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World Energy Consumption Since 1820 in Charts


Posted on March 12, 2012

37 Votes Figure 1 shows the huge increase in world energy consumption that has taken place in roughly the last 200 years. This rise in energy consumption is primarily from increased fossil fuel use.

Figure 1. World Energy Consumption by Source, Based on Vaclav Smil estimates from Energy Transitions: History, Requirements and Prospects together with BP Statistical Data for 1965 and subsequent

With energy consumption rising as rapidly as shown in Figure 1, it is hard to see what is happening when viewed at the level of the individual. To get a different view, Figure 2 shows average consumption per person, using world population estimates by Angus Maddison.

Figure 2. Per capita world energy consumption, calculated by dividing world energy consumption shown in Figure 1 by population estimates, based on Angus Maddison data.

On a per capita basis, there is a huge spurt of growth between World War II and 1970. There is also a small spurt about the time of World War I, and a new spurt in growth recently, as a result of growing coal usage in Asia. In this post, I provide additional charts showing long-term changes in energy supply, together with some observations regarding implications. One such implication is how economists can be misled by past patterns,
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if they do not realize that past patterns reflect very different energy growth patterns than we will likely see in the future. World per Capita Energy Consumption Lets look first at Figure 2. Prior to 1900, energy per capita did not rise very much with the addition of coal energy, suggesting that the early use of coal mostly offset other fuel uses, or permitted larger families. There was a small increase in energy consumption per capita during World War I, but a dip during the depression prior to World War II. Between World War II and 1970, there was a huge ramp-up in energy consumption per capita. There are several reasons why this might happen: During this period, European countries and Japan were rebuilding after World War II. There was a need to find jobs for returning US soldiers, so that the country would not fall back into the recession it was in prior to World War II. The US had a large oil industry that it wanted to develop, in order to provide jobs and tax revenue. Major infrastructure development projects were put into place during this period, including the Eisenhower Interstate System and substantial improvements to the electrical transmission system. To facilitate purchases both by companies and by consumers, the government encouraged the use of debt to pay for the new good. Figure 3, below, from my post, The United States 65-Year Debt Bubble, shows that non-governmental debt did indeed rise during this period.

Figure 3. US Non-Governmental Debt, Divided by GDP, based on US Federal Reserve and US Bureau of Economic Analysis data.

World population also expanded greatly during the period from 1820 to 2010:

Figure 4. World Population, based primarily Angus Maddison estimates, interpolated where necessary.

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Figure 4 shows that there is a distinct bend in the graph about 1950, when population started rising faster, at the same time that energy consumption started rising more quickly. If we look at 10-year percentage changes in world population and energy use, this is the pattern we see:

Figure 5. Decade percentage increases in energy use compared to population growth, using amounts from Figures 2 and 4.

Figure 5 shows that the first periods a large percentage increases in energy use occurred about the time of World War I. A second spurt in energy use started about the time of World War II. Population increased a bit with the first spurt in energy use, but did not really take off until the second spurt. Part of the population rise after World War II may be related to the invention of antibioticsPenicillin (1942), Streptomycin (1943), and Tetracycline (1955). Use of energy to upgrade water and sewer services, and to sterilize milk and to refrigerate meat, may have made a difference as well. Life expectancy in the US grew from 49 in 1900 to 70 in 1960, contributing to population growth. Since 1970, the rate of increase in world population has declined. One reason for this decline may be the use of oral contraceptives. These were first approved for use in the United States in 1960. Other reasons might include more education for women, and more women entering into the paid work force. A person can see that in the most recent decade (2000 to 2010), per capita energy use is again rising rapidly. Lets look at some detail, to see better what is happening. Detail Underlying Growth in World Energy Figure 2 above shows energy from the various fuels stacked on top of each other. It is easier to see what is happening with individual fuels if we look at them separately, as in Figure 6, below. In Figure 6, I also make a change in the biofuel definition. I omit broadly defined biofuels (which would include animal feed and whale oil, among other things) used in Figure 2, and instead show a grouping of modern energy sources from BP statistical data. What I show as BP-Other includes ethanol and other modern biofuels, wind, geothermal, and solar.

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Figure 6. Per capita consumption of various fuels, separately, rather than stacked, as in Figure 2.

We can see from Figure 6 that per capita consumption of oil peaked in the 1970 to 1980 time period, and has since been declining. The fuel that has primarily risen to take its place is natural gas, and to a lesser extent, nuclear. Substitution was made in several areas including home heating and electricity generation. Coal consumption per capita stayed pretty much flat (meaning that coal consumption rose about fast as population growth) until the last decade, namely the period after 2000. In the period since 2000, there has been a huge rise in coal consumption in China and in other developing nations, particularly in Asia. This increase in coal consumption seems to be related to the increase in manufacturing in Asia following the liberalization of world trade that began with the formation of the World Trade Organization in 1995, and the addition of China to the organization in 2001. If we look at per capita energy consumption since 1965 by country based on BP data, we find very different patterns:

Figure 7. Per capita energy consumption for selected countries, based on BP Statistical Data energy consumption and Angus Maddison population estimates. FSU refers to the Former Soviet Union. Europe refers to a list of 12 large countries.

Figure 7 shows that since the 1970s, energy patterns have patterns have varied. US energy consumption per capita has declined, while Europes energy consumption per capita has tended to remain relatively flat. Chinas energy consumption per capita has greatly increased in recent years. The passage of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 may have contribute to rising Asian coal consumption because it encouraged countries to reduce their own CO2 emissions, but did not discourage countries from importing goods made in countries using coal as their primary fuel for electricity. Correlations with Employment

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If we look at the United States line on Figure 7, we can see that the most recent peak in US per capita consumption of energy was in the year 2000. It is striking that the percentage of the US population with jobs also peaked in 2000 (Figure 8).

Figure 8. US number of people employed divided by population. Two series are shown: One is for non-farm employment from the Bureau of Labor Statistics; the other is from the Social Security administration.

A person would expect energy consumption to be correlated with the number of jobs for a couple of reasons. First, jobs often involve using vehicles or machines that require fuels of some sort, so the jobs themselves require energy. In addition, people with jobs have the income to buy goods that require energy. Thus, the fact that people in the US have jobs raises the demand for goods and services requiring energy. If we look at US median wages through 2010 from the Social Security administration, we see a flattening since 2000, and an actual decrease in inflation adjusted wages since 2007 (Figure 9):

Figure 9. US Median Wages based on Social Security data.

If changes in international trade caused US wage earners to be more in direct competition with wage earners from other countries, it would not be surprising if a smaller percentage of the US population has jobs, and that median wages dropped in real terms between 2007 and 2010. Annual per Capita Increases in World Energy Consumption Figure 10 (below) shows world per capita energy consumption on a year-by-year basis, similar to Figure 7.

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Figure 10. Year by year per capita energy consumption, based on BP statistical data, converted to joules.

Figure 10 shows that world per capita energy consumption was increasing until the late 70s, hitting a peak in 1977. There was a fairly long period until about 2000 where per-capita energy consumption was on a plateau. This was a period where consumers were shifting from oil to electricity where possible, a process that was typically more efficient. It was only in the last decade when production goods of many sorts started shifting to Asia and living standards in Asia starting rising that world energy consumption per capita has again begun increasing. CO2 Emissions per Capita I wrote a couple of posts earlier about why CO2 emissions seem to be rising as fast as GDP since 2000 (Is it really possible to decouple GDP growth from CO2 emissions growth? and Thoughts on why energy use and CO2 emissions are rising as fast as GDP), and the increase in per capita consumption would seem to be related. One of the graphs from the second post is shown below as Figure 11.

Figure 11. Carbon dioxide emissions by the three major areas described (Southeast Asia, Middle East, Remainder), based on BP Statistical Data

These emissions are not on a per-capita basis, but the graph illustrates what happens when the production of goods and services is increasingly outsourced to Asia, where coal is used as the primary fuel. Emissions tend to rise there, even if they remain flat in other countries. If we compare the growth of CO2 emissions and the growth of energy use, both on a per capita basis (Figure 12), we see that the CO2 emissions grew more slowly than energy consumption in the 1970 to 1990 period, so the lines increasingly diverged.

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Figure 12. Per capita energy consumption and CO2 emissions, based on BP statistical data.

This divergence appears to result from the changing fuel mix (more nuclear and more natural gas, relative to coal) during the period. Since 2000, the two lines are approximately parallel, indicating no further CO2 savings given the greater use of coal again. Wind and solar contributions are not large enough to make an appreciable difference in CO2 levels. How an Economist Might Be Misled If an economist views the period between World War II and 1970 as normal in terms of what to expect in the future, he/she is likely to be misled. The period of rapid energy growth following World War II is not likely to be repeated. The rapid energy growth allowed much manual work to be performed by machine (for example, using a back hoe instead of digging ditches by hand). Thus, there appeared to be considerable growth in human efficiency, but such growth is not likely to be repeated in the future. Also, the rate of GDP growth was likely higher than could be expected in the future. Even the period between 1980 and 2000 may be misleading for predicting future patterns because this period occurred before the huge increase in international trade. Once international trade with less developed nations increases, we can expect these nations will want to increase their energy consumption in any way that is possible, including using more coal. Another false inference might be that per capita oil consumption has declined in the past (Figure 6), so future declines should not be a problem. For one thing, the past drop in oil availability may very well have contributed to the employment issues noted above during the 2000 to 2010 period in the United States. For another, oil issues may very well have contributed to the Iraq war, and even to World War II. Furthermore, there may be Liebigs Law of the Minimum issues, because most vehicles use gasoline or diesel for fuel and cannot run without it. Figure 2 also illustrates that a transition from one fuel to another takes many, many yearswe have not at this point transitioned from away coal, and nuclear is still only a small percentage of world energy consumption. The small amounts of new renewables to date should be of concern to economists if they are counting on these for the future. For one thing, ramping up new renewables to amounts which can be expected to make a significant contribution is likely to take many years. For another, new renewables require fossil fuels for their creation, so they are very much tied to the current system. The fact that things havent fallen apart so far doesnt give the assurance that things never will fall apart. Individual countries behave very differently. While some countries may continue to grow using coal, other countries will flounder when hit by high oil and natural gas prices. It is quite possible that some countries will encounter major difficulties in the years ahead, even though they have so far been untouched. The precarious
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debt situations of a number of countries leave them vulnerable to disruptions.


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About Gail T verberg My name is Gail Tverberg. I am an actuary interested in finite world issues - oil depletion, natural gas depletion, water shortages, and climate change. The financial system is also likely to be affected. View all posts by Gail Tverberg

This entry was posted in Financial Implications, Oil and Its Future and tagged carbon dioxide, China, CO2, coal, economist, energy consumption, fossil fuels, oil, oil history, per capita energy consumption, petroleum, recession. Bookmark the permalink.

