Skip to content

Peak Oil Matters

A fresh perspective on the concept of peak oil and the challenges we face

Archive

Tag: oil-based products

If you read nothing else about peak oil in these next few days, this is the one: continue reading…

104_0011

 

 

 

 

 

Oil plays an essential role in almost everything that touches our everyday lives. From the food we eat to the means by which we transport ourselves, our goods, and our services, to what we grow, build, have, own, need, and do, oil is almost always an important element. But the painful truth now and soon is that the ready supply of oil and gas that we almost always take for granted is on its way to becoming not-so-ready—recent production increases notwithstanding. continue reading…

121_2174

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oil plays an essential role in almost everything that touches our everyday lives. From the food we eat to the means by which we transport ourselves, our goods, and our services, to what we grow, build, have, own, need, and do, oil is almost always an important element. But the painful truth now and soon is that the ready supply of oil and gas that we almost always take for granted is on its way to becoming not-so-ready—recent production increases notwithstanding. continue reading…

101_0016

 

 

 

 

 

Oil plays an essential role in almost everything that touches our everyday lives. From the food we eat to the means by which we transport ourselves, our goods, and our services, to what we grow, build, have, own, need, and do, oil is almost always an important element. But the painful truth now and soon is that the ready supply of oil and gas that we almost always take for granted is on its way to becoming not-so-ready—recent production increases notwithstanding.

What happens when there’s not enough to meet all of our demands, to say nothing of those of every other nation—including the many countries seeking more growth and prosperity? What sacrifices will we be called upon to make? Which products will no longer be as readily available? Which services? Who decides? What will be decided? Who delivers that message to the designers and producers and shippers and end users? What’s their Plan B? And how will we respond when decisions are taken out of our hands? Where exactly will the dominoes tumble?

There is nothing on the horizon that will work as an adequate substitute for the efficiencies and low cost and ease of accessibility that oil has provided us. We simply do not have the means to make that happen—not the technological capabilities, not the personnel, not the industries, not the leadership … yet. Clearly, we do not have enough time to do it all with effortless ease and minimal disruptions.

Piecemeal approaches that address some small aspect of need for some short period of time in some limited geographical area for just a few consumers is in the end a monumental waste of limited resources, time, and effort. We can’t wait until we’re up to our eyeballs in Peak Oil’s impact to start figuring out what to do. We’re too close as it is. We’re going to have to be much better, much wiser, and much more focused. **

Here’s the latest contribution to my Peak Oil’s Impact series—observations and commentary on how Peak Oil’s influence will be felt in little, never-give-it-thought, day-to-day aspects of the conventional crude oil-based Life As We’ve Known It. Changes in all that we do, use, own, make, transport, etc., etc., are inevitable. A little food for thought….

For a few years, I attempted to play golf. I attempted well; played poorly. Golf is not something one does on occasion and expect to be anything other than terrible. I’m Exhibit A.

Still, there are worse ways to spend a pleasant spring or summer day than to walk alongside well-manicured and relatively pristine woodland areas.

Until I did just a bit of research, I was not aware that both golf balls [urethane] and golf bags use petroleum as an “ingredient” in their manufacturing processes. Certainly transportation and delivery of those products, along with countless others, make use of fossil fuels in some manner and at some point in the distribution chain.

A ten second internet search suggests that a box of a dozen quality golf balls can cost upwards of $40.00. One site reported that more than 1.3 million balls are lost each day. That’s a lot of money and a lot of production and a lot of energy inputs for items that are lost.

I could, and probably will, write more than just a few paragraphs about golfing and the many aspects of the game which depend at least in some part on fossil fuels for their existence.

But in the interests of keeping these Impact posts short and to the point, I’ll offer this to the millions of avid and not-so-avid golfers:

When the more widespread effects of the peak in oil production is clear to all, meaning less of a readily-available supply and higher prices for what is left, where on the all-important priority scale will the manufacture of golf balls land? My own guess: quite low. Supply and demand then kicks in. Less of a supply; higher prices.

What will that do not just to your golf outings (given that more expensive golf balls will be far from the only impact Peak Oil imposes on the sport) but to golf itself? There will be greater tragedies and sacrifices to be sure, but the enjoyment golf contributes to one’s well-being will be diminished. The cascade of similar impacts in other aspects of daily living won’t help.

Not earth-shattering in and of itself, but worth pondering. Golfers won’t be alone in their misery. Might be nice to consider some alternatives before we have no choice….

~ My Photo: The Ocean Course at the Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay, CA – 09.15.04

** Opening paragraphs adapted from prior posts:

http://peakoilmatters.com/2010/02/15/looking-ahead-to-peak-oil-transition-part-iv/
http://peakoilmatters.com/2010/02/07/looking-ahead-to-peak-oil-transition-part-i/
http://peakoilmatters.com/2010/12/13/thoughts-on-peak-oil-planning/
http://peakoilmatters.com/2011/02/14/peak-oil-a-new-direction-pt-5/
http://peakoilmatters.com/2010/02/25/peak-oil-infrastructure-more-to-discuss-part-ii/

 

115_1585

 

 

 

 

 

Oil plays an essential role in almost everything that touches our everyday lives. From the food we eat to the means by which we transport ourselves, our goods, and our services, to what we grow, build, have, own, need, and do, oil is almost always an important element. But the painful truth now and soon is that the ready supply of oil and gas that we almost always take for granted is on its way to becoming not-so-ready—recent production increases notwithstanding.

