Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Peak Oil For Dummies

How to explain the concept of peak oil to the math-ophobic, bypassing theories such as Hubbard's Peak:

Posted by JDW on Clusterfuck Nation

Deb --- I think the best non-mathematical explanation for PO that I've run across used the metaphor of an enormous tree loaded with fruit.

At first, you can stand still and not even stretch your arms and grab your fill -- hell, the fruit is so abundant on the surface that it's practically falling into your bag as you stand in one spot near the trunk. It takes only the energy of one fruit to harvest many.

After a while, you've gotten all that easy surface fruit in your spot, but you can still stand on tip-toes and get more or move away from the trunk towards the big branches -- but now it takes the energy of two fruits to harvest fifty, and requires a little more looking.

Soon, a ladder is required, and climbing the ladder, and handling your collection sack -- and it takes the energy of five fruits to harvest twenty five. Now the fruit is dispersed through the larger volume of the tree branches and you are having to move the ladder a couple times to collect those twenty-five fruits.

And, before you know it, other people have noticed how fat you've gotten on all that rich fruit, so while you've been picking, others have begun picking too -- and now there's not much readily accessible fruit at all, though you can clearly see that the tree is still loaded with it, up on top and in the higher regions.

The problem is that now it's taking you almost one fruit's worth of energy for every four you harvest, and those are still the accessible ones.

It's starting to look like about half the fruit is left, but it's the hard half - and you're starting to realize that the only way you're going to ever get some of that fruit would be to chop down the tree entirely. There are many individual fruits here and there, but moving your ladder and climbing it takes so much energy that it's barely worth harvesting them.

At some point, it will cost you more than a fruit's worth of energy to harvest a fruit -- which is when you have to quit, unless you can enslave others to harvest your fruit for you until they revolt or drop from exhaustion and hunger.

That's peak oil without much math -- most people seem to have some experience with how quickly an apparent windfall situation can turn into shortage when the cost of gathering approaches the benefit of what's being gathered.

Anyway, it has worked for me. I can't remember where I saw it, but it has been helpful in explaining PO to the mathophobic.

Needless to say though, your mileage may vary.