The Triple Crisis of Civilization

Delusions (that will not save us)



• Hydrogen: Now quieting down. Most processed hydrogen comes from natural gas, or if from renewables, it is a terribly inefficient way to use precious non-fossil-sourced electricity. In addition, it is very dangerous and technically-difficult to handle and store in compressed or cryogenic form.

• Biofuels (exclusive of wood): Sunlight is very dilute and sporadic. Expecting annual solar energy to replace millions of years of concentrated solar energy  stored in fossil fuel is erroneous. As the fossil fuel base (nitrogen fertilizer, diesel fuel, irrigation- energy, etc.) for our food supply winds down, we will need all the biomass energy we can find just to feed ourselves. Also, biofuel production (esp. ethanol from corn) requires about as much fossil energy input as the resultant energy yield. The energy returned on energy invested (EROEI) is too close to unity to be worthwhile. Also intensive monoculture of crop land is not sustainable and biodiesel yields are miniscule.

• Wood: Somewhere between dilute annual sunlight-energy and concentrated fossil fuels is wonderful wood. But, it takes 50 to 100 years to grow a reasonable tree. Harvest at a quicker rate only depletes the forest, soils, and ecological balance. This signals the end of a dependent society, is happening the world over, and is exacerbated by increasing population and fossil-fuel powered harvesting equipment. (See Strangely Like War, Ecological Devastation Bibliography.)

• There’s Plenty Left: We are now using about 6 barrels of oil (at one billion barrels, worldwide, every 13 days) for every single new barrel discovered. Natural gas is not far behind and can’t be shipped overseas except as liquid natural gas (LNG). Coal reserves are suspect (see “The Short Fossil Energy Age.” Tar sands are plentiful but contribute heavily to eco-devastation and are near an EROEI of unity, especially as natural gas for processing becomes scarce.

• Efficiency Will Save Us: Only if we concurrently reduce consumption. In most cases, improved efficiency increases consumption due to increased value and numbers of consumers. (“Jevon’s Paradox”) In the long run, ultimately we must survive with no fossil energy.

• Other Sources: Nuclear, hydro, geothermal, solar, and wind are all legitimate. Except for solar and wind, all are limited by site-availability or, in the case of nuclear, problematic fuel and waste issues. Most remaining energy sources will yield only electricity which is not conducive to easy personal transportation.

• “Pie In The Sky”: Abiotic oil, nuclear fusion, methyl hydrates, shale oil, perpetual motion machines, etc. None are proved and time is running out.

(but waste valuable time and dollars while we chase them down)

With the onset of peak oil and higher energy prices, there is a flurry of new and, in many cases, revived old panaceas. Some have a touch of legitimacy. Some are pure snake oil, some are only a way to profit either from selling books or from ill-directed research grants and tax incentives.