Peak energy, climate change, and the collapse of global civilisation: the current peak oil crisis

“This paper was written to empower people and societies to prepare themselves for the radical changes in the world ahead with the information presented in this analysis” –  Tariel Mórrígan Dec 14, 2010

This report by Tariel Mórrígan is a synthesis of the current state of knowledge on energy resources and global climate and environmental change. The findings clearly indicate that the convergence of peak energy resources and dangerous anthropogenic climate and environmental change will likely have a disastrous impact in the near- and long-term on the quantity and quality of human life on the planet.

Topics include: peak oil, coal, natural gas, uranium, and phosphorus; climate change; environmental degradation; population; food and agriculture; water resources; and the limits of biofuels (including algae-based biofuels).

here are a few excerpts….

During my research on peak oil and energy resources, climate change, and the capacity of the Earth to support human life, I found that there was much information available on the issues (i.e., the relevant science, data, and facts were already available), but that much of it was not synthesized to make a comprehensive and complete picture (i.e., complete with accurate data and comprehensive analyses). So, some of the people who may be aware of peak oil (or climate change) may not fully understand the consequences. And, while some people may be concerned about peak oil, they may be unaware of the extent of the climate change crisis…and vice versa.

For instance, many policymakers and negotiators are arguing with little progress over the wrong climate targets (i.e., an average global temperature increase of 2oC above pre-Industrial Revolution levels by limiting the atmospheric CO2 concentration to 450 ppm), while assuming that anything resembling business as usual energy consumption and economic growth is possible. Yet, the scientific evidence and projections clearly indicate that all of these targets and assumptions are very incorrect and woefully inadequate. As another example, much of the peak oil literature does not offer the reader a comprehensive explanation of peak oil and its potential impacts on society. The information is very good, but much of it focuses on one or only several issues, which may leave many readers unfamiliar with peak energy issues with more questions than answers about the issue, its consequences, or how to adapt to it. Similarly, much climate literature does not consider energy scarcity or population limits in their analyses.

It became obvious to me that writing this report was one of the most important acts I could do for the public, right now. All discourse and policy on these issues must be based on the current and correct data and science, if it is to have a chance to succeed. This report is an attempt to synthesize and holistically analyze the current state of knowledge on these important and inter-related issues. Despite the inherent uncertainties stemming from the data, science, and predictive power of models, the overall analysis provides a clear picture of the orders of magnitude and probability distributions of current and future global changes.

Ultimately, this report is for the public for the benefit of humanity. It is a warning and a call to action. Since peak oil and climate change are occurring now without much of the public’s awareness, this report may also act as a sort of history so that people in the future may be able to understand what happened to the world regarding peak energy, climate change and economic and societal collapse, after the fact. Future generations should know what happened during this period of history in order to learn from the past mistakes of humanity. Hopefully, this report may contribute to a smoother and less disastrous post-peak oil transition period by warning people of the impending crises.

When I set out to investigate peak oil and energy resources, it was with the intention to either: disprove peak oil theory and/or the predicted timings of when peak oil and energy resources would occur; or to communicate what is peak oil and the potential crisis, if I could not disprove peak oil and its urgency. The deeper I investigated peak oil and energy resource issues, the more it became clear that peak oil was a very severe and imminent crisis.

However, given the possibility of the unprecedented and imminent threats of peak oil and dangerous climate change, the reader should not simply believe one author’s analysis and conclusions since the reader can always check the references. Nonetheless, every reader is urged to seriously consider the arguments, evidence, references, and conclusions presented in this analysis. And, when reading, viewing, and listening to other arguments and points of view by other authors consider their methodology, sources, references, and assumptions. In this investigation, a recurring issue is that many assumptions have been made by analysts and societies regarding energy resources and the economic and social systems that rely on them to maintain their functioning. Similarly, many societies generally make grave assumptions about the human carrying capacity of the environment and the severity of climate change in that the magnitude of the crises are generally grossly and inappropriately nderestimated. This analysis looks at how peak energy resources and climate change may affect the human carrying capacity of the Earth in the coming decades.

 

