Tuesday, April 17, 2007

"An 'energy-limited economy' is one where more energy cannot be had at any price. The global economy will become 'energy-limited' once global oil production peaks…." - Jay Hanson

Iraqi Oil Not Enough for U.S.
Last Days of America?

by Stuart H. Rodman

The forces of nature are poised to unleash a powerful salvo of potential kill shots at America and even if powered by all the oil in Iraq, we will be unable to stop it. Consider the following:

Tens of millions lost at sea. Not from a terror attack or in some sci-fi scareflick, but in their own homes when America’s east coast is swallowed up by a raging surge from the North Atlantic. That’s what will happen when the Cumbre Vieja volcano on La Palma erupts in the Canary Islands off the West Coast of Africa, sending a rockslide of biblical proportions splashing into the sea. And scientists agree, it’s not a question of “if” but when.

The threat from so called “mega-tsunamis” like the one awaiting us from off the coast of Africa is not the only bad news from nature. Residents of our planet’s northern hemisphere have only recently been learning about the catastrophic threat of super volcanoes like the active one in America’s own Yellowstone Park which has defoliated North America and wiped out most of the world’s food supply during its last and most likely not its final eruption. But over the last several years though, Geologists have told the UK Government that the country risks being hit by a giant wave of water that could destroy many coastal communities,

“Experts at University College London (UCL) have contacted the science minister Lord Sainsbury to warn him that a collapsing volcano in the Canary Islands could send a wall of water, hundreds of metres high, sweeping out over the Atlantic Ocean”.

The devastation would be so widespread that not only the East Coast of the United States and the Caribbean would be submerged by the event but also even parts of Great Britain would succumb to the disaster. According to the BBC,

“Dr. Simon Day, of Benfield Greig Hazard Research Centre, UCL, says the western flank of the Cumbre Vieja volcano on La Palma is unstable and could collapse during a major eruption. This might send half a trillion tonnes of rock crashing into the sea at once”.

The BBC report goes n to place the magnitude of the coming disaster into proportion,

“Modeling by colleagues in Switzerland shows that such a landslide could trigger a so-called mega-tsunami, which has an initial wave height of 650 metres (2,130 feet) and moves out over the ocean at speeds up to 720 km/h (450 mph)”


By the time such a wave crossed the Atlantic, its power would have diminished but it could still wreak havoc up to 20 kilometers (12 miles) inland.

Can’t happen? Think again. In 1958 a rockslide created wave in Alaska more than 1,500 feet high, smashed into the coastal community of Lituya Bay. The rockslide occurred along the eastern wall of the Gilbert Inlet:

“The mass of rock striking the surface of the bay created a giant splash, which sent water surging to a height of 1720 feet across the point opposite the inlet. This initial sheet of water stripped all vegetation from the point, leaving a bare rock face.”

The mega tsunami from La Palma could devastate Americans from Boston to Miami in one splash. In 1998, a huge tsunami, caused by a landslide under water, submerged large parts of Papua New Guinea, killing an estimated 2,000 people.

Will these be the last days of America?

Our Place in The Cosmos
Many are already aware that our species is under siege from comets, super volcanoes, mega tsunamis and not the least of all, ourselves. We shouldn’t be surprised about this. After all, we already know that our planet’s history is rife with species ending disasters. Otherwise we would all be dinosaurs.

According to acclaimed physicist Michio Kaku though, the rise and fall not only of enormous reptiles but of intelligent life as well may be common throughout the universe. We all must live in a troubled neighborhood. In a universe full with black holes, comets, supernovae, predatory virus, and runaway planetary forces, few civilizations survive long enough to develop technologies to harness the cosmic and planetary forces that will ultimately snuff them out.

Kaku speaks about “the laws of planetary evolution”:

“Any advanced civilization must grow in energy consumption faster than the frequency of life-threatening catastrophes (e.g. meteor impacts, ice ages, supernovas, etc.). If they grow any slower, they are doomed to extinction. This places mathematical lower limits on the rate of growth of these civilizations.”

Kaku says that to survive requires growing sources of energy just to keep pace with demand, "Specifically, we can rank civilizations by their energy consumption”

And America leads our world in energy consumption. Unfortunately, we derive most of our energy from a commodity that we don’t have enough of, oil. According to some, we can begin to find the alternative resources to build a secure energy future right here within our borders.

But others, already invested in the infrastructure of the past have another plan for us. What they don’t have for themselves, they can just steal from those who do.

