Monday, September 11, 2006

Peak Oil vs. Running Out of Oil

Will Singapore Survive Post-Peak Oil? Considering we import almost all our food...I highly doubt it...Thailand & Vietnam are better places to live in should the Peak pass...

Extracted from The Oil Drum -
DrumBeat: September 11, 2006.

...Many people in the Peak Oil movement claims that we are running out of oil. While there may be many very uninformed nuts out there who really believe we are running out of oil, they, by definition, could not possibly be peak oilers. It would be impossible to be at peak production and out of oil, that is just plain common sense. All peak oilers know that post peak, the amount of oil available each year will decrease each year...forever. Now I know there may be one year or two when oil the oil supply will increase, just as the US production increased for a few years after Prudhoe Bay came on line. But the trend will be downward....forever or until not enough oil is produced to even measure.

What many seem to think is that returning to 1980 oil production levels will mean a 1980 lifestyle. That is, if we will just have to scale back a little and, with the aid of ethanol and biodiesel we will get by just fine. This is what most of us peak oilers deny.

First of all, the decline is not likely to be steady. Most oil exporters will have dramatically increased their domestic production. They will supply their own needs before trying to keep the rest of the world on an even keel. There will develop an enormous difference between the oil available in countries that now export oil and countries that now must import most of their oil.

Second, most of these countries, who now realize the gravity of the situation, will start to husband their oil. They will cut back on production in order to insure stability in their own countries at the expense of the rest of the world.

Third, the realization will eventually dawn on the world's markets that all the economies of the world must now shrink instead of grow. Capitalism depends on growth. People invest for growth and no one invests for shrinkage. People will pull their money out of the market because they will correctly see the crash coming. This will just exacerbate the situation and we will have a disastrous world-wide market crash. This will mean lay-offs, unemployment, and an economic disaster far surpassing anything seen in the great depression.

The world's population will have at least doubled since 1980. And since we are already seeing a drop in grain and other food production, this will greatly exacerbate the problem. Dropping oil production will mean that grain and other food production will begin to drop like a rock. There will be food riots all over the world.

And as some have already pointed out, the oil left will be prioritized. That is the military will be first in line, then what is deemed "necessary government agencies" and so on down the line.

And that is the point Roger, and others who seem to think that declining oil production will simply mean a slightly lower lifestyle. Not even close. No, the world as we know it feeds on oil. And as the oil flow is interrupted, and gets a little worse every year, then civilization as we know it will disappear a little each year. Anarchy and resource wars will probably accelerate the situation until the scenario pictured by David Price comes to pass...

David Price's Die-off Scenario. We'll crash just like a bacteria colony on an agar plate after blooming beyond the carrying capacity of the agar dish:


Operative mechanisms in the collapse of the human population will be starvation, social strife, and disease. These major disasters were recognized long before Malthus and have been represented in western culture as horsemen of the apocalypse. 8 They are all consequences of scarce resources and dense population.

Starvation will be a direct outcome of the depletion of energy resources. Today's dense population is dependent for its food supply on mechanized agriculture and efficient transportation. Energy is used to manufacture and operate farm equipment, and energy is used to take food to market. As less efficient energy resources come to be used, food will grow more expensive and the circle of privileged consumers to whom an adequate supply is available will continue to shrink.

Social strife is another consequence of the rising cost of commercial energy. Everything people want takes energy to produce, and as energy becomes more expensive, fewer people have access to goods they desire. When goods are plentiful, and particularly when per-capita access to goods is increasing, social tensions are muted: Ethnically diverse populations often find it expedient to live harmoniously, governments may be ineffective and slow to respond, and little force is needed to maintain domestic tranquillity. But when goods become scarce, and especially when per-capita access to goods is decreasing, ethnic tensions surface, governments become authoritarian, and goods are acquired, increasingly, by criminal means.

A shortage of resources also cripples public health systems, while a dense population encourages the spread of contagious diseases. Throughout human history, the development of large, dense populations has led to the appearance of contagious diseases that evolved to exploit them. Smallpox and measles were apparently unknown until the second and third centuries AD, when they devastated the population of the Mediterranean basin (McNeill, 1976, p. 105). In the fourteenth century, a yet larger and denser population in both Europe and China provided a hospitable niche for the Black Death. Today, with extremely dense population and all parts of the world linked by air travel, new diseases such as AIDS spread rapidly-and a virus as deadly as AIDS but more easily transmissible could appear at any time.

Starvation, social strife, and disease interact in complex ways. If famine were the sole mechanism of collapse, the species might become extinct quite suddenly. A population that grows in response to abundant but finite resources, like the reindeer of St. Matthew Island, tends to exhaust these resources completely. By the time individuals discover that remaining resources will not be adequate for the next generation, the next generation has already been born. And in its struggle to survive, the last generation uses up every scrap, so that nothing remains that would sustain even a small population. But famine seldom acts alone. It is exacerbated by social strife, which interferes with the production and delivery of food. And it weakens the natural defenses by which organisms fight off disease.

