I spend a lot of time playing “What if?” We all do this. I do this when I am driving – “What if that car at the next intersection pulls out in front of me?” – when I am working – “What if that high pressure line ruptures?” – and at home – “What if I wake up and find the house is on fire?” I also spend a lot of time pondering the question “What if there are energy shortages in the near future?”
When we do this, we are generally trying to understand the potential consequences of various responses to a given situation. This sort of exercise is a form of risk assessment, and it is a very important tool for making decisions about events that could impact the future. Sometimes the consequences are minor. If I choose not to take an umbrella to work and it rains, there is probably a small consequence. If I choose to pass a car on a blind hill, the consequence may be severe, and may extend to other people.
In this essay I will explore the implications of the question: “What if my viewpoint is wrong?”
What If I’m Wrong About Peak Oil?
I guess it was my training as a scientist that emphasized to me that conclusions are tentative (I was two years into a Ph.D. in chemistry before I decided the job prospects were better for a chemical engineer). They are subject to revision as additional data come in, and you have to always be willing to consider that you may be wrong. But acknowledging that I could be wrong has to go hand-in-hand with the consequences of being wrong.
I spend a lot of time thinking about the possible consequences of peak oil. My view on peak oil is that it presents an enormous challenge for humanity, that we will begin to face these challenges within 10 years, and that there is no easy solution. I see spiking oil prices and the subsequent fallout as a prelude to what lies ahead. These views have influenced my profession, where I have chosen to live, what I read, and what I say to others. Fear of peak oil has influenced some people not to attend college, or to quit their jobs and move away to remote locations. It has even caused some people to decide against having children. But what if I am wrong about the timing of peak oil? What are the consequences?
For me, this one has low consequences. If I am wrong and we have adequate oil supplies for the next 40 years, then perhaps I live a more frugal life than I might have otherwise. I prefer to walk, ride a bike, or take a train instead of hopping into a car to drive some place. When I drive, I probably drive a smaller car than I would have otherwise. Then again, I have always been frugal, so perhaps I would have done all of these things regardless. The one thing that it may have impacted upon in a major way is my interest in energy.
But if I am right, then I have plans in place to manage the impact as well as I can. Those plans start with minimizing my energy consumption. It is my small insurance policy. If the worst case doomers turn out to be right, then there isn’t a lot I can do except try to make sure my family and I are in circumstances that minimize the risk. Further, I have done a lot of work that is aimed at improving our energy security in the years ahead. That work includes promoting renewable energy technologies that I think can make a long-term contribution, but also arguing for conservation, and better utilization of our own natural resources. So if I am correct, then I have chosen to work on things that have the potential to mitigate the consequences.
But what if the other side is wrong? Government agencies devoted to monitoring our natural resources often reassure us that there is plenty of oil for decades to come. But what if the government, industry, etc. turn out to have missed the mark on peak oil? In that case I think we will be in for a lot of trouble.
If the peak comes quickly and the decline is steep, I believe we will be wholly unprepared. There is not a cheap, easy substitute for oil. Much higher prices will be inevitable in such a situation. Industries – such as the airline industry – won’t be prepared and we will see perhaps entire industries go bankrupt. While I do believe that over time we can transition to natural gas vehicles (and our supplies of natural gas look adequate for a while), that will take some time. If the government is wrong and the peak happens much sooner than expected, we will be in for a very difficult transition period.
What If I am Wrong on Global Warming?
Another question I think a lot about is “What If I am Wrong on Global Warming?” To me, this one is more complicated. If the Al Gore contingent is correct, then we are facing some very major problems. As I have written before, I don’t expect us to be able to rein in carbon dioxide emissions, so I see a future with ever higher atmospheric CO2. And while I tend to come down on the side that human activity is contributing to global warming, the scientist in me reminds me that “conclusions are tentative.”
On the one hand we have potential global devastation if Al Gore is correct (because again, I believe carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will continue to climb). On the other hand are those who believe that human activities play little or no role in global warming. They view the opposition as putting global economies at risk by putting a price on carbon emissions. While I think global devastation is a much worse consequence than economic stagnation, the impact of that could be pretty severe as well.
