Peak Everything, coming to a town near you….

21 01 2015

Seppelt, R., A. M. Manceur, J. Liu, E. P. Fenichel, and S. Klotz. 2014. Synchronized peak-rate years of global resources use. Ecology and Society 19(4): 50.


Many separate studies have estimated the year of peak, or maximum, rate of using an individual resource such as oil. However, no study has estimated the year of peak rate for multiple resources and investigated the relationships among them. We exploit time series on the appropriation of 27 global renewable and nonrenewable resources. We found 21 resources experienced a peak-rate year, and for 20 resources the peak-rate years occurred between 1960-2010, a narrow time window in the long human history. Whereas 4 of 7 nonrenewable resources show no peak-rate year, conversion to cropland and 18 of the 20 renewable resources have passed their peak rate of appropriation. To test the hypothesis that peak-rate years are synchronized, i.e., occur at approximately the same time, we analyzed 20 statistically independent time series of resources, of which 16 presented a peak-rate year centered on 2006 (1989-2008). We discuss potential causal mechanisms including change in demand, innovation and adaptation, interdependent use of resources, physical limitation, and simultaneous scarcity. The synchrony of peak-rate years of multiple resources poses a greater adaptation challenge for society than previously recognized, suggesting the need for a paradigm shift in resource use toward a sustainable path in the Anthropocene.


Sustainable appropriation of non-renewable and renewable resources is required for society’s long-term well-being. Four decades ago, Meadows’ limits to growth model reignited the old Malthusian debate about the limits of the world’s resources (Mathus 1798, Bardi 2000, Griggs et al. 2013). Limits to growth of specific resources such as oil (Hallock et al. 2014) or fossil water (Gleick and Palaniappan 2010) have been analyzed separately, by estimating the peak-rate, or maximum, year, defined as the year of maximum resource appropriation rate. For which renewable and non-renewable resources can a peak-rate year be identified given the most up-to-date time series of human resource appropriation? Exploring the relation among peak-rate years for multiple resources then raises an important second question: are global peak-rate years synchronized, i.e., occurring at approximately the same time in the long history of human civilization? Calculating the appropriation rate of resources allows the detection of the maximum increase year or peak-rate year, which indicates the timing of scarcity or change in demand (Fig. 1). We analyzed peak-rate years for many of the world’s major resources and found synchrony in the peak-rate years of statistically independent resources by a method that is standardized, non-parametric, generalizable, and allows analysis of non-renewable and renewable resources (Table 1), and we will conclude by giving clear implications for sustainable development goals (Arrow et al. 1995).

We focused on 27 non-renewable and renewable resources essential for human well-being and daily needs, e.g., energy and food. These resources are also the focus of global policy bodies such as the United Nations and the World Bank. Non-renewables include the fossil fuels, i.e., coal, gas, oil, supplying 87% of the energy consumed by the 50 wealthiest nations (Tollefson and Monastersky 2012). Renewables include staple crops, e.g., cassava, maize, rice, soybeans, and wheat, which the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations identified as providing 45% of global caloric intake (FAO 2013). Combined with data on the consumption of animal products, the main sources of food are included in our analysis. We also evaluated resources with a long history of use, e.g., cropland and domesticated species, and renewable energy sources, which may be increasingly important in the future. Furthermore, we considered two global drivers of resource use, population and economic activity (world GDP). The database consists of time series of 27 global resources, 2 global drivers, and 13 national resources/drivers. The data sources are listed in Table 2. All data is accessible at Figshare The raw data and smoothed times series of the bootstrap resamples (see Methods) are plotted in Figure 2.


Peak-rate year estimation

We used a method that is standardized, non-parametric, generalizable, and allows analysis of non-renewable and renewable resources. Renewable resources regenerate on shorter time scales, i.e., harvest rate and regrowth have comparable time scales, and have a human scale, and annual production is the response variable that was analyzed. Non-renewables are regenerated on geological time scales, and the response variable is the accumulated amount extracted. This choice of response variables allowed the analysis of all resources with the same mathematical method (Table 1, Fig. 1). To estimate a peak-rate year, the maximum increase rate of the time series must be calculated. It is possible to use a parametric model, e.g., a logistic curve or its derivative. However, non-parametric curve fitting offers advantages regarding the bias and does not require parametric assumptions or that a functional model be postulated, e.g., stationarity of rate of resource appropriation. This means that the different resources and drivers need not follow the same increase process (Gasser et al. 1984). Further, by using a bootstrap resample to estimate the uncertainty of the peak rate year estimate, we avoided distributional assumption. However, no prediction outside the range of the data can be performed.

Time series analysis of peak-rate years and synchrony testing

We do provide a summary of the statistical analysis of the time series. Appendix 1 provides detailed documentation of conducted steps. Figure A1.1 in the appendix provides a graphical overview.