Paradoxically, disease can act to spare resources. If, for example, a new epidemic should reduce the human population to a small number of people who happen to be resistant to it before all the world's resources are severely depleted, the species might be able to survive a while longer.


But even if a few people manage to survive worldwide population collapse, civilization will not. The complex association of cultural traits of which modern humans are so proud is a consequence of abundant resources, and cannot long outlive their depletion.

Civilization refers, in its derivation, to the habit of living in dense nucleated settlements, which appeared as population grew in response to plentiful resources. Many things seem to follow as a matter of course when people live in cities, and wherever civilization occurred, it has involved political consolidation, economic specialization, social stratification, some sort of monumental architecture, and a flowering of artistic and intellectual endeavor (Childe, 1951).

Localized episodes of such cultural elaboration have always been associated with rapid population growth. Reasons for the abundance of resources that promoted this growth vary from one case to another. In some instances, a population moved into a new region with previously untapped resources; in other instances the development or adoption of new crops, new technologies, or new social strategies enhanced production. But the Sumerians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Mayas, and even the Easter Islanders all experienced a surge of creative activity as their populations grew rapidly.

And in all cases, this creative phase, nourished by the same abundance that promoted population growth, came to an end when growth ended. One need not seek esoteric reasons for the decline of Greece or the fall of Rome; in both cases, the growth of population exhausted the resources that had promoted it. After the Golden Age, the population of Greece declined continually for more than a thousand years, from 3 million to about 800,000. The population of the Roman Empire fell from 45 or 46 million, at its height, to about 39 million by 600 AD, and the European part of the empire was reduced by 25% (McEvedy & Jones, 1978).

Even if world population could be held constant, in balance with "renewable" resources, the creative impulse that has been responsible for human achievements during the period of growth would come to an end. And the spiraling collapse that is far more likely will leave, at best, a handfull of survivors. These people might get by, for a while, by picking through the wreckage of civilization, but soon they would have to lead simpler lives, like the hunters and subsistence farmers of the past. They would not have the resources to build great public works or carry forward scientific inquiry. They could not let individuals remain unproductive as they wrote novels or composed symphonies. After a few generations, they might come to believe that the rubble amid which they live is the remains of cities built by gods.

Or it may prove impossible for even a few survivors to subsist on the meager resources left in civilization's wake. The children of the highly technological society into which more and more of the world's peoples are being drawn will not know how to support themselves by hunting and gathering or by simple agriculture. In addition, the wealth of wild animals that once sustained hunting societies will be gone, and topsoil that has been spoiled by tractors will yield poorly to the hoe. A species that has come to depend on complex technologies to mediate its relationship with the environment may not long survive their loss.


For Malthus, the imbalance between the growth of population and means of subsistence might be corrected, from time to time, through natural disasters, but the human species could, in principle, survive indefinitely. Malthus did not know that the universe is governed by the Second Law of Thermodynamics; he did not understand the population dynamics of introduced species; and he did not appreciate that humans, having evolved long after the resource base on which they now rely, are effectively an introduced species on their own planet.

The short tenure of the human species marks a turning point in the history of life on Earth. Before the appearance of Homo sapiens, energy was being sequestered more rapidly than it was being dissipated. Then human beings evolved, with the capacity to dissipate much of the energy that had been sequestered, partially redressing the planet's energy balance. The evolution of a species like Homo sapiens may be an integral part of the life process, anywhere in the universe it happens to occur. As life develops, autotrophs expand and make a place for heterotrophs. If organic energy is sequestered in substantial reserves, as geological processes are bound to do, then the appearance of a species that can release it is all but assured. Such a species, evolved in the service of entropy, quickly returns its planet to a lower energy level. In an evolutionary instant, it explodes and is gone.

If the passage of Homo sapiens across evolution's stage significantly alters Earth's atmosphere, virtually all living things may become extinct quite rapidly. But even if this does not happen, the rise and fall of Homo sapiens will eliminate many species. It has been estimated that they are going extinct at a rate of 17,500 per year (Wilson, 1988, p. 13), and in the next twenty-five years as many as one-quarter of the world's species may be lost (Raven, 1988, p. 121).

This is a radical reduction in biological diversity, although life has survived other die-offs, such as the great collapse at the end of the Permian. It is unlikely, however, that anything quite like human beings will come this way again. The resources that have made humans what they are will be gone, and there may not be time before the sun burns out for new deposits of fossil fuel to form and intelligent new scavengers to evolve. The universe seems to have had a unique beginning, some ten or twenty billion years ago (Hawking, 1988, p. 108). Since that time, a star had to live and die to provide the materials for the solar system -- which, itself, is several billion years old. Perhaps life could not have happened any sooner than it did. Perhaps Homo sapiens could not have evolved any sooner. Or later. Perhaps everything has its season, a window of opportunity that opens for a while, then shuts.


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