Re: New Book: Out of Gas

From: Al Koop <>
Date: Wed Feb 11 2004 - 15:02:38 EST

>>> "Gary Collins" <> 02/11/04 8:53 AM >>>
On Mon, 9 Feb 2004 05:22:08 -0500, asa-digest wrote:

 I hope the book makes
an impact on those who are in the position to make a real
difference, policy-makers, etc., but also that we all may
become more aware and less wasteful.


Yes, the critical question is what the solution to fossil fuel depletion
might be. It is not like quitting smoking, where the individual derives
an immediate benefit of better health in many cases. Here, if one
person conserves energy it delays time the depletion point occurs by
about 1 sec. You don't get to use the fossil fuel you saved over the
years by conserving after everyone else has used their quota up. I guess
if you conserve and start growing your own food you and have made your
house and life energy efficient, you will benefit by having that
experience and material to help when things get nasty.

The question of what is the best means to generate energy relates to the
concept of EROEI (energy return over energy invested.) Obviously
anything with an EROEI below 1 is no help. (I recall that oil has an
EROEI from 8-11) The amount of energy invested is notoriously difficult
to calculate and the subject of many controversies. For instance, with
ethanol from corn you have to some how factor in the cost of your
tractor and other farm equipment, fertilizers, pesticides, seed
production, energy to run your farm equipment to till the soil, harvest
the corn, dry the corn, and transport it to the ethanol production site.
 Then you have building the production site, production costs, and
distribution costs. What do you count for building the roads? So there
are controversies about whether producing ethanol from corn is much
above an EROEI of 1.0. Most consider ethanol fuel from corn a giant
subsidy to farmers and of little worth to our energy problems. We need
to fund all the various possible solutions like wave power (that you
mentioned), biomass, wind, solar, and then see which one works out the
best after enough minds have been working on the problems. The watered
down US energy bill that Pete Domenici is still pushing is still a very
bad policy. The world energy policy makes about as much sense as the
retirement policy of a person who plans on buying lottery tickets from
Social Security checks and living off the proceeds--it has a longshot
chance but no one in their right mind would recommend such a policy.

Richard Heinberg has a new book coming out about possible solutions. (At
the end of this post is an article from the UC Berkley Science of
Educators site about Heinberg. He grew up in a Christina family but
soon decided on an atheistic path.) Here is what the book is about
(plus other new titles to be published.)

2004), by Richard Heinberg

Takes up where THE PARTY'S OVER left off, looking at our realistic
as a species for the next century, given resource depletion, population
overshoot, looming economic collapse, corrupt and incompetent
and global climate change. It suggests gradual, systematic, humane
population reduction, economic contraction, energy transition, and the
creation of preservation and service communities to save what is best of
modern society in case the institutions on which industrial civilization
depends aren't able to adjust and sustain themselves. The publishers
wanted a
positive "solutions" book, but I'm afraid this one is, if anything, even
gloomier than the last.

Coming soon to a bookstore near you:

Walter Youngquist. Geodestinies. New edition due out in the Fall.

Blood and Oil : The Dangers and Consequences of America's Growing
Petroleum Dependency
by Michael T. Klare (August 2004)

Crude by Sonia Shah (later in 2004)

Coming Home to the Pleistocene
by Paul Shepard (already out but great book for framing mind and body
for coming times)

Dennis Meadows et al. The Limits to Growth: The 30 Year Global
Update. Chelsea Green Publishing Co. June, 2004. $35.00 ISBN:

Paul and Anne Ehrlich. One with Nineveh: Politics, Consumption, and
the Human Future. Shearwater Books. May, 2004. $27.00 ISBN:

" exposes the three elephants in our proverbial living room--
overpopulation, overconsumption, and political and economic

Norman Myers and Jennifer Kent. New Consumers: The Influence of
Affluence on the Environment. Island Press. June, 2004. $24.00
ISBN: 1559639970.

"...another one billion increasingly affluent 'new consumers' in
developing countries will place additional strains on the earth's
resources....examines the environmental impacts of this increased
consumption, with particular focus on two commodities--cars and meat--
that stand to have the most far-reaching effects."

Norman Myers is a world-renowned environmental analyst.

James Gustave Speth. Red Sky at Morning. Yale University Press.
March, 2004. $24.00 ISBN: 0300102321.

