[Note: Sadly, this is a Production chart focused on alternative 'decline rates', and does not include Global Demand forecasts. Only know that there is a gap in any scenario!]
The upside of 'Peak Oil Production' is that it might be a more effective message than Climate Change in spurring dramatic changes to our transportation sector. The worst case 'peak production' scenario is that it might remain marginalized among mainstream audiences and political leaders just long enough to really matter. What if confusion reigns?
People might confuse the idea of 'running out of oil' (not true) with the reality that global production is not keeping up with increasing demand. People might place misguided hope into potential 'solutions' like solar or nuclear that have nothing to do with liquid fuel markets. You cannot put electricity into a gas tank!
Why Data Has Replaced 'Assumptions' & Why 'Peak and Plateau' Matters
Are we due for a massive cyclical U.S. crisis that finally
spurs institutional change? A regular revolution not tied to the
accelerating curves driving so much growth and innovation?
In large nations big spurts of institutional change tend to
occur every four generations (roughly every 88 years, 1 generation
= 22 years) when economic resources trapped by out-dated,
inefficient systems are shifted over to efficient new systems once
societies reach a cyclical tipping point for change. Generational theorists Strauss and Howe
call this tipping point a fourth
turning, a point in time where social power shifts to the
generations too young to have witnessed the previous correction.
They liken this pattern to a forest growth cycle: 1) new saplings
take root, 2) the forest grows tall, 3) dead branches fall and
choke off new species, 4) lightning strikes, the brambles burn and
new saplings are free to grow—repeat.
As seen widely in biology, this sort of change is called
Equilibrium, which contrasts with the gradual evolution that
many scientists intuitively believed to be true but ultimately was
not supported by research nor the fossil record. Similarly, the
historical record shows that the United States has regularly
experienced punctuated social crises, aka fourth turnings,
stretching all the way back to its roots in England. And just like
all of the scientists that deny punctuated evolution/development,
there is a huge % of the population that does not intuitively
believe another fourth turning will occur because they have not
encountered the historical evidence and are used to a relatively
stable socio-economic situation. (Ironically, this blindness seems
to be built into the very fabric of our social system and may
result in more efficient growth when looked at from the broader
context of inter-meshed life systems on our planet.)
Like it or not, cyclical crises pegged to
human generations are real and
should be considered when evaluating the future, right
alongside accelerating change. So the questions we need to ask are
1) “When will the next fourth turning begin?”, 2) “Are there any
dynamics that might break or trump the pattern of punctuated
national change every 88 years?”
A Likely Fourth Turning Scenario
79 years ago, on October 24, 1929, the Great Wall
Street Crash sparked the Great Depression and the last U.S.
turning. What followed was the New Deal Era, WWII, the transformation of most U.S. socio-economic
sectors and ultimately the birth of what we now refer to as “The
79 years later the U.S. economy is facing a variety of problems
that could spark a down-turn and a new fourth turning. (cont.)
In 1972 a team of futurists published the book Limits to Growth which explored long-term forecast models based on rapidly expanding global economic and population growth against finite natural resources.
While most people assumed that growth could continue unabated, Limits to Growth offered a shocking alternative scenario - overshoot and collapse. Their future? The modern industrial economy would expand beyond the legacy resource capacity of the planet as supplies plateaued and depleted faster than expected. The 'Overshoot and Collapse' future scenario was mostly ridiculed by mainstraem economists and political leaders.
Now the world's leading oil forecasting agency is hinting that this future is closer than expected with regard to our conventional oil supplies. They are calling for an 'energy revolution'.
For those who have followed the 'peak oil' conversation evolve, this is the most shocking admission on record from a leading global oil analyst. Birol acknowledges that the major differences between the IEA's World Energy Outlook report from 2007 were based on the 'wrong assumptions' of oil field decline rates. He admits that, until 2008, no organization has ever done a comprehensive global oil field decline rate survey.
Monbiot's annoynance with the IEA's failure to back their forecasts with actual data is priceless, and scary given the implications of IEA's role in providing governments with accurate oil forecasts. In 2007 the IEA said the decline rate asumption was 3%, now in 2008 they say data support 6-7%. At that rate, the world's conventional oil production plateau could happen between 2020-2030.
Birol says that the current path is "not (economically) sustainable" and the IEA is now calling for 'an energy revolution'. We think this should certainly start with global leaders pushing to Kill the Combustion Engine and taking away the liquid fuel fed energy device that makes us so dependent on oil.
What to watch: Peak Oil is about to go Mainstream The broad implications of peak production in conventional oil resources?
Beyond the occassional post (or two), I have avoided 'Peak Oil' production issues because of its association with those who must always (and only) describe the future in apocalyptic terms.
But based on the IEA World Energy Outlook 2008 report, it has become clear that energy leaders have been using poor data of oil field decline rates (based on a lack of transparency) to support inaccurate forecasts.
Whether peak production has already happened, or will happen in 15 years is irrelevant since we are not prepared for either transition. So it is time to explore implications regarding the world's use of coal, nuclear energy, tar sands, and oil shale. (For those focused on Climate Change, the replacements for oil are not good news for carbon emissions.)
I do not believe that Peak Oil will destroy our civilization, but it certainly has the potential to make us humble, and to serve as 'the' catalyst for evolving our policies from a resource extraction to resource creation paradigm.
The following 40 minute interview is dated (January 2008) but gives a solid overview of peak oil's core issues: field decline rates, discovery rates, production time and costs and lack of real liquid fuel alternatives. [A more current hard edged interview by George Monbiot w/ Dr Fatih Birol: Link to video]