achievable, our chances of success are decreasing with every year of delay, and that, by 2017, the target could be out of reach."
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  17. 17, rlasker3,

    The statement you quoted does not say we will reach 450 by 2017, only that we will be unable to avoid reaching it by that point. That is, putting on the brakes to slow emissions (if we don't start doing so until 2017) will be virtually impossible without unnecessary and painful economic upheaval.

    At the current rate of emissions (assuming no slow down or acceleration) we will reach 450 by about 2042.
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  18. The reason it takes longer to determine a trend in climate is that there are different time frames for climate forcings. The forcings aren't all annual.

    Pumping oil out of the ground is a function of supply and demand. The world wasn't in recession in 2005 when pumping peaked, so that was a good benchmark for our capacity. When volume declined and rocketing prices didn't cause more to be pumped, it's a good bet that they're pumping as much as they can.
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  19. Sphaerica @ 18: Well, with the oil running out, you might say that the "unnecessary and painful economic upheaval" is going to happen anyway. Re-gearing modern economies to run on something other than oil is going to be a very, very big job. I know certain lobbies are heavily pushing a mass conversion to gas, but even the optimists only think that'll last for 20 years before the conversion has to be done all over again.

    The positive side is that this may just provide enough of a wake-up call to allow serious developments of non-fossil alternatives.

    Unless the fossil lobby buy enough politicians so that we're forced to stick with coal, that is.
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  20. I find it rather curious that the same people that do not like centralist control i.e. big government hate the thought of decentralised control of energy production. When communities can generate their own energy requirements locally with renewable sustainable energy, they no longer need the corporations/monopolies. What is next? We ignore the junk they sell to fulfil our lives with ever endless things? Where would it end!? Bert
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  21. “If oil production can’t grow, the implication is that the economy can’t grow either.”

    That claim is nonsense. The economy can and will grow if energy provided by oil can be replaced by energy produced from an alternative source at a competitive price.

    Energy produced by oil is primarily used for transport and heating. Both can be (and are) provided from alternative sources such as gas and electricity. While the largest source of electricity in most countries is burning fossil fuels, as the price of those fuels increases, so wind, geothermal and solar alternatives become relatively cheaper and, ultimately, cheaper than fossil fuels.

    Consumers, whether industrial or household do not care where their energy needs come from provided they are the cheapest available. Clean energy sources are becoming cheaper as technological advances are made in their production, storage and distribution.

    Advances are being made in the efficiency with which energy is generated: solar base load electricity generation (through heat storage) is now possible, geothermal energy is being more widely used (through improved heat mining) and electricity can be stored and transported (through improving battery technology).

    Dangerously polluting fossil fuels will continue to be used but there are alternatives to them. The need to use those alternatives are becoming increasingly attractive as the world grows warmer, extreme climate events increase and finite oil and gas deposits deplete with increasing rapidity. These aspects will relegate use of oil and gas to more profitable use in the petro-chemical industry, rather than inefficient transport and wasteful heating.
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  22. Interestingly, there was a news article on the ABC News website this week (Australian ABC, I don't follow the American ABC) reporting that the United States Navy is looking to shifting their reliance from fossil fuels to biofuels. Amongst cited reasons were the increasingly unreliable supply of fossil fuel and that biofuels could be sourced from reliable, allied sources.

    I find the USN to be an interesting example of an organisation driven by pragmatic rather than ideological reasoning. They also are looking at future redeploying of assets to deal commercial sealane protection with the projected projected increase of cargo shipping through the now navigable route across the arctic.

    Governments may be in denial but some organisations, such as the USN, appear to realise that they must follow current developments and function in the real world.
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  23. Doc Snow: sadly, coal production doesn't appear to have peaked here in Australia yet. There are serious efforts afoot to open up an entire new coal basin here in Queensland, with proposals for mines extracting a total of some 40-50 million tons per year or more (does anyone have those numbers handy?). :-(
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  24. Would it be feasible to project the potential amount of co2 we could produce from the remaining reserves? Also, with a time frame that sufficient levels, for civilian, use may be available.
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  25. KBow @27, that is a slightly complicated question.