137 Responses to World Energy Consumption Since 1820 in Charts


XRM says:
March 13, 2012 at 12:31 am

For another, oil issues may very well have contributed to the Iraq war. Actually, it was the primary reason for that war. All the major oil companies are extracting oil there right now and Iraqs economy has been privatized in order to open their markets to the multinational corporations and grease the palms of a handful of government officials. Western Oil Firms Remain as US Exits Iraq: Prior to the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq, US and other western oil companies were all but completely shut out of Iraqs oil market, oil industry analyst Antonia Juhasz told Al Jazeera. But thanks to the invasion and occupation, the companies are now back inside Iraq and producing oil there for the first time since being forced out of the country in 1973. http://dahrjamail.net/western-oil-firms-remain-as-us-exits-iraq

Extracting and exploiting the resources of weaker foreign people/lands is always accompanied by self-serving, fabricated narratives in order to appease the moral consciousness of those doing the exploiting and domination.

Gail Tverberg says:


March 13, 2012 at 7:51 am

I agree that oil was the primary reason behind the war. I felt that if various other sites were copying the post over,
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I shouldnt be too adamant on the subject, since some may object. I didnt have time or space to explain why. The fact that the US didnt really walk off with more oil argues against it.

Owen says:
March 13, 2012 at 8:41 am

That position doesnt hold up. Tony Blair was likely the only man in the world who could have stopped GW Bush from proceeding after CIA **AND** MI6 analyses indicated the WMD threat was there. Tony Blair was leading a country with no particular oil stress and the North Sea was still a nice source of UK influx. He evaluated the evidence and signed on. He did so because he believed it was wisest for UK national security to do so and lets remember Blair was always thought to be relatively left wing before then. The war was because of erroneous intelligence data (and frankly, there is some evidence that it was not erroneous and the weapons were transported out) and hey, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. There doesnt always have to be subtle meaning. Oil stresses werent on the radar screen in 2001. The price was low double digits.

Gail Tverberg says:


March 13, 2012 at 8:53 am

It seems like there was always talk of the war will pay for itself because of the oil. Without this belief, it is hard to believe that as much money would have been spent, as was. Your view is one of the reasons I said may.

XRM says:
March 13, 2012 at 11:57 am

Thats laughable.. Documents leaked by WikiLeaks on Tuesday (19) prove once again that the war in Iraq was a big hoax concocted by the capitalist powers and amplified by the corporate media. They show that the British government, in collusion with the U.S., discussed the sharing of oil from the invaded country a year before the invasion. According to news published in the British newspaper, The Independent, the documents leaked by WikiLeaks show that plans to export the oil reserves of Iraq were discussed by British government ministers and major international oil principals a year before Britain accepted, along with the United States, the plan to invade Iraqi soil. The newspaper notes that the serious denunciation of the existence of the prior plan had already happened in March 2003. At the time, both Shell and BP denied that they had been meeting in secret at Downing Street, home of the British government, to discuss the sharing of oil. The prime minister at the time, the doormat Tony Blair, called the allegations completely absurd. Memoranda published in The Independent, dated October and November 2002, give details about the meetings. In one of them, five months before the invasion, Elizabeth Symons, Minister of Commerce, affirms to BP that the government wanted British energy companies to receive part of the enormous benefits of oil and gas in Iraq as a reward for the military aid given by Blair to the United States to change the Iraqi regime. http://www.eutimes.net/2011/04/wikileaks-the-looting-of-iraqs-oil/ http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/secret-memos-expose-link-between-oil-firmsand-invasion-of-iraq-2269610.html

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Try reading some books by Mark Curtis or John Perkins.


Lucinda Lunkins says:
March 13, 2012 at 7:40 pm

Wikileaksyes, a source to be trusted in between their stealing of information, selectively editing it and omitting whatever they see fit. And Wikileaks has NO AGENDA WHATSOEVER, right? They are basically just as non-bias as NPRwhich everyone knows is a completely absurd position. Whenever you are ready to join the ADULT worldwe will all be here. XRM says:
March 13, 2012 at 10:26 pm

The proof is in the videos and articles I posted and what is happening on the ground today: http://dahrjamail.net/western-oil-firms-remain-as-us-exits-iraq Any questions on reality? XRM says:
March 13, 2012 at 10:45 pm

Also to comment on what Owens said: Tony Blair was likely the only man in the world who could have stopped GW Bush from proceeding after CIA **AND** MI6 analyses indicated the WMD threat was there. Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist Charles J. Hanley personally went to Iraq in January 2003 and found no WMD after visiting every sight named by Bush officials. .. For some people, not even a sledge hammer to the head would convince them of the truth. Oil blinds everyone to the dirty realities of the world. Baylee Schenk says:
March 15, 2012 at 2:13 pm

Apparently Oil blinds you too.from a rationale, logical and non-hypocritical mind! Lucinda Lunkins says:
March 15, 2012 at 2:09 pm

Sorry, I dont trust nefarious internet organization whose agenda is as terrible if not more than the governments they claim to be morally better than. They ARE NOT. Id take the status quo over Wikileaks, Anonymous, or any of your other fellow we dont play by the rules
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and make the world like we want it or else organizations. You are just pro-tyrants by nature. The MAJORITY rejects you. Now go play some more video games. XRM says:
March 15, 2012 at 11:13 pm

What can you say about people that dont read the link you provide, except to say that they dont read for comprehension. Dahr Jamail, Mark Curtis, and Charles J. Hanley are all highly respected investigative journalists who have nothing to do with WikiLeaks or Anonymous. Im all ears. Provide me with links and proof of the weapons of mass destruction and the democracy we have installed in that war-ravaged country. Baylee Schenk says:
March 16, 2012 at 3:06 pm

Your link is full of opinions, lack of evidence and outright fabrications. You are a liar. XRM says:
March 16, 2012 at 10:53 pm

Break it down for me. Like I said, Im all ears. Tell me your version of things on the ground. Are all the major oil companies presently extracting oil from within Iraq? Did we establish Democracy in Iraq or just a sham vassal state for the U.S. Empires energy and geopolitical interests? How many millions of people were killed and maimed in this venture? Ive got more questions for you once you answer those.

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wotfigo says:
March 13, 2012 at 3:39 am

Well, I feel sorry for the generations ahead.The four generations of the 20th century have benefited from the Fossil Fuel Fiesta as these graphs show. But what these graphs also show is that there is no viable readily available energy alternative to the massive FF use. None. Not even nuclear, From The Economist, Nuclear power; The Dream That Failed http://www.economist.com/node/21549936 And Chinas coal consumption (3.88 billion tons) is now nearly half of the total world consumption of coal (8 billion tons) http://www.energybulletin.net/stories/2012-03-09/china-coal-update Without China the global per capita consumption of coal would not look so rosy. When 1 massive country dominates a global graph like this it would be interesting to plot graphs with China excluded as well. to give a more accurate view of real energy availability to other sections of the world. As Gail has shown in Graph 6 we are well beyond Peak Oil wrt per capita availability. Declining per capita oil consumption is being replaced with coal & natural gas When these Fossil Fuels peak as they will in the next few years or decades there seems to be very little alternative to Power Down. It is staggering to me that so many people are being misled by the Business As Usual corporations & politicians that the future will be just as rosy as the recent pas of the 20th century. It t is more likely to resemble the past of the19th century, if we are lucky. Excellent post Gail. Lots of work. Thank you.

Gail Tverberg says:


March 13, 2012 at 8:00 am

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Thanks! I couldnt see any way to power down from these graphs either. I had thoughts about other graphs I could include, but try to limit myself to slightly over 2,000 words and 10 to 12 graphs, per post, since that probably is near the upper limit of readers attention span. Some graphs landed on the cutting room floor. How long the fossil fuel party lasts really depends on economics. China is already needing coal imports to keep its consumption rising. These are more expensive, and may not be able to grow rapidly enough. The natural gas situation depends on LNG ships and building all of the other infrastructure, all of which is expensive. Countries like Japan using large amounts must also be able to pay the high prices without running large trade deficits. I am afraid we are reaching party over in not too long, because of the financial problems importers will encounter.

Ian M Stewart says:


March 13, 2012 at 2:05 pm

that probably is near the upper limit of readers attention span. I fully agree, Gail. I like to recommend your posts to some sceptical friends and family, but I doubt they read as much of them as I hope for. Short and to the point scores well. Many thanks for all your excellent work.

Andras says:
March 13, 2012 at 7:27 am

Very good article! I like the economists mislead part very much. However I thing there are economy growth theory believer and alternative economist. Most of the economists are specialists so they do not see the whole picture they were taught to think in terms of economy growth so they may not be able to think differently. I think another excellent article was the money as a proxy in connection to this the economists have ability to see the system through this proxy. ( Money means fiat money.) The figures and explanations are exellent also! Two quotations: Today the money is the God and economists are the priests If Someone think in economy grow that is either economist or foolish

Gail Tverberg says:


March 13, 2012 at 8:03 am

It seems like if a person has never thought about the need for energy to run the economy, it is hard to see that this concept is fundamental. We are now seeing more and more articles about high oil prices affecting the economy, so maybe part of the problem will eventually start to sink in.

wotfigo says:
March 13, 2012 at 3:00 pm

My favourite definition of The Economy is Humans using Energy to convert Resources into Goods & Services (&ultimately into Waste). This definition applies to all economies from small tribes to large modern countries to the global economy. As Fossil Fuels become more expensive to extract &/or begin to run out, then in the absence of some new miraculous high density energy source, the global economy can only go in one direction.

Gail Tverberg says:


March 13, 2012 at 4:26 pm

I think you are right! That is a good definition.


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The Peak Oil Poet says:


March 13, 2012 at 7:45 am

oh how i wish i could see what those charts might look like in the future p http://thepeakoilpoet.blogspot.com/2012/01/party-on-dudes.html

Leo Smith says:


March 13, 2012 at 7:50 am

Good article. I wonder if anyone is left who actually understands its implications?

Owen says:
March 13, 2012 at 8:50 am

Per capita data is almost always pretty powerful stuff. In this case, Id suggest it is not surprising. As population grows, another thing does not. Calories/acre. That number can increase via Monsanto and Potash, but it isnt spiking like population curves. As soon as one caps calories/acre, then food has to transport. You cant eat local anymore. Too many people in the region. Food has to come in from places there are fewer people. That means oil. Dont care much about energy. Certainly dont care about CO2 emissions. Only oil matters. The rest is probably fundraising material pointed at environmentalist wallets. The per capita XXXXX use charts would be better if purely oil. Chinas per capita oil use is 10% of the USs, and that is the source of inevitable war.

Gail Tverberg says:


March 13, 2012 at 9:04 am

You are right that the oil numbers are more important than the total numbers, for the reasons you mention. You can see that the per capita oil numbers are dropping quite a bit. I think some people look at the drop that has occurred to date, and assume that a further drop would be no problem. That is clearly not true, especially if it is quick.

