The Triple Crisis of Civilization

The Short Fossil Energy Age


The Industrialized World is just concluding a 150 year party provisioned by a seemingly unlimited supply of finite fossil energy; oil, natural gas, and coal. As with any living species with a surplus of food-producing resources, population increased exponentially in lock-step with consumption resulting in the concurrent devastation of all world ecosystems.

    By 2005, it became obvious that world oil production could not continue to satisfy rapidly increasing demand. About 75 million barrels per day of conventional oil (one billion barrels every 13 days) has not been exceeded into 2007. The term “Peak Oil”, long predicted by oil geologists, now appears to be fact and no longer theory. Rapidly rising oil and gasoline prices have sparked public concern and made energy a mainstream topic. This, in spite of attempts by Exxon-Mobil, and others in the industry, to convince us that we still have two trillion barrels of conventional oil left but with one trillion yet to be found somewhere. Discovery peaked in 1965. We are now consuming over six barrels of oil for every new barrel discovered.

    Closely following the imminent depletion of oil (40% of our total energy) are natural gas (23%) and coal (23%). Natural gas reserves are isolated and limited. Precarious pipelines and complex LNG shipping further impede smooth world market supply lines. Coal was thought to be more plentiful but incurs a high cost in energy and ecological impact to mine. In 2007, a new study by E.W.G. (Energy Watch Group) in Germany, titled “Coal: Resources and Future Production,” claims that world coal reserves are much less than previously estimated. Coal production, primarily from two countries; U.S. and China is also expected to peak in about 20 years.

    In addition, because of the long carbon backbone in the solid coal molecule, huge amounts of CO2 as well as other pollutants are released during burning or conversion into “clean” coal or synthetic liquid fuels. Together, the consumption of the three fossil fuels releases most of the 13 billion tons of CO2 added to the atmosphere each year. Extensive forest burning contributes most of the balance.

Clearly, the handwriting is on the wall. Our short, high-energy Industrialized Age, made possible by fossil energy, is stretched to the limit and will clearly take modern civilization down with it unless we take drastic action immediately. (See graphic on “Triple Crisis” page for a visual summary.)

    This handbook lists just a few of the rapidly expanding number of books and web sites dealing with Fossil energy. Peak Oil is the publicly visible tipping point, which sheds light on the other two intertwined parts of the triple-crisis of civilization: population growth and eco-devastation.