Somewhere under the shifting sands of Ghawar, Saudi Arabia, oil is dancing with water, a shotgun wedding. This modern miracle of water injection to maintain oil production is no less astonishing than turning water into wine. Ghawhar is a super giant, an oily Betelgeuse Al Mankib, and its like will never be seen again. The soup we call light sweet crude took many hundreds of thousands of years under favorable conditions to mature from its source material. Biomass sludge to high energy fuel. A good reservoir is sealed tight, as a frosty bottle of beer, crowned with bubbly natural gasses, waiting for a chimp to come along, crack it, and drop a straw.
We've never had so much usable energy as we have now, in the shadow of the last millennium. We are flush; the sharks are drowning in blood and growing fat. Cheap energy is a necessity woven into our post modern world. There is no alternative. A gallon of oil is cheap. A solar cell or a battery is horrendously expensive in comparison, and at best an energy carrier. It might seem strange to describe a solar cell as an energy carrier. In terms of energy spent (lost) to create a solar cell, plus the energy it can trap and use in its lifetime (gained), there is little if any net energy creation. A water wheel is far more efficient.
This glut isn't just a party, it is a ringing alarm. We don't have any energy alternatives that are worth a damn. Given the poor way in which we have used our global energy allotment, that's a twisted blessing. Humanity as a whole has all the brains of an algae bloom. Overpopulation is rising to the extent that we will outstrip our food supply even with plentiful oil. Loss of topsoil suitable for farming is increasing in step with global warming. Eco-systems and food chains are being shot in the head. Never mind widespread poisoning of oceans with heavy metals. South Pacific - now with flavor crystals!
This is driven by the energy that is cheap, and poisonous. When it comes out of the ground, it is sprayed all over the surface of the planet, as a fine mist. Something for everyone. When I drive my car, I am ruining the planet for myself and for starving orphans in Ethiopia. There are plans to burn desiccated trees in Arizona for energy, a product of the western drought, a product of global warming. There is a reason the term "Cedars of Lebanon" is an anachronism. There is a reason Easter Island is treeless, and the Middle East looks like a nuclear war hit six thousand years ago.
So, how long can it go on? Hold up one hand and count some fingers. There you go. That is a good estimate, in years, for how long we have before peak oil hits. Peak energy is the next milestone, and it depends on how much natural gas is out there. Oil is hard to measure, but solid work has been done in recent years by retired oil geologists. Gas is harder to figure. We might have ten years of natural gas growth left, or none. As Matt Simmons has pointed out, it's a vapor. It depletes really fast. And you can't pump it into your clown car. Certainly North America is in decline. Finding a way to prevent floating bombs of LNG from finding port in America is a good example of a useful holding action. Weaken a weak system, and prevent further damage.
There are many sources of information on the glut. Their scholarship is impeccable, unassailable except in a particular context. That context is point of view ignorance, somewhat less than blissful. There is nothing to be done at this point to prevent short term disaster. We must instead plan for the post peak energy world, even if it means doing things which counter-intuitively seem to be anti-environmental. SUV's no longer concern me. Drive and burn all the oil you want. The Kyoto accord will be strictly enforced by Hubbert's peak.
What can we do about a post glut world?
Stop hugging trees and hug coal instead.
A thousand liters of fluoride and mercury being pumped into our water every year is a catastrophe for a hundred generations.
A dead tree?
That's life; we can grow more, and on human timescales, as long as the world has not been poisoned, baked and blasted too severely.
Not to pick on trees.
That Redwoods are still being hacked down is absurd
I think declaring war on South American cattle is a fine idea.
Veganism is a feel good approach to saving a rain forest; a more proactive approach might be to cut down the mono-cattle as if they were buffalo and ignore the lamentations of their ranchers.
Level the rain forest for cheeseburgers?
It is happening on our watch.
Pick fights that affect the world. Nevada
may not be the best place for nuclear waste, but we are out of time - if we don't move all the nuclear material that is lying around now into one spot, we never will.
Fold the bad hands, and keep moving.
(c) Jon S., 2004