    First you need to distinguish between reserves which have been fully mapped by geological surveys, and which are commercially recoverable at current price levels and technologies, and reserves which are believed to exist based on geological reasoning, but which have not been fully mapped, or which may not be fully recoverable.

    Based on which type of estimate you use, and whose estimate (there is some difference in estimates), reasonable projections of fossil fuel use in the coming centuries will lift CO2 levels to somewhere between 980 and 4600 ppmv. The later figure requires exhausting reasonable expectations of coal reserves, and is not possible within a single century (and may take as much as four centuries).

    In the short term (for a century or so), that increase in CO2 levels will result in an increase in Global Mean Surface Temperature by 5 to 11 degrees C. After a century or so, CO2 levels will decline to about 25% of their peak and then take tens of thousands of years to return to natural levels. That decline will reduce temperatures to between 2 and 6 degrees C above current levels. As 2 degrees C is the limit above which AGW starts going from harmful but manageable to very dangerous, anything like the full exhaustion of gas and oil reserves and 10% of coal reserves (the assumption in calculating the figure) represents a very significant risk for the future.

    These calculations assume no significant increase of natural GHG emissions as a result of higher temperature, which given developments in Siberia is not a safe assumption.
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  26. As an addendum to 28, exhausting Oil only will only increase CO2 concentrations by 180 ppmv, for a temperature increase of about 1.5 degrees C from current levels. Gas reserves will scarcely increase that at all. The real kicker is in the coal reserves, which is the logic behind James Hansen's proposed policy that no new coal fired power stations (or mines) be developed from now on, with all current stations being retired when they come to the end of their natural life. Such a policy might keep us below the 2 degree C guard rail with no further action, but is IMO not achievable politically.
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  27. IN my opinion this is a very important post. We often forget the problems of depleting energy resources (ok, only "cheap energy resources)while discussing climate change. Obviously the solution for both problems is exactly the same, moving society away from fossil fuels to renewable. We may be able to use this argument in discussions with "sceptics". Unfortunately the mechanisms of denial are exactly the same in both topics.To show, how serious the problem with depletiong oil really is you should have a look at this site:
    http://www.theoildrum.com/
    It is really worth reading.
    One figure shows much about the problem. If you are not familiar with ROI, it means Return On Investment. For one barrel oil we invest, we got 100 barrel out in 1930. Today we have passed 20 barrels, moving fast to a ROI of 10 barrels. This is a decline of 80 to 90%!
    It does not matter how high oil price will climb, if you get out only one barrel oil per used this is utterly meaningless.
    to give you a picture look at this graph:
    http://www.theoildrum.com/files/HallandDay.png
    from this post on the Oildrum:
    http://www.theoildrum.com/node/8625
    It really is a scary picture that comes up, but again, the solution is exactly the same for climate as for energy.
    Only a little bit off topic, i recommend you all to have a look at a very exciting lecture about exponential functions by Albert Bartlett
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F-QA2rkpBSY&feature=list_related&playnext=1&list=SP6A1FD147A45EF50D
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  28. Doc Snow, yes there is definitely a degree of geographical constraint with coal. For example, Hawaii does not have any significant fossil fuel deposits and thus must import their fuel over the ocean. That is cost prohibitive for both coal and natural gas (and too small a market to build a pipeline that far), so they have historically gotten almost all of their electricity from oil. Thankfully they have recently noticed that they have some of the best solar, wind, geothermal, and other renewable (e.g. OTEC) resources in the world and are now working towards 100% renewable electrical generation.

    Yes, US coal production is now in decline, but China is just starting to ramp up. Indeed, Chinese coal is probably the single largest source of potential CO2 emissions for the next 50 years.
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  29. Dudes thermal coal is used in power stations and metallurgical coal is used to make steel. Completely different mines.
    To stop using coal we need to stop making steel. We need to only use recycled steel. The government needs to invest in steel recycling.