Owen says:
March 13, 2012 at 7:10 pm

Ive been putting some time into this. I think there is an error in the modeling done by . . . whoever. GDP sensitivity to oil price has the double whammy of suppressed activity + price deflator index impact, and thats a big deal because rents moderating effect on CPI is not weighted as heavily in the Price Deflator , but the more important item I think is modeled wrong is things like what youve just alluded to, consumption to GDP or consumption to lifestyle or consumption to whatever ratio. I am more or less certain all models have a contstant or at most a linear function for the relevant coefficients, and I think this is wrong. Its analagous to business overhead. Coefficients for survival as a function of oil consumption are 1.0 up to a threshold and then it falls from 1.0. Weve been in the less than 1.0 realm for a few years now. If we are forced lower by scarcity, were going to see survival impact. Owen says:
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March 14, 2012 at 1:53 pm

Im gonna reply to myself because the phrasing is poor and catharsis rules some days. GDP is the formula everyone knows, but what is less known is each parameter of the formula is adjusted by the GDP Price Deflator. This is NOT the Consumer Price Index. GDP uses a different inflation index. The GDP price index weights rent lower in impact than CPI does, and as a result of this, oil/gasoline price has more impact on it. Therefore, the US GDP computation is affect by oil in two ways. 1) Overall economic activity is degraded because money is sucked out of the borders of an oil importing country and 2) The price deflator on all parameters of the GDP equation erodes their positive influences. Thus, generally speaking, people are not computing the GDP delta as a function of oil price correctly. I have seen about 80 different rules of thumb for this, like $10 of oil price rise equates to 0.2% GDP (silly, far lower than reality) or 20 cents a gallon for gasoline is 0.5% GDP growth (probably also low). The rest of my babble is about non linearity in the elasticity presumptions. Not so much price elasticity but rather a non linearity in the level of lifestyle as a function of oil consumption. You have a spectrum of lifestyle from bare survival, then fancier foods, then maybe a bus to work instead of walking, then carpooling to work, then driving to work, then more than one car in the family, then RV drive across America summer vacations, then 2 week tours of Europe, then 4 weeks on an Antarctic cruise, then servants. What I am suggesting is the drop from servants to 2 week tours of Europe occurs with X barrels less oil consumption, but the drop from 2 week tours of Europe to the multi car family happens with just X/2 less consumption. Meaning, each equivalent lifestyle decline occurs with a smaller loss of oil consumption ability. Its non linear. As we get down towards bare survival, it may only take a couple fewer barrels to push down a level than the 100s of barrels it took to lose a level at the higher end. David F Collins says:
March 15, 2012 at 11:32 am

Excellent insight: although whether the lifestyle decay nonlinearity is geometric or whatever is as irrelevant as to what the coefficients might be. It also offers a glimmer of hope for a soft landing being physico-economically practical if politically impossible.

Gail Tverberg says:


March 15, 2012 at 11:34 am

Another thought that has occurred to me is that GDP counts an increase in oil cost multiple times, in some sense, because it is not just the higher cost of oil that goes in. If the higher cost of oil leads to a higher cost of food, that goes in as well. If it leads to a higher cost of transported goods, that goes in as well. So the oil impact on the economy occurs in multiple places. There will of course be offsetting declines in spending in other segments of the economy.

Gail Tverberg says:


March 15, 2012 at 10:00 am

I havent thought about it in the way you have, but I agree that simple modeling is likely not to work very well. One of the issues in modeling is the various feedbacks to the economy, as oil prices rise higher. This can lead to very wide-ranging impacts, including a reduction in home prices and difficulty in debt repayment. Also, the amount of oil added to the system over time is not necessarily proportional to the amount extracted, if more of the oil extracted is used within the system itself, because of higher energy needs as lower quality oil is extracted.
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Another issue is the oil price pattern since 2004 seems to be very different from prior to that time. Modeling needs a long time-series, however, and doesnt consider the fact that a supply constrained system is fairly different from one which is not.

Owen says:
March 15, 2012 at 12:55 pm

Thats legit thinking. The non linearity need not be 2nd order. It can be 3rd or 4th or more. One usually presumes that 2nd and 3rd and 4th order effects have diminishing impacts in a model, but theres no reason mathematically this must be so. The folks getting foreclosed and booted stop spending unpaid mortgage payments on iPads and blamo, Apple gets crushed. Maybe its no accident there has been such effort to keep people in their homes regardless of whether or not they are paying anything at all to a bank while there. The Administration reasons correctly that the FASB change of 2009 that removed obligation from banks to mark MBS value to market does indeed firewall bank reported results for at least the near future and therefore reinforces the illusion of their alleged solvency. But if people have to pay their mortgage payment, then that is an overt iPad that is not bought. Best, they reason, to leave all this alone until after November. A population living somewhere for free can suddenly afford to fill their tanks.

Gail Tverberg says:


March 15, 2012 at 10:28 pm

A population living somewhere for free can suddenly afford to fill their tanks That is a good point. We have a lot of folks still living for free, I expect.

Bob Carver says:


March 13, 2012 at 10:08 am

Solar can fill all of the non-transportation energy gap. Tom Murphy has done the math on his blog (see http://physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/2012/02/the-way-is-shut/ ). There is plenty of solar power available just on the surface of the Earth and Solar Power Satellites can be used to collect orders of magnitude more power and beam it to Earth for our electricity needs. The big problem comes in transportation, where fossil fuels have such an advantage in packing huge amounts of energy into a compact space. Even there, it is reasonable to believe that enough hydrogen can be generated using solar power to fill that gap as well (Murphy probably disagrees with this view). The pessimistic view assumes that there are no advances in energy for transportation, but the past should tell us that advances are the norm, especially when the pressure is on to fill the gaps. Right now, one of the problems with wind and solar is intermittency, but a US company has developed large capacitors which can store electricity as cheaply as lithium-ion (Li-on) batteries. These capacitors have the advantage of being able to be recharged orders of magnitudes more times than Li-on batteries (i.e., millions versus thousands of times). And, these capacitors work just as well at low temperatures where Li-on batteries have to be heated to continue working. This solves the intermittency problems with wind and solar.

Gail Tverberg says:


March 13, 2012 at 10:27 am

Tom Murphys calculations have a lot of implicit assumptions build in, such as that we have the resources to pay for all of the infrastructure required. I suspect that a more complete analysis would show that these are just assumptions, not really true. I think oil requirements are part of these, as well as the cost of storage for intermittency. I agree with you though that transportation is a major problem. I am not sure we have enough time to wait for the
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advances that will eventually come.

Bob Carver says:


March 13, 2012 at 12:37 pm

Natural gas is truly a bridge to nowhere. If we get distracted by this boondoggle, we are indeed doomed. See http://thinkprogress.org/romm/2012/01/24/407765/natural-gas-is-a-bridge-to-nowhere-price-for-globalwarming-pollution/

DaShui says:
March 13, 2012 at 11:37 am

Here is something I have been thinking about: Someone was stating that food production will never be a problem because America wastes so much food already we have plenty of slack. I wonder that our food system needs a certain amount of volume to work, it wouldnt make sense to ship 1 pig from Arkansas to New York. If demand drops enough, then our long distance food distribution doesnt make economic sense anymore.

Gail Tverberg says:


March 13, 2012 at 12:24 pm

It seems like there are a lot of weak links in our food distribution system. Everyone depends on a few seed distributors. Farmers need to pay their loans back. The system for bringing food to market needs to work. There needs to be enough fertilizer for crops. There needs to be fuel for the big equipment. I dont know which part will fail.

Bob Carver says:


March 13, 2012 at 12:27 pm

The biggest impact of global warming is not only an increase in temperature, but also a huge increase in droughts which will hit many agricultural producing areas hard. Aiguo Dai of NCAR used the best models available to come up with a composite projection of drought levels (Palmer Drought Severity Index) for each year this century. You can view these projections at http://youtu.be/zEuhg71ttOc He said, By the 2030s, the results indicated that some regions in the United States and overseas could experience particularly severe conditions, with average decadal readings potentially dropping to -4 to -6 in much of the central and western United States as well as several regions overseas, and -8 or lower in parts of the Mediterranean. By the end of the century, many populated areas, including parts of the United States, could face readings in the range of -8 to -10, and much of the Mediterranean could fall to -15 to -20. Such readings would be almost unprecedented. Owen says:
March 15, 2012 at 12:59 pm

Oh heavens no. Transport efficiency in the age of oil is far, far better than pre oil. Oil fuels refrigeration on trains. Simply that. The cattle car was how beef transported from Omaha to NYC pre-oil. 60% of the mass of a steer cannot be eaten, but all of it was transported because pre-oil, refrigeration was not doable on the train in summer. In the age of oil, we transport butchered beef (and hogs, and chickens) that is frozen so bacteria cant grow and rot it. There is no slack. If theres no oil, you return to transporting mass (60%) that no one will eat.

pjc says:
March 13, 2012 at 12:26 pm

Isnt the obvious conclusion here that natural gas will be the next energy wave?

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Natural gas is insanely cheap in the US. This is the result of better extraction technologies, which allow shale gas to be extracted with very reasonable EROI. As a relatively pure FF, natural gas is also very efficient in generating power. It is easily twice as efficient as coal in generating electricity. It can power automobiles and trucks reasonably well, and it is inexpensive to create hybrid natural gas/gasoline vehicles that can switch between either fuel. People are comfortable with natural gas lines being piped directly into their homes, where gas can be used for home heating, water heating, clothes dryers, and fueling natural gas vehicles. It seems odd to ignore this booming fuel. The US is not unique in its ownership of shales. Shale formations exist throughout the world, and their extraction is just beginning. Although there are some environmental concerns over shale development, these issues are of little relevance to strong mineral rights counties like the US and Canada, nor are they especially relevant to countries with weak environmental regulations like China, Argentina and Mexico. This is a big resource whose peak is multiple decades in the future. A power down seems incredibly unlikely within the next 2-3 decades, as shales have their run. Perhaps when the shales have been fully tapped such concerns might be relevant.

Gail Tverberg says:


March 13, 2012 at 4:19 pm

I am not convinced of this: 1. Shale gas is really very expensive to produce. Those doing it are not getting enough money to cover their costs, at current prices. 2. The pricing mechanism doesnt really work. Prices jump all over in response to changes in supply. Sellers almost need long-term contracts to get a high enough price for the natural gas. 3. I am not convinced that natural gas will take over much of what is currently done by oil, because of supply limits and the cost of conversion. 4. Shale gas has issuesamount of water used, possible spilled produced water, possible escaping methane pollution to atmosphere, fear of fracking.

pjc says:
March 13, 2012 at 6:21 pm

1. Shale gas is really very expensive to produce. Well, that argument perhaps seemed credible two years ago. But natural gas has been cheap since then, and the production numbers just keep going up. So, clearly, it cannot be all that expensive. 2. . Sellers almost need long-term contracts to get a high enough price for the natural gas. Are you unaware that there is a futures market for natural gas? Such contracts exist at many levels. 3. I am not convinced that natural gas will take over much of what is currently done by oil, because of supply limits and the cost of conversion.. The US certainly seems to be doing well during the past 24 months of cheap gas, pricey oil. 4. Shale gas has issuesamount of water used, possible spilled produced water, possible escaping methane pollution to atmosphere, fear of fracking. Mountain top removal coal mining has the same issues, (except perhaps 100X as worse) and no-one is slowing that down. Mineral rights in this country are incredibly strong, and the landowners clearly want to get paid. Again, this isnt a theory, its a fact fracking is not slowing down its accelerating, and many prominent Democrats (not the least Obama himself) have jumped on board. At any rate, we shall see, but the youve been printing shale skepticism for the last 4 years, and during that
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time the price of gas has gone straight down and the production numbers have gone straight up. Wildcatter says:
March 14, 2012 at 10:10 am