America’s most giant corporations have Oil rich Islam staring down the barrels of their hired guns. But while Exxon and Unocal drool at the prospect of how they can best divie up the loot from what may later be known as History’s greatest armed robbery, it’s time the rest of us pause to think outside the box.

Consider. Our planet’s limited supply of oil was created on earth millions of years ago and will eventually either run out or become thermodynamically and economically worthless.

And remember, it takes energy to drill for oil let alone refine and transport it for market. In order for civilization to benefit from an energy resource, the finished product must be able to release more energy when put to work, than was used to prepare and develop it. As the easy to find oil is exhausted, the more difficult to extract oil that remains is less useful. Eventually, despite advances in drilling technology, the world’s oil will become less attractive than available alternatives or may simply become worthless as a source of useful energy.

As that day approaches, we live in an America long since petroformed by the oil industry from a land of independent family farms and businesses, to a nation dependent like serfs on their lord, on the barons of oil for everything from fuel to fertilizer. Today as we watch without protest, a new Feudalism is being forged worldwide by their mighty armies, our indignation subdued by the prospect of fueling our SUVs with cheap ill begotten oil.

And we will kill for them.

Finding the High Ground
The high ground of the future is wherever the net energy is. That’s the energy we can put to work without having to expend much existent energy to get it.

It’s a measurement that really matters. Kaku cites the work of a noted astronomer,

"In a seminal paper published in 1964 in the Journal of Soviet Astronomy, Russian astrophysicist Nicolai Kardashev theorized that advanced civilizations must therefore be grouped according to three types: Type I, II, and III, which have mastered planetary, stellar and galactic forms of energy, respectively. He calculated that the energy consumption of these three types of civilization would be separated by a factor of many billions.”

Will we sustain ourselves long enough to reach even the first rung on the ladder? Let’s hope so. If we don’t, we will simply join the growing list of extinct species found on our planet and thought to riddle the universe. Kaku must think we have a long way to go just to get on the first rung,

"A Type One civilization is one that controls the energy resources of its planet. This civilization can control the weather, prevent earthquakes, mine deep in the earth's crust, and harvest the oceans. This civilization has already completed the exploration of its solar system”.

A recent report by Alex Johnson of MSNBC that demonstrates that our actions in the Mideast are tailored for an energy policy catering not to the available resources on our table, but to the proprietary interests of Big Oil and their lust for other people’s resources. Johnson said, “The belief in some circles is that the heavy reliance on foreign oil, including Iraqi crude, is factored into the White House plans to take on Saddam.”

“If you think of U.S. oil production as a six-pack ... of petroleum, four of the cans are empty. We’re kind of a black hole for energy.”

Johnson also quotes George Sterzinger, executive director of the Renewable Energy Policy Project, “There are technologies that exist now [that] could replace looming shortfalls in fossil resources…R&D has paid off”

Truth? In the year 2000, U.S. energy consumption was estimated at 10^2 quadrillion Btu, a staggering figure. Incredibly though, more than 10 million more quadrillion units of solar energy hits the ground on American soil each day than we used that whole year!

We could build a better mousetrap. The ray’s of the sun could used to generate cost effective electricity, to grow biofuels, or manufacture hydrogen to fuel vehicles. In a free market, they’d beat a path to our door. Johnson wrote to his mainstream readers, “But, alternative energy advocates say, the game is rigged. They complain that those shortcomings could be surmounted with adequate federal support, and they accuse the government of talking a good game but failing to deliver.”

Talking about Big Oil, Johnson pointed out, “Since Bush took office, his administration has directed a total of $6 billion in subsidies toward conservation, fuel efficiency and renewable resources, less than a quarter of the $27 billion it has spent on fossil fuels, according to an analysis by The New York Times.”

So much for free enterprise. Fact is the deck is stacked. Someone’s already decided that what we don’t have we’ll just steal.

Speaking to the mainstream, Johnson himself admits, “The U.S. energy challenges are much more grave than the president, the Senate or the House has recognized, than anybody has ever articulated to the American people.”

And civilization’s need for energy may know no bounds. Consider these words from Kaku, “A Type Two civilization is one that controls the power of the sun itself. This does not mean passively harnessing solar energy; this civilization mines the sun. The energy needs of this civilization are so large that it directly consumes the power of the sun to drive its machines. This civilization will begin the colonization of local star systems.”

And then what?

The Death Sentence
Our present day oil economy, though more efficient than steam or whale blubber, won’t get us where we need to go and the forces of the universe may not allow us the time to find the alternative. Unless we do, our names and the names of our children will be written in some virtual graveyard of forgotten civilizations; from dust to dust.