KEY POINTS

  • Peak oil is happening now.
  • The era of cheap and abundant oil is over.
  • Global conventional oil production likely peaked around 2005 – 2008 or will peak by 2011.
  • “Peak oil” refers to the maximum rate of oil production, after which the rate of production enters terminal decline.
  • Although there will be oil remaining in the ground when world oil production peaks, the remaining oil will become increasingly difficult and more costly to produce until the marginal financial and energy cost of producing oil exceeds the marginal profit and energy gained.
  • Global oil reserve discoveries peaked in the 1960’s.
  • New oil discoveries have been declining since then, and the new discoveries have been smaller and in harder to access areas (e.g., smaller deepwater reserves).
  • Huge investments are required to explore for and develop more reserves, mainly to offset decline at existing fields.
  • An additional 64 mbpd of gross capacity – the equivalent of six times that of Saudi Arabia today – needs to be brought on stream between 2007 – 2030 to supply projected business as usual demand.
  • Since mid-2004, the global oil production plateau has remained within a 4% fluctuation band, which indicates that new production has only been able to offset the decline in existing production.
  • The global oil production rate will likely decline by 4 – 10.5% or more per year.
  • Substantial shortfalls in the global oil supply will likely occur sometime between 2010 – 2015.
  • Furthermore, the peak global production of coal, natural gas, and uranium resources may occur by 2020 – 2030, if not sooner.
  • Global peak coal production will likely occur between 2011 – 2025.
  • Global natural gas production will likely peak sometime between 2019 – 2030.
  • Global peak uranium will likely occur by 2015 to sometime in the 2020’s.
  • Oil shortages will lead to a collapse of the global economy, and the decline of globalized industrial civilization.
  • Systemic collapse will evolve as a systemic crisis as the integrated infrastructure and economy of our global civilization breaks down.
  • Most governments and societies – especially those that are developed and industrialized – will be unable to manage multiple simultaneous systemic crises. Consequently, systemic collapse will likely result in widespread confusion, fear, human security risks, and social break down.
  • Economies worldwide are already unraveling and becoming insolvent as the global economic system can no longer support itself without cheap and abundant energy resources.
  • This current transition of rapid economic decline was triggered by the oil price shock starting in 2007 and culminating in the summer of 2008. This transition will likely accelerate and become more volatile once oil prices exceed $80 – $90 per barrel for an extended time. Demand destruction for oil may be somewhere above $80 per barrel and below $141 per barrel.
  • Economic recovery (i.e., business as usual) will likely exacerbate the global recession by driving up oil prices.
  • A managed “de-growth” is impossible, because effective mitigation of peak oil will be dependent on the implementation of mega-projects and mega-changes at the maximum possible rate with at least 20 years lead time and trillions of dollars in investments.
  • Peak oil and the events associated with it will be an unprecedented discontinuity in human and geologic history.
  • Adaptation is the only strategy in response to peak oil.
  • Mitigation and adaptation are the only strategies for climate change.
  • Peak oil crises will soon confront societies with the opportunity to recreate themselves based on their respective needs, culture, resources, and governance responses.
  • The impacts of peak oil and post-peak decline will not be the same equally for everyone everywhere at any given time.
  • There are probably no solutions that do not involve at the very least some major changes in lifestyles.
  • Local and societal responses and adaptation strategies to peak oil and climate change will vary and be influenced based on many factors including: geography, environment, access to resources, economics, markets, geopolitics, culture, religion, and politics.
  • The sooner people and societies prepare for peak oil and a post-peak oil life, the more they will be able to influence the direction of their opportunities.
  • The peak oil crisis may become an opportunity to recreate and harmonize local, regional, and international relationships and cooperation.
  • The localization of economies will likely occur on a massive scale, particularly the localization of the production of food, goods, and services.
  • Existential crises will soon confront societies with the opportunity to recreate themselves based on their respective needs, culture, resources, and governance responses.
  • If the international community does not make a transcendent effort to cooperate to manage the transition to a non-oil based economy, it may risk a volatile, chaotic, and dangerous collapse of the global economy and world population.
  • One of the most important modern technologies to preserve post-peak oil may be the Internet, which can potentially help the world stay connected in terms of communications, information, and Internet technology services even after global transportation services decline.
  • Peak oil and energy resources may offer the only viable solution and opportunity for humanity to mitigate anthropogenic climate change on a global scale – by essentially pulling the plug on the engine of the global economy that has driven the climate system to a very dangerous state.
  • The success of the Green Revolution of modern industrial agriculture since around 1950 is primarily due to its increased use of fossil fuel resources for fertilizers, pesticides, and irrigation to raise crops. Fossil fuel energy inputs greatly increased the energy-intensiveness of agricultural production, in some cases by 100 times or more.
  • Since the advent of the Green Revolution, the global human population has increased from 2.5 billion in 1950 to nearly 7 billion today.
  • Global demand for natural resources exceeded planet’s capacity to provide sustainably for the combined demands of the global population between 1970 – 1980.
  • The global population is projected to grow to around 9.2 billion by 2050.
  • Current trends in land, soil, water, and biodiversity loss and degradation, combined with potential climate change impacts, ocean acidification, a mass extinction event, and energy scarcity will significantly limit the human carrying capacity of the Earth.
  • Future climate change has the potential to substantially reduce the human carrying capacity of the Earth by 0.5 – 2 billion people, or more with abrupt climate changes.
  • The human carrying capacity of the Earth may be 0.5 – 7.5 billion people by 2050.
  • The human carrying capacity of the planet may be 0.5 – 6 billion by 2100.
  • Even when greenhouse gas emissions decline after peak oil, climate change will likely continue to be driven by human activities, but in a reduced capacity.
  • Moreover, the potential mitigation of climate change due to future energy scarcity will not stop the already committed climate changes that are in the pipeline.
  • It is possible that climate negotiations may be abandoned or at least marginalized for a long time (if not permanently) as the crisis of peak oil and economic shock and awe overwhelms the stability and security of every nation.
  • It will likely require a concerted and transcendent effort on the part of any remaining international climate negotiators, their governments, and the public to pursue a meaningful international climate policy – much less a binding international climate treaty.
  • Based on these estimates, the global population may have nearly reached or already exceeded the planet’s human carrying capacity in terms of food production.

“We are in a crisis in the evolution of human society. It’s unique to both human and geologic history. It has never happened before and it can’t possibly happen again. You can only use oil once. You can onlyuse metals once. Soon all the oil is going to be burned and all the metals mined and scattered.”
– M. King Hubbert1, geophysicist and energy advisor Shell Oil Company and USGS, 1983

To read the full summary and to download the complete book as a pdf go to Post Carbon Institute – Energy Bulletin