Energy issues, Olduvai ,Seti and End times

Date: Tue Sep 26 2000 - 16:17:12 EDT

  • Next message: Vandergraaf, Chuck: "RE: Energy issues, Olduvai ,Seti and End times"

    I thought I would alert anyone who might be interested in some actual data on the issue of world energy supply/consumption you can find a wealth of info at

    Therre are powerpoint slides, excel spread sheets etc for the downloading. For those who don't know, BP is British Petroleum, one of the largest oil companies in the world.

    I also found (at another site) some fascinating statements in an article by Richard Duncan, one of the experts in the field of energy supply. He is the one who advocates the Olduvai theory which suggests that the lifespan of the average advanced technological civilization is "horribly short". Duncan is one of the most pessimistic experts on the topic and thus is fascinating reading. He suggests that a new stone age will be upon us within 100 years. His essay can be found at

    Anyway, his thesis is that the only way we escaped the oldowan way of life (this is the lifestyle led by earliest man 2 million years ago) originally was with energy consumption (first fire, then animal energy, then coal, oil and nuclear) and we are about to lose our energy consuming ways, no matter what we do with taxes, no matter what we do to conserve energy. An interesting way of looking at oil production and what will happen is that given by Campbell. He points out that the discovery of 3.5 times the oil Norway has will delay the inevitable day of peak oil production by only 1 year. Big deal. And finding 42 billion barrels is not an easy task. (In my entire career, I have been involved in finding approximately 1.5-2 billion barrels along with the other people I worked with on those prospects). One field reported to have been found in Khazakstan is estimated to have 50 billion barrels. But, in that place it will probably take 10 years to get it to market and in the meantime the world will have produc
    ed 300 billion barrels of oil. The 50 billion won't do us a lot of good on the production curve.

    Anyway that is the Olduvai connection. If Duncan is correct and the life of an advanced civilization is indeed short it has implications for SETI--the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. In the early 1960s Frank Drake suggested an equation for determining the probbability that advanced civilizations exist in our galaxy. The equation is

    N= R f(p) N(e) f(l) f(i) f(c)L (Shklovskii and Sagan, Intelligent Life in the Universe, P. 409-411)

    Where (estimates are mine)
    R is the stellar formation averaged over the lifetime of the galaxy = 10/yr
    f(p) is the fraction of systems with planets = 1
    n(e) is the number of planets with stable orbits suitable for life = .5 ??
    f(l) is the fraction of planets with life = .5 ??
    f(i) is the franction of planets with intelligent life = .0004 ??
        (this estimate is based on the fact that H. erectus who I believe was an intelligent being appeared demonstrably at 2 million years ago so we had 4.5 billion years without intelligent life and this estimate is 2e6/4.5e9)
    f(c) is the fraction of planets with intelligent life having radio = .1
    and L is the average length of time a radiocapable civilization survives = 200
       This is based on the idea that if we run out of oil, we will not be wasting energy on 50,000 kilowatt radiostations.

    Multiplying all this together gives .01 civilizations in the galaxy today. We are it. And this may be why we don't hear any other civilizations. Unless you are listening during the correct 200 year interval, you won't ever hear the advertisments from an alien radio station.

    Now, I said I had run into some very interesting comments by Duncan. He gave a speech last Friday in Bakersfield to the Petroleum Technology Transfer Council, entitled "Crude Oil Production and Prices: A Look Ahead at OPEC Decision Making Process." He posted part of his speech to a bulletin board and said:

    The Road Ahead, based on the information in sections 2-11 above, IMO, leads directly to war in the Middle East ‹ in a matter of months, not years. Oil prices will skyrocket. Chaos will spread far and wide. Desperate leaders will take desperate measures. The following scenario, of course, is 100% fiction ‹ but it does convey the magnitude of the problems we face.

    >>>>Scenario: Early 2001. War breaks out in the Middle East when an agreement for the sovereignty of Al Quds (East Jerusalem) fails for the umpteenth time. Terror strikes Jerusalem. The police are overwhelmed. The conflagration jumps to Tel Aviv and Amman ‹ then sweeps westward. Athens and Rome erupt. Moscow too. Explosions rip Berlin, Madrid, Paris and London. Dublin is not spared. Then it leaps across the Atlantic to New York and Washington DC. Even Seattle forgets the WTO riots. Meanwhile oil prices go ballistic ‹ $100 plus per barrel. Gas stations, supermarkets and stores are looted. World leaders panic. "UN" stealth bombers strike "suspected terrorist sites" in Tripoli and Baghdad. It's stealth bombers versus "stealth bombers", but the latter quickly gain the upper hand. The Sixth and Seventh Fleets join the Fifth Fleet in the Persian Gulf. "UN" paratroopers occupy all of the oil fields and refineries in the Middle East. Banks of Patriot missiles ring Jerusalem. Helicopter gunships hit Gaza and Jericho.
     Israeli "peacekeepers" secure Palestine. Wall Street plummets 70% in one day. CUT

    Complete speculation, but it could happen.



    [snip ]

      ... Regarding 'spare capacity': OPEC Chairman Ali Rodriquez on 11 September 2000 emphasized, "World oil production capacity is reaching its limit." Regarding oil prices: Dr. Walter Youngquist on 10 September 2000 encapsulated the consensus of several experts, "It's going to be a seller's market from now on. With firm-to-higher prices and steady demand for all the oil that can be produced." Agreed, World oil production is near its limit and prices will rise. In a more dramatic scenario, however, I believe that the World oil data, the oil forecasts and OPEC's hegemony of World oil exports ‹ combined with the "key-to-peace-and-war" deadlock over East Jerusalem ‹ all indicate that war is imminent in the Middle East. Consequently oil prices will be highly volatile ‹ perhaps hitting $100 or more per barrel‹ during the coming months.

      Bottom line: The Road Ahead, IMO, leads directly to war in the Middle East and beyond ‹ causing severe shortages of oil and staggering prices for oil and oil products. <<<<end of Duncan<<<

    His comments made me think of the end times. While I don't agree with the details of his scenario, it made me think of what I thought about Bob DeHaan's comment the other night on the ASA list when he asked how the last of the oil would be rationed. Would it go to the farmers, the truckers or who? My thoughts were that the last of the oil will go to the country with the biggest and best army. I would be surprised if democracies are charitable when they are threatened with no oil. Indeed, the entire experience we had here in Britain when the supply of oil was cut off for a week shows that all it will take is about 2-3 weeks without energy and civilzation is over. People will panic, strip the food stores bare, and then turn on each other (which didn't happen over here because the cut off didn't last long enough).There would be no food deliveries, no nice stuff for department stores, no jobs and no money. There is an old Chinese saying which goes, "May you live in interesting times". We very well may.

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