The time series of the 27 global resources, 2 global drivers, and 13 national resources/drivers (with length n = 12 – 112, see Table 2) were subjected to a cubic smoothing spline to find the peak rate of resource appropriation, based on the maximum of the first derivative. This non-parametric method has no distributional assumptions, but does not enable predictions. We performed 5000 bootstrap resamples, and the 50th percentile (2.5 and 97.5th) was taken as the peak-rate year (uncertainty), unless the 50th percentile was equal to the last year in the time series, in which case we concluded the rate of resource appropriation was still increasing.

To test the hypothesis of synchrony, we selected statistically independent time series. We performed ARIMA modelling of the 27 global resource time series and tested the residuals with a Box-Pierce test of white noise. Haugh’s test of dependence on all pairs of resources was performed on cross-correlation coefficient of the white noise residuals (Haugh 1976). We selected 20 statistically independent time series of resource, of which 16 presented a peak-rate year. A peak-rate year from the 5000 bootstrap resamples for each of the 16 resources was randomly selected, and the mode of the resulting smoothed distribution of 16 peak-rate years obtained. This process was repeated 5000 times, and we estimated the synchrony as the median of the 5000 modes. A nonparametric goodness of fit test was performed with a uniform distribution as a null hypothesis, i.e., no mode implies no synchrony, and a critical value obtained by Monte Carle simulation (5000). The statistical tests were performed at a Type I error rate of 0.05.


We observed that for 21 of the 27 global resources and for the 2 global drivers of resource use, there was a peak-rate year. For the 21 resources that had a peak-rate year (Table 3), all but 1 (cropland expansion) lay between 1960 and 2010 (Fig. 3). Given the long human history, this is a very narrow time window. The available data suggest that peak-rate years for several non-renewable resources, i.e., coal, gas, oil, and phosphorus, have not yet occurred. This implies a continued acceleration of extraction, which is in accordance with earlier analysis for oil (Hallock et al. 2014) and phosphorus (Cordell et al. 2009).

Individual countries have detectable impacts on the global nonrenewable resource extraction rate. For example, in 2011 the rate of coal extraction for China was 7.2% (5.7-7.4), whereas the rate for the world without China was 3.7 % (3.5-3.8). The values for natural gas in 2011 were 10.1% (7.6-10.3) and 4.4% (4.0-4.4) with and without China, respectively. A peak-rate year for renewable energy has not occurred.

Figure 3 shows that the peak rate of earth surface conversion to cropland occurred in 1950 (1920-1960), and the expansion of cropland recently stabilized at the highest recorded levels, about 1.8 x 106 ha (Ramankutty and Foley 1999). We find peak-rate years recently passed for many agricultural products: soybeans in 2009 (1977-2011), milk in 2004 (1982-2009), eggs in 1993 (1992-2006), caught fish in 1988 (1984-1999), and maize in 1985 (1983-2007). Two major factors of agricultural productivity, N-fertilizers and the area of irrigated land, show peak-rate years in 1983 (1978-2010) and 1978 (1976-2003), respectively. Water is a resource that many world policy bodies are concerned with and is largely understood as a renewable resource. But not all water is renewable. ‘Fossil water’ stocks are isolated water resources, which are consumed faster than are naturally renewed. There is currently a lack of time-series data at the global scale on the status of hydrological resources (Fan et al. 2013). As an example of national trends, the greatest rate of groundwater extraction occurred in 1975 in the USA (1975-2005). Water conservation and rationing rules likely reduced the rate of ground water extraction (Gleick and Palaniappan 2010). For maize, rice, wheat, and soybeans, the yield per area is stagnating or collapsing in 24-39% of the world’s growing areas (Ray et al. 2012), which may explain why the peak-rate years have passed at a global level. The peak-rate years of renewable resources collectively suggest challenges to achieving global food security (Foley et al. 2011). We identified a sequence in the peak-rate years of resources associated with food production: 1950 for conversion to cropland, 1978 for conversion to irrigated land, 1983 for fertilizer use. Because all peak-rate years for food resources appeared afterwards, we inferred that the strategies to increase food production changed from land expansion to intensification of production. Furthermore, the pattern of peak-rate years occurring in land, food, and not yet for non-renewable resources suggests that sustained intensification of agricultural production is not limited by energy but rather by land.

Following the observation of an apparently simultaneous pattern of peak-rate years in Figure 3, we tested the hypothesis of synchrony among peak-rate years on 20 statistically independent time series of resources, of which 16 presented a peak-rate year. We found that peak-rate years appeared clustered around 2006 (1989-2008), given the uncertainty surrounding the peak-rate year estimate of each resource (Fig. 4). It is unlikely that the synchrony is a statistical artefact because there is less than a 1 in 1000 chance that the distribution in Figure 4 would have been obtained if it were sampled from a uniform distribution, i.e., null hypothesis of no synchrony is rejected.