    Cars use lots of steel but most have too much plastic shit that stops efficient recycling. The most recyleable car is still the trusty Jeep Wrangler with stuff all plastic shit. Put the baby on LPG and you have greenest cradle to grave wheels around.

    A carbon tax will not be enough we need a steel tax as well. Don't know why the government doesn't get it.
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  30. In addition to folke_kelm's reference to Bartlett (a favourite seeming-curmudgeon of mine), it's also worth pointing folk to Joseph Tainter's written work and presentations on societal collapse.

    As an ecologist I have been preoccupied for years by carrying capacities and system asymptotes. Tainter's explanations of societal collapse are very good, although I think that he could possibly and usefully emphasise the laws of thermodynamics a little more, and perhaps stick his neck out more about steady-state systems, especially separated from hangings-over of the old (failed) economic paradigm.

    If there is any deficiency in his analyses it would be in referencing complex, dynamic equilibrium states in ecological and thermodynamic contexts: by doing so, using a compare-and-contrast with various civilisatons' economic models, he could very effectively demonstrate what will and what will not work over the long-term in human societies.

    As to achieving a maximum atmospheric CO2 (equivalent or otherwise) concentration of 450 ppm, I have for several years now been convinced that 2017 is a pie-in-the-sky landmark. Barring extreme intervention on the scale of global warfare or ('flu?) pandemic (neither unlikely, by the way), I'd say the cut-off date for Peak-Opportunity-for-keeping-mean-global-temperature-to-less-than-2C-abov-the-pre-Industrial-Revolution-value occurred at around the same time as Peak Oil... 2005.
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  31. Tealy @32, you can reduce iron with charcoal. Indeed, that is the first way it was done. As the carbon in the trees used to produce the charcoal comes from the atmosphere, the process is carbon neutral. You can also directly reduce iron using hydrogen gas and carbon monoxide. The carbon monoxide can, again, be produced from charcoal.

    No useful purpose would be served by a steel tax. A carbon tax would cover all the costs of carbon production both in processing iron, and in the production of energy needed. Ergo if your purpose is to reduce GHG emissions, the steel tax adds nothing to the carbon tax, and merely distorts the market.
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  32. Re Daneel Olivaw @4: "Why is not valid to say that "global warming has stopped" based on 15 years of data but it's ok to conclude that "oil production has stopped" with just 5 years?"

    Every physical system time series has it's own period required to separate any underlying trend from the "noise" of natural variability, and that period is determined from the data set itself. See Robert Grumbine's explanation of determining the period for the climate system here: http://moregrumbinescience.blogspot.com/2009/01/results-on-deciding-trends.html

    Petroleum reserves and production are a completely different system from climate, and are not entirely a physical system as consumption is based on human behavior rather than physics, so therefore it is entirely reasonable to expect a completely different time period. That said, I don't know if 5 years is the correct period or not. Perhaps someone else can address that question.
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  33. If one reads the ref., it seems with fracking, there will be considerable time left from the following site:

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-02-01/fracking-boom-could-finally-cap-myth-of-peak-oil-peter-orszag.html

    Like it or not, without good energy storage like batteries, all the solar & wind is worth squat, in the middle of a still, -20 deg. night.
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  34. I have no problem with the overall direction of this post - (ie peak oil) - but I think it is premature to call it at 2005. Although supply was inelastic in 2005, we have had 7 years to expand capacity, even while demand has shuffled along sideways.

    So I suspect human ingenuity will create an "overclocking" type blip, where we pull out more oil for a very short time (less than a decade from the next time the global economy is firing on all cylinders).

    In a way, we should thank the Bush-era policy makers for this 5-10 year time period when we are not experiencing the economic disruption of peak oil.

    I very much would prefer that the human ingenuity I spoke of where unleashed on the problem of renewable energy (ie a carbon tax).

