Homer Dixon has put together an excellent brief set of essays about the dual problems of energy depletion and global warming. It is worth reading and takes about four hours. My albeit idiosyncratic takeaways are:
- There is abundant carbon. It is just nastier than most of the stuff we currently use. Let us say that there is a continuum of cost and nastiness. At the left is conventional oil, as you go right you get tar sands, then GTL and coal to liquids. (David Keith Essay)
- We are moving outwards on that continuum. The cheap accessible oil we have grown accustomed to and which our society is based on is running out. We are moving to fuels with lower EROI and “the worse a fuel's EROI, the larger its carbon footprint,” (David Hughes)
- According to Mark Jaccard we are nowhere near peak production and that technology combined with the abundance of unconventional oil will prevent oil from becoming too expensive for any long period of time.
- In Canada at least, people do not seem to be willing to pay higher prices to preserve the environment. It is not simply the energy exporting provinces, but almost across the board people will not vote for politicians who seek to increase the cost polluting. (Jeffrey Simpson)
- Because of extremely low prices oil consumption is rising dramatically in Venezuela, Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Not only do they use oil to run their cars ( at very low prices), they use it to fuel power plants, build indoor ski mountains and desalinate water. Those autocratic regimes are not going to let the market determine who gets first crack at the nations scarce resources.
While the book is largely about Canada, I think a chapter about the NOCs might have been useful. 90% of the oil in the ground is controlled by NOCs. These NOCs are by and large controlled by autocratic regimes ( think Gazprom vs. Statoil). They are not making the size investments to increase production even if they have the technological capability.
We are in a 90mm bpd limit world. It is difficult to see it go much further. Mark Jaccard, has noted that technological fixes can get us far beyond that, but with the oil we have, in the places it lies, and the infrastructure we currently possess, it is difficult to seecapacity increase as quickly as unfettered demand.
Takeway: The will be shortages and there will be warming.