Why is there a synchrony of peak-rate years? Some explanations follow. The overall hypothesis is that multiple resources become scarce simultaneously, which can be driven by two mechanisms.

First, multiple resources, e.g., land, food, energy, etc., are consumed at the same time to meet different human needs. For example, people require food for nutrition; water for drinking, irrigation, and cleaning; land for housing, recreation, food production, infrastructure; and energy for cooking food, transportation, heating, cooling, etc.

Second, producing one resource requires the use of other resources. For example increasing food production requires more land and water whose scarcity in turn leads to limited food production increases, as the sequence of peak-rate years associated with food production shows (see above). Furthermore, the continued increase in extraction for less accessible resources results in an increased ecological and economic cost per unit extracted (Davidson and Andrews 2013), thus reducing availability of the remaining resources. For example, pollution exacerbates water shortages because polluted water is not suitable. These two mechanisms provide the most parsimonious explanation for simultaneous scarcity leading to synchrony of peak-rate years.

Are there other factors causing synchronized peak-rate years? Besides scarcity, passing an individual peak-rate year may be caused by two possible reasons: availability of substitutes or less demand, e.g. less resource is needed because of more efficient use, taste changes, or institutional and regulatory changes (Fig. 1). It is unlikely that substitution has a substantial influence on synchronization. Strong support for the hypothesis that substitution synchronized the peaks would require that substitution took place for all or most of the resources with synchronized peak-rate years. However, among the 16 resources with synchronized peak-rate years in our database, which contains most of the critical global resources, only a few resources may have substitutes. For instance, contrary to expectation there is little evidence that farmed fish substitutes for caught fish (Asche et al. 2001). In contrast, poultry products serve as a substitute for beef because they are cheaper and better adapted to changing tastes (Eales and Unnevehr 1988). However, evidence suggests that meat as a category is not being substituted by plant protein on a global scale (Daniel et al. 2011). Finally, there is little evidence that renewable energy, which did not show a peak-rate year, substitutes for fossil energy. In the last 50 years, the general global trend was that a unit of energy sourced from non-fossil fuels substituted less than one quarter of a unit of fossil fuel-based energy, possibly as a consequence of economic and social complexity (York 2012).

A global synchronous reduction of demand is also an unlikely driver. Despite a declining global population growth rate, i.e., peak-rate year passed in 1989 in accordance with preceding reports (Lutz and K. C. 2010), the global population continues to grow. In most developed countries, we identified peak-rate years in household intensity, i.e., number of households per 100 people (Table 2). Additionally, the peak rate of meat consumption in the USA occurred in 1955 (1909-1999). Nevertheless, the rate of resource appropriation is not expected to decline because consumption in developing countries increases because of lifestyle changes (Brown 2012, Liu 2014), and the land area used for urban settlements and household numbers continue to increase (Liu et al. 2003, Seto et al. 2011). These shifts in resource-intensive living likely more than offset the declining rate of population growth. Declining demand would have to come from broad scale changes in individual preferences for conservation, which continue to seem unlikely.

Finally, constraints on production may not be alleviated unless there is disruptive innovation. For example, although there is phenotypic plasticity in plants, which is exploited by agronomic research, e.g. breeding, particular biochemical mechanisms were not as of now disrupted or constructed de novo in a commercial setting: nitrogen fixation for cereals remains elusive (Charpentier and Oldroyd 2010) and further increase in photosynthetic efficiency is expected to be hard to achieve (Zhu et al. 2010). Further, a basic constraint on breeding is biological diversity. The rate of domesticating species, the biological foundation of food provisioning, began to slow around 2600 B.C. (3600-1500 B.C.), well before our era.

Synchrony among the peak-rate years suggests that multiple planetary resources have to be managed simultaneously, accounting for resource distribution and utilization (Steffen et al. 2011, Liu et al. 2013). Synchrony does not necessarily imply a tipping point that leads to disastrous outcomes because trade-offs are possible (Seppelt et al. 2013), and adaptation, such as the current increasing rate of renewable energy generation or shifting diets (Foley et al. 2011), potentially can be accelerated. Synchrony also suggests that the debate about whether humans can devise substitutes for individual natural capital needs to be broadened to assess simultaneous substitutability (Barbier et al. 2011). Whether substitution and recycling will alleviate constraints to future economic growth (Neumayer 2002) remains an open question, especially because maintaining the innovation rate requires increasing expenditures on human capital (Huebner 2005, Fenichel and Zhao 2014). Arrow et al. (2012) estimated that the growth rate of human capital in the United States could be as low as 0.35%, which is 15-44% of the growth rate of conventional reproducible capital, e.g., infrastructure, and China’s rate of human capital growth ranges between 1.1% and 2%, but is only 10-17% of the rate of growth in reproducible capital.

