The Hubbert Peak
Ever heard of the Hubbert Peak? It is very interesting. Back in 1956, a geologist named M King Hubbert predicted that oil production within the US would peak in 1970 and would decline thereafter. Most scoffed at the idea, but in fact…. He was remarkably accurate in his prediction. It gets even more interesting. There is a Hubbert peak of oil production for every field, for every region and… for the world. Here are a few revealing pieces of information concerning the Hubbert Peak:
The peak of world oil discoveries – as in new oil fields was in the 1960’s!
At the moment, we consume 26 billion barrels of oil per year, but only find between five and six billion per year.
Here’s another piece of information. Many highly respected geologists agree that the Hubbert peak for the world is either just about now, or has recently passed. Even the most optimistic prediction puts the Hubbert peak at 2020.
Then what happens?
Yeah, then what happens? Oil is not going to run out tomorrow. But what this does mean is that we are very likely on the downhill side of that bell curve – the downside of world oil production. In other words, its not that we’re going to run out of oil, but that we will run out of CHEAP oil.
And what does this mean? Well, think about it! Almost every part of our incredibly comfortable lives is touched in some way by oil. What if there’s not so much of it anymore? It’s not just cars, its not just airplanes, it is everything. All the goods we have so easily at our fingertips, the luxurious level of comfort in our homes, our peripatetic lifestyles. Basically, our lives as we know them.
Clearly, times are changing. Most people don’t like change much, and so we pretend its not really happening. But think back just a few years. Remember the first energy policy offered by the current administration? It mentioned conservation as a noble thought, but nothing of any great import. Compare that to the most recent state of the union address. Whatever you might think of the current commander in chief, it was a telling moment when the former Texas oilman, espoused the virtues of conservation and alternative energy. Go figure. Walter Younquist, a really smart geologist, makes an important point in one of his papers. He points out that the decline in world oil production will affect more people in more ways than any other event in human history. Think about that one for a minute. That’s big stuff.
This brings up a concept called Swenson’s law. Which is nicely illustrated by this chart. We stand now at the peak of the bell curve. From this point, there are four choices. We can conserve, thereby keeping the same quality of life by using more energy-efficient “artifacts” such as cars, water heaters, etc… The next choice down is lifestyle change. This is another form of conservation involving things like telecommuting instead of driving to work, living closer to work, becoming more community based, not traveling as much. The next tier down is substitution. Here we get into walking or riding a bike instead of driving, or using other energy sources – all of which still counts as conservation. The last tier, one which we’d prefer not to try, is deprivation. This involves doing without. On a mild level, not flying across the country to see the family. On a more dire scale, deprivation can mean so much more. Think of deprivation on a large scale and unpleasant scenarios come to mind. Like famine, and war. What a good idea to start on a serious conservation program while we are on top.
Cars and Water Heaters
Speaking of conservation, here’s another number. Using one of these water heaters vs a conventional water heater is like taking a car off the road for a year. An amazing claim, but true. A conventional water heater uses about the same amount of energy as a normal car (22MPG, 12,000 miles) in a year. That is the equivalent of 11.4 barrels of oil in a year (not to mention 6 TONS of CO2). Not much, till you multiply that by the millions of households which could use solar thermal. Now we’re talking some serious conservation, which is good for all of us. And our children.