Copernicus is generally the one who is credited with moving mankind from the
center of the universe. By this it is meant that he changed the view mankind
had of itself in western Europe. Man was not the focus of the universe, he
was just another being in the cosmos. Man was not in the center of the solar
sysem, he was at one side of it. Indeed, astronomers, following Copernicus'
lead, similarly moved the solar system from the center of the universe to
the edge of a rather insignificant galaxy. Mankind was not living in a
special place in the universe.
When Einstein developed general relativity, a 'Copernican' principle was
added to it. Mankind not only didn't live in a special place, he also didn't
live at a special time. Relativists were fond of saying that the universe
would look pretty much the same from anywhere and almost any time. It is
this last view, the ultimate derivation of Copernican principle which is
I just read an article by Jay Hanson entitled "Energetic Limits to Growth".
Energy Magazine Spring 1999. He has some absolutely chilling things to
say--all of them said in a very unchilling manner. He writes:
"The hematite ore of the Mesabi Range in Minnesota contained 60
percent iron. But now it is depleted and society must use lower-quality
taconite ore that has an iron content of about 25 percent. []
"The average energy content of a pound of coal dug in the US has
dropped 14 percent since 1955. []
"In the 1950s, oil producers discovered about fifty barrels of oil
for every barrel invested in drilling and pumping. Today, the figure is only
about five for one. Sometime around 2005, that figure will become one for
one. Under that latter scenario, even if the price of oil reaches $500 a
barrel, it wouldn't be logical to look for new oil in the US because it
would consume more energy than it would recover. []"
Jay Hansen, Energy Magazine, Spring 1999
GRM: This last paragraph drew me up short! It is probably the most chilling
paragraph I have ever read and Hanson throws it out like a toss-away line.
I have spent my life finding oil and gas and have found right at a billion
barrels of oil in my career. But I never had considered this aspect of the
problem. I knew that we were not finding as much oil as we were pumping out
of the ground. But to find that we are close to exploration break-even is a
shock. One can see this effect in a slide I have in a new web page
Does this mean that for the good of the world exploration should cease in 2
years? If we do stop exploration, then the oil supply will cease even
earlier. But if we continue exploring, then we are using it up faster than
we would otherwise. This is not a good choice!
As far as the world oil supply is concerned, the scary thing is:
‘About 80 percent of the oil produced today flows from fields that were
found before 1973, and the great majority of them are declining.” Campbell
and Laherrere cited by Richard C. Duncan and Walter Youngquist, “Encircling
the Peak of World Oil Production,” Natural Resources Research,
8(1999):3:219-232, p. 231"
What will replace these fields? Ghawar, the largest field in the world, is
already beginning to water out on the crest. The Saudis are pumping so hard
on it that it is drawing water up in cracks from underneath the reservoir.
When this happens, one gets less oil out of a reservoir than they thought
they would get. Ahwaz, in Iran, is predicted by industry experts to begin
watering out any day now.
Hanson goes on to say:
"Decreasing net energy sets up a positive feedback loop: since oil is used
directly or indirectly in everything, as the energy costs of oil increase,
the energy costs of everything else increase too – including other forms of
energy. For example, oil provides about 50% of the fuel used in coal
Jay Hansen, Energy Magazine, Spring 1999
GRM: If you reduce by 50% the energy used to mine coal, you will mine 50%
less coal! One of the hopes I had for future production was the replacement
of oil by coal. But this will be less efficient as coal will have to be
burned to mine coal--an obvious reduction in the return.
The loss of oil will be a huge problem. In the July edition of First Break,
the geophysical journal of the European Association of Geoscientists and
Engineers, an article by T. G. Powell,"Understanding Australia's Petroleum
REsources, Future Production Trends and the Role of the Frontiers," First
Break 19(2001):7:397-409, points out that even taking into account future
discoveries, Australia's oil production will decline by 33% within the next
3 years and by 50% within 7 years. The Australians, who up til now have
been relatively self-sufficient in oil, will be buying it on the world
market making less for everyone else.
And this highlights an issue that is beginning to plague the large oil
companies. Shell announced this week that they would be unlikely to meet
their 5% growth targets over the next 5 years. To me, the problem is that
they are so large, and they pump so much oil out of their reserve base each
year, there is no way they can grow the company by drilling. There are not
prospects on earth that are large enough to grow the supermajors. They can
only grow by buying other oil companies! (see Financial Times 03/08/01
p15&36&16&40, Independent 03/08/01 p18&21, The Times 03/08/01 p26&23, Daily
Telegraph 03/08/01 p37&39, Guardian 03/08/01 p25, Lloyds List 03/08/01 p2,
Daily Mail 03/08/01 p34&77, The Express 03/08/01 )
Copernicus was wrong. We do live in a very special time and place in
history! Humans live on a special planet which appears to be the only one in
our solar system with intelligent life (meaning anything above a planarium
worm) We Americans live in the most energy efficient but energy intensive
civilization on earth and enjoy the highest standard of living around. Those
alive today (representing about 5% of all humans who have ever lived) live
at a special time in world history when energy is abundant. We live in a
time when disease is somewhat undercontrol, where we have a reasonable shot
at living to 80 (unlike our ancestors) and we have largely escaped the
misery our ancestors faced. These are special times and special places in
which to live.
One might think that we humans are smart enough to have escaped from the tax
of misery Nature used exact from our ancestors in the form of plagues,
premature death and starvation. What we don't realize is that Nature, far
from being cheated out of her payment, is merely saving it for one high cost
tax collection. That is, unless we can solve the energy problem which is
knocking at our door.
P. S. for those who have seen a change in what I am interested in, this
topic has shown me how futile almost all else is. The energy problem must be
solved, or, like the Titanic, our presumably unsinkable economony will
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