I work in the industry and I can tell you that shale gas has NOT been profitable since it dipped below $6 per btu. Production only was going up the last few years due to the fact that most companies hedge their production several years out with financial contracts. As of 2012 most shale gas operators like Cheseapeke and others have announced major cutbacks in drilling new shale gas as these hedges are coming to and end and the real price is hitting hard. pjc says:
March 14, 2012 at 12:28 pm

Isnt Chevron ramping their Macellus production up? And isnt Chesepake making a multi-billion dollar investment in the Ohio Utica? Are you anticipating a big drop in overall natural gas production numbers next year? Im not.. but we shall see. At any rate, 3-4 years ago the break even price was supposed to be $8 per btu. Now we hear $6 per btu. Sounds like progress to me. Even $6 gas is a huge. Theyre buying it for twice that (or more) in Europe and Japan, no? Oil at $120 has the dollar-per-energy equivalence to gas at $20, right? So a $6 gas ceiling still seem pretty good for the US consumer. But I wouldnt bet on $6 gas within the next 2 years you can make your own bets. Wildcatter says:
March 14, 2012 at 3:06 pm

Yes the Marcellus is different because of proximity to the largest U.S. gas market which is the northeast coast and NYC. Companies want to hold and drill this acreage due to the premium price you get over spot (right now I believe its around $3 buck per btu. Many oil and gas companies have to drill just to hold their acreage as its part of their contracts with the landowners and they essentially become their own worse enemy. I am anticipating that production will absolutely have to come down else producers will wither and die. The current gas projects at $2.50 per btu are being subsidized entirely by $100 plus oil but that is not sustainable. I know because we run our models on thus assumption. I understand that gas is a lot more expensive in Europe and in China but Europe is also in the early stages of a depression with the highest petrol prices on record and gas around $13 per btu. The problem is finding balance, gas used to just be a bonus to finding oil and was otherwise just flared off as a nusiance. It will always be an inferior energy source to oil as its less energy dense and not in liquid form. pjc says:
March 14, 2012 at 5:31 pm

The current gas projects at $2.50 per btu are being subsidized entirely by $100 plus oil but that is not sustainable What is not sustainable? $100 plus oil? Great, cheaper oil is also good for the economy. I dont see the doom event, at least not for the USA. If oil stays high, it subsidizes cheap nat gas and drives a US industrial advantage. If oil drops, we all enjoy the benefit of cheaper oil.

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Is there some event where by oil stays high and natural gas goes significantly higher? Seems far-fetched to me. Now, if you were Japan, with no shales to drill, or Europe, with government controlled mineral rights, it would be different, right? But here in the USA, if you want to drill out your gas/oil, its basically unstoppable. Worst case, you appeal any ban fracking restriction up to Johnny Roberts and here is merry band of Supreme Capitalists, and they go all Penn. Co V Mahon. But there are so many drill-friendly governors sitting on shale ground that such actions arent even needed.

Gail Tverberg says:


March 15, 2012 at 10:16 am

Thanks for your input. There are a lot of estimates that go into profitability when there is a plan to extract natural gas from a well for 30 or more years. I would think the real break even price could even be quite a bit higher than $6 per Btu, with different assumptions.

Bob Carver says:


March 13, 2012 at 12:39 pm

Sorry, I misposted to the wrong entry see the Bridge to Nowhere at http://thinkprogress.org/romm/2012/01/24/407765/natural-gas-is-a-bridge-to-nowhere-price-for-global-warmingpollution/ pjc says:
March 13, 2012 at 12:50 pm

Well, global warming issues didnt impede the recent growth in coal, and theyre even less likely to slow down the growth of natural gas. I thought this was a peak energy site, not a global warming site. The latter issue has jumped the shark in terms of effecting public policy. Do you see global warming playing a policy role outside of a few European countries? I dont. Bob Carver says:
March 13, 2012 at 1:46 pm

Global warming and energy are intimately related. If we choose to continue pumping heat into the atmostphere faster than it can be radiated into space, we are doomed to a global catastrophe at least as bad as running out of energy, so I dont see how anyone can make a distinction between the two issues. pjc says:
March 13, 2012 at 2:04 pm

Im not sure you understand the global warming premise, which is based man-made CO2, not manmade heat. At any rate, global warming is something that people are generally ignoring, and will continue to ignore for at least another decade. Peak energy is something that perhaps would have occurred, were it not for the emergence of shale extraction technqiues, and the perfection of tar sands extraction techniques. Whether or not there will be a global warming based catastrophe in this century is an entirely seperate issue from whether or not there will be a peak-energy catastrophe in the next few decades. As to the latter, shale gas (and shale oil, and the oil sands) make the possibility seem very, very remote to my eyes.

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gus says:
March 13, 2012 at 4:03 pm

Manmade CO2 (and CH4, whether directly manmade or released due to CO2 warming is irrelevant; its still our responsibility) are whats CAUSING the heat, and since both are byproducts of our energy use, Bob Carvers right. If we keep pursuing shale oil/gas, oil sands or any of the more expensive and energy-intensive fossil fuels, we might have enough energy to keep running without a decent ecosystem to do it in, so its a moot point. The vast numbers stated for such resources CANNOT be tapped without destroying our ecosystem, and while Nature WILL undoubtedly recover, if the damage is serious enough, we might not be here to see it. pjc says:
March 13, 2012 at 4:13 pm

Shale gas and shale oil arent particularly energy intensive to frack the EROIs are ballpark 40:1 to 80:1, and improving. Yes, some people will think that these drilling operations will destroy the ecosystem, but they represent an impotent minority opinion. This process is accelerating nationally and globally, with just a few holdouts. Honestly, pro-fracking is one of the few planks that the Democrats and Republicans share. perhaps the only one. I dont see it slowing here, or in China, India, Poland, Romania, Argentina, etc. Im not trying to argue whether or not its a good thing Im just saying its a sure thing. gus says:
March 13, 2012 at 5:03 pm

Then were screwed, because that impotent minority opinion happens to reflect (and is often strongly influenced by) the way nature works. Nature doesnt care what the mainstream view is; the laws of ecology are not democratic. With fossil fuels and technology, we can (and have) pushed the envelope of whats possible within those laws far wider than almost anyone expected, but that has made our future pretty fragile in the long-term. Thats the problem we tend to do things just because we can, or because we cant imagine anything different, or because its immensely profitable, regardless of the long-term impact or the collateral damage. (In frackings case, aquifer pollution and quakes, for example.) Todays world NEEDS long-term thinking (decades and centuries) for the world as a whole, but our political and economic systems are designed to strongly favor very short-term gain (a few years at most, on the personal and national scale). If we want to have anything resembling a healthy ecosystem, we MUST to start making the case that its our responsibility to plan long term, that future generations and other species matter, and that we have to live within limits. I believe we have the intelligence and foresight to make such choices (we DID evolve such talents, after all), but Im under no illusion theyll be easy, in part because they run against the grain of our experience for so long. Our chances arent good, but doing nothing guarantees a bad outcome. Justin Nigh says:
March 13, 2012 at 6:18 pm

Nature bats last. pjc says:


March 13, 2012 at 6:26 pm

Then were screwed, because that impotent minority opinion happens to reflect (and is often strongly influenced by) the way nature works. We shall see. Im certainly not predicting CO2 levels to stabilize anytime soon, thats for sure.
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But, to paraphrase my favorite movie There will be gas. Peak energy not happening. (At lets not even get started with coal there is tons and tons of coal left to burn. Thats my big bet right now coal is going to rock the next 10 years, until international fracking get going).

Gail Tverberg says:


March 15, 2012 at 9:24 am

With a big reduction in international trade, the existing system for getting coal out of the ground would get gummed up pretty quickly. There are many weak links. One is the banking system, which is needed for paying employees of coal mines. Another is the transports system for moving coal to utilities that burn it for electricity. This transport system depends on oil. An interruption in supply could be a problem. Another weak link is the financial failure of businesses important for electricity transmission. Another is buying replacement parts for coal-maining machinery from abroad, if there is a reduction in international trade. There are probably many others as well. There are a few areas where coal can be removed and transported without modern methods, but these are a fraction of the total. Ugo Bardi talked about how it was very difficult to transport coal, except when it happened to be located next to waterways, in the post The dark side of coal some historical insights on energy and the economy.

pjc says:
March 15, 2012 at 12:30 pm

The efficient and economic transport of coal isnt a theory, its a reality. The US has the best train freight system in the world. It has the best barge freight system in the world. (By best I mean ton-miles of freight moved per capita). This is because the US transports so much coal. The next wave here is putting coal on international freighters. This is now a booming business in the US. I understand that if everything shuts down, then coal transport will also shut down. But $120 bl isnt going to shut down coal transport. Coal exports from the US have been growing during this recent run up in oil prices. At some point you have to stop predicting all the black swans that could happen, at look at the massive flock of white swans in front of your eyes. Coal is a huge and growing internationally traded commodity. It is a great product for globalization, precisely because it doesnt age. You can take your time, and move it slowly on fully loaded trains, barges and ships. Again, I wouldnt bet against coal on the 10 year horizon. But feel free to make your own bets.

Jerry McManus says:


March 13, 2012 at 3:19 pm

Gail, excellent post! Thanks for all of your work. Regarding fig. 2 World per Capita Energy Consumption, the sharp rise in oil and nat. gas after WWII really jumped out at
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me. This is even clearer in fig 6 Per Capita Consumption of Various Fuels. In your list of possible reasons you touched on the interstate highway system, but I was wondering if there is a more explicit reason: the rise of automobiles and electric appliances. Seems like a good bet that there is a strong correlation there. Is that one of the charts that ended up on the cutting room floor? Im reminded of the recent images of Earth from space at night with the large networks of brilliant electric lights tracing the roads and cities of the industrialized world. Even just a few decades ago those images would look very different. Another comparison I find very useful in the context of this discussion is the percent of work done by various energy sources. Prior to about 100 years ago it was mostly muscle power (both human and draft animal) and biofuel (wood), with a small percentage provided by minerals (fossil fuels) and solar (wind and water). In the decades since that ratio has reversed, with minerals providing the bulk of our power. Not hard to see the inflection point we currently face, where that ratio will reverse again and we return to a world of muscle, wind, and wood. How rapidly that unfolds, and how capable we are to adapt, remains to be seen.

Gail Tverberg says:


March 13, 2012 at 5:01 pm

I am sure the rise in use of automobiles contributed to the rise in use in oil. I am not sure about appliancesthey tended to use electricity, and even back then, oil wasnt the major fuel for electricity. Adding interstates certainly made auto use more convenient. I think that home heating with oil was more likely an issue than appliances. I know that heating with oil was very common, fairly early on, but I am not sure when it was adopted. People had heated with wood or coal, and changed to oil, because it was more convenient and not as dirty as coal. When prices rose in the 1970s, most of these oil furnaces were switched to natural gas or something else.