I learned from Jay Hanson’s unrelenting study of the oil industry (http://dieoff.org), that in the '50s they could produce 50 barrels of energy for every barrel consumed producing finished products for the market. By the nineties, the ration had fallen to 5 barrels to 1. By the year 2005, the industry will just break even-it will be necessary to use as much energy to produce any given quantity.

Oil production peaked in the lower forty eight states decades ago and even with the potential production of fields in Alaska, we will still remain dependent on imports if we plan to continue selling our big cars. Soon though, because of the thermodynamic costs, it won’t be logical to look for new oil anywhere in the US because, even if you could sell oil for $500 a barrel, exploring, drilling, and transporting it to market would consume more energy than it would recover.

The Oil companies already know this. They have to try harder. They have long since outgrown the producing oil reserves in this country and they now have literally set their sights on the low hanging fruit in the Caspian Sea and the vast reserves of Iraq. Of course though, even these thermodynamically rich resources won’t be around forever amid exponentially growing worldwide demand. So they want to strike while the iron is hot.

And Unocal, Halliburton, Exxon, and their off shore clones have worked hard to install a national leadership to do their bidding for them. They had to because the cost of doing business has gotten so much higher. In this case though, they found a way to offset the high costs of acquisition. They can get to the thermodynamically good stuff with taxpayer-subsidized munitions. Once at the oil patch, the rest will be child’s play.

Fact is the oil companies have already recovered the easy stuff. Oil is simply becoming more and more thermodynamically expensive worldwide and now in order to survive, Oil companies need to concentrate on the low hanging fruit, the “elephant finds”, the ones found in other people’s countries.

MSNBC’s Johnson, quoting petro industry sources point out, “The U.S. economy runs on oil, and it does so because it is cheap and convenient — ‘it isn’t any more complicated than that,’ an industry official said.”

Simple but sad. Through the miracle of petroforming, competing energy sources aren’t as versatile as petroleum. They even invented a word for it. Johnson says,

“They’re not what the industry calls ‘fungible,’ meaning they can’t be used for a wide spectrum of applications”.

Like producing our food.

The bad news is, when the oil supply ultimately fails, absent alternative technologies, the world’s food supply will go with it. But when it comes to developing alternative technologies though, in a government controlled by former oil company kingpins, as Johnson quotes George Sterzinger, Executive Director of the Renewable Energy Policy Project, “policies don’t move in that direction.”

Food and energy go hand in glove. Since all our energy eggs have been put in the oil basket, the fate of one will determine the fate of the other. The U.S. Geological Survey has said that Oil discovery is about to peak worldwide and absent an alternative, there will be more at stake for us than just our bragging rights to being an advanced civilization. Starvation may become the rule in a world without energy. Kaku says,

“Even an advanced civilization is bound by the laws of thermodynamics, especially the Second Law, and can hence be ranked by the energy at their disposal.”

Then ours won’t even make the charts. In reality, because there is in only a dwindling supply of energy that can be sucked from the well, absent an alternative, we will be living in an "energy limited economy". Hanson offers this definition, http://dieoff.com/page185.htm

"An 'energy-limited economy' is one where more energy cannot be had at any price. The global economy will become 'energy-limited' once global oil production peaks…."

And that could happen soon but when it does, whenever it does, it could mean more trouble than just lining up at the filling station. Consider the dependency of agriculture on oil. Hanson points out, http://dieoff.org/page185.htm

"Food grains produced with modern, high-yield methods (including packaging and delivery) now contain between four and ten calories of fossil fuel for every calorie of solar energy."

Hanson adds, "It has been estimated that about four percent of the nation's energy budget is used to grow food, while about 10 to 13 percent is needed to put it on our plates. In other words, a staggering total of 17 percent of America's energy budget is consumed by agriculture!"

Again citing other sources, Hanson states, "By 2040, we would need to triple the global food supply in order to meet the basic food needs of the eleven billion people who are expected to be alive. But doing so would require a 1,000 percent increase in the total energy expended in food production."

Following the peak of oil production, absent an alternative, Hanson notes, "It will be physically impossible -- thus economically impossible -- to provide enough net energy to agriculture”

Hanson adds grimly, "Obviously the death sentence for billions of people has already been issued".

