I am at my wit's end because as I see it my grandchildren will be in deep trouble by the time they are 30 to 40 years old. My perception is that by 2030 US oil will be almost completely gone. By 2030 most of the presently exporting nations will be importing, and thus greatly increasing world demand for oil. Also, as they near the end, all nations having oil will hoard. Countries such as Saudi Arabia have never had the production to supply the whole world with oil. Heavy oil and tar sands will have low production rates. Tar sands are very energy intensive. For these reasons I believe that it will be very difficult to import oil in 2030. Actually any number of events could bring disaster much sooner.
The thought of building new houses is asinine in view of the fact that we are running low on Natural Gas. Presently we are barely keeping up. New drilling, and importing new gas will help for a while but the rapid depletion rate of gas wells will catch up with us fairly quickly.
When the disaster hits, there will be massive unemployment and total breakdown of the economic system. Then there will be cold houses in winter and hot ones in summer. Unless there is martial law and massive food distribution, people will riot or starve.
I have seen no formal description anywhere on the Internet as to how our nation could survive. There is not the ghost of a plan. My skeleton plan follows.
Presently the US is using about 100 quads of energy each year. There is no chance that we could ever produce 100 quads by any means whatsoever. In other words, conservation must be the keystone of even temporary sustainability. Europe is using about half the energy per capita that we are. China is using only about 10%. If we set a goal of reducing consumption by 50 to 70% then following generations could survive. There are many techniques for conservation and avoiding blackouts. Immediate ones would be to push cogeneration and switch to fluorescent lights. However the important long range tactic must be to stop building houses, and start building apartments in clusters large enough to support essential manufacturing. Localized food production is important so agriculture would also be a major effort. Manufacturing in winter, permits using waste heat from manufacturing for heating.
A scenario for the possible availability of energy would be 10 quads from wind, 10 quads from solar, 10 quads from biomass, 20 quads from coal, and 5 to 10 quads from nuclear. The nuclear and coal would of course be temporary and they would be replaced by conservation or from increases in solar, biomass, and wind. Unfortunately, any feasible sustainability program will take an enormous investment. A simple calculation tells me that it will take about $500 billion dollars in capital investment to produce 10 quads from wind. Solar would be even more expensive. Biomass is essential but a large tree planting program is needed to make it work. The biggest but most necessary expenditure would be apartment buildings. In all I calculate about $20 trillion in investment. At $500 billion per year it would take 40 years to prepare. Actually if all work were directed toward these projects then I believe that a $trillion per year could be invested. Obviously we will be in crisis before this money could be spent so I foresee martial law as being necessary.
Larger buildings have two great advantages over houses. The first is that the volume to surface area ratio is much greater for large apartments. This means that a 50 unit apartment building with 4 stories, on a per capita basis, uses about 10% of the heat of house. The building could easily be heated by a combination of cogeneration, comanufacturing, waste heat from biogas production, waste heat from wood gasification, and waste heat from ethanol fermentation. In fact there probably would be too much heat available.
The second advantage for bigger buildings is that clustering reduces the radius of necessary travel so that foot and bicycle transportation could be the principle means of travel. In other words you could live there without owning a car. Car pools, baby sitting pools, and other cooperative arrangements would make life more pleasant. I think that in such a building, if necessary, it might be possible to cut per capita energy consumption by 90%.
I have combined some of these ideas into a concept that I call the Ecomindium. This would be an experimental research apartment building that would be a platform for many experiments. Some of these are cogeneration, comanufacturing, biogas from sewage and biomass, wood gas from gasification, methanol from wood gasification, wood gas driven tractors, ethanol manufacturing, use of sewage for fertilizer, water recycling from sewage, solar air conditioning, a two level basement, ground water purification and usage, a low cost tree planting program, a steered mirror array solar power facility, an experimental windmill designed for low wind speeds, and intensive agriculture. Note that the usefulness of waste heat greatly improves the economics of many of these operations.
Because of the present low interest in sustainability, a symbol is needed, and the Ecomindium would provide that. The building could be financed by the inhabitants. The experiments would be financed by grants, participation of students in courses, and tinkerers from the community. Hopefully the project could unite efforts from all of the colleges and universities within driving distance, including MSU and WCC. Even the children could make contributions to the tree planting program.
Financing of the grand program for the US probably will not occur until there is a major disaster. However the Ecomindium is low in cost and could easily be done by this community. We desperately need the symbolism. We need simple research to point the way to suatainability. Activism is needed; Help.
Kermit Schlansker, PE