Jerry McManus says:


March 13, 2012 at 5:43 pm

Yes, youre right, space heating and I would add cooking, in addition to automobiles, probably account for a large portion of the rise in consumption of natural gas and oil, respectively.

gus says:
March 13, 2012 at 4:28 pm

Hi, Jerry, While you right that cars and appliances played some role, I was surprised Gail didnt mention the obvious factor: the vast increase of oil use in industrialized agriculture. It goes into the machinery, the fertilizers, the pesticides, the transport fuels, the processing equipment, the packaging, etc. With that massive infusion of energy after WW2, the food supply EXPLODED on a global scale, despite having several local and regional famines/shortages. Population of ANY species will grow to meet whatever the available food supply is (thats a basic law of ecology), and human food supply has been growing exponentially when seen from a worldwide perspective. The fact we even see population growth in regions plagued by periodic famine is evidence of this fact, made possible by our capacity to transport food from places thousands of miles away. Thats the big reason why your reversal to muscle, wind and wood is likely to be incredibly traumatic for human society we cannot support 7 billion people on those energy sources. Just as with any other species maxing out its food supply (which, biologically speaking, is energy), ours will probably drop severely before stabilizing again at a new carrying capacity. What that new capacity is largely depends on how that drop actually happens and how long we delay making hard choices (for example, do we do it with widespread contraception, voluntary zero- and one-child families, and death with dignity practices, or do we fight WW3?)

Gail Tverberg says:


March 13, 2012 at 5:19 pm

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That is a good point about using more oil in agriculture and in food processing. There were related innovations as wellcake mixes became popular in the late 1940s, and there were many kinds of cereals. Once food was plentiful and cheap, it was easy to decide to have a big familyespecially in the days before contraceptives.

pjc says:
March 13, 2012 at 6:43 pm

Most the things gary is worrying about here are made from natural gas, not oil. Certainly fertilizer is gas bound. I dont think oil has ever played a big role in ammonia production.

Gail Tverberg says:


March 15, 2012 at 9:29 am

China uses coal for producing nitrogen fertilizer. In fact, the fertilizer we use in the United States is increasingly coming from China and India, using a coal gasification method of production, according to this article. Of course, this is not good for world CO2 levels.

pjc says:
March 15, 2012 at 6:25 pm

That article is pretty dated here is something more recent. http://www.johnsoncitypress.com/News/article.php?id=98373 That said food from coal is ok by me. There is no shortage of coal in the world. I suspect those coal gasification plants can easily be retooled to simply pipeline the produced gas, if/when fertilizer production returns to the land of cheap gas (i.e. the US). Jerry McManus says:
March 13, 2012 at 5:27 pm

Hi gus, Do you have a link to data that supports your point about agriculture? Im just curious what the actual numbers are. Its difficult to find data that breaks out agriculture, the sectors are typically residential, industrial, commercial, etc. I did find this link: http://www.postcarbon.org/article/273686-beyond-food-miles In which agriculture is shown as about 15% of energy use in the US. I think youre right that transport is probably the most immediate problem when it comes to feeding people, our justin-time inventory systems only keeps about 3 days supply of food on the shelf of the local supermarket at any given time. If the trucks stop rolling for any reason whatsoever, even just for a few days, there will surely be panic buying and chaos in the streets. Bob Carver says:
March 13, 2012 at 5:35 pm

This reminds me of what the government itself does. Under the city of Los Alamos is enough stored food to feed the city for an entire year. Back in the Sixties, I went down in the tunnels underneath Los Alamos and confirmed what I had only been told before. There were mountains of canisters with labels on them describing their contents. Every city should have a similar food depot in case of emergency.

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Brent Ragsdale says:


March 13, 2012 at 4:56 pm

Gail, Thank you very much for your thoughtful research and analysis. My first awareness of humanitys predicament came from reading about Richard Duncans Olduvai Theory. Several posts ago you presented world per capita energy uses (Duncans main metric) and I noted that it has gone up since the last update Ive seen from Duncan. I suppose the peak in that number will only be apparent in hind sight, even for people who understand and are looking for it. Seeing your figure 2 breakdown today was very interesting. Guessing probably goes against an actuarys nature but it I for one would like to see you extrapolate figure 2 out another 100 years.

Gail Tverberg says:


March 13, 2012 at 5:20 pm

I am afraid Figure 2 will go down fairly quickly. Maybe it is fortunate that we dont know the details.

Reverse Engineer says:


March 13, 2012 at 5:22 pm

Richard Duncan covered per capita Oil consumption issues overa decade ago. Besides that, all these graphs have appeared 1000 times over on the pages of TOD and Peak Oil. Apparently, no matter how many times the material is republished, the vast majority of the population doesnt care and its not in the interest of the Political Class to do anything to rock the boat that keeps them in power. Gail, you explicitly state here in the comments that you dont explore the consequences of these problems in your articles because if you do, FT or Biz Week wont republish. I agree that oil was the primary reason behind the war. I felt that if various other sites were copying the post over, I shouldnt be too adamant on the subject, since some may object.-Gail Cant be too Doomerish, gotta just pitch out the Graphs and sound Academic.and Numerically savvy. Sadly however, although Banksters, Economistas, Accountants and Actuaries got us INTO this mess, all the Graphs in the World will not get us OUT of it. Most of the world doesnt even pay attention to Graphs anyhow, they dont understand them. Another Tactic is obviously necessary here. You gotta grab the people by the Cojones and SQUEEZE, or they will never wake up. RE http://doomsteaddiner.org

Gail Tverberg says:


March 13, 2012 at 6:26 pm

THis article is getting thousands of reads, thanks in part to the Financial Times alphaville. This post is listed at this link. Perhaps I should have said more about war in Iraq, but since that was not the main point of my article, I didnt see a point to beat on it. If the MSM has not already paved the way, I dont need to win every battle at one time. It is easier to get people to read something that presents a smallish dose of reality, that they can accept at one time. I have seen a graph similar to Figure 1 elsewhere, but the other graphs are mostly new. You need to look at them a little more closely. I agree that graphs wont get us out of this, but they do help explain to some who are new to this.

Lucinda Lunkins says:


March 13, 2012 at 7:51 pm

Nothing is going to get us out of this. To me, the very worst thing would be the government coming in and dictating fairness as theyve botched the last 100 years or longer. Weve never had any event like this in
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human history. Only the now dead and forgotten folks on Easter Island have experienced anything close to it. Call me a misanthrope, but I dont see much hope for humanity, at least in the short run. I think the best we can hope for is getting as many WORTHWHILE people (sorry, but when I cruise around the Bay Area I see a lot of unworthyand yesI am judging them) to the next thingwhich is likely and agrarian existence. I would not call myself or my husband gun nuts but we did just buy an AR15because, like I said, there are a lot of terrible people out there that just needs an excuse like PO to unleash their true nastinessand I for one dont intend to be caught in their wrath without a fight. Reverse Engineer says:
March 13, 2012 at 8:32 pm

Page Hits dont translate to reads. Most people hit a page and scan, then move on. Even of the people who actually read an article, few read for comprehension. I still think you should be more hard hitting in your articles, more honest like you are here in the comments. RE

Gail Tverberg says:


March 15, 2012 at 10:07 am

Some articles are more hard hitting than others. I have to make a decision on each individual post. One of the issues is that a lot of people simply cannot deal with all of these problems at once. I figure that readers who take the time to go to the comments can deal with more than casual readers.

scott dulin says:


March 14, 2012 at 11:10 am

Excellent work, Gail! It helps answer something that has been puzzling me for a long time- the consistent rise in US productivity in the post-2000 era. I was in the workforce in the 90s when IT was introduced in a mass way and could personally see productivity rise as computers were introduced. My understanding is that basically, in a mature economy, growth = productivity gains. But that would seem to be a one-off event. For example, after even the waitress at Dennys has a hand-held device, we can expect she may jump from 6 customers per hour to 10, but we cant expect a better device to enable her to go to 15. Peak oil theory would seem to imply that falling EROEI would result in falling, not rising productivity, first in the energy sector, but eventually infecting the entire economy. So how those numbers have maintained their growth has been somewhat of a mystery. Of course, as we have offshored production and Asian energy use per capita continues to rise, we are reaping some benefit. From your figure 6, why cant per capita use of coal continue its upward rise, do we have any good reason to anticipate an imminent downturn? If not, and this is a contributor to US productivity gains, perhaps the US economy still has some time left before growth stalls?

Gail Tverberg says:


March 15, 2012 at 10:57 am

I am not as familiar with how these productivity numbers are calculated as I should be. I am under the impression that imports of goods made in Asia can distort the calculation, to make productivity look better than it really is, but havent seen the numbers. A big part of the economy today is services, and I dont know how these are calculated either. The university where my husband teaches has added more and more administrators, relative to faculty. How does this improve productivity? I would think it would go downhill. When I was a child, I walked to piano lessons. When my daughter was in high school, I had to drive her several
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miles to a place that taught guitar lessons. Both lessons were half and hour. The piano lessons were in the piano teachers living room. The guitar lessons were in a building that is used only for lessons of various types, so the lesson costs had to include the cost of heating and maintaining the special building. There was a layer of administration plus teachers who worked as contractors. I am sure all of these people had to drive to the center to do their work as well. The cost of the guitar lessons was a lot higher than the piano lessons, but a lot of the cost went for things that had nothing to do with teaching piano or guitar. It seems to me what has happened is that of the fees going to a university, or going into teaching music lessons, a much smaller portion is now going to the person actually doing the teaching, and much more is going for energy costs and for all kinds of peripheral stuff. I dont know if someone is calling this productivity. In my view, it is pretty much the opposite.

David F Collins says:


March 15, 2012 at 11:52 am

When she was little, my stepdaughter would play Beethovens Fr Elise on her upright piano; it took a few minutes to play the version in her music book. She now has a really nice baby grand piano (Schaff), but in spite of the huge increase in invested capital, it takes her every bit as long to play it, so there has been no productivity growth whatever, in spite of investment in capital and training.

Freude Bud says:


March 14, 2012 at 1:05 pm

I think that perhaps you used primary energy in figure 1 and secondary energy in figure 2 or how does biofuels use in figure 1 continue on upward trend in last few decades while it falls in figure 2?

Gail Tverberg says:


March 15, 2012 at 11:26 am

Figure 1 and Figure 2 use exactly the same energy numbers. The difference is that in Figure 2, I am figuring out how much is available, per person. The number of people has gone up greatly, but the amount of biomass hasnt because they arent making more acres of land (although more fertilizer and more irrigation does help). When I divide biomass, which is going up only a little, by the number of people, which is going up a lot, the numbers come out as they do in Figure 2.

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Justin Nigh says:


March 15, 2012 at 5:39 pm

I needed some comedy relief today, thanks PJC!

Justin Nigh says:


March 15, 2012 at 5:42 pm

Those flocks of white swans turn black when they fly through your clouds of coal ash. pjc says:
March 15, 2012 at 6:57 pm

Yep coals dirty. Im glad I dont live near a coal plant.