What happens when there’s not enough to meet all of our demands, to say nothing of those of every other nation—including the many countries seeking more growth and prosperity? What sacrifices will we be called upon to make? Which products will no longer be as readily available? Which services? Who decides? What will be decided? Who delivers that message to the designers and producers and shippers and end users? What’s their Plan B? And how will we respond when decisions are taken out of our hands? Where exactly will the dominoes tumble?

There is nothing on the horizon that will work as an adequate substitute for the efficiencies and low cost and ease of accessibility that oil has provided us. We simply do not have the means to make that happen—not the technological capabilities, not the personnel, not the industries, not the leadership … yet. Clearly, we do not have enough time to do it all with effortless ease and minimal disruptions.

Piecemeal approaches that address some small aspect of need for some short period of time in some limited geographical area for just a few consumers is in the end a monumental waste of limited resources, time, and effort. We can’t wait until we’re up to our eyeballs in Peak Oil’s impact to start figuring out what to do. We’re too close as it is. We’re going to have to be much better, much wiser, and much more focused. **

Here’s the latest contribution to my Peak Oil’s Impact series—observations and commentary on how Peak Oil’s influence will be felt in little, never-give-it-thought, day-to-day aspects of the conventional crude oil-based Life As We’ve Known It. Changes in all that we do, use, own, make, transport, etc., etc., are inevitable. A little food for thought….

With baseball season upon us, I thought it might make sense to dust off and borrow portions of the very first Impact post I wrote nearly three years ago. Edited for clarity, updated just a bit, and restricted to portions relevant to baseball, here it is:

It’s easy enough to mention the fact that balls, and helmets, and cleats are all made with crude oil as an essential component—either in the product itself or used to create/deliver/transport some materials before and after manufacturing is completed. It’s also safe to assume that once we begin dealing with curtailed availability of fossil fuels, some needs will have lower priority than others. Ambulances will probably have access to fossil fuel-based crude oil (gasoline) before manufacturers get the supplies and equipment they need. Obviously there will be ripple effects across the industry when this happens, and the end users (from the junior leaguers and the neighborhood kids all the way up to the professionals) will also have some problems to contend with: either the products will become less available, or they will become prohibitively expensive for many along the chain of users. What happens?

What happens when high school sports programs with limited funds as it is have to replace cleats and helmets and other accessories and their prices have doubled, or tripled, or the helmets and cleats are simply not being manufactured any longer on a scale sufficient enough to meet demand? What happens then?

Let’s also take a broader view. How do teams (high school, college, the pros) deal with travel issues and schedules when gas is much too expensive to enable teams to transport their players even short distances, or when air travel is severely curtailed and wildly expensive because not enough jet fuel is being processed to meet demand (and airports are shuttered because air travel has diminished markedly*), or when the fans cannot afford to put the gasoline in their vehicles that in the past allowed them to attend the games without a second thought?

What happens when half, or a third, or one-tenth the number of fans can afford to attend games because budgeting all that money to drive to an in- or out-of-state stadium no longer makes financial sense? Pure supply and demand: when demand continues and supply is reduced, prices go up. Decisions are then made about where to allocate funds. Does a trip across the state to attend a Red Sox game make more sense than paying for your children’s basic needs for the next few months?

Where will the revenue to pay players come from when the majority of fans are no longer traveling to see the games either because limited gas supplies are now being allocated or it’s simply become too expensive for “frivolous” trips? How do owners continue to fund their vast operations (office staff, marketing, scouting staffs, minor leagues, utility services for the stadiums and training facilities, and on and on it goes)? What happens to the vendors and other suppliers when the majority of fans just stop attending … permanently?

For all their current revenue, what happens to the Red Sox or Yankees when they are scheduled to travel to Tampa Bay, or Texas, or to the West Coast, and it costs a small fortune in fuel costs alone for charter planes? What rail services currently exist that offer a practical alternative? Exactly how far out does the ripple effect extend?

No organization, no group of individuals no matter what their financial status, and no industry that currently utilizes fossil fuels to any extent will escape the effects of Peak Oil. For all the magic and excitement and joy of athletic events, sports will suffer the impact of Peak Oil every bit as much (if not more) than many or most other industries.

What happens then?

~ My Photo: taken at Fenway Park, Boston – 05.05.06

** Opening paragraphs adapted from prior posts:

http://peakoilmatters.com/2010/02/15/looking-ahead-to-peak-oil-transition-part-iv/
http://peakoilmatters.com/2010/02/07/looking-ahead-to-peak-oil-transition-part-i/
http://peakoilmatters.com/2010/12/13/thoughts-on-peak-oil-planning/
http://peakoilmatters.com/2011/02/14/peak-oil-a-new-direction-pt-5/
http://peakoilmatters.com/2010/02/25/peak-oil-infrastructure-more-to-discuss-part-ii/

 

130_3033

 

 

 

 

 

Oil plays an essential role in almost everything that touches our everyday lives. From the food we eat to the means by which we transport ourselves, our goods, and our services, to what we grow, build, have, own, need, and do, oil is almost always an important element. But the painful truth now and soon is that the ready supply of oil and gas that we almost always take for granted is on its way to becoming not-so-ready—recent production increases notwithstanding.

What happens when there’s not enough to meet all of our demands, to say nothing of those of every other nation—including the many countries seeking more growth and prosperity? What sacrifices will we be called upon to make? Which products will no longer be as readily available? Which services? Who decides? What will be decided? Who delivers that message to the designers and producers and shippers and end users? What’s their Plan B? And how will we respond when decisions are taken out of our hands? Where exactly will the dominoes tumble?

