Your Oil wake up call.

8 04 2017
tedtrainer

Ted Trainer

My old mate Ted Trainer has for decades been a limits to growth advocate. Ted lectured in limits to growth and other subjects during a long teaching career at the University of New South Wales. He is author of a number of books on living in a simpler way, including the book that changed my life, Abandon Affluence…… here is his latest offering.

ALMOST NO ONE has the slightest grasp of the oil crunch that will hit them, probably within a decade. When it does it will literally mean the end of the world as we know it. Here is an outline of what recent publications are telling us. Nobody will, of course, take any notice.

It is gradually being understood that the amount of oil reserves and increases in them due to, for instance, fracking, is of little significance and that what matters is their EROI (Energy Return on Energy Invested). If you found a vast amount of oil, but to deliver a barrel of it you would need to use as much energy as there is in a barrel of oil, then there would be no point drilling the field.

When oil was first discovered the EROI in producing it was over 100/1. But Murphy (2013) estimates that by 2000 the global figure was about 30, and a decade later it was around 17. These approximate figures are widely quoted and accepted although not precise or settled.

Scarcer and difficult to produce

In other words, oil is rapidly getting scarcer and more difficult to find and produce. Thus, they are having to go to deep water sources (ER of 10 according to Murphy), and to develop unconventional sources such as tar sands (ER of 4 according to Ahmed), and shale (Murphy estimates an ER of 1.5, and Ahmed reports 2.8 for the oil and gas average.)

As a result, the capital expenditure on oil discovery, development and production is skyrocketing but achieving little or no increase in production. Heinberg and Fridley (2016) show that capital expenditure trebled in a decade, while production fell dramatically. This rapid acceleration in costs is widely noted, including by Johnson (2010) and Clarke (2017).

Why can’t we keep getting the quantities we want just by paying more for each barrel? Because the price of the oil in a barrel cannot be greater than the economic value the use of the barrel of oil creates.

Ahmed (2016) refers to a British government report that:

“…the decline in EROI has meant that an increasing amount of the energy we extract is having to be diverted back into getting new energy out, leaving less for other social investments … This means that the global economic slowdown is directly related to the declining resource quality of fossil fuels.”

Everything depends on how rapidly EROI is deteriorating. Various people, such as Hall, Ballogh and Murphy (2009), and Weisbach et al. (2013) do not think a modern society can tolerate an ER under 6 – 10. If this is so, how long have we got if the global figure has fallen from 30 to 18 in about a decade?

Several analysts claim that because of the deteriorating resource quality and rising production costs the companies must be paid $100 a barrel to survive. But oil is currently selling for c$50/barrel. Clarke details how the companies are carrying very large debt and many are going bankrupt: “The global oil industry is in deep trouble.”

Ignorance, debt bubble and catastrophic implosion

Why haven’t we noticed? Very likely for the same reason we haven’t noticed the other signs of terminal decay… because we don’t want to.

We have taken on astronomical levels of debt to keep the economy going. In 1994 the ratio of global debt to GDP was just over 2; it is now about 6, much higher than before the GFC (Global Financial Crisis), and it is continuing to climb.

Everybody knows this cannot go on for much longer. Debt is lending on the expectation that the loan will be repaid plus interest, but that can only be done if there is growth in the real economy, in the value of goods and services produced and sold …but the real economy (as distinct from the financial sector) has been stagnant or deteriorating for years.

The only way huge debt bubbles are resolved is via catastrophic implosion. A point comes where the financial sector realizes that its (recklessly speculative) loans are not going to be repaid, so they stop lending and call in bad debts … and the credit the real economy needs is cut, so the economy collapses, further reducing capacity to pay debts in a spiral of positive feedback that next time will deliver the mother of all GFCs.

There is now considerable effort going into working out the relationships between these factors, ie. deteriorating energy EROI, economic stagnation, and debt. The situation is not at all clear. Some see EROI as already being the direct and major cause of a terminal economic breakdown, others think at present more important causal factors are increasing inequality, ecological costs, aging populations and slowing productivity.