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That said, its been pretty useful for spreading industrialization for the last 200+ years, and Im betting it has at least another 20 years left or so before it becomes obsolete. Justin Nigh says:
March 16, 2012 at 8:41 am

As long as its not in your backyard or within your lifetime then screw everyone and everything else to hell! pjc says:
March 16, 2012 at 2:08 pm

No, thats not my opinion. If I was living with a really child mortality rate (like Kenya) I would probably think a nearby coal plant was a reasonable trade off. I suspect that coals growth in the third world simply reflects that this trade-off is acceptable to a great many people, and not some sinister conspiracy to make money. Im guessing coal has 20 more years, give or take, and then the current coal-enthusiasts will be transitioning from coal to gas or renewables or nuclear or coal gasification (or perhaps something more exotic). Justin Nigh says:
March 16, 2012 at 5:53 pm

Again you fail to see the big picture. You see empire and industrialization as the solution rather than the problem. It is a solution that spawns never ending problems and is not sustainable. Prior to the influences of empire and industrialization, Kenyans were just fine. Our culture is one of many and not the best there ever was. You subscribe to the cultural story that it is superior and must spread to the exclusion of all others. This view is arrogant and destructive. pjc says:
March 17, 2012 at 1:46 pm

Kenyans were just fine if one out of every 10 births resulting in the baby not surviving until his tenth birthday being just fine. (And lots not even got started on the mortality rate of the birthing mother, whose death leaves orphaned children behind). Justin Nigh says:
March 18, 2012 at 7:13 pm

I fully understand the logic of your focus on infant mortality rates. Where we disagree is on long term vs short term benefits. First off I take issue with you selecting data that has been unduly skewed by the meddling and influence of imperial forces. Most regions with high mortality rates are the result of dominator cultures coming in and destroying the local culture. I would argue that your example has been distorted upward by this mechanism. Where you see reducing infant mortality rates as a beneficial and necessary goal, I view it as beneficial short term but detrimental long term. Infant mortality is a natural corrective process that keeps population levels in balance with available resources. This can be observed not only in humans but in all other species. I suggest that mortality levels would be far less horrific in pre-agrarian cultures than the ones you cite. By increasing food availability and surpluses, this natural mechanism is diminished allowing population levels to rise to levels that cannot be sustained long term. If this results in a die off in the billions, as there is precedence for in other species, the horror will be much worse than it is if the natural mechanism is allowed to function as nature intended.

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I understand your support for lowering mortality rates as a majority accepted goal. However, majority support does not automatically infer it is correct or useful long term. There are plenty of historical examples of commonly held beliefs and understanding that was later overturned. I dont think I need to provide such examples in support of this claim because youre an intelligent guy and can find them or think of a few yourself. At any rate, I think arguing this issue isnt very useful because at the end of the day it will largely be out of our control and any illusions of control are just that, illusions. Nature will correct the situation and reversion to the mean will be achieved as it always must due to fixed laws beyond human control. We simply leverage our capability over the short term. pjc says:
March 18, 2012 at 10:48 pm

I suggest that mortality levels would be far less horrific in pre-agrarian cultures than the ones you cite. You might suggest 2+2 = 5 if you like, but that doesnt make it true. There is a mountain of evidence that high mortality rates is mother natures method of controlling population. Nature will correct the situation and reversion to the mean will be achieved as it always must due to fixed laws beyond human control. Not any time soon, son. You might as well be standing on the street corner with a big sign saying Jesus is Coming. Your prediction is in defiance of the actual mortality rate data we are seeing. Moreover, it must be sort of sad and twisted to be rooting for Death. You would perhaps feel differently had you personal experience with infant or childhood mortality. Justin Nigh says:
March 18, 2012 at 11:23 pm

You might suggest 2+2 = 5 if you like, but that doesnt make it true. There is a mountain of evidence that high mortality rates is mother natures method of controlling population. Thanks for supporting my argument that we wouldnt see the spike in population we have seen through our efforts to limit the effects of this natural mechanism. The end result is when those efforts fail, and they must, there is a huge die off. This is well documented in studies of other species that overshoot. Again, mans efforts to usurp the laws of nature dont come at zero cost, there is always a trade off. The trade off you suggest is in my opinion not worth it and may lead to the extinction of the species altogether. Im not sure how you fail to understand this concept. Steady death rates due to natural infant mortality vs a massive die off is the point of comparison and Id happily take the former over the latter. Not any time soon, son. You might as well be standing on the street corner with a big sign saying Jesus is Coming. Your prediction is in defiance of the actual mortality rate data we are seeing. I didnt give a timeframe and Im looking at the big picture spanning thousands of years. Your claim of not any time soon and condescending addition of son is no more true just because you say it is. Comparing this to the return of a long dead historical figure is absurd. Im talking about well documented study of overshoot and collapse while you try to suggest Im correlating it to unscientific dogma. Moreover, it must be sort of sad and twisted to be rooting for Death. You would perhaps feel differently had you personal experience with infant or childhood mortality. Again you expose your fear of death, a necessary part of life we will all experience. On the
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contrary, being comfortable with ones fate is a great relief rather than living in constant fear of it. You might want to address this fear before you have to face it, kicking and screaming into the great unknown. While you are correct I havent had first hand experience with infant mortality, my partner has had this experience; her brother died at childbirth. While the experience was of course immensely sad and unfortunate, she grieved and moved on, as one must. Cultures that recognise this is a part of our experience and necessary to maintain population balance to avoid destroying the Earth that supports us through overpopulation creates a framework that makes dealing with this in a mature way possible and easier to handle. Compare this with our culture which obscenely rejects the concept of death, and therefore our very nature. While you are correct that we have abstracted ourselves from nature in a way that has created a reality of decreasing infant mortality, I do not see this as a sustainable arrangement. Justin Nigh says:
March 19, 2012 at 3:57 am

Im not sure that furthering this discussion will bear any fruit for either of us. I question your intention at having any genuine debate of the issues given your prior expression of seeking to defeat doomers by discrediting any factual basis through marginalisation by demanding predictions of when outcomes might occur. Im not in the business of predicting when and even if I were, failure of such predictions wouldnt necessarily negate the bulk of my argument that humanity is on an unsustainble path which would make it prudent to acknowledge and plan for rather than seeking to delay the inevitable. On that note Im going to trot out the lets agree to disagree simply because Id rather spend my time elsewhere. pjc says:
March 19, 2012 at 12:45 pm

Just so you know, Im not looking to defeat doomers. What irks me is that some people, especially young people just starting out, take this die off is coming stuff quite seriously. While Gails career is basically over (and shes actually making so money from doomer porn) there are young adults that think this things are inevitable and imminent. As a result, they handicap their careers and personal lives (by not marrying, or not having children, or not taking a big-city job, etc) based, at least in part on the what is essentially science fiction. This is sad, and I think a counterpoint is worthwhile. Justin Nigh says:
March 20, 2012 at 7:09 am

Im replying here to your most recent comment because theres no reply button on it. I am pleased to read that you are not seeking to defeat doomers and instead your efforts come from a positive place. I do hope this is genuine. I wonder though, have you considered that if you turn out to be wrong you could be doing more harm than good? After all, you cant be sure no more than anyone else what the future might hold, though we can observe patterns and data that might point to likely outcomes. In my experience, I have been down the path of the big city job but found it to be unsatisfying. For more and more people, the existing popular narrative of our culture no longer rings true but hollow. There are many examples like OWS, Transition Towns, interest in traditional tribal cultures that demonstrate people are looking for a new narrative that delivers more than just seeking to improve ones own wellbeing but also that of others through recognition of our interdependence and interconnectedness rather than separation and
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competition. Collapse is not just a economic or physical resource depletion phenomenon but also a social and consciousness one. Your attempt to steer people away from stories of collapse is based on an assum Justin Nigh says:
March 20, 2012 at 7:12 am

Im replying here to your most recent comment because theres no reply button on it. I am pleased to read that you are not seeking to defeat doomers and instead your efforts come from a positive place. I do hope this is genuine. I wonder though, have you considered that if you turn out to be wrong you could be doing more harm than good? After all, you cant be sure no more than anyone else what the future might hold, though we can observe patterns and data that might point to likely outcomes. In my experience, I have been down the path of the big city job but found it to be unsatisfying. For more and more people, the existing popular narrative of our culture no longer rings true but hollow. There are many examples like OWS, Transition Towns, interest in traditional tribal cultures that demonstrate people are looking for a new narrative that delivers more than just seeking to improve ones own wellbeing but also that of others through recognition of our interdependence and interconnectedness rather than separation and competition. Collapse is not just a economic or physical resource depletion phenomenon but also a social and consciousness one. Your attempt to steer people away from stories of collapse is based on an assumption that the popular narrative is the only one of value or worth pursuing. This is a matter of opinion. Popular opinion is shifting. We are at a crossroads in more way than one on multiple levels. We may just find the new world the youth create is better than the one you seek to preserve. Justin Nigh says:
March 20, 2012 at 7:22 am

I might also add that there is no shortage of counterpoint to the conclusions made on this and other doomer or collapse analysis sites, the mainstream media does a fine job of that. I would also say that while the popular opinion still supports the growth model, the growing awareness of its lack of sustainability is creating the new narrative I mentioned. If and when a collapse of some form does occur, as I believe is more likely than not, it will only serve to drive such opinion further into the mainstream. The times, they are a changin pjc says:
March 20, 2012 at 1:05 pm

I wonder though, have you considered that if you turn out to be wrong you could be doing more harm than good? That criticism is true of both the doomers and the techno-optimists. The difference is that these doomer-resource-shortage stories have been circulating since the dawn of industrialization, and the techno-optimists have been discovering tricks to escape this narrative since the very beginning. You only need to go back to Gails first posts here http://bit.ly/GBIQvR to see how poorly some of this stuff stands up to the test of time. Natural gas supply is likely to decline in the next few years, because most of the larger, more productive sites have already been tapped., We are expecting a decline in petroleum and natural gas production., etc. etc.

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Since then, the production of natural gas and oil in this country has absolutely skyrocketed, while oil consumption has declined. This country is undoubtedly moving closer towards having a zero energy trade balance (once we include coal exports), something that is discarded as absurd from Gails old post. My cousin, who could have easily listened to Gail in 07 and started farming chickens in Tenn, is instead fracking OH and Penn and loving it. Thank goodness he didnt buy into this peak energy stuff. At any rate, if going back to the land is something you want to do to enjoy yourself then have at it. But this idea that its something we all **have to do** because peak energy is unavoidable is basically science fiction. Interesting to think about, but not a serious prediction of the future. robertheinlein says:
March 20, 2012 at 2:59 pm

If you had a trading system which was 99% accurate, would you bet the ranch on every turn? No, of course not, because you know that 1% will be your doom. The human race cannot afford to bet the ranch that it will always win. pjc says:
March 20, 2012 at 4:09 pm

If you had a trading system which was 99% accurate, would you bet the ranch on every turn? You mean there should be some sort of insurance policy? Some hardy minority of civilization that prepares for the 1% black swan? It seems like we have that base pretty much covered. At any rate, you get a power down is a 1% possibility vibe from cites like this? It seems like these cites describe power down as 99% probable, and new energy source as the 1% glimmer. But if you want me to concede there is a 1% probability of power down, then sure. Ive got some side bets on this possibility (I live in a temperate place that doesnt require much heating or cooling, gets lots of water, and is very near quality farmland). But most of my chips are riding on new energy source. since, like you say, it seems like a 99% probablity.

pjc says:
March 15, 2012 at 6:26 pm

Doesnt Figure 2 simply show a 30+ year trend of society shifting energy consumption from oil to coal and gas? And since there is a lot of coal and gas, why is this trend likely to stop within the next 20 years or so? pjc says:
March 15, 2012 at 6:28 pm

I meant to say Figure 6 although they show the same data, but its easier to see this oil to coal+gas shift in Figure 6.