There is nothing on the horizon that will work as an adequate substitute for the efficiencies and low cost and ease of accessibility that oil has provided us. We simply do not have the means to make that happen—not the technological capabilities, not the personnel, not the industries, not the leadership … yet. Clearly, we do not have enough time to do it all with effortless ease and minimal disruptions.

Piecemeal approaches that address some small aspect of need for some short period of time in some limited geographical area for just a few consumers is in the end a monumental waste of limited resources, time, and effort. We can’t wait until we’re up to our eyeballs in Peak Oil’s impact to start figuring out what to do. We’re too close as it is. We’re going to have to be much better, much wiser, and much more focused. **

Here’s the latest contribution to my Peak Oil’s Impact series—observations and commentary on how Peak Oil’s influence will be felt in little, never-give-it-thought, day-to-day aspects of the conventional crude oil-based Life As We’ve Known It. Changes in all that we do, use, own, make, transport, etc., etc., are inevitable. A little food for thought….

My daughter awoke one morning with the very same nasty winter cold I suffered through in early January, and the one my wife labored to overcome as I wrote this (several weeks ago), seven days after the first unpleasant signs made their appearance.

Along with the usual assortment of juices and tea, my daughter was also making liberal use of over-the-counter cold remedies and nasal decongestants—the same ones my wife and I relied on. Nothing fancy, just the typical array of suggested aids to ease her through those next few days.

Fertilizers are of course a staple in growing crops. Harvested oranges and good old American OJ don’t get from field to my refrigerator without some fossil fuels along the way. Tea does not grow in individual tea bags and on trees in my back yard.

The machinery and production processes which get those food items from there to here don’t run on pixie dust, either. A lot of people are involved in the entire production chain, and a lot of others are involved in creating and delivering the equipment which makes it possible for you and me to reach into a cabinet or a refrigerated shelf to get us those beverages. None of those endeavors happen with fossil fuels; none of those jobs are free from at least some measure of dependency on fossil fuels.

So too are most over-the-counter medications produced with at least some fossil fuel as an ingredient, odd/disgusting as that may seem. (Ever look at a container of Vaseline or VapoRub?  Hint: petroleum jelly….)

If some petroleum derivative is needed in producing these handy medications to expedite the recovery process or at the very least alleviate some of the discomfort as these afflictions run their course, what happens as the price of ingredients needed for these products rise? When those prices rise and supplies tighten as Peak Oil dictates they will, what priority will we assign to these medications and their innumerable competitors?

A tragedy if we have to let a common cold bother us for a few days without some or maybe even all of the remedies we rely upon without a thought? Probably not, but being more miserable than we’re accustomed to being as we battle colds and flu’s isn’t something any of us eagerly await. A small inconvenience in the big picture.

But when prices rise, inferior qualities attempt to substitute for these types of everyday products, and there’s less of those substitutes to begin with, so small inconveniences will start piling up. On a long list of adaptations, cold remedy shortages may not seem like such a big deal. But if we’re not giving any thought to these matters now, there will be a long, long line of people more than a bit annoyed that “leaders” didn’t do anything to prepare us.

A strategy, yes. A good one? You decide.

~ My Photo: Atlantis, the Bahamas – 02.08.08

** Opening paragraphs adapted from prior posts:

http://peakoilmatters.com/2010/02/15/looking-ahead-to-peak-oil-transition-part-iv/
http://peakoilmatters.com/2010/02/07/looking-ahead-to-peak-oil-transition-part-i/
http://peakoilmatters.com/2010/12/13/thoughts-on-peak-oil-planning/
http://peakoilmatters.com/2011/02/14/peak-oil-a-new-direction-pt-5/
http://peakoilmatters.com/2010/02/25/peak-oil-infrastructure-more-to-discuss-part-ii/

 

IMGP4276

 

 

 

 

 

Oil plays an essential role in almost everything that touches our everyday lives. From the food we eat to the means by which we transport ourselves, our goods, and our services, to what we grow, build, have, own, need, and do, oil is almost always an important element. But the painful truth now and soon is that the ready supply of oil and gas that we almost always take for granted is on its way to becoming not-so-ready—recent production increases notwithstanding.

What happens when there’s not enough to meet all of our demands, to say nothing of those of every other nation—including the many countries seeking more growth and prosperity? What sacrifices will we be called upon to make? Which products will no longer be as readily available? Which services? Who decides? What will be decided? Who delivers that message to the designers and producers and shippers and end users? What’s their Plan B? And how will we respond when decisions are taken out of our hands? Where exactly will the dominoes tumble?

There is nothing on the horizon that will work as an adequate substitute for the efficiencies and low cost and ease of accessibility that oil has provided us. We simply do not have the means to make that happen—not the technological capabilities, not the personnel, not the industries, not the leadership … yet. Clearly, we do not have enough time to do it all with effortless ease and minimal disruptions.

Piecemeal approaches that address some small aspect of need for some short period of time in some limited geographical area for just a few consumers is in the end a monumental waste of limited resources, time, and effort. We can’t wait until we’re up to our eyeballs in Peak Oil’s impact to start figuring out what to do. We’re too close as it is. We’re going to have to be much better, much wiser, and much more focused. **

Here’s the latest contribution to my Peak Oil’s Impact series—observations and commentary on how Peak Oil’s influence will be felt in little, never-give-it-thought, day-to-day aspects of the conventional crude oil-based Life As We’ve Known It. Changes in all that we do, use, own, make, transport, etc., etc., are inevitable. A little food for thought….