Whatever the actual causal mix is, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that within at best a decade deteriorating EROI is going to be a major cause of enormous disruption.

Peaking oil production, national income and resource detorioration

But there is a far more worrying aspect of your oil situation than that to do with EROI. Nafeez Ahmed has just published an extremely important analysis of the desperate and alarming situation that the Middle East oil producing countries are in, entitled Failing States, Collapsing Systems, (2016). He confronts us with the following basic points:

  • in several countries oil production has peaked, and energy return on oil production is falling; thus their oil export income is being reduced
  • in recent decades populations have exploded, due primarily to decades of abundant income from oil exports; the 1960 – 2014 multiples for Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Nigeria, Egypt, India and China have been 5.5, 4.6, 5.3, 4.2, 3.4, 3.0 and 2.1 respectively
  • there has been accelerating deterioration in land, water and food resources. If water use per capita is under 1700 m3 pa, there is water stress; the amounts for the above countries, (and the percentage fall since 1960), are Yemen 86 m3 (71% fall), Saudi Arabia 98 m3 (82% fall), Iraq 998 m3 (88% fall), Nigeria 1245 m3 (73% fall), Egypt 20 m3 (70% fall).

Climate change will make these numbers worse.

The consequences of these trends are:

  • more of the falling oil income now has to go into importing food
  • increasing amounts of oil are having to go into other domestic uses, reducing the amounts available for export to the big oil consuming countries.
  • in many of the big exporting countries these trends are likely to more or less eliminate oil exports in a decade or so, including Saudi Arabia.
  • these mostly desert countries have nothing else to earn export income from, except sand
  • falling oil income means that governments can provide less for their people, so they have to cut subsidies and raise food and energy prices
  • these conditions are producing increasing discontent with government as well as civil unrest and conflict between tribes over scarce water and land; religious and sectarian conflicts are fuelled; unemployed, desperate and hungry farmers and youth have little option but to join extremist groups such as ISIS, where at least they are fed; our media ignore the biophysical conditions generating conflicts, refugee and oppression by regimes, giving the impression that the troubles are only due to religious fanatics
  • the IMF makes the situation worse; failing states appeal for economic assistance and are confronted with the standard recipe — increased loans on top of already impossible debt, given on condition that they gear their economies to paying the loans back plus interest, imposing austerity, privatizing and selling off assets
  • local elite authoritarianism and corruption make things worse; rulers need to crack down on disruption and to force the belt tightening; the rich will not allow their privileges to be reduced in order to support reallocation of resources to mass need; the dominant capitalist ideology weighs against interfering with market forces, ie. with the freedom for the rich to develop what is most profitable to themselves.
  • thus there is a vicious positive feedback downward spiral from which it would seem there can be no escape because it is basically due to the oil running out in a context of too many people and too few land and water resources
  • there will at least be major knock-on effects on the global economy and the rich (oil consuming) countries, probably within a decade; it is quite likely that the global economy will collapse as the capacity to import oil will be greatly reduced; when the fragility of the global financial system is added (remember, debt now six times GDP), instantaneous chaotic breakdown is very likely
  • nothing can be done about this situation; it is the result of ignoring fifty years of warnings about the limits to growth.

A tightening noose

So, the noose tightens around the brainless, taken for granted ideology that drives consumer-capitalist society and that cannot be even thought about, let alone dealt with.

We are far beyond the levels of production and consumption that can be sustained or that all people could ever rise to. We haven’t noticed because the grossly unjust global economy delivers most of the world’s dwindling resource wealth to the few who live in rich countries. Well, the party is now getting close to being over.

You don’t much like this message? Have a go at proving that it’s mistaken. Nar, better to just ignore it as before.

A way out?

If the foregoing account is more or less right, then there is only one conceivable way out. That is to face up to transition to lifestyles and systems that enable a good quality of life for all on extremely low per capita resource use rates, with no interest in getting richer or pursuing economic growth.