Gail Tverberg says:


March 16, 2012 at 8:18 am

There is a minimum amount of oil needed. Some uses can be changed over easilythose are what we have been working on. I have been saying that an oil shortfall is a Liebigs Las of the Minimum issue, because it means that our current built infrastructure cannot operate as planned. Also, the high prices directly affect the economy, as this happens.

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Justin Nigh says:


March 16, 2012 at 8:47 am

Gail your patience with those of shallow perception of the circumstances is impressive. While we talk about building a boat to survive the rising tide, pjc argues about how long before we run out of higher land to retreat to. Until the crisis hits him over the head he wont get it. By get it I mean the very circumstances of industrial civilization and culture of control. pjc says:
March 16, 2012 at 12:38 pm

about how long before we run out of higher land to retreat to Exactly the trend for the last 30 years has been oil replaced with coal+gas. Now, when gas was very expensive, the idea that the end of this trend was imminent. It now seems gas will remain abundant for another 20 or 30 years, so it seems reasonable that the trend will continue for at least that long. Simply saying oil is used in all sorts of things doesnt seem very compelling, as that was more true 30 years ago. It seems oil can be phased out, so long as you have coal and gas. If you want to argue that a very bad energy crunch event is likely 20 -30 years down the road (or even 10 years down the road) I wouldnt sqwuak about it. But the largest economy in the world is enjoying reasonably priced energy right now. For the US economy as a whole, cheap gas and electricity is offsetting expensive oil. This doesnt seem consistent with a near term energy crunch. Gustava says:
March 20, 2012 at 6:06 pm

pjc, I dont really agree with your statements, but I do appreciate having a contrary position here. Ive been reading lots about Peak Energy over the last few years, and Ive yet to find a convincing and articulate argument that theres nothing to worry about. Perhaps you could post some links to some things? (FWIW, I dont find Daniel Yergin and his ilk convincing!) Pjc, what concerns me is several things: 1) the rate of extraction problem. Its not the amount left in the ground, but the rate at which we can get it that matters 2) the portabliity/infrastructure/retooling problem. Our infrastructure is tooled for oil. Performing significant CTL and GTL is expensive and slow. Building new infrastructure to run on electricity, hydrogen, etc is even more expensive and slower 3) other energy sources, even fossil fuels, rely on oil for their extraction, hence increasing prices for oil will also drive up their prices Id be interested to hear your thoughts here. Cheers! Gustava says:
March 20, 2012 at 7:04 pm

Just further to this: If you want to argue that a very bad energy crunch event is likely [in] 10 years I wouldnt sqwuak about it This doesnt seem consistent with a near term energy crunch. I dont understand this at all. What is your definition of near-term? 10 years is not much when were talking about rebuilding a societys infrastructure! Perhaps you could say, specifically, when you expect energy constraints to really start to affect the economy? Based on your above post, you seem to imply 20 years as a (rough)
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estimate. Again, referring to a very bad energy crunch in _only_ 20 years to me implies the necessity of putting the economy on a war footing to mitigate the crunch (ie. allocating 4050% of our available production into sustainable* energy/transport/storage). *by sustainable I dont mean bunny rabbits and butterflies (although I think environmental protection is very important), but energy production that we can indefinitely sustain in the face of depleting fossilised energy sources. pjc says:
March 20, 2012 at 7:45 pm

Hi Gustava I think Our infrastructure is tooled for oil. is the key issue. It really isnt. Oil isnt the majority energy delivery system in the US, nor is it the majorirty in the world. Again, Fig 6 tells the whole story coal+gas is much more important than oil, and the history of the last 30 years or so is oil being replaced by coal+gas. There is plenty of coal left in the world, of that there is doubt. Huge quantities in the ground, and its EROI doesnt get changed much when it is shipped via barge, train, or boat. Gas was a big source of concern 5 years ago. No longer. The US is experiencing one of its most profund gas gluts in history. We might run out of places to put the gas and have to give it away for free this summer. Moreover, the US didnt generate this gas through some one-off lucky strike. It generated it through superior drilling techniques on a formation that is fairly common, both in the US and worldwide. So our current situation is sort of similar to the 1910s, when the Hughes drill-bit was perfected and created a long oil boom for both the US and the world. Except now it will be a long shale-gas-and-oil boom, and, because the global economy is more dynamic and energy hungry, it wont be quite as long. But still, gas, for the next decade in the the US, and probably the next 20 years globally, is no problem. Shales are common, shale gas is economic, the shales will be fracked. (I know, the enviornmentalists are screaming about this. But the environmentalists scream about lots of stuff. I expect shale fracking will be, in the worst case, like GMOs globally ubiqutous, with a few holdouts in Western Europe). So that carries us through the next 10 years mininum. After that? Who knows maybe there will be an energy crunch/power down in 10 years. I doubt it I suspect there will be something that is just a glimmer now will rise to prominence in that time (just like shale gas, North Sea oil, etc, etc.). As to GTL plants some of those are already underway. There are other, better ways to use gas instead of oil (like natural gas/gasoline hybrid engines, that can use both fuels and those require only marginal infrastructure changes to have a big impact). But the economy seems to be good at substituting gas+coal for oil. Its been doing it very efficiently for the last 30 years, and so, so long as gas+coal is available, I expect it will keep doing it for 10 more years easy. You can decide for yourself whether we need to adopt drastic measures because there might be an energy crunch 10 years from now. I would say not. But lets be clear for the next 10 years there will be gas (and coal) to keep the current trend alive. Gustava says:
March 20, 2012 at 8:06 pm

I appreciate your comments, pjc. A couple of thoughts:


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Infrastructure is not globally homogeneous: some of this retooling from oil to coal/gas that is occurring is actually Chinas massive investment in coal power, not the OECD retooling. I understand that, in principle, technology can reduce the cost to extract resources, allowing the economic extraction of previously uneconomic deposits. Ive read (here and elsewhere) that the current CSG gas boom is uneconomic at current gas prices, and needs prices of more like 3 to 4 times current prices. Some speculate that this is more than the economy can pay for energy without hardship. I guess this relates back to the 10 of the USs 11 last recessions were caused by high oil prices and when the US spends more than 5% GDP on energy it tends to go into recession. Do you have an opinion about this? Cheers, pjc says:
March 20, 2012 at 8:28 pm

What price do we need for shale gas? Wildcatter above thinks $6 per btu. This is less than 3X the current (super-cheap) natural gas price in the states. Even better, its less than half the NG price in Europe and Asia. Moreover at $6 per btu, natural gas would a $ per BTU equivalent to about oil at $36 bl. Oil historically trades at a premium of around 1.5 to 2, so call it $50-$70 oil. So if the global price of gas were $6 per btu, it would be not represent expensive energy. Moreover, does shale gas really need $6 per btu? Probably not. Thats what Wildcatter is saying no. 5 years ago, people were saying 8 or 12. The number is clearly dropping. The technology is just now entering the stage were it becomes widespread, with many, many research dollars chasing the next incremental improvement. There is probably 100X as much industry research being done right now on shale gas than there was during the 20 years when George P. Mitchell was considered the weird hippie of the oil industry by playing with shale. (George P. Mitchell is a whole nother story. Shale fracking was invented by a left-leaning Soros-billionaire type to create cleaner domestic fuel). At any rate, Im not calling for $70 oil anytime soon. The next 5 years Im guessing expensive international oil, expensive (but dropping) ex-US gas, cheap US gas. This is good, since the US has the best infrastructure for using gas. I think a large portion of the Pickens plan will come to pass, massive outbound US coal exports, reindustrialization of the rust belt, and lots more US farming and food exports. Thats 5 years. After that, probably global fracking starts to drive down international gas prices, and then things get more interesting. CO2 not gonna get solved in the next 20 years. Im not optimistic about everything. But there will be gas, there will be coal, there will be energy. Cheers Gustava says:
March 20, 2012 at 10:09 pm

Many thanks for taking the time to reply, pjc. Owen says:
March 21, 2012 at 1:42 am

I just completed a computation based on an informal discussion of LNG in Drumbeat in which I did not participate.
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Heres the problem with imagining natural gas to be the salvation of 7 billion. The CH4 chains have a certain amount of BTUs in them to release on breakage. Crude is made of complex mixes of paraffins, naphthenes blah blah with molecules of 5-20 carbon atoms and rather a lot of hydrogen atoms, all chained together with those chains waiting to release energy, and a lot more of it than the few chains in the CH4. The result is one barrel of volume of natural gas has 1/1000th the BTUs of 1 barrel of crude oil. Thats at Standard Temperature and Pressure. Its not really a fair comparison because a gas is just flat out going to be less dense than liquid. But on a volume basis (and remember nat gas is measured in cubic feet, i.e., volume) thats the way it is. 1/1000th the BTUs. And so, suppose we get a barrel of LNG to make things fair. The result is substantial. A barrel of LNG has 40% fewer BTUs in it than a barrel of crude, which is a lot better than 1/1000th. However, freezing CH4 to make LNG is not a zero energy activity. The discussion seemed to coalesce on an approximate number of 30% of the gas will be used up generating energy for the refrigeration(with a few % loss from heating in transport) to create LNG. Result: To get the energy of a barrel of crude (5.6 million BTUs), you will need to extract 3.1X the equivalent nat gas energy from the ground translated to cubic feet. You can do your own calculation of how many cubic feet that is. The overall point is even through the magic of LNG, you are down a factor of 3.1. Sashay over to the Honda Civic website and study very carefully the convention Civic vs the CNG Civic. You will find that the range of the nat gas Civic is a fraction of the conventional Civic, but you will be willing to shrug on that just to be able to go a few hundred miles. But look more carefully. Look VERY carefully at photos. The nat gas civic has no trunk. That few hundred miles of range, less than the conventional Civic, is achieved by loss of cargo space in order to hold the pressurized fuel tank. Think about that when you imagine youre going to haul food from Omaha to NYC with that energy source. Justin Nigh says:
March 21, 2012 at 1:57 am

Gustava, we dont just have an energy problem, we have a problem with the basic premise of our civilization. You asked for a sustainable energy option and I didnt hear an answer from pjc. All I heard was dont worry, this is someone elses problem, no need to take responsibility for it and adjust your behaviour, theres still life left in this dominator culture yet, party on dude! Scaling down, adopting permaculture practices that focus on efficiency and use of waste as an input for other processes, halting the conversion of every social and environmental capital into a monetised good or service, reducing reliance on complex technology and powered equipment and machinery. These are just some of the sustainable options we have that can be used today, before it becomes a crisis. You know, it might just be prudent to plan for further than 10 or 20 years ahead, but that takes effort, requires people to change and be less selfish. Most people only change in a crisis, and Im afraid thats what its going to take. Justin Nigh says:
March 21, 2012 at 2:39 am

