Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Slow Apocalypse Now

Our political system is determined to ignore the immense dangers of global climate change, but if James Murray and David King are right, they will have a harder time ignoring peak oil, because it's already here.

As they point out, in spite of the sharp jump in petroleum prices since 2005, global production has not increased. We're stuck at 75 million barrels a day globally, and the rate of production just doesn't respond to prices. Supply is totally inelastic, which is why the price has been so volatile. And forget about the Canadian tar sands and Brazilian offshore oil and all that saving us -- they can't even make up for the ongoing depletion of existing oil fields. To meet the The US Energy Information Administration projection of a 30% increase in production by 2030, they write:

If realistic declines of 5% per year continue, we would need new fields yielding more than 64 million barrels per day — roughly equivalent to today's total production. In our view, this is very unlikely to happen.

Non-conventional oil won't make up the difference. Production of oil derived from Canada's tar sands — sometimes called the 'oil junkie's last fix' — is expected to reach just 4.7 million barrels per day by 2035.

In fact, they don't think oil production will increase at all. It will likely decline. And the current bubble in natural gas production is almost over. Those fracking fields? They only last a few years.

The consequences for our civilization are, frankly, appalling. You might feel you can take some comfort that carbon emissions probably won't meet worse case scenarios, but they will continue, and the planet will continue to warm, even as struggles over petroleum resources grow more desperate and, quite likely, more violent. The reason is that we just aren't doing anything serious about this. The economy runs on fossil fuel and it can't grow or even keep going without it.

Taxes on billionaires, regulatory uncertainty, and Kenyan Muslim socialist health care aren't what's stopping us. It's peak oil.

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