So we have two camps, each of which thinks if the other side gets their way it will lead to global disaster. So we get a lot of vitriol in this debate, which I don’t like. I don’t know what the ultimate outcome on this one will be, but one thing I don’t want to see is the debate stifled by placing derogatory labels on those with whom you disagree.
I never discount the possibility that I could be wrong about something. I would say that precious few of my views are embedded in granite. That’s why I write this blog; to discuss, debate, learn, and change my mind when reason dictates that.
43 thoughts on “What If I’m Wrong?”
Robert, Al Gore built his case on the hockey stick graph that no one defends any more. You have a bright rational analytical mind which means you're a great read even on the points where one doesn't agree with you, a rare talent. But come on, how can you still mention Al Gore as a reference in this discussion? As for the AGW debate, it's on at full steam and no need to call people names. Just two of many examples :
And I hope nobody has missed the great citizen based surface stations study by now :
I've lived in the U.S. for Sixty Two years, now. I've seen Democracy tend toward the middle ground as long as I've been cognizant of the World around me.
And, as Winston Churchill said (I'm paraphrasing,) the U.S. usually gets it right "in the end."
The "peak oilers" have some pretty good research, and stats, on their side, and I expect they're more right than not. On the other hand, I don't think we'll go the way of the "Extreme" Doomers.
It seems we're likely to have some tough sledding somewhere not too far down the road. Democracies aren't really good at "anticipating" problems. It's Great at "Solving" problems.
Personally, I feel a lot more secure knowing I can pour a couple of gallons of alkyhol in my Impala, and just keep going.
Well stated, Robert. I've always been mystified by the uproar people raise against the actions peak oil proponents wish to take – where is the harm in wanting to grow some of your own food, or be prepared against emergencies of all stripes by having some stockpiles on hand? In many nations this is de rigeur, even in the US it is SOP for groups like the Mormons. This is just being an adult, and the cornucopian posture that we needn't worry about any of these issues is extremely specious and immature.
Rufus – I do agree that, faced with real shortages of energy (especially crude oil imports) in the OECD there is much that can be done to deal with problems on an ad hoc basis, but you wouldn't call the needed actions "Democratic" anymore, IMO. This would be interference on a massive scale, more so than what the US dealt with in WWII. As this has never been attempted before many have doubts this would be compatible at the same time with an ostensibly free market economy.
Also our cherished democracy could turn around and bite us on the rear – which solution would gain more ground politically: offering up a system of rationing fuel and enforcing car pooling, or promises to use the Navy to commandeer stray oil tankers? After last summer I lost any hope in our elected politicians steering us towards any form of sensible solutions to energy issues.
Bravo, RR! The science is never settled. A single contrary fact beats an Ivory Tower full of fake consensus.
But one of the puzzling factors is the reluctance of certain parties to the discussion to seize easily-obtainable political concensus.
For someone who believes that fossil fuels are finite, there is an obvious attraction in nuclear power. We can do it with today's technology, and if fossil fuels last longer than expected, the worst consequence is that we might have used a slightly more expensive form of power.
For someone who believes that Al Gore is a prophet, nuclear power is the only current technology that can provide very large scale 24/7 carbon-free power. We know that nuclear "waste" is actually fuel that should be reprocessed to provide more power. We know that the "stop proliferation" argument is a dead letter in a world where North Korea has nuclear weapons, and Iran is furiously building them with a commitment to use them to wipe out another country.
It would seem like there could easily be agreement on what to do about future large scale energy supplies, even if the "why" is different for different people.
So we are back to the question — why do certain people refuse to grasp the solution that France, China, Finland and many others are pursuing?
"Another question I think a lot about is "What If I am Wrong on Global Warming?"
Whether you are right or wrong, in about five billion years the Sun will turn into a red giant and expand well beyond the orbit of the Earth.
The future of the Earth has already been predetermined by the universal laws of the cosmos.
Great post Robert. I have been thinking about this a lot lately. I think in the end, if Peak Oil and Global Warming are both not dangers, then the worst case scenario is that we create new industries employing different people and give less money to the oil companies and foreign companies with large oil reserves. Seems like a good tradeoff.