For those of us in northern climes, winter’s cold and its effects must be addressed in a variety of ways. It’s not always just us and family members who require adaptation when the temperatures plummet. Ignoring basic auto maintenance can prove to be costly—and a serious inconvenience.

Science lesson: water freezes when the temperature drops below 32 degrees. You’re welcome. Internal combustion engines (i.e., your cars) require water in the cooling system to keep the engine from … bursting into flames and other annoying behaviors. (Antifreeze of course also allows for water to reach temperatures above the normal point of boiling.) But if we recall our science lesson, in winter water freezes. And that’s why we have antifreeze, and why we need to purchase a container or two and have it on hand during the winter. Antifreeze + water = no freezing of said water.

Also worth noting is that antifreeze’s usefulness is not limited to automobile engines.

According to the EPA: “Ethylene glycol is the most widely used automotive cooling-system antifreeze, although methanol, ethanol, isopropyl alcohol, and propylene glycol* are also used. In automotive windshield-washer fluids, an alcohol (e.g., methanol) is usually added to keep the mixture from freezing; it also acts as a solvent to help clean the glass. The brine used in some commercial refrigeration systems is an antifreeze mixture.”

* Antifreeze is also quite toxic, and disposal is typically regulated by state laws. The good news, as Wikipedia adds, is that propylene glycol, much less toxic than ethylene glycol, is gradually replacing the ethylene. “As confirmation of its relative non-toxicity, the FDA allows propylene glycol to be added to a large number of processed foods, including ice cream, frozen custard, and baked goods.” Yum!

As the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry helpfully informs us: “Propylene glycol is a synthetic liquid substance that absorbs water. Propylene glycol is also used to make polyester compounds, and as a base for deicing solutions. Propylene glycol is used by the chemical, food, and pharmaceutical industries as an antifreeze when leakage might lead to contact with food. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has classified propylene glycol as an additive that is “generally recognized as safe” for use in food. It is used to absorb extra water and maintain moisture in certain medicines, cosmetics, or food products. It is a solvent for food colors and flavors, and in the paint and plastics industries. Propylene glycol is also used to create artificial smoke or fog used in fire-fighting training and in theatrical productions. Other names for propylene glycol are 1,2-dihydroxypropane, 1,2-propanediol, methyl glycol, and trimethyl glycol. Propylene glycol is clear, colorless, slightly syrupy liquid at room temperature. It may exist in air in the vapor form, although propylene glycol must be heated or briskly shaken to produce a vapor. Propylene glycol is practically odorless and tasteless.”

If you follow Wikipedia’s links, it’s only a few clicks away from learning that the propylene glycol is derived from Propylene oxide which in turn is derived from Propene. “Propene is produced from fossil fuels—petroleum, natural gas, and, to a much lesser extent, coal. Propene is a byproduct of oil refining and natural gas processing. During oil refining, ethylene, propene, and other compounds are produced as a result of cracking larger hydrocarbon molecules to produce hydrocarbons more in demand.”

And so once again I ask the very same question I’ve asked before: When the supply of depleting conventional crude oil continues to decline, and reliance turns to the inadequate supply of inferior quality, more expensive, harder to come by unconventional sources such as the tight shale formations in the U.S. and the Canadian tar sands cheered on by certain factions of the energy and media industries, what gets prioritized in such a way that every cog of these multiple supply chains are still supplied at current levels and relative costs?

If that does happen, what gets sacrificed as a result?

How much more difficult is it going to be in the years to come to sort all of this out and develop alternative means of providing these goods and services if we’re not having the conversations now with real-life facts to guide us—before we’re having serious problems? Waiting is a strategy, but it’s usually not a very good one.

 ~ My Photo: A 1952 Packard which the owner won on a $2.00 raffle ticket

** Opening paragraphs adapted from prior posts:

http://peakoilmatters.com/2010/02/15/looking-ahead-to-peak-oil-transition-part-iv/
http://peakoilmatters.com/2010/02/07/looking-ahead-to-peak-oil-transition-part-i/
http://peakoilmatters.com/2010/12/13/thoughts-on-peak-oil-planning/
http://peakoilmatters.com/2011/02/14/peak-oil-a-new-direction-pt-5/
http://peakoilmatters.com/2010/02/25/peak-oil-infrastructure-more-to-discuss-part-ii/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the course of conducting research for a book I’m now working on, I came across this post. After editing it to focus on just a few key issues, along with a tweak or two for clarity, I thought it might be worth another look.

What happens when the inevitability of declining resources begins to affect us all? How will an ongoing failure to inform—and the unnecessary and damaging delays that result—help anyone?

Peak Oil matters.

~ ~ ~

We are on the brink of a new energy order. Over the next few decades, our reserves of oil will start to run out and it is imperative that governments in both producing and consuming nations prepare now for that time. We should not cling to crude down to the last drop – we should leave oil before it leaves us. That means new approaches must be found soon….. The really important thing is that even though we are not yet running out of oil, we are running out of time.”  – Fatih Birol, Economist – International Energy Agency, 2008

With the IEA having now admitted Peak Oil occurred several years ago, the urgency of addressing the myriad impacts of having reached the summit of oil production is all the more pronounced. As I and others have discussed, it’s going to take many years for us to fully move away from our longstanding reliance on fossil fuels to power our economy and support our lifestyles. Unfortunately, we’re already years behind in preparing and doing.