The synchronization of peak-rate years of global resource appropriation can be far more disruptive than a peak-rate year for one resource. Peak-rate year synchrony suggests that the relationship among resource appropriation paths needs to be considered when assessing the likelihood of successful adaptation of the global society to physical scarcity.


We are grateful to Anna Cord, Jörg Priess, Nina Schwarz, Dagmar Haase, and Burak Guneralp for providing comments on earlier versions of the manuscript. We also thank Karen Seto and Burak Gunneralp for providing access to the urban growth data. The work was funded by grant 01LL0901A “Global Assessment of Land Use Dynamics, Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Ecosystem Services – GLUES” (German Ministry of Research and Technology) under the Helmholtz Program “Terrestrial Environmental Research,” U.S. National Science Foundation, and Michigan AgBioResearch. This article contributed to the Global Land Project (


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Money as Energy

21 12 2013

It suddenly hit me the other day that it was the first oil shocks of the 80’s when oil skyrocketed due to the Arab oil embargo, that started Western Civilisation on its merry way to conversion from an oil powered economy to a money powered one.  The looming climate/energy/economic crisis is stirring up the old Left/Right divide in global industrial politics…. This rift derives from the two core dogmas of what constitutes wealth: does wealth come from human ingenuity and innovation, or is it found in nature?  Is human capacity the source, or a by-product of real power?

I think the two alternative paradigms implied by these questions, have shaped the history of the ‘civilised’ world luckycountryfar more so than the now redundant Left-Right political ideologies.  These increasingly conflicted paradigms can be described as faith in wealth and power from “human brilliance” (by which I mean “blind faith in ingenuity and technology to overcome physical limitations”) versus the belief that power and wealth come from control of “holes in the ground”

In the new world order of energy descent and climate change, both these dogmas are failing, and worse, we increasingly see the believers of both paradigms at war in a futile battle for global domination……

If one doesn’t understand the nature of this ideological battle, as critical for environmentalists and social activists, then it is unlikely that the reader will also understand the science behind Climate Change and Peak Oil.

This important ideological divide has not been recognised by historians or the blogosphere (let alone politicians!), and so it is very easy to come to the conclusion that one or the other of these paradigms is either benign or lethal, without truly understanding the nature and implications of these ideologies.

Climate activists in particular tend to focus on the fossil energy industries as the “enemies” (both for the Carbon emissions and/or funding climate change denial), but naturally see any parties accepting the new climate change agenda as allies. I believe that many of the global players promoting the climate agenda are as dangerous as those denying that agenda. How can this be so?

Ecology and Human Ingenuity

peak-ff-oilI am sure that the current peak in global oil production is an effective (net) energy peak for humanity.  This is as good as it gets, and we are entering an era of ongoing and permanent “energy descent.” The scale of this change is unprecedented in human history.  Every past era of humanity has gone from one low yield energy source (firewood) to a higher yield one (charcoal, then coal, then oil, then nuclear).  Transitioning to a world of less energy requires energy literacy (sadly lacking everywhere I look) so that we can learn how to make do with less, and avoid costly mistakes when we can least afford them.  The era of exponential energy growth, abundance, and affordability has left the populace and the politicians of the industrial world blinded, and without the intuitive understanding of energy needed to deal with the conundrum we now face……

Everything, from ecosystems to human economies, can be viewed through the lens of energy flows.  Since energy energyflowsbehaves according to universal laws (not least entropy…), much can be learned from studying these flows….  This first occurred to me twenty years ago when I had an epiphany and realised that everything is powered by the sun.  And that the energy we consume everyday are flows from this primary source of energy, everything…

When any system, whether economic, biological or ecological, it is always fed by an increasing amount of energy. The result is an increase in the complexity of that system.  For example, during the current era of the growth of extraction of fossil fuels, human economies, communications, education systems, laws, technologies etc have all developed to unbelievable levels of complexity.  The availability of the concentrated solar energy that is fossil energy sets exact limits on what any system can achieve in terms of both scale and complexity.  This occurs in all ecological systems; and man made systems are not immune!  A loss in either energy concentration, or rate of flow results in the lowering of civilisational complexity.  This energy descent is either slow, or, occurs in potentially catastrophic events.

I am absolutely convinced that the unrestrained faith in human ingenuity and innovation to overcome physical limitations, is just as ridiculous as the equally doomed faith in digging holes in the earth for wealth, since the latter utterly relies on  significant quantities of non renewable, cheap, and abundant energy resources…… especially oil, the master resource….