On a totally different topic, I tried to send you this (http://greeninc.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/06/29/turning-carbon-dioxide-into-fuel/) directly but couldn't see an email method. Does the science on that article even make sense? I am far from a chemist but something seemed a bit fishy to me…
First, all hail RR, for maintaining both an open mind, and an open-minded blog.
On Peak Oil, I am relatively confident the price mechanism is our friend, and we actually transition easily to a better, cleaner world. I hope our leaders allow the price mechanism to work.
On Global Warming, I am a skeptic, but completely out of my element.
I feel I understand commercial markets, but Global Warming is not a commercial market.
I can read one expert, and then another expert, with opposite viewpoints.
I will say this: If Global Warming is a true peril, it is not that hard to spew dust into the atmosphere and cool the planet off. That has happened after major vocanic eruptions, such as Krakatoa. It is a lot cheaper than trying to limit CO2 emissions.
BTW, the higher levels of CO2 are great for growing crops–don't throw out the baby with the bathwater.
BTW–RR's comments about the worries that oil doom-mongers create among the impressionable are worth considering. Peope hiding out in the woods, not having children, frightened…this is not a good result, and always we must try to encourage others, not scare others.
If the worst thing people say about me is, "There goes Benny, that incurable hope-monger, an eternal optimist," well, I can live with that.
Of course RR is wrong. He has the right idea but goes about finding the answer the wrong way.
RR gets all bent out of shape when I say he is wrong. Hey get over it. My first job as an engineer was on a nuke ship. There was not a lot of room for ‘what is I am wrong’.
When I do ‘what if’, I am not playing.
"What if that high pressure line ruptures?"
Since the consequences of this happening is a worker dying, we have to show that the probability of this happening (risk) is very small (one in a million).
The second thing is to not worry about thing you have no control over. For example, AGW is something that I have a small degree of control over both professionally and personally. So what are the consequences of AGW? If we can adapt to high and low tide, we can adapt to small changes in sea level. Therefore, I am not worried about AGW.
When it comes to an adequate supply of electricity, death is an expected consequence of losing electricity. People in the US die all the time because they have not planned for losing power. A related problem is people doing stupid things to save energy whenever the price of electricity goes up. Killing your family will save energy.
Here is where I have a problem with AGW and other environment regulation with low risk. Following these regulations, create very risky situations for people. We recently got a permit from the feds for repairs in the river. We can only put divers (my friends) in the water in the winter time when the water is very cold because the fish are inactive. Fish survive by laying millions of eggs. Depending on the numbers that survive, we adjust the number of fish that can be harvested. Yesterday was a perfect day for divers. Hot and no wind! It was also a perfect day for PWC to zip back and forth past our structure. One of these idiots even had a child with him. There is a whole river to fast in, why do it next to hard objects?
I don't know, Dude; we put a few incentives in place, and woke up a couple of years later with enough ethanol to replace 10% of our gasoline. No one even, really, noticed.
I think it'll be a whole lot easier than some people think.
Two things: (1) There's a lot of "fat" in the system; and (2) we won't have to do it "all" overnight.
Clean Energy Opens World’s Largest LNG/CNG Truck Fueling Station
1 July 2009
Clean Energy Fuels has opened the world’s largest natural gas truck fueling station on a 2.9-acre site adjacent to the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles.
The new public access station, configured to fuel trucks on a 24/7 basis, features two 25,000-gallon liquefied natural gas (LNG) storage tanks, six LNG dispensers, and two compressed natural gas (CNG) dispensers. The Clean Energy station is located on property leased from the Port of Long Beach at Anaheim and I streets. It is specifically designed to support the goals of the San Pedro Bay Ports’ Clean Air Action Plan (CAAP) and Clean Truck programs.
If the peak comes quickly and the decline is steep…
Sorry, I just can't get too nervous about that. If it happens, energy prices go up and we all figure out ways to conserve (solving the AGW problem, if it is one).
So the airline industry goes dead. Inconvenient if you like to vacation on other continents. Oh well. The railway industry will do great. Toyota Tundra hurts, Toyota Prius rakes in the profits (am I the only one who sees genius in this strategy?).