"...sounds the alarm....little has been accomplished by a plethora of
international conferences, negotiations, action plans and treaties.
The failure, for which he says the U.S. must take much of the blame,
stems from a focus on the symptoms rather than the underlying causes
of environmental degradation, such as population size, affluence and

Speth, dean of the Yale University School of Forestry and
Environmental Studies, is co-founder of the Natural Resources Defense
Council, founder of the World Resources Institute and an adviser on
environmental issues for presidents Carter and Clinton.

Julian Darley. High Noon for Natural Gas: New Energy Crisis.
Chelsea Green Publishing Co. June, 2004. $15.00 ISBN: 1931498539.

Joseph J. Romm. Hype about Hydrogen. Island Press. March, 2004.
$25.00 ISBN: 155963703X.

"...explains why hydrogen isn't the quick technological fix it's
cracked up to be, and why cheering for fuel cells to sweep the market
is not a viable strategy for combating climate change."
Joseph J. Romm helped run the federal government's program on
hydrogen and fuel cells during the Clinton administration.

Thom Hartmann. The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight: The Fate of the
World and What We Can Do Before It's Too Late. Revised and updated
edition. Three Rivers Press. April, 2004. $14.95 ISBN: 1400051576.

Worldwatch Institute. State of the World 2004. W.W. Norton & Co.
$16.95 Available now. ISBN: 0393325393.

"...focuses on consumption, pointing to the many ways in which our
consumption habits drive ecological and social deterioration."

Article on Richard Heinberg:

Oil Spill

By Luci Yamamoto, The Monthly, Oct 2003, p. 5.

If oil reserves are waning, how will we fuel our future?

At a Denver airport newsstand, Richard Heinberg flips through Popular
Science. A headline catches his eye: "Are We Really Running Out of Oil?"
Heinberg, a Santa Rosa journalist and social ecologist, is writing a
book on fossil-fuel depletion. Gazing up from the magazine to the flurry
of passengers, he wonders how the airport will look in two or three

"By then, oil production will drop by 50 percent, and there will be
virtually no air transport," he thinks. "How many people will be packing
into Boeing 747s if a New York-to Los Angeles fare rises to $10,000?"

Is this guy for real?

In San Francisco last April, Heinberg makes a case for his predictions
during a lecture on his now published book, The Party's Over: Oil, War
and the Fate of Industrial Societies (New Society Publishers, 2003).
Heinberg, 52, is a faculty member at New College of California, a
liberal-arts college and graduate school geared toward social activism.
Tall and ascetically thin,. he paces the stage in hiking boots, khakis,
and a cardigan, using no microphone or notes. His approachable manner
and his occasional jokes (often mocking the Bush Administration) lighten
his bleak-some might say extreme-prognosis.

Our fate, he believes, is much more dire than gas shortages and high air
fares. Heinberg says that modern societies are completely dependent on
nonrenewable petroleum and that world oil production will peak between
2005 and 2010. After the peak, he foresees global battles for remaining
oil, an economic collapse worse than the Great Depression, automobiles
too expensive for anyone but the wealthy, poor crop'yield without
petrochemical fertilizers, mass famine and water scarcity, oceans
without fish, and human overpopulation by the billions. To prevent this
scenario, he says, would require immediate and massive change.

The U.S. and the world are at a crossroads, he believes. "Path A is to
continue the status quo, using guns and bombs to acquire oil," he says.
"It's politically expedient, and it will continue until whoever in power
gets the last drop. Path B is to wake up. Nationally and
internationally, we must map out what's left and distribute it
equitably. We must adopt a slower, simpler lifestyle. We must realize
there are alternatives to continual growth, resource competition, and
chaotic collapse."

Fossil fuel depletion gained widespread notice when renowned
geophysicist Marion King Hubbert predicted U.S. crude oil production
would peak between 1966 and 1971-and then the U.S. peak occurred in

Hubbert believed that the production life of any oil reservoir follows a
bell curve: When a reservoir reaches peak production, only half of its
total oil remains. After the halfway point, he found, production grows
increasingly more challenging and costly.

Hubbert's theories inspired the work of many scientists and spawned an
ongoing debate about global oil depletion. One of his most famous
successors is Cohn Campbell, a prominent geologist based in Ireland,
whose work sets the foundation for Heinberg's views. In a controversial
March 1998 Scientific American article, "The End of Cheap Oil?" Cambell
and coauthor Jean Laherrère concluded that the global peak would occur
around 2010, after which demand would soon exceed supply.