I have on multiple occasions raised the issue that in order for us to have some hope of successfully transitioning away from fossil fuels (and despite continuing opposition in some quarters about the need of an active and involved federal government), it is only from strategies as created, directed, supported, and financed by our federal government that this hope can find fulfillment. To be sure, much of what needs to be done will be provided by the private sector—as shaped and guided more specifically by local or regional entities. One or two approaches aren’t the answer! But without a national strategy and framework for deciding on priorities, we’ll be confronted with a hopeless mix of ad hoc attempted solutions from literally thousands of directions. Chaos, anyone?

In short, 200 years of abundant energy have allowed us to build an extremely complex civilization based on dozens of interrelated systems without which we can no longer live – at least not in the style to which we have become accustomed. Food production and distribution, water, sewage, solid waste removal, communications, healthcare, transportation, public safety, education — the list of systems vital-to-life and general wellbeing goes on and on.
Those who believe that ten years from now we will be able to get along with much reduced government have little appreciation of how modern civilization works or how bad things are going to get as fossil fuel energy fades from our lives….
Whether one likes it or not, the size and complexity of the coming transition will be so great and unprecedented and there will be so much at stake that only governments will have the authority and power to cope with the multitude of problems that are about to emerge. Be it heresy in some as yet unknowing circles; all this is going to require a massive transfer of resources from private hands to public ones. [1]

That’s the reality. We can continue to debate it ad nauseum, but in the end, we will have no choice. How quickly can we muster the intelligence and courage and wisdom to understand what is at stake—and how widespread will be the changes—so that we take advantage of the resources we’ll need right now, rather than coming to the same conclusion only after needless ideological battles?

Thousands and thousands of items are made from and/or dependent on oil for their existence. When the true decline of oil sets in (many suggest we’re on a several years long “plateau” of production as the precursor to experiencing actual limitations in availability), which items should first be eliminated?

How do we make the assessment as to which products should no longer be produced? Who delivers that message to the designers and producers and shippers and end users? What’s their Plan B?

Or if doing away with product lines entirely is not the strategy, then what percentage of production should be curtailed? What criteria will be employed in making determinations that other products or services or consumers will have priority? Who among us will volunteer to make do without some items so as to permit others with the same needs to enjoy them instead? How well is that going to work if we’re all instead flying by the seat of our pants with no guidance whatsoever?

Where do we point fingers for the terrible short-sightedness in failing to invest in research, public transportation, and infrastructure now and how much will that help? What kind of costs will we all have to absorb and endure in years to come when the existing infrastructures will be inefficient and all but useless, and when even more will have to be done in a much shorter period of time to address even bigger problems?

We owe it to ourselves to commit to becoming better informed, because we are most definitely all in this together. My liberal philosophy will no more stave off the adverse impact of declining oil production and fossil fuel availability than will one’s Tea Party inclinations. We all need to move beyond that. Idealistic? Certainly! Necessary? Absolutely!

Of course everyone wants more of the same! Who in their right mind would voluntarily undertake or accept the massive changes Peak Oil suggests we’ll have to endure? But those changes are coming … perhaps not in the usual near future that most of us are limited to considering, but the changes will begin long, long before we’re ready for them. We have a choice to begin the occasionally painful process of adaptation and transition now when we can do so with far less pain than will surely be the case in the years to come, or we can sit tight and hope for the best.

That is a choice. It’s not a good one, but it is a choice.

Are we going to be content to let the marketplace sort all of this out? Do we think that unregulated industries will immediately step to the plate and direct all of this fairly and efficiently on their own? Can we expect that industry leaders will just band together across the nation and put together a coherent plan?

Are we willing to allow a thousand different voices to make decisions based on their own understandably narrower concerns and hope that everyone is coming to the same conclusions so as to maximize the efficacy of these choices? Piecemeal approaches that address some small aspect of need for some short period of time in some limited geographical area for just a few consumers is in the end a monumental waste of limited resources, time, and effort.

As I’ve repeatedly stated: there are no easy, quick, simple, or inexpensive solutions. So too are there no easy, quick, or simple approaches that lead us to the strategies and solutions we’ll have to rely upon. Can we recognize that a nation speaking with one voice in the face of these daunting challenges is indeed our best hope?

We’re going to have to attempt a lot of different solutions from many sources, but we will ultimately be best served if the efforts and strategies and inputs derive from a vision and from plans and determinations that have as their source an informed national agenda. We need to speak up, and we’ll need our national leaders in and out of government to listen and utilize their skills in ways they all too infrequently demonstrate. They too, must expand their vision and express far more courage and wisdom than they typically show us.

The process will take enough time as it is. Let’s not add more problems to the mix.

* My Photo: Tropical Storm Irene at Good Harbor Beach, MA 08.28.11

Sources:

[1] http://www.fcnp.com/commentary/national/7980-the-peak-oil-crisis-the-future-of-government.html; The Peak Oil Crisis: The Future of Government by Tom Whipple – 12.08.10

 

The problem isn’t just political intransigence—it’s that neither political party has made an effort to convince the electorate of the need for change. Without that sort of public discussion, closed-door negotiations are bound to go nowhere.
But while party polarization plays a large part in legislative stalemates, the problem goes deeper. Neither political party has been willing to conduct a sustained conversation with the American people about the real choices we face over the next generation. If large political decisions are to be sustainable, they need to obtain the consent of the people—and it’s hard to see how the current discussion can generate that consent, or even contribute to public education. [1] *