Blind faith in human ingenuity

Faith in human brilliance to overcome physical limitations is widespread and pervasive in society.  It’s almost ageofenlightenmentbecome a religion.  No… it has become a religion. Since the Age of Enlightenment, the marvel of cultural and technological complexity has created hubris about our achievements that is, to some degree understandable, so dazzling it has become; nature, has replaced the humility of ancient spirituality that comes with the wizardry and mystery of nature itself…..

Social justice advocates and environmentalists, bureaucrats, politicians, and diplomats believe the imposition of regulations, rules, and laws, arrived at through negotiation and/or compromise are all that is needed to achieve collective wealth, and its wise control.

Technologists, educators, and journalists also tend towards the belief that thinking, discussion, debate, and consensus are the way to solve problems.  Economists and business entrepreneurs share this faith in human ingenuity, without question.  They, particular, have been much more zealous participants in focusing the tools of science to create wealth though increased production and market forces.  There is no merit and truth in these perspectives, because they are incomplete as they ignore the energy base which made these ideals possible in the first instance….

The apex of this great human project, to free humanity from the forces of nature, is held by bankers in particular, the all seeing masters of the lubricant that makes the whole system of industrial modernity function: money.

wallstreetbankerThe bankers, and their army of drones in the growing financial services, insurance and real estate economies not only believe the continuous growth in financial value and debts controlled by the magic of the market is the pinnacle of human evolution, but also religiously think that the energy/environment problem will be solved by the market forces they have put in place……  thus bringing to existence technological and organisational innovation that will bypass the limits of nature’s capacity to deliver the essential resources we now take for granted, and absorb our waste…

Recently, a Senate enquiry into Australia’s future fuel security (in 2007) saw the head of ABARE, (who have been notoriously wrong for years) challenged about relying on market forces to deal with future energy crises. Famously, he replied, “if the price of eggs goes high enough, roosters will lay eggs”.  I don’t think he believed this to be literally true, but I could not have come up with a more breathtaking rhetorical expression of fanatical faith in markets to save us if I’d tried!  I’m certain it was a very sobering moment for the energetically literate followers of the Senate enquiry……!

Money as Energy

The old saying that “it is the love of money, rather than money itself, which is the source of evil in the world”, is Jesus-Money-Lendersworth repeating here.  This ancient wisdom, the love of money (greed), was once upon a time acknowledged as the force behind the innovation of interest generation, which must be repaid by growth in our extraction of wealth from nature. It is more than ironic that ignoring this taboo against interest-bearing money in the Judeo-Christian tradition was one of the drivers that supercharged Western civilisation into the global industrial culture it is today….

Beyond the creation of debt-based interest-bearing money, the creation of fiat currency, inconvertible paper money made legal tender by a government decree, is an extreme expression of the love of money.  In nearly all societies throughout history, the abstraction of money was backed by a commodity of recognised and lasting value like silver and gold.  Fiat currency gets its value by order of a powerful sovereign and the collective faith of the populace.  As long as we agree that it’s worth something….  it is.  But should confidence ever fail……

1922-Gold-Certificate-Gold-Coin-Note-xf-31606Independence from available stocks of precious metals has many advantages in complex economies…. However, fiat currencies are more vulnerable to systemic greed and corruption by simply printing money, along with all the massively complex variants of this process that have kept the US dollar as the global currency since the abandonment of the gold standard.  It has now been calculated that the true worth of gold today, if it were to represent the worth of the global economy, would be over $200,000 an ounce.  It’s no wonder the value of gold is being manipulated down… because if it wasn’t, you could never afford all those gold contacts in your computers and smart phones!

The complex financial devices and the collective faith which have been the basis of decades of economic growth, also make the global economy vulnerable to collapse.  Analysis of the global energy situation points to a gradual loss of technological and cultural complexity as inevitable.  However, a sudden collapse of human civilisation certainly does not.  The out of control power of money and markets is leading us as rapidly towards the collapse of human civilisation as the shortcomings or impacts of technology, including/especially the burning of fossil fuels.

The frantic activity in the material economy that is damaging our life support systems is above all driven by a dysfunctional debt-based money system that must grow by its own design, just to survive.  Our monetary system requires constant growth to fend off deflation. The money system currently in place has no neutral gear, and no “steady-state” option.  And a growing money supply requires a corresponding increase in resource extraction, otherwise runaway inflation would be the result.  The “love of money” building on the more fundamental and widespread belief in “human brilliance” has become, not only a source of moral corruption but also the supercharger of environmental collapse.

It is utterly ironic, that our systems of financial accounting have become so disconnected from the real world.  While we may have come to expect such lack of understanding from bean counters, awareness of environmental crises does not necessarily imply an energetic literacy, and many environmentalists have failed to grasp the importance of energetic limits to the wider human project in the quest for politically acceptable solutions to the climate catastrophe.