Optimists scoff at such warnings as doomsday nonsense, asserting that
global oil reserves have grown substantially in the past 20 years-and
that they continue to grow. But pessimists are skeptical of rising
estimates, arguing that Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries
(OPEC) members greatly inflated reserve figures in the late 1980s to
increase their export quotas. Indeed, global petroleum data are often
incomplete, flawed, or inaccessible-and calculations such as Campbell's
are debatable and difficult to replicate.

Heinberg, clearly in the pessimist camp with Campbell and his coterie of
independent petroleum geologists, says global oil discoveries peaked in
the 1960s. Currently, he says, we find only one barrel for every four we
consume. Matthew Simmons, chairman of the energy investment bank Simmons
& Company International, and an adviser to the Bush Administration, adds
that even in the Middle East, discoveries have been modest in the past
three decades.

"Almost all of Saudi Arabia's production comes from a handful of very
old fields," he says. "Ghawar, the world's largest field, is injected
with seven million barrels of seawater per day to prop up reservoir
pressure." Simmons is referring to the use of water to force oil out, a
process necessary in aging reservoirs.

Optimists counter that we cannot base future discovery or production on
the past. We cannot predict how much oil we can ultimately recover from
every reservoir on earth, they say. Michael Lynch, an energy economist
affiliated with MIT arid president of Strategic Energy & Economic
Research in Amherst, emphasizes that an estimate of "ultimately
recoverable reserves" (URR)-proven reserves plus probable reserves-is
not a static figure. Rather, it depends on dynamic factors, such as new

"Sixty years ago, offshore oil was not included in estimates because we
hadn't developed offshore drilling rigs,' he says. "Then, 20 years ago,
we developed the technology to extract deepwater oil. So, our reserves

Lynch says governmental policy and global politics also play a role in
the fluctuating discovery of new oil. "Global oil discoveries dropped in
the 1970s," he says, "largely due to a drop in Middle East exploration,
when governments nationalized foreign operations and cut back drilling
because demand fell by half." Similarly, he says, drilling in Iran and
Iraq fell sharply in 1980, after the war between the two countries-a
drop caused by political strife, not geological scarcity.

Two months ago, when gas prices spiked across the U.S., the biggest
factor, according to Lynch, was the power outage that struck the
Northeast and Midwest on August 14. The blackout shut down refineries
when gas inventories were low and the Labor Day driving weekend was two
weeks away. Simultaneously, crude oil prices had risen due to the strike
in Venezuela and the war in Iraq. Lynch considers such circumstances as
short-term factors, not indicative of long-term inventory shortages or
production capacity.

Another point of contention is whether unconventional forms of petroleum
should count. For example, Oil & Gas Journal, a foremost industry
publication, reported in January 2003 that Canada has a staggering 180
billion barrels of reserves, while its estimate for Canada in 2002 was
only 4.9 billion barrels. The reason for this 175 billion barrel
increase: the 2003 figure includes the Athabasca oil sands in northern

But Heinberg dismisses the oil sands as inefficient. Currently, two tons
of sand must he mined to yield one barrel of oil. Further, the process
generates two-and-a-half barrels of oily waste water for even barrel of
oil recovered. Today, at the Syncrude plant in Alberta. a 14-mile pond
of murky water, 20 feet deep, lies atop a 133-foot slurry of sand, silt,
clay, and unrecovered oil. An alternative method of obtaining synthetic
oil from the tar sands uses immense quantities of natural gas-which is
also growing scarce throughout North America-to heat fresh water, which
is injected into the ground to liquefy the bitumen. This process is
equally destructive to the environment and yields little net energy.

In his book, Heinberg cites the clashing viewpoints of Campbell and
Lynch. Campbell, who wrote the foreword to The Party's Over, says,
"Heinberg faces up to the situation squarely .... No one can pronounce
on the consequences of the peak and decline of oil with authority
because it is ... a historical discontinuity without precedent. [But
w]hat he says is eminently reasonable."

