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SG-W:/ Fw: [energyresources] Fwd: Oil Doesn't Grow on Trees
From: email@example.com <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: email@example.com <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Thursday, March 14, 2002 2:17 PM
Subject: [energyresources] Fwd: Oil Doesn't Grow on Trees
>A colleague alerted me to this article.
>-- Philip B. / Washington, DC
>Oil Doesn't Grow on Trees
>By DAVID GOODSTEIN
>David Goodstein is vice provost and professor of physics at Caltech.
>March 14 2002
>This is a singular moment in our history. We are rushing toward a calamity
that may very well bring our way of life to an end. It is entirely
predictable and almost inevitable. It is not the doing of terrorists, but
the terrorists may have given us a unique chance to do something about it.
The calamity I speak of is the end of the age of oil.
>Here is the basic physics: Life on Earth exists because of radiant energy
from the sun, plus a small amount of nuclear fuel that condensed with the
Earth when it was formed billions of years ago. Over the eons, a tiny
fraction of that sunlight was converted by natural processes and stored in
the form of fossil fuels. In the course of a few generations, we have nearly
used up the Earth's entire supply of accessible petroleum.
>When that and the other more-difficult-to-use fossil fuels are used up, we
will have nothing left to live on except the light from the sun and whatever
nuclear fuel on Earth we haven't burned. Even nuclear fuel is a finite
resource. How much oil is left in the ground? Even if we knew how to answer
it, that would probably not be the right question. A better question is: How
long can we go on increasing the rate at which cheap oil is pumped out of
>We in the United States had a clear preview of what will happen when
conventional oil supplies start to decline. Extraction from wells in the
Lower 48 peaked in 1970 at 9.4 million barrels per day. That number is now
down to 5.8 million barrels and declining rapidly. Americans consume about
20 million barrels per day. When the Organization of Petroleum Exporting
Countries took advantage of that situation by reducing supplies in the early
1970s, the result was immediate and drastic.
>The most reliable source of information about how much oil is left may be
retired oil geologists, no longer beholden to their employers, privy to
confidential data and possessing the technical skill to make use of the
data. Their estimates of when conventional oil supplies will peak (found in
various obscure journals and Web sites) range from 2007 to 2016. In his
recent book, "Hubbert's Peak: The Impending World Oil Shortage," retired
geologist Kenneth S. Deffeyes' estimate is 2004. After that, we will have no
choice but to learn to live on less oil.
>For as long as we have the sun, we have at our disposal a steady stream of
energy amounting to about 300 watts per square meter, averaged over the face
of the Earth. The sunlight falling on our country amounts to about 10,000
times the electricity we Americans consume. Each of us also consumes 30-plus
barrels of oil each year.
>We already use little bits of solar energy in the form of hydroelectric and
wind power, biomass (wood from trees, alcohol from corn) and photovoltaics,
in addition to the fossil fuels we use up. We could learn to live within our
energy "income," but that would amount to a technological and economic
revolution of historic magnitude. That revolution is precisely what
President Bush should challenge the nation to accomplish.
>Last May, a task force under the leadership of Vice President Dick Cheney
issued a now-notorious report on energy that was heavily influenced by
testimony from oil and energy company insiders. The report urged increasing
the rate at which we pump oil as rapidly as possible. That may have seemed
the best solution for next quarter's bottom line and for popularity in the
next election--provided the peak doesn't occur by then--but it was never the
best solution for our future.
>The Sept. 11 terrorist acts have made it politically possible to do what is
really needed. A president with courage and vision, particularly one who is
himself a former oilman, could seize the moment and challenge the nation to
devise the means to kick its fossil fuel habit over the next decade. With
all of our industrial might and scientific talent applied to the effort, we
might be able to accomplish it.
>That is the way to win the real war. The alternative is to go on hunting
terrorists while our civilization slides into oblivion.
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