(A continuation of Monday’s post.)
In this second part of my look at The Hirsch Report, I’d like to focus on the advice and conclusions Dr. Hirsch and his colleagues offered, as they now apply to current conditions.
“It is possible that peaking may not occur for several decades, but it is also possible that peaking may occur in the near future. “We are thus faced with a daunting risk management problem:
• On the one hand, mitigation initiated soon would be premature if peaking is still several decades away.
• On the other hand, if peaking is imminent, failure to initiate mitigation quickly will have significant economic and social costs to the U.S. and the world.
“The two risks are asymmetric:
• Mitigation actions initiated prematurely will be costly and could result in a poor use of resources.
• Late initiation of mitigation may result in severe consequences.” [p. 59-60]
Given the magnitude of the transition away from a fossil fuel-based economy to one in all likelihood requiring combinations of alternative sources of energy—depending on the region and industry—it’s fair to wonder whether any mitigation efforts can be considered “premature” at this point. With 70% of our transportation needs currently being met by fossil fuels, the effort to convert and/or implement alternative plans to satisfy that personal and commercial demand alone will require years of effort … more than a decade in all probability. At this point, absent some magical intervention by energy angels, we are simply too late into the game to prepare ourselves for an effortless shift away from fossil fuels.
That being the case, the sooner we begin the process of planning and implementing (with due regard for the testing and ramping up of new sources of energy), the fewer problems we will nonetheless have to contend with, and the lesser their severity … I hope. It makes no sense to delay for any reason at this point, as we can be certain that there will be some disruptions to our economy, industrial production, and lifestyles as the full brunt of declining oil production seeps inexorably into almost every facet of our ways of life.
There are almost no legitimate assessments which suggest we’re still decades away from Peak Oil. Any time frame shorter than that will be a problem. Let’s not add more problems on purpose because of ignorance or delusion that a rescue is just around the corner, or that we can afford to wait. We can’t.
While we still have at least a sufficient supply of fossil fuel resources, let’s begin the process of re-designing/re-creating our transportation and industrial infrastructures to accommodate alternative energies. Diverting existing resources to those efforts will cause enough hardship as it is. Let’s not make it any worse for ourselves by waiting for the resource pie to get even smaller.
The Hirsch Report offered up a series of “Wildcards” (all from p. 63) which might have the effect of either minimizing the adverse consequences of Peak Oil (“Upsides”), or making it much worse (“Downsides”). I’ll offer a comment or two on each, starting with his “Upsides” in this post. I’ll cover the “Downsides” in my next post.
“The pessimists are wrong again and peaking does not occur for many decades.”
The simple answer is that this wish and hope is extremely unlikely at this point. I’ve yet to come across a single credible report from any authoritative source suggesting anything of the kind. Given that the International Energy Agency ‘s World Energy Outlook 2010 report concluded that Peak Oil occurred five years ago, this is probably not a good bet. (See this and this.)
“Middle East oil reserves are much higher than publicly stated.”
After decades of already-questionable representations and a complete inability for outside sources to verify those stated reserves, we shouldn’t be counting on more magical discoveries or even a half-rational explanation as to how Middle East reserves magically increased by substantial amounts when OPEC production quotas were changed in the 1980s to tie in with stated reserves: higher reserves = more oil allowed to be sold = more revenue. Funny how that all worked out….
“A number of new super-giant oil fields are found and brought into production, well before oil peaking might otherwise have occurred.”
After decades of exploration with all the advanced technology available (and several decades of demand exceeding discoveries—see this), it would be borderline delusional to think that there might still be any such fields remaining. Most recent discoveries of “giant” oil fields turn out to be not nearly as impressive when those annoying facts are added to the discussion.
“High world oil prices over a sustained period (a decade or more) induce a higher level of structural conservation and energy efficiency.”
While energy efficiency (including higher mileage standards) are more frequently discussed, there are indications that the auto industry is already balking at raising mileage standards, and that consumers are not exactly racing to purchase the most fuel-efficient automobiles. With one of our major political parties having already taken the oh-so-mature and visionary step of returning Styrofoam packaging to the House of Representatives’ cafeteria rather than continuing to use recyclable materials (they sure showed us, right?), the education process is a long way from being complete.
“The U.S. and other nations decide to institute significantly more stringent fuel efficiency standards well before world oil peaking.”
A legitimate question to ask is: What’s the likelihood of getting any such agreement at this point? We can’t get everyone (meaning the fact-free GOP) to get on board with greenhouse gas emission standards … we can’t even get them to accept climate facts! “Drill, baby, drill” sums up their energy policy … facts about its at-best questionable value as a solution notwithstanding, of course.
“World economic and population growth slows and future demand is much less than anticipated.”
A possibility, of course. One has to wonder if slowing economic growth is what any of us should be actively rooting for, however. The truth is that it’s likely going to happen in any event. I’m advocating that we ought to actually plan ahead for that eventuality rather than just “count” on it as a possible solution to Peak Oil. I won’t go down the road of population growth except to state that it might be wise for at least some of our leaders here—and across the planet, for that matter—to at least wonder once in a while just how many resources they think this planet has left to provide for an approaching nine billion citizens.
“China and India decide to institute vehicle efficiency standards and other energy efficiency requirements, reducing the rate of growth of their oil requirements.”
Clearly this is not beyond the realm of possibility (and certainly China has taken many steps already in that direction as it is, exhibiting an understanding about the need for energy efficiency and the future which seems notably lacking here in the States—highlighted by a recent Pew Research Center report indicating that China now accounts for almost half of the world’s solar modules and wind turbines). That option alone won’t do the trick, however. But any contributions from major population and energy-consumption regions are a step in the right direction.
“Oil prices stay at a high enough level on a sustained basis so that industry begins construction of substitute fuels plants well before oil peaking.”
Two words: too late. Besides, sustained high fuel prices will curtail demand, which curtails profits, which curtails incentives for investments, which….
“Huge new reserves of natural gas are discovered, a portion of which is converted to liquid fuels.” See this recent post.
“Some kind of scientific breakthrough comes into commercial use, mitigating oil demand well before oil production peaks.”
Two words: too late. For all the astonishing technological breakthroughs mankind has introduced into the marketplace, hoping for that breakthrough here and now which will quickly replace a substantial majority of the 80+ million barrels of oil we use each and every day borders on the insane. Hoping for it to even slowly replace that oil is not much better. Certainly there is a great deal of research and innovation taking place as I write this (not nearly enough in the United States, unfortunately … tough to do when funding is reduced because the Magic Economic Fairy has decided that doing less for our future prospects is the best way to ensure more for our future), but we are many, many years away from successful invention, production, testing, implementation, and full commercialization of anything that could do the trick. Miracles do happen now and then, but if that’s our primary strategy, we are in some deep sh_t.
Crisis, or opportunity?
To be continued….