But Lynch says that industry outsiders, like Heinberg, are not experts,
but merely policy advocates who amass data to push ideas that are "a bit
wacky and extreme." Referring to Heinberg and other authors on
alternative energy (including social critic and economist Jeremy Rifkin,
who recently published The Hydrogen Economy), Lynch says, "[They] get
publicity and a hearing, but people in the industry mostly roll their

Both sides agree that estimates for URR range from roughly 2,000 to
3,000 billion barrels-of which we've found slightly over 1,000 billion
barrels. Regardless, considering our worldwide oil consumption to date
(950 billion barrels) and our ever-increasing appetite, cheap and
abundant oil won't last through the century. The real question: Does it

On ablazing afternoon in July, I drive from Berkeley to Santa Rosa to
meet Heinherg at New Colleges North Bay Campus. where he teaches a
program on Culture. Ecology, and Sustainable Community." My car is a
1987 Honda, a hand-me-down from Mom that surely earns me brownie points
for energy savingsdecent gas mileage and no new-car production costs for
16 years. But Heinherg, who got his first car at age 40. trumps me with
his 1980 Mercedes that runs on vegetable oil-based biodiesel.

While he'd encourage anyone to try biodiesel or to switch to a hybrid.
Heinberg nonetheless foresees catastrophic disruptions in postpeak
transportation. Without cheap oil, Heinberg predicts automakers will
manufacture fewer cars, unable to afford energy-intensive production
costs. Road construction will slow or cease, as petroleum is necessary
for asphalt and paving machines. Mass transit will be crippled, for rail
systems require prodigious amounts of energy. Commercial airplanes run
on high-grade kerosene (and there's no comparable technology in sight).
so air travel will be too pricey for middle-class travelers. Tourism
will languish, devastating tourist-dependent places like Hawaii. The
global marketplace, dependent on oil for low-cost transport of raw
materials and finished products. will waneand long-neglected local
commerce will be ill equipped to fill the gap.

Most economists would consider such a downward spiral improbable. if not
ludicrous. Charles Lave, professor emeritus of economics at the
University of California, Irvine, who has written extensively on energy
and transportation, seems sanguine about petroleum depletion though he
advocates conservation and drives only 2,500 miles per year.

According to Lave, when petroleum becomes scarce, its price will
rise-and let loose all the necessary signals. Producers will have strong
incentives to hunt for more oil or to develop alternative sources.
Consumers will reduce their oil consumption, by shortening commutes,
shopping on the Internet, buying fuel-efficient cars, and so forth.

Indeed, after the 1979 oil shock, Americans cut oil consumption by 15
percent and Persian Gulf imports by 87 percent. New domestic cars showed
fuel economy gains by seven miles per gallon.

Economists point to the historical evolution of energy sources. The
world's economies once relied on burning wood and charcoal for energy."
Lave says. "Wood got scarce: its price rose. People took action, not
governments, but people-and found a wood substitute, coal. They
developed the technology for deep mining and for its uses. End of that
energy 'crisis.'"

To economists, it is absurd to plan for risks we might face in the
far-off future. "It's hard to get a handle on how things can change,"
Lynch says. "A hundred years ago, people worried about how New York City
would cope with all the horse poop that would be generated as the
population grew."

But Heinberg believes market signals will come much too late. First,
only a huge hit to American pocketbooks will change people's
energy-consumption habits. "We let [the price of gas get so low,"
Simmons says, "it can rise by a great deal and be only an annoyance."
While Americans cringe at $2-pergallon gas, he adds. "there is nothing
in a Starbucks shop that costs less than $2.75-and those are cups." It
seems high prices at the pump won't deter driving unless they double or

Second, Heinberg believes the U.S. government lacks a cohesive,
long-range energy policy to increase energy efficiency-and actually
encourages inefficiency. "The U.S. government subsidizes the use of SUVs
by giving small-business owners a $20,000 tax break for buying one!" he
says. Instead, Heinberg suggests the government give a similar-sized tax
deduction for buying a hybrid car or base new-vehicle registration fees
on gas mileage.

Third, while market signals might induce progress in alternative energy,
he believes the U.S. is already lagging in developing substitutes that
will be ready when the price of oil soars. In The Party's Over, Heinberg
writes that current renewable energy provides seven percent of total
U.S. consumption-while petroleum accounts for 30 percent; natural gas,
24 percent; coal, 23 percent; and nuclear electric power, eight percent.
And most of that seven percent is derived from hydropower, wood, and
municipal waste. Only a minuscule fraction comes from solar
photovoltaics and wind, the renewables that most environmentalists would
like to see developed.