I believe (as Benny does) that a (relatively) free market is the best solution: once the market adjusts for scarce oil, we'd all be conserving. Unfortunately the experience of the seventies left many Americans associating high prices with rationing: the two do not go together: high prices is a way to avoid rations (and yes, they need to be avoided). Rations are needed when the prostitutians (that would be Mr. Nixon, most recently) interfere in the market.
As always, we're best off leaving people to themselves, even if that includes some laughable actions by some. The markets will reward those who made the right choices. The rest of us will follow in short order.
The main problems I see with "peak oil":
1. The countries who will get rich out of it. "Yes, Mr. Chavez, you are such a genius…"
2. The response from the prostitutians. That includes both the "drill, baby, drill" and the "superprofit tax" idiots.
…which solution would gain more ground politically: offering up a system of rationing fuel and enforcing car pooling, or promises to use the Navy to commandeer stray oil tankers?
I prefer this: you stay the heck out of this, clueless #$%@&!
As we saw in Iraq, the influence of the US military hardly makes for low oil prices.
"I believe (as Benny does) that a (relatively) free market is the best solution: once the market adjusts for scarce oil, we'd all be conserving."
I agree with this. However, in the peak oil scenario, I really wonder if we're going to see true free market pricing. I think if peak oil gloom comes to pass that there will be widespread government intervention, most of which will be PPP (political pandering and posturing) rather than any constructive actions. PPP can be relied upon to make things worse.
Read this, friends:
Perhaps the most famous volcanic eruption in recent history is the explosion of the volcano Krakatoa in 1883. On August 27 a series of four explosions almost entirely destroyed the island. People as far away as Perth in Western Australia could hear the detonation, and it's estimated that 120,000 people died from the eruption. In fact, the entire climate of Earth was affected for several years after the eruption, as global temperatures dipped for 5 years.
We can cool the Earth off rather easily and cheaply by kicking up a little dust, while keeping the higher CO2 levels to improve crop yields.
"there will be widespread government intervention, most of which will be PPP (political pandering and posturing)"
Doesn't that get to the heart of the matter? We don't have a good way of reaching public decisions — and the Political Class can be guaranteed to screw up anything they touch.
One reasonable approach to decision-making in the world of energy is Shell's Scenarios, which they put on their websites for all to see. The idea is to construct a number of internally consistent views of the future, and then test business decisions against all of those scenarios to make sure that the decisions are reasonable whatever actually happens.
The discipline of putting together scenarios can be quite informative. For example, if we are concerned about the finite nature of fossil fuels, then there is no need to be concerned about alleged Anthorpogenic Global Warming — the world will run out of carbon fuels before alleged AGW could cause any problems.
"RR gets all bent out of shape when I say he is wrong. Hey get over it. My first job as an engineer was on a nuke ship. There was not a lot of room for ‘what is I am wrong’."
There are two fundamental mistakes here. First, I don't get bent out of shape when people say I am wrong. Lots of people here have disagreed with me. Not a problem, although we may have a friendly debate about the issue.
Your problem is you don't know how to consistently do it in a civil manner, while the other posters do. Unless you learn to voice your disagreements sans insults, I will be deleting a lot more of your posts.
Second, of course a nuclear ship has gone through lots of "What if" exercises. You may not have done them, but others before you did. And when you are going through those exercises, the "What if" generally has two parts: "What if the premise is correct?" and "What if the premise is incorrect?"
So the airline industry goes dead. Inconvenient if you like to vacation on other continents. Oh well. The railway industry will do great.
The issue is one of timing. If the airline industry goes dead, and it takes years for the railroads to respond (new tracks, new rolling stock, new terminal infrastructure, etc), other big chunks of the economy may go down with the airlines and not be able to come back. Economics for the masses never pays enough attention to time lags, which can be critical during transitions.
RR is confusing how you might go about forming an argument on a blog with hazard analysis. Hazard analysis is a systematic approach where numerical results are established. Risk can then be ranked. For example, at one plant my simple cooling water pump was the 4th most relied on component in fault tree analysis. My present pump is very near the bottom of frequency of demand.