There is no other way to defuse the problems now threatening to eliminate us, the resource depletion, the ecological destruction, the deprivation of several billion in the Third World, the resource wars and the deterioration in our quality of life.

Such a Simpler Way is easily designed, and built…if that’s what you want to do (see: thesimplerway.info/). Many in voluntary simplicity, ecovillage and Transition Towns movements have moved a long way towards it. Your chances of getting through to it are very poor, but the only sensible option is to join these movements.

Is the mainstream working on the problem? Is the mainstream worried about the problem? Does the mainstream even recognize the problem? I checked the Sydney Daily Telegraph yesterday and 20 percent of the space was given to sport.

References:

Ahmed, N. M., (2016); We Could Be Witnessing the Death of the Fossil Fuel Industry — Will It Take the Rest of the Economy Down With It?, Resilience, April, 26.

Ahmed, N. M., (2017); Failing States, Collapsing Systems, Dordrecht, Springer. Alice Friedmann’s summary is at: http://energyskeptic.com/2017/book-review-of-failing-states-collapsing-systems-biophysical-triggers-of-political-violence-by-nafeez-ahmed/

Clarke, T., (2017); The end of the Oilocene; The demise of the global oil industry and the end of the global economy as we know it, Resilience, 17th Jan.

Friedmann, A., (2017); Book review of Failing states, collapsing systems biophysical triggers of political violence by Nafeez Ahme, energyskeptic January 31: http://energyskeptic.com/2017/book-review-of-failing-states-collapsing-systems-biophysical-triggers-of-political-violence-by-nafeez-ahmed/

Hall, C. A. S., Balogh, S. Murphy, D. J. R., (2009); What is the minimum EROI that a sustainable society must have? Energies, 2, 25–47.

Heinberg, R., and D. Fridley, (2016); Our Renewable Future, Santa Rosa, California, Post Carbon Institute.

Johnson, C., (2010); Oil exploration costs rocket as risks rise, Industries, London, February 11.

Murphy, D. J., (2013), The implications of the declining energy return on investment of oil production; Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, December 2013.DOI: 10.1098/rsta.2013.0126

The Simpler Way website: http://thesimplerway.info/

Weisback, D., G. Ruprecht, A. Huke, K. Cserski, S. Gottlleib and A. Hussein, (2013);Energy intensities, EROIs and energy payback times of electricity generating power plants, Energy, 52, 210- 221.

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18 responses

8 04 2017
rabiddoomsayer

There is no way out. We are going to crash and burn. Civilization is not going to wind down, it is far too interrelated and far too stressed, it will crash. If you want to know what it will be like after, study China from 1916 to 1928. Our rulers in ten years will be riding Harley Davidson motorcycles, perpetual war with the Hell’s Angels, Mongols and Coffin Cheaters with more than a few former police.

8 04 2017
Chris Harries

Thank you for this article. On the climate change front it’s hard to persuade society at large that we are in big trouble. On the peak oil front it’s hard to persuade even committed environmental people that we are in big trouble. Psychological denial of resource depletion is much more problematic than is denial of pollution limits.

I maintain all along that oil depletion will hit our civilisation much sooner and much more massively than will climate change. That’s not to understate the significance of catastrophic climate change, which is manifestly our biggest environmental threat.

The manner in which society collapses and the sequence of that collapse can’t be perfectly assessed advance, but we can get a pretty good idea from the evidence that’s before our eyes. Meanwhile, the environmental movement’s main response is to press the accelerator even harder to see if our spinning wheels can get us out of the quagmire…. only to see us sinking deeper by the day.

(I hasten to add that the environmental movement is not monolithic and many people do see the wider picture. A lot of what the movement does and says is an effort to appear credible to ‘normal’ society. Pressing accelerators is a strategy that western society appreciates.)