Ecological history and ecological economics have provided a growing array of evidence to strengthen the belief that real wealth is a gift from nature.  Systems of ecological accounting that provide more concrete and numeric measures of real wealth have been a powerful influence on my understanding of how the world really operates.

Unfortunately such academic fields of inquiry remain unfunded and ignored in a world dominated by the magic of money and the latest techno fix that helps accelerate the extraction of more real wealth from nature.  We have become dazzled by our own brilliance, and are blind to what the future brings…….


How do you like the Long Emergency so far………..?

5 12 2013

James Howard Kunstler is one of my favourite writers.  No one has such a way with words, incisive, cynical, sarcastic, derisive, humorous, and also well written full of wit and clever imagery……

Here he is doing a TED talk.  Enjoy……..

At last….. relatively good news on CC

2 10 2013

My friend Dave Kimble who has his ear to the ground and whose work I sometimes post here has sent me this by email…….

The IPCC’s AR5 final report from Working Group 1 (still called Final Draft) is available for download,
either all in one giant file of 158 MB (mine was damaged) at or as lots of files of individual chapters, see

The RCP2.6 scenario corresponds to Peak Oil, Gas and Coal that peakists would subscribe to.  For reasons that are beyond me, you will have to click on the chart to see it full size…. ipcc.predictions It shows median summer temperatures over land rising to +1.5 C by 2045, and falling very slowly after that.

However the median is only the “most likely” for the whole world, over land, in summer.
The model predicts that the most likely half of all outcomes is in the range +1.0 to +1.8 C.
And the 90% of all outcomes range is +0.2 to +2.6 C.

This of course assumes that we manage to keep producing all the fossil fuels we can, on the downslope of Hubbert’s Curve, which seems very unlikely.

So there you have it.  Only collapse can save us from catastrophic climate change.  Though of course, we might still have fired the Clathrate Gun…..

Conventional thinking is over

9 08 2013

Go make a cup of your favourite poison and sit down to watch this presentation by Australian geologist, Dr Simon Michaux………..

And make sure everyone you know finds out too.

Could be the most important video you’ll ever see..

Ten Bucks a Litre…..

29 07 2013

ABC TV (Australia) has a program this coming Thursday 1 August on PEAK OIL (and energy in general from the shorts I have seen…) that I think we should all watch.  I’ll post something about the show once it’s been aired, and I’d love to hear what you all thought of it……..

Thursday, 1 Aug 8:30pm

Dick Smith, self proclaimed single biggest individual fuel user in Australia, goes in search of the energy options that will decide Australia’s future.

Some of our most serious global worries revolve around energy – controlling it, paying for it, and the consequences of burning it. As both one of the world’s biggest per capita users and exporters of fossil fuels, Australia is sure to be deeply affected by the radical changes coming down the energy pipeline. Self-confessed fuel junkie Dick Smith explores Australia’s options as we enter the age of energy disruption.

Episode image

Oil Limits and Climate Change

2 06 2013

They say that every cloud has a silver lining. If, as expected, future fossil fuel energy consumption drops because of a financial collapse triggered by high oil prices or other limits to growth, then, at least in theory, catastrophic climate change could be largely averted….One of the most important variables in AGW models is the amount of  CO2 from the burning of fossil fuels emitted into the atmosphere. In a recent post (Peak Oil Demand is Already a Huge Problem), Gail Tverberg showed the following estimate of future energy consumption.

Figure 1. One view of future energy consumption for the world as a whole. History is based on BP's 2012 Statistical Review of World Energy.

Figure 1. One view of future energy consumption for the world as a whole. History is based on BP’s 2012 Statistical Review of World Energy.

She explained in that post that oil limits are different from what most people expect.

Oil limits are more likely to become price limits than geological ones…. The result of these price limits will be that fuel consumption of all sorts (and not just oil) will decline in the near future.  It will simply become unaffordable…. and this will cause greater job losses and an inability to afford products of many kinds, including those made with fossil fuels which today means just about everything.

Financial collapse, particularly of governments, and a long-term decline in population such as those already discussed on this blog are also part of this scenario.

Many people who know about climate change know little about peak oil. Many who know about peak oil dismiss climate change.  Our estimate of CO2 generation by fossil fuels in the 21st century is only about 25% of the amount (range midpoint) assumed in the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report.  And Gail has just announced she agrees with us.  When differences in estimates of an important variable are this far apart, one starts reaching the “Garbage in, garbage out” problem.

If we look to peak oil, I’d say the equivalent to Hansen’s 1988 testimony was Campbell and Laherrère’s article in Scientific American in 1998 which said, among other things:

Barring a global recession, it seems most likely that world production of conventional oil will peak during the first decade of the 21st century.