Rufus – 2009 average was 805,581,000 per month, thus about 26,852,700 gallons/day. Stacked up against 383 mg/day of gasoline supplied that's more like 7%. Factor in lower btus and our reliance on imports too, which is another 1 mb/d plus.
Not so wild about ethanol. The idea of outsourcing it to the world's poor is ethically odious to me, even in Brazil it's largely become the task of veritable indentured servants. If, as the old song goes, I ruled the world, I would've mandated ethanol replace MTBE and put a ceiling on production thereafter, with some steady research dollars thrown at research for cellulosic/gasification/etc. programs. Fermenting the Food Supply is a genie we shouldn't have let out of the bottle.
Aside: Stoneleigh's column at The Automatic Earth for today is about the challenges of building a renewable grid. Would be great if she could sound off more on this at TOD.
"The airline industry goes dead."
Listen, liquid fuels will likely become premium fuels, in demand by airlines. They will outbid others.
Regular commuters will drop out at more than $4 a gallon, we have seen this already. They will migrate to CNG cars, shorter commutes, PHEVs, mass transit, scooters, bicycles etc.
I could also skecth out a doom scenario–for oil thug states.
It goes like this:
1) CNGs gain widening popularity globally, as they already are.
2) Any one of the many, many outfits researching lithium or other batteries comes up with a breakthrough, about doubling battery capacity. So PHEVs suddenly look practical, even advantageous.
3) China, a fascist mercantile nation, decides it would rather employ domestic workers producing energy (they have unrestful excess labor anyway) than import it. They continue with domestic oil, CTLs, jatropha, BEVs and EV cycles. They have a policy of reducing imports of oil, and they do it by fiat if necessary.
4) The USA CAFE standards, while stupid, do crimp consumption.
5) Japan and Europe continue their annual declines in oil consumption.
6) Palm oil production, expected to double by 2020, does so, and double again in another 10 years—and Brazil gets into the act.
After a while, a question comes up—just who are the thug states going to sell their oil to?
The scenario I have just painted is not probable–but more probable than any doom scenario.
Good post, open mind is good. Lotsa surprises out there.
BTW, Peak Oil took place in 1998, fooled me, too! This is why the world's economy is falling apart. Fooled a lot of other people, too.
This is the 'dollar for dollar' peak. Physical peak, who knows? 2005 (Simmons)? 2008? Who cares?
It doesn't really matter, the money cost is the determinant. Oil becams expensive starting in 1999. Game over. Since the $12 low crude has risen 500%.
That's an economy killer. It will kill all the economies evenrtually …
I suspect this process will hold CO2 warming in check. I could be wrong about that, too.
"RR is confusing how you might go about forming an argument on a blog with hazard analysis. Hazard analysis is a systematic approach where numerical results are established."
It might surprise Kit to know that the hazard analysis toolkit is quite varied, and Kit is showing his ignorance here. It might also surprise Kit to know that I am trained as a PHA leader – and have in fact run HAZOPs – so Kit is the amateur lecturing the pro.
One of the HAZOP tools involves a "What if" analysis. This type is less rigorous than a full blown HAZOP study, and probabilities of occurence are given as "Likely", "Possible", "Remote", etc. Consequences are likewise defined as "Minor", "Serious", etc. Recommendations are made for mitigation. We often do these sorts of quick analyses for minor process changes.
This isn't that much different than what I am doing when I am out driving. I am mentally weighing various what-if scenarios.
Dude, early 2009 the price of oil, and thus gasoline, had dropped so much that no one used any more ethanol than was required. Many refineries were producing at well below max levels. Quite a few were "shut down." Some were even in bankruptcy.
April, it started "picking up." I imagine we're up over 8%, now. But, the point is, we have the capacity, either presently online, or almost ready to come online, to do the full ten percent.
When we do get up in the 9 hundred thousand barrel/day range, it will probably be the equivalent of replacing about 750,000 barrels/day of oil. It's not that it was a "monster" accomplishment; but, that it was accomplished so easily.
BTW, this alone, will be the equivalent of running in the neighborhood of 20 Million cars on ethanol.