8 04 2017
samsavvas

Of course the impacts of reducing EROI (or declining ‘nett energy’) are with us in the West now, simply because advanced society needs an EROI of around 10:1 simply to keep ticking over. Prof. Susan Krumdieck explains this very well in her video lectures on youtube! As we approach the average nett energy return of around 10:1 we are seeing all sorts of impacts – dealing maintenance of infrastructure, frantic Gov’t asset sales (due to dealing revenues), corporate moves into initiating new Gov’t subsidised development projects (because their profit margins are otherwise too low and they can’t borrow the start-up funds), failing industries etc etc. We’re in the shit well and truly now!

8 04 2017
rabiddoomsayer

As always Gail the Actuary has her say: Similar conclusions, slightly different way of explaining: https://ourfiniteworld.com/2017/03/29/why-energy-economy-models-produce-overly-optimistic-indications/

8 04 2017
Dr Bob Rich

Spot on, Mike. I’ve been singing this song since the 1970s, but as you said, nobody listens.
Your readers will be interested in looking at my essay, “How to change the world” http://wp.me/P3Xihq-5

🙂
Bob

8 04 2017
Peter

That’s exactly what you come to conclude when you use your own brain. I’ve been a simply and non executive and non responsible engineer for the planning of electricity power stations and grids (only a number cruncher without any real power) for nearly 40 years. Me and many others former! experts (the others have now to follow exactly what politicians are telling them and to sing their song, or they’ll have to look after themselves immidiately..you know what I want to say) are aware for example, that solar and wind power in Western Europe (I’m from Germany) aren’t sufficient to let us at least survive, e.i. not to starve 90% of the population, as the real EroEI is – according to the latest research of Professor Hull – at 0.83 (all less than 1 is an “energy hole”). You get the “real ERoEI” if you take solar energy and wind energy as the stuff to operate all the infrastructure needed to produce those wind and solar gadgets. And then you have to realize, that the existing grid wasn’t created for this purpose, as a consequence it is now in a situation that the the risks for a possibly European wide and long enduring Black Out aren’t to neglect anymore.

And then with all these other problems, like for example the Western World wide implied system of exponentielly growing debts – we are in fact already in the final phase of that – (I could add many others examples showing the bad and fast growing number other in the consequence lethal facts in the world) as a basis for our economic system, you have to come to the conclusion, that the world of “Hieronymus Bosch” is rapidly coming back to us, possibly already in the next coming years:

http://krisenfrei.de/die-welt-des-hieronymus-bosch/
If cou can’t understand German, just look at he pictures and you’ll have a “taste” of the real state of our world behind the curtain.

Me and my wife are old already .. and we are more of pleased to be so, as we’ve that way a slow chance not to have to suffer the worst impact of the coming world.

With the best wishes to you all in the world from the small, tiny and fragmented Germany (I don’t want to figure this out in detail).

Whatever will happen …try to stay human.

MathePeter
(as maths is my favourite leisure time apart from hiking, sports and literature)

8 04 2017
psile

Oh yeah, we’re so f#cked.

10 04 2017
Jonathan Maddox

“If you found a vast amount of oil, but to deliver a barrel of it you would need to use as much energy as there is in a barrel of oil, then there would be no point drilling the field.”

Unfortunately this isn’t quite true: energy is not yet completely fungible from one form to another, and liquid fuels command higher prices than solid and gas ones. Wholesale electricity costs are also frequently cheaper than the energy equivalent in petroleum. Just as we will cheerfully mine metal ores with no promise of any energy return at all, it could be perfectly profitable to mine for petroleum at zero or negative energy return, providing that the energy used to dig it up does not come from petroleum.

This is exactly what happens with gas-to-liquids and coal-to-liquids: cheap gaseous or solid fuels are converted, at a significant energy loss, to expensive liquid fuels. It’s not really competitive with conventional oil on the international market, but in certain conditions such as the embargo against apartheid South Africa, cheap coal in North-Western China, and “stranded” natural gas in Sarawak and Qatar without access to natural gas export pipelines, it was considered worthy of multi-billion-dollar investments, and several of these facilities continue to operate profitably today.