    PS - Tom Curtis - your post #28 could be the core of a fascinating main article.
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  35. J. Bob @36, I'm sure what you meant to say is without good energy storage like batteries, hydro-power, hot rock thermal storage, liquid salt thermal storage etc., and without extended long range electricity transmission, and without smart grids all the solar and wind won't provide power in the period of the night when electricity companies already offer discount rates because they are currently over generating for that period because conventional power stations are not responsive to demand.

    You may be right. That might mean in a renewable energy based grid, power companies may offer discounts to use power during day light hours rather than offering discounts to use electricity after dark as they currently do.

    How could we possibly cope. Heating our water during the day instead of at night? It's the end of civilization as we know it! /sarc
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  36. As the Chief Economist of the International Energy Agency IEA, Faith Birol, has put it, some time ago:

    "We have to leave oil before it leaves us."

    This is the opion of an agency that directly advises the members of the OECD. So this opinion should not be easily dismissed by the polluters.
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  37. It is amazing just how many comments show surprise at this issue. Peak Oil has been around as a topic in the public domain for years. I think I first read about it some 15 years ago at least.

    While it is quite possible that alternatives can substitute for fossil fuels, it is going to take years to convert the current infrastructure. For instance it has to be remembered that there are a lot of people who might love to have a new electric car, but will have to make do with their old fossil fuel banger until it eventually collapses and even then second hand electric cars might still be too expensive.

    Peak oil might be a very good thing as far as climate change is concerned as it is generally agreed that post peak oil means very limited growth at best and probably economic decline will be more the order of the day. This will obviously lead to reduced production and thus reduced emissions. It won't be a particularly nice experience and could easily lead to many countries going into depression with the attendant danger of public unrest.

    I recommend Oil, Smoke and Mirrors (Full length) on YouTube (beware the credits roll while there is still half of it left to watch).
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  38. Suggested reading:

    “Scrapping fossil-fuel subsidies would get us halfway there on climate change” by Brad Plumer, Ezra Klein’s Wonkblog, Washington Post, Jan 20, 2012

    Click here to access this timely and thought-provoking article.
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  39. Twenty-two high level representatives have just released their report – Resilient People, Resilient Planet: A Future Worth Choosing - which sets out specific recommendations to “put sustainable development into practice and to mainstream it into economic policy as quickly as possible.” The report reinforces the push to phase-out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, speed up the deployment of renewable energy, and accelerate energy efficiency efforts. When world leaders meet several times this year – culminating at the Earth Summit 2012 in Rio – they must finally follow through on the commitment to phase-down these subsidies and help unleash even greater low-carbon energy action.

    Source: “UN panel urges phase-out of fossil fuel subsidies” by Jake Schmidt, The energy Collective, Jan 31, 2012
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  40. If the only coal mined was for steel production, then I would doubt it would present much of a threat to climate. Mostly coal is used for fuel. The rising price of coking coal should also surely spur more recycling and substitution.
    You can use charcoal as a reducing agent but not with current furnace design. you need the coke to be strong enough to support the weight of material above and retain gas flow.

    The big threat that I can see is that rising oil prices will lead to a shift to coal-powered (via electricity) cars instead with significantly higher emissions. I'm with Hansen - we need a ban on new coal-powered stations and let market force sort out a better energy system.
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  41. scaddenp, coal is losing ground too.
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  42. Hmm, except that tell story of how many new coal plants are coming on line. Coal is fastest growing fuel worldwide.
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  43. Oil production since 1970:



    [source]

    Last time production dropped was after the Iranian Revolution and the following Iran-Iraq War.
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  44. The authors say, plausibly: "the point needs to be lodged more firmly in the minds of policy makers."

    But there is an important point they still don't get: it has to start with the voters, since the policy makers are too beholden to monied interests to make such a decision without strong voter support.