I believe the following sums up the underlying predicament. When all the trees have been cut down, when all the animals have been hunted, when all the waters are polluted, when all the air is unsafe to breathe, only then will you discover you
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cannot eat money. ~ Cree Prophecy If you arent familiar with the Cree, they are a native American people. I think their understanding reflected in the prophecy above, expresses a wisdom rarely found in our culture. We have so much knowledge and information, yet we do so much damage to ourselves and other creatures. These honourable and wise people had their land stolen, were savagely killed using despicable methods like gifting them blankets infected with smallpox, and their culture systematically destroyed and marginalised. This is the legacy from which we (Americans, both north and south) come, so is it any wonder we find ourselves where we are today? So here we are asking, if the question is asked at all, what are we going to do about peak fossil fuel? when in fact the real question we ask is, how can we keep living this greedy destructive lifestyle in the face of fossil fuel depletion? Gustava says:
March 21, 2012 at 5:48 pm

Justin, Thanks for your reply. I essentially agree with what youve said. I think that, in terms of time, we are close to the limits of growth (in the overshoot sense, we have probably already passed it). I am working hard in a local permaculture community to try and build resilience, and I try to minimise my use of non-renewable energy and resources. But, to be honest, I am not hopeful that society as a whole will adopt these practices and make the significant changes that are necessary to avert powerdown/overshoot. In the absence of a significant new technology for sustainably producing energy, I think that society will use up the available resources as quickly as possible, without heed to efficiency, and then scale back from there. I dont think it will be doomsday, but I think it will cause a lot of hardship and suffering. The perspective I was trying to get from pjc was not is this going to happen, but when is it going to happen (ie, will it happen in 5 years, 10 years, 20 years, 40 years?). I dont think pjc was advocating dont worry about this for now let our kids deal with it I think they were simply saying what they thought would happen. To be honest, I agree with them in their assessment of what is likely. Collectively, we _will_ exploit these resources/ecosystems without heed for future generations, who will suffer the consequences. Its awful, and immoral, but I think thats the way it will probably be. pjc says:
March 22, 2012 at 2:43 pm

@Owen Im not sure why youre so worried about the units involved with natural gas versus oil. At any rate, the correct natural gas vehicle is probably the Siena Tetra Fuel by Fiat. It can run on gasoline, ethanol, or natural gas. It has a normal range. The natural gas can reduce significanlty the gasoline consumption, but it doesnt remove it completely. Its also an inexpensive car less than 20K, Right now the Tetra Fuel isnt available in the US. I suspect that will change, particularly if the Pickens plan passes. But if it never comes to the US, its still seems likely to be a big deal internationally, if the American gas glut spreads overseas. Natural gas isnt a perfect fuel, but i has lots of great properties. People are comfortable with it being piped into their homes (unlike oil). It doesnt need to be refined.

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LNG transport will just be the means by which natural gas price is internationalized. Shales are all over the world, on every major continent. Shale gas is around 30% of US production, and its created an undisputed gas abundance. So I suspect some good production from Poland, Romania and China will be earthshaking. Also, I suspect France will eventually frack their shales, once they become desperate enough economically (perhaps in 5 or 10 years). They will test very, very carefully, but they will choose fracking over bankruptcy and chaos. Re: let our kids deal with it yep thats basically my opinion. I think the technologicial tools 20 years from now will make our current tech look silly in lots of ways. In particular, I think solar will be much better, and intermittant power storage (i.e. batteries) will be much better. I dont think our kids will deal with a paradise, but this whole running out of oil thing will look silly to them. Theyll be worrying about some other sort of problem, possibly some new global catastrophe possibly global climate change. But it wont be peak oil/peak energy. Cheers Justin Nigh says:
March 22, 2012 at 5:25 pm

PJC no more pulling punches, Im just going to go ahead and call you for the smug asshole you are. There are solutions to this problem that involve some immediate sacrifices but all you care about is numero uno, your shortsighted comfort and money, money, money. Climate change is here and now, not 20 yrs away. Our kids wont be dealing with it theyll be suffering from the very inaction you cheer on like the hypercapitalist pig you are. Go F yourself pal. pjc says:
March 22, 2012 at 6:05 pm

Wow, thats totally rude and mean-spirited. I dont think that type of language will win you any friends (or any elections) thats for sure. Justin Nigh says:
March 22, 2012 at 6:16 pm

No I dont think its any more rude than your thinly-veiled smarmy attitude. You arent kidding anyone, Ive just been more blunt about it because Im done playing your childish games. Grow a spine and suck it up. Justin Nigh says:
March 22, 2012 at 6:30 pm

Furthermore, I neither need nor want friends like you. As for votes, it doesnt surprise me you think they still matter since youre an obvious shill for the status quo business as usual crowd. There is no more democracy, its a corporatocracy and only those with blinders on dont understand this. Owen says:
March 23, 2012 at 3:22 am

I do not think you understand the mathematics. The units define the issue because numbers define the issue. 85 million barrels of oil per day equates to XXXXXX BTUs. If you wish to replace that oil with nat gas, you have to have that many BTUs from the nat gas every day. Let me put it another way. You need 400 horsepower engines to push a tractor around and
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plow 10,000 acre fields fast enough to get seeds in the ground and growing before growing season ends. You cant get that field plowed before August if youre having to stop to refill your tank every 10 minutes. This is a physics problem. Its not politics. Its not economics. Its not left wing envirowackoism. Its not right wing uber capitalism. Its physics and math. Neither physics nor math care who you voted for. They are going to be equal opportunity killers of 85% of the population and they wont discriminate by party. Go on back and look at the math I laid out. CNG trucks running around 10-15 mile routes picking up trash is not indicative of anything other than a 15 mile range. You cant plow fields for 7 billion like that, and you cant transport food for 7 billion like that. You want more range, make the tank bigger. You make the tank bigger, you have no room for payload. pjc says:
March 23, 2012 at 1:56 pm

@Owen I think you are just doing your math wrong when you say it is impossible to get a decent payload and a decent range with natural gas vehicles. T You can see a NG truck here. It runs on diesel and LNG, and can go 250 miles with a fairly decent payload. (GCWR = 80,000 lbs). Some us LNG and some CNG. There are tradeoffs, but they both work with high efficiency. NG vehicles require more energy input to load the tank, but the engines run cleanly with very high efficiency, and the fuel doensnt need refinement. At any rate, there is no point in going into a long debate about. This isnt a prototyping argument, as NG vehicles are in use around the world, so it can be done. pjc says:
March 23, 2012 at 1:59 pm

Here is a NG vehicle. http://www.afdc.energy.gov/afdc/pdfs/32808.pdf Remember, we dont need to switch everything to NG or electricity (or efficiency) just enough to continue to insure that the oil replaced by natural gas + coal trend continues. Owen says:
March 23, 2012 at 5:23 pm

Im pretty much unable to trace down Reply buttons any longer and its too much bother to work around. I wont try anymore. I have seen the offered pdf before. I have looked at it carefully. Step number 1 is to ignore any sentence talking about how clean it is. Not relevant. Then one tries to extract the precise verbage about actual performance and one finds there is no information provided. 38 garbage trucks pick up trash, drive 3 miles to the dump and dump it. This is not long haul. There is no mention of how many 3 mile trips they make before they refuel. They quote 2200 tons carried by 14 trucks per day. Thats 157 tons per truck. That Is Nothing. Look, theres no point in looking for examples. Pick up your calculator and do your own math. I did. Show me the computational error. You cant dodge the reality of CH4 carbon chains being fewer than the 20 in crude. Thats just the way it is.
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Gail Tverberg says:


March 24, 2012 at 12:10 pm

The reason you are not finding the reply button is that I lowered the number of reply levels to five, because someone complained that the replies were getting hard to read when I use 10 reply levelsthe column became too narrow. Sorry about that. I dont know that there is a good solution.

Owen says:
March 24, 2012 at 1:39 pm

Theres no solution, Gail. Comment threads are a world where people talk to hear themselves. We accomplish nothing and we dont care. Theres a timeless aspect to it. I once had a CO who said When all is said and done, a lot more will be said than done. Beyond that, my opinion is that which is inevitable is that which is inevitable so I dont self delude about doing noble work informing anyone about anything. Im just wasting time because I have it to waste. Justin Nigh says:
March 24, 2012 at 6:18 pm

Brilliant comment Owen. I got a good chuckle. Many find themselves in this position of I defy you, and you defy me ad infinitum. Its pretty silly when it breaks down into a nondiscussion of these sorts. I need to do less of this myself. Gustava says:
March 22, 2012 at 7:53 pm

Hi Justin, Id strongly encourage you to always maintain civility in these sorts of discussions. You are very unlikely to convince anyone of your arguments by becoming angry and aggressive or using insults or swearing. I suggest a much more productive approach is to try to understand the other persons thinking, and where their a priori assumptions differ from yours. Cheers, Justin Nigh says:
March 22, 2012 at 8:01 pm

Hi Gustava, I agree with you in general, and believe Ive been quite civil to date. At some point you realise its a lost cause, and just call a spade a spade. You cant convince the dogmatic, and I suspect PJC would make the same comment about our point of view. That sort of impasse isnt worth trying to overcome. Thanks for your efforts to build resiliency in your community. Its good to see some people are taking responsibility for how we leave the earth to our children, unlike others who have no sense of responsibility and think its up to those who come after us to pay for our sins. Justin Nigh says:
March 22, 2012 at 8:08 pm

Id also add that being nice or civil has not worked to date. The machine keeps rolling on its destructive path and has in fact accellerated as technology allows for faster exploitation of the
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earths natural resources. You only have to look at recent bills passed in the US that seek to further erode civil liberties. Asking Stalin to please stop killing people might not be the most effective strategy. pjc says:
March 23, 2012 at 3:44 pm

Gustava I am pro-energy, pro-people. I want to see people live long healthy lives and die in old age. I dont want them to be orphanded, or watch their children die (at least not with the frequency this would happen in a low energy world). My comments on this are here if you are more interested. http://ourfiniteworld.com/2012/02/15/human-population-overshoot-what-went-wrong/ But lets be clear I dont think corporations should kill people for profit. I am interested in peak-energy because the peak-energy folks inevitably saw we should accomodate a die-off. I disagree. I think we should strive to avoid a die-off, and let the population stabilize by giving people modern fertility options.

Innexussis Fealtor says:


March 16, 2012 at 3:16 am

Take away. Remove oil and nat gas from the equation and the year 1900 is where we land. One big problem with that. There were one billion people on the planet in 1900, not seven billion and counting as the rabbits hop and skip to my lou. Peak oil is a symptom of expansionism, a keynesian delusion. Overpopulation is the problem- more free labor on the family farm. Farm means a lot of things to a lot of people, but sowing and reaping puts it in the barn. Nothing is going in the barn anymore because surplus is consumed by growth and expansion to pay the seed bill. increased volume thins the margin in competitive herd environments. simple. obvious. ignored. symptoms.

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Geoff Mosley says:


March 17, 2012 at 10:15 pm

There is a better way. It is called the steady state economy (see http://www.steadystate.org). People around the world are affected by two serious diseases: imagination deficit and vision impairment.

Gail Tverberg says:


March 17, 2012 at 10:42 pm

I wrote my view of the Steady State Economy a while back. I called the post, There is No Steady State (Except at a very basic level).

From Peru says:


March 18, 2012 at 8:15 pm

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From where you found the energy data needed to make those graphics in EXCEL?

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