I should think that the profitable existence of vast bitumen sands mining operations is demonstration enough of the principle that we’ll cheerfully spend lots of energy in a cheap form to get it in a form for which demand is strong. While the EROEI of bitumen sand petroleum is very low (4 to 8 — technological improvements have been slowly increasing bitumen sands EROEI), the source of the energy spent is almost all natural gas, which is cheaper than petroleum and was *much* cheaper than the prevailing prices of petroleum at the time of rapid tar sands expansion.

“… and shale (Murphy estimates an ER of 1.5, and Ahmed reports 2.8 for the oil and gas average.)”

We really do have to be careful with terminology. The words “shale oil” have come, over the last decade, to refer to “tight oil”, which is perfectly conventional crude extracted by fracking of shales and sandstones. This is a vast resource and its EROEI, while I don’t know it, must be relatively high, based on quoted costs of production from the businesses which exploit it, which range as low as $US30/bbl. Unlike the bitumen sands, almost all the energy consumed in the fracking business is from diesel, so the business as a whole is evidently strongly energy positive.

The painfully low quoted figures from Murphy and Ahmed unambiguously refer to oil manufactured by roasting (mining and retorting at the surface, or underground heating via unspecified mechanism) of kerogen-bearing shale or marlstone. Mineable kerogen-bearing shales are also a vast resource, but yes, converting them to liquid is ridiculously expensive in energy terms. Nobody does it these days. We did it at Glen Davis, north of Lithgow in NSW, using torbanite (very rich oil shale) during WWII, but it wasn’t supportable without war conditions. In Estonia, oil shale of this sort is dug up and burned as though it were coal, to raise steam to generate electricity. The EROEI of *that* is probably not too bad (comparable to brown coal, I would guess), but the emissions are absolutely dreadful.

11 04 2017
mikestasse

Just as we will cheerfully mine metal ores with no promise of any energy return at all, it could be perfectly profitable to mine for petroleum at zero or negative energy return, providing that the energy used to dig it up does not come from petroleum.

Well there’s your dilemma……. because it just about ALL comes from petroleum! Fracking, for instance involves six times as much steel as conventional wells do, and all that iron ore is mined with diesel trucks, transported with diesel trucks/ships and made with coking coal, which is all mined the same way! And let’s not forget the thousands of semi loads of water and chemicals, etc etc etc……

11 04 2017
Jonathan Maddox

Steel is not manufactured using “just about all” energy from petroleum. Coal or charcoal supplies the bulk of the input energy for steel. Transportation is not a large fraction of the energy input there.

Much of the non-hardware energy input for fracking is of course from diesel, as the drills and pumps are diesel-powered. But at a calculated EROEI of about 50:1 for some of those fracked tight oil prospects (see the Global Climate and Energy Project (GCEP) link below), I don’t see much of an energy crunch problem.

Climate is our pressing problem.

10 04 2017
Jonathan Maddox

“… In 1994 the ratio of global debt to GDP was just over 2; it is now about 6, much higher than before the GFC (Global Financial Crisis), and it is continuing to climb.

“Everybody knows this cannot go on for much longer. Debt is lending on the expectation that the loan will be repaid plus interest, but that can only be done if there is growth in the real economy, in the value of goods and services produced and sold”

Wait a bit. To whom is this “global debt” owed, exactly?

We don’t borrow money from Mars. Global net debt is zero. Debt that can’t be paid, won’t be paid.

“Debt is lending on the expectation that the loan will be repaid plus interest”

That’s the case for commercial debt from banks which must remain solvent. It’s not the case for the debt of monetarily sovereign nations. Money is a debt instrument, payable only in units of itself. Monetarily sovereign governments issue debt instruments at interest rates and maturity dates of their own choosing. People and institutions desiring to save money (which they do, if they can’t lend it back out at interest to apparently profitable private-sector investments) will always buy government bonds, or hold cash, which is interest-free government debt. There is not a consistent expectation that the loan will be repaid *plus interest*.

(This doesn’t apply to governments which don’t have their own sovereign currency, or which peg their currencies to commodities or to foreign currencies, or which issue bonds repayable in other currencies or commodities than their own. Those governments are quite capable of going bankrupt).