The Type One Club
The once and future lords of the realm, now stocking their counting rooms with the gold from our pockets and soon they hope from the black gold from beneath the oil fields of Arabia, may plan for survival long enough for them to bear witness to a coming die off. The demand for life sustaining resources will ultimately be balanced by the supply and there will only be so much to go around. Organic farmer, Mark Snyder states,

“Civilization will develop a new agriculture free from the petrochemicals now used for its existence or time will run out before we even understand what we have done to ourselves.”

And there’s another danger. Kaku calls it the “Uranium Boundary”. We can build bombs that could end civilization, but we are a long way from using nuclear power to produce any kind of clean net energy. Today’s fission based nuclear plants are net energy losers and the more promising fusion technologies of tomorrow require many times more energy to operate than they can currently produce. The problem is that the development of civilization sustaining energy sources requires long-term investment.

It may just be though, that Unocal has already reasoned that there’s not going to be enough time or enough food to go around for everyone, so it might as well be “them” that goes. They will stock their cupboards with whatever they need to hunker down for the long haul and they may even want to keep some of the rest of us around to till their soil along the way.

There are probably many among us that would be content to go along for that ride. It’s the old “them or us”. If that sounds good to you go for it!

Otherwise face it.

Allowing ourselves to steal oil from one another is just the most recent demonstration of the lengths a desperate few will go to remain in control. All the gasoline-fired engines in the world can’t turn back the tides of the ocean or divert the explosive fury of even the smallest volcano. Sure, that privileged few might survive, for a while at least, but for most of us, it just won’t work.

But that’s all in the future right? In this the Age of the Consumer Economy, we have been carefully conditioned to expect immediate gratification. Given the right mix of consumer products, say remote controlled cable TV and your favorite aspartame laced diet cola, we can trade worry for happiness.

Still, even school kids are taught that crime doesn’t pay. In the case of Unocal and their corporate collaborators though, it’s also a waste of our time. Granted that justice, though certain may not always seem swift. But considering there’s already an undiscovered comet out there with our name on it, time may be the one thing that we just don’t have enough of.

So for those not already numbed by neurotoxic consumables or the info warfare waged upon us by our media and the elite brokers that use them to convince us all will be OK if we just buy more of the products that make their top investors rich, there will have to be another way.

Although there may be enough oil left in the ground to keep our SUV’s speeding down the breakdown lanes of the world’s highways at least for a few more years, our chemical rockets and diesel engines will no more re-excavate the slopes of the Cumbre Vieja volcano than take humans to the reaches of our solar system.

But we can rediscover the energy of sunlight, reform agriculture, and develop an economy of efficiency. It may or may not be too late but only by doing so, can we extend the lifespan of civilization and even hope to gain admittance to some Type One Club of survivor civilizations. Of course policies don’t move in that direction though and we may just be too preoccupied now to start doing so.

In the meantime, by betting the farm on our dwindling fossil legacy we will be burning the bridge between our geological history and our long-term hope for survival. Along the way, our hands dutifully locked in a stranglehold on the wheel, we leave ourselves vulnerable to the broadside awaiting us around the next curve from the apocalyptical forces of planetary change that foretell our extinction.

The shameless taking of cheap oil from Peter to give to Paul will be making somebody else rich by the bloodshed of countless others, our own progeny included, but it too will soon run out. Fool’s gold. When the party is over, some of us may be fat and sassy but there will likely be a lot fewer humans in the world to bully around, untold collateral damage on the home front, and little else to assure the survival of our seed.

The short score?
For now at least, the petrochemical giants and the armies they command have become our masters. They have petroformed our land to forge a new feudalism from the ashes of the old realm from which they are themselves descended. Today, as the dark clouds of war gather, they know that the future world of humans will shrink and spasm but they will remain safe, hunkered down in their castles, their cupboards stocked for the centuries with the ill begotten gold of others.

As for the rest of us. The vast riches of our once and future masters will do us little or no good, save for some scraps that fall from their tables. Though they are mighty, the explosive fury of their bombs will pale compared with the unrestrained destructive forces of nature that will be left poised to annihilate our planet.

And we have been well trained to play our part. Eat, drink, and be happy. Without dumb luck though, the finite fossil fuel legacy of earth’s past will not get us through tomorrow, when humanity might die.

Kaku suggests that the universe is littered with the corpses of civilizations that failed to reach the Type One high ground of energy needed to counter-balance the unimaginable power of cosmic forces that both create and destroy.

Either we will divest ourselves of the oil-slicked bonds that chain us to our addictions and to those that foster the illusions needed to keep us dependent upon them, or we will perish. It will be one way or it will be the other.