[T]here is an inherent cut-off point approaching – and it is very different from the shocks, jolts, and other experiences that formed our current national paradigm of energy and gas prices.
That is the point that I feel needs to be stressed, and it’s lack of emphasis, in my opinion, is the substantial failure of our energy education. Until this realization is made commonplace, the hardships we will endure (are enduring) won’t make sense, and the obstacles in the way of a logistically sustainable future will not have proper context. The world as we know it was built via cheap, easily transportable, and highly dependable fuel, and that fuel is essentially non-renewable in supply. At present, there is no substitute for fossil fuels in this way, as per the actual capacity to supply us with the energy we need to live in the society we do. [2]

‘Energy literacy’ and ‘peak oil literacy’ should be requirements for pundits – and for citizens more generally. I’ve followed these issues for many years now, and the poor energy knowledge among even the chattering classes and punditry still amazes me. [3]

Attitude Is Good; So Isn’t Understanding

A while back, sifting through some old research material, I came across this November 2010 article by an economist. I thought then, and do so more now, that it was a perfect description for the complete lack of awareness the too-large majority of citizens carry with them about Peak Oil.

… I am denying that the date of the peak is particularly significant and that sometime shortly after the peak we will face any kind of significant social strife, economic collapse, or other major drama. I’m stuck in a ‘business as usual’ pose, because I expect business as usual….
I expect over time petroleum will become expensive relative to other energy sources, and we will substitute away from petroleum and toward alternatives as that happens….Eventually, petroleum will become the niche fuel in an energy economy mostly running on other sources. I don’t expect the social trauma associated with this transition to be any more wrenching than the shift from wood to coal or coal to oil.

The attitude expressed— prevalent still—is certain to cause no small amount of anxiety to the general public in light of observations such as this one:

The hard truth is that there are no good fuel substitutes anymore. Throughout human history, we have always been able to find not just a substitute fuel, but a better one: a cheaper, denser, more abundant one. That is simply no longer the case. One may hope for some miraculous technological breakthrough, and one may simply have faith that the invisible hand will solve our problems, but such thin threads are hardly a reasonable basis for policymaking and forecasting. [4]

I’m a big fan of optimism, and I’ve repeatedly advocated that I think the people of this nation are up to the challenge of taking on the planning and implementation needed to transition to an industrial and personal lifestyle powered by something other than fossil fuels. I’ve also been quite clear that that undertaking is no small feat, will require a significant change in attitude and a healthy dose of realism and courage, along with a full appreciation for what we face, what’s involved, and why we must change just about everything….

An Easy Transition? How?

So when I read from someone presumably more aware of energy factors than the average citizen, I wonder what kind of process is required to just “expect business as usual” in a world where the essential life blood of our industry and progress will be undergoing an inexorable depletion with nearly-inconceivable impact on life as we know it. When dealing with real-life problems affecting billions for years to come, that level of denial and hope isn’t worth much. Knowledge and information are vital … using them wisely even more so.

The notion that we “we will substitute away from petroleum and toward alternatives” is likewise a great attitude to have going in, but to just sit back and wait for all of that to just materialize from the heavens is great if you only plan on sticking around for a few more days.

And what of these “alternatives”? Funding? Research? Planning? Trial and error? Small-scale testing? Large scale testing? Feasibility? Efficiency? Quality? Cost? Time? Mass-production/implementation? I could come up with a dozen more considerations which suggest that a trauma-free transition might be a wee bit more of an issue that denial provides.

Every industry, family, commercial enterprise, social entity, governmental unit, and individual currently using fossil fuels—which we do for almost every product, process, service, and transportation mode owned or depended upon—might realize fairly soon that trauma-free transition will be anything but!

And just how similar is this highly-advanced, technologically-dependent, globalized, overly-populated planet to the wood-burning one dozens of decades ago? Might there be a bit more complexity now?

To scoff at the notion that the world of 2012 will adapt effortlessly to a transition in energy sources on anything approaching the scale mandated when our crude oil supplies are no longer the readily-available resource most of us have never given a thought to is to exhibit a lack of awareness difficult to fathom. Is there a business leader on this planet who shows up for work each day and just “goes with the flow” to see what opportunities might present themselves? Do coaches in any professional sport just advise their players to “show up for the game and we’ll figure out something then”? Why aren’t we planning for Peak Oil?

For the truth of it is that we, in the modern, capitalist, ‘free,’ industrialized world are not very good at saying: ‘No. No, you can’t have that. No, you can’t do that. No, you’ve had your share.’ Very few democracies, and even fewer when feeling the pressure of increasing constraint, have mustered the informed maturity to limit themselves, in part because their underlying philosophical principles were never preoccupied with     prohibitions—just the opposite in fact. Freedom and liberty as we have conceived it (and this part—‘the as we have conceived it’–is crucial to my meaning here) have little demonstrated ability when it comes to self-restraint, especially when it comes to the most pressing issue of consumption. [5]

So we have some issues to contend with, not the least of which is both an education process and an appreciation from the populace that the effects of a peak in crude oil production will leave almost no business, no lifestyle, and no family untouched.