Which, as it turns out, looks to be holding up pretty well as a prediction.

This is a persistent problem for all modellers.  Even assuming the climate models are perfect apart from estimates of future CO2 fossil fuel use, and even if anthropogenic issues are implicated as the cause of recent climate chaos, the models with their erroneous estimates of future fossil energy consumption are unhelpful for determining what future actions need to be undertaken……..

A comparison of energy consumption estimates is shown in Figure 2 from Gail’s website. Estimates of energy consumption (similar to that in Figure 1) is shown as “the Collapse scenario”.

Figure 2. Comparison of Energy Consumption Estimates. Climate high and Climate low are based on Figure 1 of this Oil Drum post by DeSousa and Mearns. "Peak oil" is based on  a 2013 estimate by  Energy Watch Group.  Collapse is my estimate, associated with Figure 1 of this post. In all of the estimates, there is an implicit assumption that the fuel mix stays relatively constant.

Figure 2. Comparison of Energy Consumption Estimates. Climate high and Climate low are based on Figure 1 of this Oil Drum post by DeSousa and Mearns. “Peak oil” is based on a 2013 estimate by Energy Watch Group. Collapse is my estimate, associated with Figure 1 of this post. In all of the estimates, there is an implicit assumption that the fuel mix stays relatively constant.

Figure 2 Explanation


Try that without oil

The Collapse Scenario in Figure 2 is Gail’s estimate of future energy consumption, using amounts similar to Figure 1 also from her website. It is based on the assumption that financial limits are what brings down the economy.  As the Matrix is brought down, our capability to provide many basic services, such as road maintenance and keeping electric transmission lines going, disappear.  Thus, we become incapable of maintaining the complex systems needed to extract oil and gas and coal, and as a result of this, also unable to maintain current energy supplies. Even renewables will become a problem, because, as I continually say here, we need fossil fuels to create new renewable energy generation.  We also need fossil fuels to maintain the lines used to transmit the electricity, and to provide back-up generation.

If the problem we are facing is financial collapse, biomass can be expected to behave differently than other renewable energy resources.  And you should see the broohaha over the future of wood burning on the Conversation from people who have no idea what the future holds! If people are poorer, there will be great demand for wood for heating, and in fact, there is evidence that Greece is turning to wood burning already. (Greece being an early example of a country approaching the financial problems I expect to occur globally.) Under a Collapse Scenario, a likely problem is deforestation.

The Peak Oil Scenario shown in Figure 2 is based on a 2013 estimate by the Energy Watch Group.  The assumption in estimates using “Peak Oil” ways of evaluating supplies is that geological constraints determine supply.  As usual, the “big picture” is missing…..  The question of price doesn’t come into their analysis; instead “Hubbert style” curve fitting techniques are used.  If oil supplies decline, the assumption is made that natural gas and coal extraction will to some extent rise to offset the oil decline…….

Many who support the peak oil method of calculating expected availability of future fuel supplies advocate ramping-up of wind and solar power.  One can reason that the use of renewables is supported because fossil fuels are seen to be limited, and renewables might act as “fossil fuel extenders”.

Dave and I (and now Gail too) believe that peak oil estimates are overstated because they do not consider the economics of depleting fossil fuel supplies.

Oil consumption by importers starts to decline if price is high–something that happens long before world oil supply actually starts to decline. And here in Australia where this scenario will unfold very quickly, before 2020 I estimate, lowering our oil consumption will tank the economy.  See Gail’s post How Oil Exporters Reach Financial Collapse.

The Climate High and Climate Low estimates are based on carbon amounts shown in Figure 1 of this 2008 Oil Drum post by De Sousa and Mearns.  In converting these carbon estimates to energy consumption estimates, Gail implicitly assumes that the carbon intensity of energy use would remain unchanged–that is, improvements resulting from more use of natural gas and renewables use would be offset by increases in coal consumption. This assumption is probably not what the IPCC would make says Gail…. Their “Low Estimate” would probably assume greater use of renewables and natural gas than their High Estimate, so that the actual energy available in their Low Estimate would be closer to the energy available in their High Estimate than what her graph would suggest. The  2007 IPCC report does not give much detail, except to generally discuss their reasoning.

The IPCC’s basic assumptions seem to be:

1. Demand is the basic determiner of supply. In the view of the IPCC, there is lots of oil, gas, and coal in the ground (see Figure 4.2 of Working Group III Report). It is assumed that we can get these fuels out, essentially as fast as we want. No consideration is given of diminishing returns, and the resulting likely run-up in both needed investment funds and  price to the user. (See Our Investment Sinkhole Problem.)