As for commercial debt, banks don’t have to remain solvent in their own right; they are the beneficiaries of government deposit insurance and arbitrary bailouts. Even if a bank *doesn’t* remain solvent, and its creditors aren’t fully insured, it’s not the end of the world, only the end of deposits held at that bank.

11 04 2017
mikestasse

Last time I looked……. if you didn’t service your debt, you got repossessed.

Private debt IS the problem, and arguing over sovereign nation blah blah blah is a waste of time, because once ‘the people’ are ‘all’ bankrupt, there’s no way sovereign nations can raise revenue. Same goes for commercial debt.

One day, those debts WILL go bad. One day, the oil companies will have to go bankrupt..

And there’s only so far governments can bail out trillions of dollars to save the banks.

GFC MkII will be most interesting, and I think it could be coming sooner rather than later…

https://dollarvigilante.com/blog/2017/02/15/jim-rogers-reiterates-his-call-for-a-crash-of-epic-proportions.html

11 04 2017
Jonathan Maddox

Private debt that can’t be paid, won’t be paid. Repossession doesn’t destroy assets, it just reassigns ownership from debtors to creditors. Inequality is a bitch, but unfortunately it doesn’t cause the world to grind to a halt. Enough of it and it might foment political revolution, but that’s almost beside the point.

If oil companies go bankrupt, the creditors taking possession will pass the assets on to whoever can continue to operate them. Only the debt is erased, the resources and the capital equipment and the people and the skills are not.

Governments can and will bail out whichever failing banks they choose. If some banks fail, so what? Depositors’ and creditors’ financial assets (at most, paper) become worthless. Physical assets do not, and they might even end up assigned to the people who lost money.

We’re talking about the real economy here, after all. If you can imagine a command economy (imagine “war footing”) nationalising the assets and forcing the bare minimum production required to keep the security services and the energy industry itself supplied with fuel, then you can be pretty confident something resembling that will happen.

Debt itself is truly immaterial. Money is just paper. What matters, as you’ve said elsewhere, is the physical economy of people and land and equipment.

I wouldn’t argue for a minute that there is no physical limit to petroleum resources. That was never my argument. It’s only a matter of degree and timing. And that little fact of global warming. There is sufficient petroleum available to leverage other fossil fuel resources (or vice versa, in that terrifying below-unity EROEI limit) to cause truly catastrophic climate change.

It’s our responsibility to make sure that petroleum is used to leverage non-polluting energy supplies instead of ever more gas and coal, and that those non-polluting energy supplies are in turn used to retire gas, coal and petroleum from the economy, instead of to pump every last drop of petroleum from the ground, which could be done well beyond 1:1 EROEI.

11 04 2017
Chris Harries

I wouldn’t downplay energy implications on the world economy. Sure, debt is only a debt on paper and can be written off with the stroke of a pen, but if the increasing cost of delivering energy (on diminishing returns as scarcer resources have to be extracted) reduces economic output even by a few percentage points, then the world economy becomes somewhat precarious.

If we discount the importance of the debt bubble then we could say that Greece doesn’t really have problem. Yet it does.

A lot of the social tension in the Middle East and North Africa comes back to affordability of living. Egypt is a classic case as it switched from being an oil producing nation to being an oil importing nation.

But Jonathan, if you think climate change is a serious problem then focus on that. There are many in gross denial who say we’ve got neither problem. On my analysis the climate one is long-term can destroy so much ecosystem viability that our civilisation goes down the tube.

Before that happens I believe resource depletion will be much more disruptive to the engine room of industrial society and the implications of that are dire enough. In dealing with climate change we need minimal level of social cohesion.

11 04 2017
Jonathan Maddox

Agreed 100%. I am not suggesting that no economic crisis can occur as a consequence of surging energy costs. Business as usual is completely unsustainable, and something’s gotta give.