Probably Not Our Best Strategy

In a study I recently discussed here and here in which the emotional and psychological implications were discussed, the authors offered this observation about our collective attempts to deny that we face serious energy challenges ahead:

We suggest that, if and when serious oil shortages become a reality, three defense mechanisms: denial, establishment of scapegoats, and an increased need to affiliate are likely to be employed to facilitate the continuance of this American myth of plenty and perception of invincibility. [p.2149]

We suggest that, despite continued scientific evidence of peak oil, oil depletion, and declining EROI, the U.S. populace will continue to exhibit these psychological and sociological defense mechanisms on a broad societal scale until sufficiently clear, irrefutable evidence to the contrary brings about a shift in perception and changes in actions. As the gap between increasing U.S. oil consumption rates, declining EROI of oil, and oil depletion expands, demands for government intervention programs (designed to combat growing unemployment and poverty) will probably increase. At the same time, economic paucity and recession will result in calls for decreased government spending cutting these very programs. As a result, the division between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ in American society will likely bolster affiliation within sub-groups on different sides of the issue. The influence of intense and unabated individual and societal stress created by the inevitable decreasing quantity and EROI of oil will likely adversely impact the interdependencies and linkages that bind society together.…
… [T]he leaders and political party in power are likely to seek expanded influence and increased structure resulting in larger, more centralized political power. The American populace, driven by fears of economic and social repercussions resulting from oil depletion, will probably experience lethargy and an unconscious desire to be guided by those in positions of power. The gravity of the impending energy crisis, and the possibility that there may not be an adequate alternative to oil, will likely result in discordance between the American populace and those in positions of leadership. It is probable that this discordance will result in disillusionment within the populace and expanded and increasingly mistrusted and maligned centralized leadership. [p. 2150]

Are these authors correct? I’m not qualified to answer, but a diligent reading of the information they presented suggests they did not pull these notions out of a hat. So are we willing to ignore information and advice like this and instead trust the words of those who have a vested financial interest in preserving business and energy-production (such as it is) status quo? Who wins and who loses? (Hint: most of us won’t be winning….)

We do have choices.

* [Even though this quote references a discussion on the U.S. economy, its principle is no less applicable to any legislation greatly impacting the nation.]

* My Photo: Coffins Beach, Gloucester MA July 2010

Sources:

[1] http://www.tnr.com/article/the-vital-center/101945/washington-post-debt-crisis-narrative; Why America’s Public, Not Its Parties, Are the Key to Fixing the Deficit by William Galston – 03.23.12
[2] http://theenergycollective.com/jesse-parent/80287/substantial-failure-energy-education; A Substantial Failure’ Of Energy Education by Jesse Parent – 03.23.12
[3] http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/news/article/2012/03/toward-energy-literacy; Toward Energy Literacy: Our “Peak Oil” Reality by Tam Hunt – 03.12.12
[4] http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/energy-futurist/our-energy-future-golden-age-or-stone-age/143; Our energy future: Golden Age or Stone Age? by Chris Nelder – 10.26.11
[5] http://www.energybulletin.net/stories/2011-12-23/politics-third-rail-peak-oil-analysis; Politics: the third-rail of peak oil analysis by Erik Lindberg [original article published by Transition Milwaukee on Fri, 12/23/2011 at: http://transitionmilwaukee.org/profiles/blogs/politics-the-third-rail-of-peak-oil-analysis?xg_source=activity] – 12.23.11

[NOTE: This post is part of an ongoing series (the first from 2010 and from 2011 can be found here and here) whose purpose is to provide tangible examples of what our future might be like in a world where we will no longer have available to us the quality and quantity of fossil fuel energy sources as we have long been accustomed to possessing and using. Some examples will describe significant impacts beyond the most obvious one: less but more expensive gas to power our vehicles.