The deal isn't all that bad in Brazil. Like any country emerging from the third world, there are some pretty brutal things that happen there; but, they claim they're "cracking down" on the "company store" slavery that was practiced there a few places.
I'm not nearly as big a fan of Brazilian Cane Ethanol as some, but I figure you've got be fair about it.
80% of the new cars down there ARE flexfuel, btw; and ethanol does comprise over 50% of their Private Transportation Fuel (not to be confused with the fact that, due to very few railroads, they use an inordinate amount of fuel in trucking (ex. they're trying to get some pipelines built, but, right now, most of their commodities are transported to the Coast by truck.
fuel in trucking = Diesel, of course
I think the average westerner will be able to afford a plug-in hybrid or electric vehicle. Electricity should remain somewhat affordable in the US with natural gas so abundant,thanks to new drilling techniques. Big rigs will probably transition to NG in the next 10 years. It'll probably be economical for trucks and SUV's to do likewise.
I never will understand all the hysteria over global warming. Blocking 1% of the suns rays solves the problem. It really is that simple.
"Does the science on that article even make sense? I am far from a chemist but something seemed a bit fishy to me…"
I have looked into Algenol before, because I was also puzzled by the chemistry. Apparently what they are doing does work. Dow's involvement is a good sign that the chemistry works. After all, you can engineer organisms to do all sorts of things.
But my guess is that the yields are incredibly low. Getting algae to produce ethanol is one thing. Doing so in a commercial manner is something entirely different.
But it is a novel approach to fuel from algae.
"Oil becams expensive starting in 1999. Game over. Since the $12 low crude has risen 500%."
Repeating this gets a little tiresome, but let's all please remember the facts.
The world price of crude oil may be around $60-70 now (up from an extreme low during the Asian economic crisis of the late 1990s), but the European consumer has been paying the equivalent of $200-300 per barrel all along (thanks to greedy governments).
What have been the consequences in Europe of such a high effective oil price over a prolonged period?
BMW and Mercedes have got rich selling gas guzzlers. The great unwashed drive around in small vehicles — lots & lots of them. The roads are packed. Parking in European cities is a nightmare.
And, most importantly, no technology has arisen to replace oil-based transportation fuels.
To return to RR's post — What if the optimists are wrong when they think that increases in the price of oil will fundamentally change transportation technology?
Valid points, Kinu.
For starters, the European experience would suggest $200/bbl is not the killer to the economy that many believe it to be.
On the issue of alternatives: The US culture and economic incentives do far better at encouraging entrepreneurs, and new solutions. Of course, there is no guarantee.
The big danger, as you mentioned, is the prostitutians, and their need to be seen doing something. As if they haven't done enough damage with half-baked subsidies AND mandates for ethanol. Easily done, my ass!
The issue is one of timing. If the airline industry goes dead, and it takes years for the railroads to respond (new tracks, new rolling stock, new terminal infrastructure, etc), other big chunks of the economy may go down with the airlines and not be able to come back.
I don't think so. As Benny pointed out, it is not as if the entire airline industry goes with a single clap. As seen most recently with the auto industry (until the prostitutians got involved) the bad players take a dive early, while the better players have some time to respond. The price for airline tickets goes through the roof, so everyone starts to use air travel very wisely. This creates the economic conditions for alternatives to grow, until the alternatives siphon off enough of the business for airline tickets to reduce some.
You may also recall that in September 2001 US airline travel fell to zero in a matter of hours. Contrary to popular believe this did not cause the US (or world) economy to collapse…
Not what I had in mind, Kit. Take a deep breath, and try again.
Well, if RR is completely wrong and there is an abundance of fuel sources out there just waiting to be discovered, or technology out there that will improve so rapidly it will turn "expensive" fuel into "cheap" fuel then I will be glad. I am currently reading with a massively skeptical eye "The Bottomless Well" which is what the author claims. Never regulate anything and the hyper-efficient market will make everyone's dreams come true!
But as someone above pointed out there is the question of timing. A decent railroad system to replace (at a much slower speed) the airline system would not take years, but decades to build. Building nuclear power plants takes decades and massive amounts of materials. Relevant amounts of solar and wind would cover large parts of the country and take substantial amounts of time/materials to implement.