The claim that I’m contesting is that declining petroleum EROEI will result in a cessation of petroleum extraction and other activities that currently depend on liquid fuels. No matter how bad the economic situation becomes, I’m certain that as long as our most basic needs (defence, food) are in any way dependent on petroleum, any and all surviving or emerging communities will ensure resources (including whatever other primary energy sources are available) are devoted to obtaining petroleum to provide those basic needs.

Getting off petroleum is vital because yes, it is a scarce resource and extracting it is becoming more energy intensive and cannibalistic. There is a declining return on efforts invested into petroleum extraction, and ultimately there’ll be no point extracting it at all. But that time is decades away, not the single-digit years claimed by Ted Trainer and Mike Stasse, and it will vary, depending on how essential liquid fuels remain to our economic activity. If we make it less essential, we’ll reduce demand (relative to what it might have been, all else being equal) and postpone whatever economic shocks might result from its increasing scarcity.

However what I’m really worried about is that — without strict emissions controls — by Jevons’ paradox, improved efficiency of consumption of petroleum, and the gradual exit of certain classes of activity from the market of petroleum consumption (ie. electric vehicles), this could mean that demand continues to increase, making what looks like unviable resources today into readily exploitable ones, thereby pushing the date of peak oil ever further into the future. This could persist even at ever-higher petroleum prices, despite ever-lower petroleum EROEI, even into net-energy-negative territory such that petroleum will no longer be regarded as a primary energy resource. This “cornucopian fantasy” is not so unrealistic, and not such a rosy future: it merely pulls the noose of climate change ever tighter around our necks.

Because anthropogenic global warming is a more pressing problem than petroleum scarcity, and because coal and natural gas are more abundant than petroleum, and because coal (and perhaps natural gas, given what we’ve learned recently about leaks) is worse for greenhouse gas emissions than petroleum, retiring the other fossil fuels must have at least equal priority with getting off petroleum. Ultimately, and not too far in the future, we *must* retire all of them in favour of non-polluting energy sources.

Then, having staved off *that* disaster, we can turn more of our attention to other problems which are also pushing us towards collapse: biodiversity loss, land clearing and degradation, overfishing, pollution in other forms, and so on.

12 04 2017
Chris Harries

Thanks for the lengthy reply, Jonathan. I mohave a small contention with the idea non-pollution energy resources. Aside from passive solar I don’t think there are any. In current society renewable energy form can’t exist without fossil fuels – the lifeblood of industrialism. I don’t so far as to argue against renewables, but I veer away from the overly romantic, populist view that they can power a society such as ours.

In any event I’m glad that you appreciate that the human predicament does not entirely hinge on the limited issues of climate change and oil depletion. Those two necessarily have a lot of focus because they are staring us in the face, but even if they were resolved tomorrow a litany of other pressing issues are banging on the door.

10 04 2017
Jonathan Maddox

Here’s a little summary of EROEIs which does take into account tight oil, showing an EROEI of about 50:1 in the Bakken shale tight oil field:

http://gcep.stanford.edu/pdfs/events/workshops/Brandt_Oil_Net_Energy_Environment_v6.pptx.pdf

The last slide is a doozy. I quote:

• Will low energy returns limit our ability to extract unconventional oil resources?
• No: Energy returns unlikely to present fundamental limit to extracting oil sands and tight oil resources for some time

• Are low energy returns (broadly defined) important?
• Yes: Environmental impacts scale with total energy consumption

• Are we paying sufficient attention to environmental implications?
• No: Environmental management challenged by resource quality and location
• No: Not enough attention on implications of very large resource base

14 04 2017
W'Shawn Gray

Great article from my old friend Ted Trainer. I strongly agree with Ted’s advice for a path beyond the mess for those lucky enough that they may. As to the rest of the interesting debate in the comments I’m probably somewhere drifting among Mike Stasse, Jonathan Maddox & Chris Harries views. I say drifting among in that I no more view the coming global mess as a homogeneous whole than I see today’s variation and complicity as a single manifestation of some universal common dynamic. In other words for the many different locations (geology, biology & climate) amplified by cultural contexts all three sets of views easily would be perfectly correct for the local conditions somewhere in the future world scene.

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