Other posts will describe routine aspects of daily living that will likely change when producers of goods and services no longer have inexpensive and adequate supplies of the fossil fuel resources they need. I’m certain that the questions I raise will in turn raise other concerns as well. It is only by acknowledging the consequences affecting each of us that we can begin an intelligent national process of planning and implementing new methods of providing the goods and services we’ll need or desire.]

~~~

I don’t know if this is good news or bad, but credit card usage was up in 2011. [1] We’ve all survived another holiday shopping season, and if we’re behaving reasonably, we’ve all decided to hide a credit card or two for a few more weeks as part of our recovery.

I’ll confess that they are handy (as are debit cards, although my wife and I use those only on rare occasions). We’ve pared down the amounts and frequency with which we use them nowadays, but for most of our everyday purchases (gas for the cars, groceries, dry-cleaners, etc) they remain the standard. They are also quite handy in setting up online accounts as well … no fuss, no bother. Just click and pay. Great to have for all that Christmas shopping!

Raw Materials
[Credit] cards are made of several layers of plastic laminated together. The core is commonly made from a plastic resin known as polyvinyl chloride acetate (PVCA). This resin is mixed with opacifying materials, dyes, and plasticizers to give it the proper appearance and consistency. This core material is laminated with thin layers of PVCA or clear plastic materials. These laminates will adhere to the core when applied with     pressure and heat.
A variety of inks or dyes are also used for printing credit cards. These are available in a variety of colors and are designed for use on plastic substrates. Some manufacturers use special magnetic inks to print the magnetic stripe on the back of the card. The inks are made by dispersing metal oxide particles in the appropriate solvents. Additional special printing processes are involved for cards, like VISA, which feature holograms.
The Manufacturing Process
The manufacturing process consists of multiple steps: first the plastic core and laminate materials are compounded and cast into sheet form; then the core is the printed with appropriate information; next the laminates are applied to the core; and finally the assembled sheet is cut into individual cards.
Plastic compounding and molding
1 The plastic for the core sheet is made by melting and mixing polyvinyl chloride acetate with other additives. The blended components are transferred to an extrusion molding apparatus, which forces the molten plastic through a small flat orifice known as a die. As the sheet exits the die, it goes through a series of three rollers stacked on top of each other that pulls the sheet along. These rollers keep the sheet flat and maintain the proper thickness. The sheets may then pass through additional cooling units before being cut into separate sheets by saws, shears, or hot wires. The cut sheets enter a sheet stacker that stacks them into place and stores them for subsequent operations.
2 The laminate films used to coat the core stock are made by a similar extrusion process. These thinner films may be made with a slot cast die process in which a molten plastic film is spread on a casting roller. The roller determines the film’s thickness and width. Upon cooling the films are stored on rolls until ready for use.
Printing
3 The plastic core of the card is printed with text and graphics. This is done using a variety of common silk screen processes. In addition, one of the laminate films may also undergo subsequent operations where it is imprinted with magnetic ink. Alternately, the magnetic stripe may be added by a hot stamping method. The magnetic heads used to code and decode the iron oxide particles can only operate if the magnetic medium is close to the surface of the card, so the metal particles must be placed on top of the laminating layer. Upon completion of the printing process, the core is ready to be laminated.
Lamination
4 Lamination helps protect the finish of the card and increases its strength. In this process, sheets of core stock are fed through a system of rollers. Rolls of laminate stock are located above and below the core stock. These rolls feed the laminate into the vacuum shoes along with the core stock. The vacuum holds the three pieces of plastic together while they travel to a tacking station. At the tacking station a pair of quartz infrared heat lamps warm the upper and lower plastic films. These lamps are backed with reflectors to focus the radiant energy onto a narrow area of the films, which optimizes a smooth bonding of the film to the core stock. The laminate films are then fully bonded to the core stock by pressing with metal platens, which are heated to 266° F (130° C) and applied with a pressure of 166 psi/sq inch. This lamination process may take up to 3 minutes.
Die cutting and embossing
5 After lamination has been completed, the finished assembly is cut and completed by die cutting methods. Each assembly yields a sheet, which is cut into 63 credit cards. This is achieved by first cutting the assembly longitudinally to form seven elongated sections. Each of the seven sections is then cut and trimmed to form nine credit cards. In subsequent operations, the card is embossed with account numbers. The finished cards are then prepared for shipping, usually by attaching the card to a paper letter with adhesive. [2]

There were 1,488,000,000 credit cards in use 2006 and that number is projected to grow to 1,618,000,000 in 2010….
A stack of the 1.5 billion credit cards in use in the U.S. would reach more than 70 miles into space and be almost as tall as 13 Mount Everests….
There were 354 million debit cards in use 2006 and that number is projected to grow to 484 million in 2010. [3]

That is much more than I ever wanted or needed to know about credit card manufacturing, and I’m safe in assuming it’s more than you ever cared to know as well. The above information may be a bit dated, but I’m further assuming that the manufacturing processes remain essentially the same. The economy may have impacted the Census Bureau estimates in the second quote above, but it’s reasonable to assume that here in the U.S. there are still well over one billion credit and debit cards circulating in and out of wallets and purses today.

I couldn’t bring myself to determine the materials needed to obtain, manufacture, supply, transport, dispose of, or market each of the dozens of components required to create a credit card, and who knows how many hundreds of processes and components needed to obtain, manufacture, supply, transport, dispose of, or market each piece of machinery required to get from A to Z in the world of credit card manufacturing. How many workers and suppliers who depend on this industry is beyond my capacity to imagine.

A lot is a good guess. An even more accurate guess is that none of those dozens/hundreds of steps happen without some measure of fossil fuel at each and every one of those individual phases. Without twisting yourself into knots, just think about this entire A to Z process for another moment and consider that observation.

Oil production worldwide peaked/plateaued (whatever works for you) five years ago. Whatever we get from here on in is pretty much guaranteed to cost more; take longer to bring to market; in too many cases be of inferior quality, and will be financially/politically/technologically/practically riskier to obtain. [see this and this, for example]

While I cannot recall now where I read the statistic last month, more than a billion additional cars are expected to grace the planet in the not-too-distant future (mostly in China and India if I recall correctly). That’s just one fossil fuel-consuming product (albeit a big one).

If we no longer have adequate supplies as it is, and cannot rationally (key distinction) expect quality, affordable supply to keep pace with increasing demand—keeping in mind that the “good stuff” is being depleted each and every day and that unconventional supplies are barely keeping pace with those rates of depletion—what happens?

How many component manufacturers in the chain of credit card production are going to find their manufacturing capacities adversely affected when the fossil fuel supplies each and every one them needs is either restricted occasionally or frequently, and/or becomes prohibitively expensive? How many components will be in short supply? For how long? Replacements parts? Transportation capacity?

How many workers up and down the supply chain will have hours cut or eliminated? What’s the ripple effect then?

What if Friendly Bank A finds itself unable to meet your request for a replacement card until … “not really sure when”?

Of course, a collective decision could be reached that credit card manufacturing has been deemed a “Class A, Really, Really Important” Industry and thus will suffer no curtailment whatsoever in fossil fuel supplies up and down the chain.

Of course, that means Some Other Industry will have to sacrifice a bit more….

This is just one industry among how many hundreds/thousands which require full supplies of fossil fuels to get from Point A to Point Z. How long should we continue to deny or keep fingers and toes crossed that Magic Technology is racing to the rescue On Time?

Sources:

[1] http://money.cnn.com/2011/12/05/pf/credit_card_use/index.htm
[2] http://www.madehow.com/Volume-4/Credit-Card.html
[3] http://quezi.com/5215; How many credit cards and debit cards are there in the United States? – 03.16.09