Fast Forward One Lifetime

Questions for the Post Finite Energy Age        February 2009


   Critical time was wasted while we argued energy subjects like: how much oil is left, who has it, where is it, who does it belong to, shale oil, tar sands, denial, apathy, bio food for fuel, hydrogen (where does it come from?), Pickens Plan, liquified-natural gas, efficiency, coal to liquids, nuclear power, carbon sequestration, global warming, globalization, environmentalism, “going green”, species extinction, plug-in hybrids, electric vehicles, lithium batteries, short-term financial markets, bailouts, politics, and stimulus plans.

   Meanwhile in the last three years we passed the peak of conventional oil. This caused the price to triple as we consumed another 22 billion barrels in the U.S. and almost 100 billion barrels in the world. World consumers spent much more on oil, combined with the fact that nothing, including economies and real wealth, can grow without readily available energy. The entire financial system began to unravel starting with highly-leveraged real estate. The resultant collapse in energy demand caused a sharp drop in price which precipitated the final decline of world oil (and all liquids) production. More expensive projects cannot restart because there is not enough wealth left to support them. This is what post-peak oil looks like.

   We should focus on the inevitable long-term future of all energy resources. Civilization is confronted with daunting challenges which appear insurmountable without continued availability of finite-fossil fuels and fissionable uranium. Together, these steadily-depleting, high-energy sources provide over 90 percent of world consumption. The profligate energy party has only lasted about one long lifetime. The next lifetime will be much more difficult because of the severe tension (gap) between continued upward growth and declining energy.

   Consider the following annual consumption chart compiled from three reputable world sources: ASPO (the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas,, EWG (Energy Watch Group.pdf), and EIA (Energy Information Agency 2006):

In the short span of the next lifetime, we will need answers for AT LEAST all the following:

FOOD — We now have about five billion more people to feed than before the oil age. Adequate supplies must be accessible, timely, and grown without fossil fuels. How many distant people can one farmer feed without liquid fuels and nitrogen fertilizer? What will nonproductive consumers send the farmer in return? Tractors don’t run on food stamps.

TRANSPORTATION — Cars, trucks, planes, trains, boats are now 90% petro-fuel powered. The alternatives: coal to liquids, natural gas, and grid plug-ins (unless purely solar or wind powered) won’t be available because of fossil fuel dependency. Bio fuels will be needed for food.

HEAT — Homes, municipal buildings, hot water, cooking, air-conditioning, all must come from bio fuels or solar.

PLASTICS — Polymer feed-stocks for thousands of modern materials including containers, insulation, rubber, carbon fiber, lubricants, coatings.

DIESEL — Construction, heavy transport, ocean travel, raw material extraction, large generators, earth moving, farm power. How will we plow snow ... and why?

BIO FUELS — In place of food only where appropriate and absolutely necessary. They must supply their own energy for planting, harvesting, processing, and transport. Byproducts must return directly to the earth to be sustainable. How will we harvest and deliver wood for heat or construction?

NATIONAL SECURITY — Who will control and dominate the last concentrated energy sources? How will we fuel our military needs without fossil fuels? If we have to make a choice, is national security more important than food for survival?

MUNICIPAL NEEDS — Response to crime, hunger, medical care, education, mass transport, communication, natural disasters, waste disposal. What will serve for currency?

INDUSTRIAL POWER — For the manufacture of all our needs from matches to candles to solar panels, electric motors, wind turbines, light bulbs, metal reclamation from ore or scrap. How does the ore and scrap get to the plant? How will we make, distribute, and recycle batteries in a sporadic, solar- electric, energy age?

ELECTRICITY — Can we maintain a grid infrastructure to smooth, store, and inter-tie centralized and distributed renewable sources from solar and wind without fossil energy?

  The above summary of challenges may seem surreal, impossible, overwhelming, hopeless, nonsense, and/or beyond control. Yet, if we ignore them while we still have remaining finite fuels, we are no better than species of lesser intelligence which live within their own muscle power and reproduce to the limits of contemporary carrying capacity until it’s too late.

   We can do better. We should RATION rather than fight or outbid each other for the remaining finite fuel sources. This will extend and preserve precious energy for future years and buy time to begin a long-term, parallel, conscious movement toward NEGATIVE population growth commensurate with dwindling food supplies. We must EDUCATE ourselves and others to clarify the facts and project this message. Otherwise, how will our leaders and media know?

   We should move directly to ADAPT to the only renewable, clean, and infinitely scalable modern energy source: incoming annual solar (including photovoltaic, thermal, wind and concentrated solar).

   Because of transportation limitations, we will have to move towards LOCALIZED communities, which are nearly self-sufficient and sustainable. Where do we establish borders? How do we limit membership?

   Notice the acronym LEARN in the above conclusions ... in no particular order, since all must happen if there is to be any hope for an acceptable civilized future.