Then there is conflict. We've already spent how much in Iraq? And what happens when China and India start aggressively trying to secure their petroleum? I doubt we have seen the last US soldier killed in the pursuit of cheap oil…
Then there is global warming. Which I have no doubt the human race will survive. But the world will certainly change, and it is highly unlikely it will change for the better.
Lastly, look at the economy. The current recession is based mostly on fear, more than actual reality. People's real costs of living have barely gone up. And not that many people have actually lost their job. But everyone is freaking out. Well, people's pockets will feel much emptier if we really have reached peak oil, even if it is a gradually increasing supply/demand imbalance. And if the whole airline industry and everything that goes with it dies, it will make this unemployment level seem cheery.
The market given a certain length of time is a fairly good distributor of resources. But it is far from perfect, or even logical as the last decade of bubbles and recessions show us. It does not know how to plan for the future. And it has no interest in taking care of the "commons" or in anysort of public policy.
I hope RR is wrong. But I am not betting on it.
No Jeff, I have to disagree.
Then there is conflict. We've already spent how much in Iraq?
Can we put this one to bed, already? Pretty please? Our Iraq experience did zip to secure low oil prices. So much for the Cheney doctrine. Sadly our soldiers may stay involved in the ME's future. But cheap oil is not the reason.
But the world will certainly change, and it is highly unlikely it will change for the better.
Speculation. There is no way to tell.
Lastly, look at the economy. The current recession is based mostly on fear, more than actual reality.
I strongly disagree. IMHO much of the economic growth since the mid 90s was build on hype, not reality. Stock bubble. Housing bubble. Wall Street as a wealth creator.
The recession is based on the reality of a much overdue correction in many markets, including the inconvenient truth that real incomes in the US have been shrinking since the mid 90s. I won't get too excited about the much ballyhooed green shoots. Recovery? Where?
People's real costs of living have barely gone up.
One swallow does not make it spring. There are many more factors at work. Inflation is not (yet) the problem. Declining income is.
And not that many people have actually lost their job[s].
Did you type that with a straight face? After almost half a million jobs were lost in ONE month? LOL!
Well, people's pockets will feel much emptier if we really have reached peak oil, even if it is a gradually increasing supply/demand imbalance.
As a counter-point, notice how quickly oil fell from $150 to $50/bbl, once the word recession started doing the rounds. Will Peak Oil save us from Peak Oil?
Better tighten your belt: we're in for a wild ride on oil prices. Peak Oil or not, there is no margin for error in the current market.
And if the whole airline industry and everything that goes with it dies, it will make this unemployment level seem cheery.
As mentioned above, the whole thing will not fall in one fell swoop.
I hope RR is wrong. But I am not betting on it.
That implies you're making some preparations. Do share those…
"Building nuclear power plants takes decades and massive amounts of materials."
Many nuke plants have been built in 5 years from concrete pout to making electricity. The amount of concrete and rebar is about the same as wind and solar on a per unit of capacity basis. Also consider that power plants last for 100 years.
I am very optimistic the energy needed for a modern society can be maintained on a long term basis.
As Jeff points out, there is a question of timing. I am pessimistic that we can maintain the energy infrastructure to avoid short term crisis. Nobody wants to foot the bill for expensive new sources of energy until we short of cheap stuff.
Of all the electricity plants currently operating in the US that are over 100 years old, all except maybe one of them is a hydropower plant. The oldest operating commercial nuclear power plant in the US has been operating for just over 40 years, with a license to go another 20 years. Westinghouse says in its brochure for the AP1000 reactor that "The plant has a design life of 60 years based on the service life of the reactor vessel.
Areva reactors also are advertised to have a 60 year service life. I don't see why we should presume one will generate electricity for 100 years. But it will be nice if they do.
"The market … does not know how to plan for the future. And it has no interest in taking care of the "commons" or in anysort of public policy."
Does the Political Class know how to plan for the future? Examples of far-sighted planning from politicians would be much appreciated — preferably from sometime after the end of the 18th Century.