"Conservative estimates suggest that at least three decades would be
needed to redesign and replace the entire current fleet of automobiles."
Heinberg says, "as well as power plants, heating and cooling equipment,
and agricultural systems."

He emphasizes that we cannot switch to alternative sources overnight. To
produce a fifth of current U.S. energy annually with wind power by 2030,
he says, we would need to install half a million turbines, roughly
20,000 per year starting immediately-five times the present world
production rate for turbines. He doubts whether private companies can
ramp up without governmental intervention.

Our current natural gas decline, he says, foreshadows the oil crisis to
come. Industrial consumers of natural gas--such as fertilizer, chemical,
and plastic manufacturers--are already cutting production due to soaring
prices. Eventually, Heinberg says, home users will suffer: Since the
1990s the U.S. has invested billions on electric power plants fueled by
natural gas-considered efficient and clean burning-assuming we'd have
ample supplies. But North American stocks are low, and importing natural
gas from overseas is extremely expensive.

"During the past three decades, the U.S. should have been investing in
alternative energy sources," he says. "Instead, we spent $305 billion on
the military and less than $5 billion for energy research and
development in 2001." Such spending indicates to Heinberg the U.S. goal
to secure the lion's share of all future oil production. "This does not
bode well for global peace." he says.

Heinberg grew up in St. Joseph, Missouri, the only son of devout
Christian Republicans. From an early age, he knew he was not like his
parents. "I was basically an atheist when I was 12," he says. "They made
me go to church every Sunday, but I was reading Marx, Buddhist
literature, and physics. I didn't want any part of what I saw around

Eager to leave his hometown, he attended the University of Iowa in the
late 1960s and early 1970s. But he soon grew so disturbed by U.S.
foreign policy and the turmoil around him-political assassinations and
Vietnam-that he dropped out. "An ordinary career of going to school,
getting a degree, and finding a job at some corporation seemed like the
most absurd thing one could possibly do with one's life," he says.

For nearly two decades, Heinberg, who is also a professional violinist,
lived in alternative communities in over a dozen cities across the U.S.
and Canada. Twelve years ago, he settled in Santa Rosa and began
publishing a monthly newsletter, MuseLetter, which was nominated in 1994
by One Reader for an Alternative Press Award.

A few years ago, he installed photovoltaic panels to power his home with
solar energy even though his PG&E usage was low, only onefifth that of
the average California household. "I want to have electricity when the
rates are skyrocketing," he says. Likewise, he adds, "My wife and I
planted nut trees in our backyard, and we grow a lot of our food, not
just because we care about organic farming-we want to be able to feed

Heinberg tries to live the alternative path that he champions: a return
to small, sustainable, slowerpaced communities where people live closer
to nature and are less competitive and materially greedy. His vision is
to overhaul our current lifestyle and facilitate a "managed collapse"
rather than to find an oil substitute that will perpetuate growth-in
economy, population, globalization, and natural-resource consumption.
"Energy is the limiting factor du jour," he says. "It's the wake-up
call. Later in this decade, it will be water, topsoil, biodiversity,
overfishing of the oceans."

His ideal sounds like a throwback to old-fashioned village life. But
what about the benefits of modern teihnology, like affordable jet
travel, cosmopolitan cities, medical breakthroughs, abundant fresh food,
and instantaneous electronic communication? Heinberg concedes that the
lifestyle we expectwhich he, too, enjoys-requires an industrial
infrastructure. But he also believes we've reached the climax of upward
mobility and "the good life," as we have defined it. Fossil fuels have
created a "party" for the lucky who live in industrialized countries.
But, he says, the party will soon be over. We have a choice either to
ration our supplies, fix our mistakes, and plan for the next
generations-or to revel until the bitter end. *

Luci Yamamoto, a former attorney, is a freelance writer based in
Berkeley. Her work has appeared in publications including the San
Francisco Chronicle and The Threepenny Review. Her last article for The
Monthly was "Railroading BART" published in February 2003.

Global Systems Science
Lawrence Hall of Science © 2004 The Regents of the University of
California Updated December 03, 2003
Received on Wed Feb 11 15:04:00 2004

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