2. Because the IPCC report misses the issue of diminishing returns and resulting higher price, it assumes that demand can keep on ramping up pretty much indefinitely. In the real word, demand is what customers can afford to buy. This is already declining for the US, Europe and Japan, with the high oil prices experienced in recent years.

Figure 3. Oil consumption by part of the world, based on EIA data. 2012 world consumption data estimated based on world "all liquids" production amounts.

Figure 3. Oil consumption by part of the world, based on EIA data. 2012 world consumption data estimated based on world “all liquids” production amounts.

Overview of IPCC 2007 Report

As Gail sees it, there are three important aspects  of the 2007 IPCC analysis:

1. The Climate Model. This is the part of the report that says, if CO2 is such and such, and other forcings are so much, the effect on the climate is this amount. “I personally do not have expertise to evaluate this part of the report. I note, however, that at least some climate scientists seem to be back-pedalling on how much impact is expected from a given amount of carbon” states Gail….

A letter published in Nature Geoscience on May 19, 2013, titled Energy Budget Constraints on Climate Response indicates that the climate effects of a given set of forcings seems to be lower than the 2007 IPCC report suggested. This letter, together with explanatory information is available free for download, with registration.

2. The Estimates of Fossil Fuels going into the Model. It is this part of the model that seems to be seriously erroneous.  The carbon added during the 21st century in the Collapse Scenario is only about 25% of what the IPCC estimates use (averaging the high and low) . De Sousa and Mearns calculate that their Peak Oil estimates would keep CO2 emissions below 450 parts per million. Gail’s Collapse Scenario estimates are considerably below De Sousa and Mearn’s Peak Oil estimates, so would in theory produce lower yet CO2 impacts.

3. What to Do About the Problem.  We all think this part of IPCC report has a serious problem as well.  The report, as it is published, is not about How to Reduce CO2 Emissions. If this had been the goal, the report would likely have talked about reducing population, eating less meat, making manufactured goods that last longer, and standardizing goods, so that it is not necessary to buy new goods, just replacement parts. Instead, the IPCC 2007 report provides a wish list of ways we might keep Business as Usual (BAU) going, using techniques that might reduce fossil fuel use with little pain to the business community and consumers.  In other words………  they haven’t got a clue!!

A big part of the problem with the analysis of what to do about the problem is that the researchers putting together the analysis do not understand the way the Matrix works. According to Newton’s Third Law of Motion, Gail reminds us, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”  Unfortunately, there is something very similar when one tries to make energy substitutions.  A researcher might assume that substitution of higher-priced renewable energy for lower-priced fossil fuel energy would reduce world carbon emissions, but this is true only if second and third order effects don’t undo the supposed benefit.  Higher-priced fuels make a country less competitive in the world marketplace, and give an advantage to countries using coal for their generation.  Adding a proper carbon tax, not that pretend one the Labor Party and the Greens introduced, has similar unplanned effects.

Figure 4. Actual world carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels, as shown in BP's 2012 Statistical Review of World Energy. Fitted line is expected trend in emissions, based on actual trend in emissions from 1987-1997, equal to about 1.0% per year.

Figure 4. Actual world carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels, as shown in BP’s 2012 Statistical Review of World Energy. Fitted line is expected trend in emissions, based on actual trend in emissions from 1987-1997, equal to about 1.0% per year.

When we look at actual CO2 emissions, we find that they have risen dramatically since the Kyoto Protocol was ratified in 1997 (Figure 3, above). (See Gail’s posts, Twelve Reasons Why Globalization is a Huge Problem and Climate Change: The Standard Fixes Don’t Work.)

One of the implicit assumptions in the IPCC report is that continued growth in a finite world makes sense, and can be expected to continue until 2100. In fact, we are reaching limits of many kinds.

Figure 5. Various types of limits we are now reaching

Figure 5. Various types of limits we are now reaching

In fact, modellers should be considering all of the limits simultaneously.  Modelling any one limit on Figure 5 by itself will produce results that will suggest that that limit alone is a huge problem, that might perhaps be fixed.  But a financial problem can be expected to lead to economic shrinkage which will by itself help mitigate several of the problems, and that includes climate change……

Given the multiple limits we are reaching, Gail thinks we need to step back…. Energy is essential to create products and services of all kinds. The IPCC is claiming that, with a few tweaks, economic growth of the type we have grown to expect can continue until the year 2100.  This assertion we believe is clearly false, with or without any of the tweaks they are advocating……

We need to be figuring out how to transition to a world rapidly changing for the worse, in terms of energy availability.  We cannot be sure climate change should be our Number 1 concern, because the CO2 part of the problem looks likely to mostly take care of itself. Instead, we need to be looking at how we can make do with a lot less.  And we also need to be cutting back on the real source of demand–population growth.