    So first, it is the voters who need to get the point " lodged more firmly in their minds"
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  45. @J. Bob, #36: True, but not helpful. Fracking is already under much-deserved harsh criticism for causing earthquakes and poisoning ground water. These are not the products of overactive imaginations of environmentalist, they are real and unacceptable externalities.

    If the externalities were truly taken into account, the oil from fracking would be considered unacceptably high priced.

    Also, oil industry apologists have a bad reputation for inflating their estimates of how much oil they can get for how long out of any new reserve or technology. Why would fracking be any exception? I doubt it will be.

    Finally, storage mechanisms are getting better. We are nowhere near the thermodynamic limits of storage efficiency with today's technologies, a decent new "smart grid" will open up possibilities for much more efficient technologies at much lower costs.
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  46. It must be noted that Murray and King are also skeptic about the coal ultimate reserves in their Nature's paper, they emphasis that China and India are net importers, US production is peaking, geological estimates from the 80s or 90s have not been recently updated, etc. If the pessimistic estimates of total fossil reserves are correct, we will never reach during the second part of this century the carbon emission rates of IPCC RCP 8.5 (this RCP is equivalent to the old SRES most fossil intensive variations of A1-A2 families). We've add approx. 120 ppmv CO2 atm since the pre-industrial period, we're pretty sure that we can add the same quantity with "reasonable" market prices for fossil fuels, but beyond that, it's quite speculative. Price is not just determined by extraction capacity, but also supply/demand ratio and EROEI, as noted in #30. The more energy you need to extract and refine an energy source, the less you leave for its final (eg socio-economical) use.
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  47. I know China imports coking coal but it has a hell of a lot of thermal coal. Furthermore as price goes up, there are very large estimate resources that could be upgraded to reserves as they become economic. Praying that we will run out of coal before seriously damaging climate doesnt isnt prudent policy. The best chance for not extracting those coals would be an alternative cheaper energy source.
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  48. @47 Mattj - my favourite analogy again:

    How do you make turkeys vote for Christmas?

    Voters hold the keys in a democracy, and as the majority of them vote selfishly according to their economic conditions, the people they elect will always be mandated to pursue disaster.

    If voters are informed that doing X will definitely lead to Y if action Z isn't taken might just be able to lead to some positive results, but Easter Island springs to mind.

    Actively encouraging and investing in markets for alternative energies is a way forward, even if initially expensive.
    Considering externalities, I'd argue that leaving coal in the ground is worth more than digging it up.
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  49. The issue that I think no one has raised yet is the utter dependence of agriculture on the availability of cheap oil. A farmer I know spends more than $28,000 dollars every three months to farm 800 hectares of arable. And remember there's no tax on agricultural (red) diesel. The cost of oil impacts on every aspect of his work: for ploughing, planting, spraying, fertilising, irrigation, harvesting, and often drying his crops -- and that's before they've been transported away for processing.

    There are many people who believe that the unrest in the Middle East since the beginning of last year was/is largely a response to rising food prices. This was certainly the cause of food riots in the Far east in 2007. Imagine living in a country where the average person needs to spend 50% of their income on food, and then imagine what happens when world oil prices rise. The saying 'we're nine meals from anarchy' has an awful ring of truth to it.

    And then they tell us there will be 9bn people on the planet by 2050...

    I know I've not provided links but I encourage folks to do a bit of their own research on this topic. Here are a few phrases to google that will start you off uncovering the evidence...

    food riots far east 2007
    food prices arab spring
    oil costs in farming
    nine meals from anarchy
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  50. The only short-term solution I see to get us off oil is Helium-3. This gas isotope can power fusion reactors that actually work. a Ton of it could power a major city for several months. The only problem is that there is almost none on the earth, but there is enough on the moon to power our current civilization for a thousand years, and there is much more on asteroids and in the atmospheres of the gas giant planets. It is estimated that it would cost 15Billion USD to build a self-sufficient moon base that could send HE-3 back to earth, more than a bargain for any country that takes the risk. This is an option that I haven't seen much intrest in by renewable energy experts.
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