BTW, the higher levels of CO2 are great for growing crops
So has Liebig's law of the minimum been repealed then? CO2 availability is not the limiting growth factor in any environment outside of a computer-controlled hydroponic greenhouse.
Clee, you forgot about eight nuclear reactors on the USS Enterprise with 50 years of service. The reason to presume that nukes might last 100 years is that there is no reason why they could not. One reason to scrape old power plants is that better technology comes along. The two-reactor Nimitz class has cores that will last the life of the ship.
The initial 40 year life of nuke plants was arbitrary. New reactors have a 60 year life because we know that the reactor vessel will last for 60 years based experience of existing plants. The industry is already looking down the road at 80 years.
The new Westinghouse and AREVA (French evolution of the Westinghouse design) designs are about 5% more efficient than existing nukes that have been upgraded. It was presumed 10 years ago that smaller 500 MWe nukes would not be economical after 40 years. This was before China stopped flooding the world market with slave labor cheap coal.
All of recorded human history is an endless cycle of over exploitation of local resources for a given level of technology, warfare, and societal collapse.
Replace the word local with global and you have today's situation.
The fossil record is absolutely rife with human beings bearing the scars of human on human violence. Read Constant Battles by Le Blanc.
There will be no protecting oneself or one's family when the next cycle arrives. The only hope is to break the cycle.
Just watched a really good, but really depressing video.
Kit P wrote: consider that power plants last for 100 years.
Clee wrote: The oldest operating commercial nuclear power plant in the US has been operating for just over 40 years, with a license to go another 20 years. … reactors are advertised to have a 60 year service life. I don't see why we should presume one will generate electricity for 100 years.
Kit wrote: Clee, you forgot about eight nuclear reactors on the USS Enterprise with 50 years of service. The reason to presume that nukes might last 100 years is that there is no reason why they could not.
Since the USS Enterprise is a navy ship, I did not include its reactors as a commercial nuclear power plant. I don't expect navy ships to connect up their reactors to power the US electricity grid. As the USS Enterprise CVN-65 was commissioned in 1961 and is scheduled to be decommissioned in 2014 or 2015, allegedly because of its aging reactors, it will not be operating for 100 years. It might not even reach 60 years. Apparently the navy is asking for it to be decommissioned even earlier.
I have no problem presuming that nuclear plants might last 100 years. I think it's premature to presume that they will, when they are scheduled to be decommissioned long before then.
“when they are scheduled to be decommissioned long before then.”
That is the incorrect presumption. There is a schedule to review operating license for 60 years and research for lasting 80 years. No operator of the 104 US nukes have scheduled decommissioned.
For the sake of argument, if reactor vessel embrittlement limits the life of the plant; is it cheaper to replace the reactor vessel or build a new plant? Large components like reactor vessel heads and steam generators are routinely replaced in as little as two months.
Then it seems you might as well have said "consider that power plants last for 10,000 years." No reason why they couldn't, since they can always replace all the parts.
You are being silly Clee, I would not make a prediction of 10,000 years without better data.
The environmental impact attributed to the material of constriction is divided by the number of years of service. Nuke plants like all other energy projects use lots of concrete which lasts a long time. There are lots of 100 year old structures that are as functional as the day they were built.
Clee is confusing arbitrary government restrictions for permission to do something that affects the public with the ability to do something. I just renewed my driver’s license by mail. Apparently, I have not given the authorities any reason to doubt my ability to drive.
So far, the NRC has approved every request for a 20 year license renewable. If there is an engineering reason not to renew the license two more times, it has not been found.
I should not have said 10,000 years. I was thinking of the Egyptian pyramids, but those are stone, rather than concrete, like the 1,800 year old dome of the Pantheon's Rotunda. But then, that's a different kind of concrete.
I believe in the arbitrariness of government restrictions, the fickleness of public opinion, and the reality of whatever circumstances caused dozens of commercial US nuclear reactors to have shut down before reaching 40 years. Their average service was about 15 years.
None have proven to have surpassed 60 years. It remains speculative that any will reach 100. I accept your "might" as correct and consider the earlier unqualified statement as rhetoric.
“speculative and unqualified”
Clee you do know that discussing the future is speculative and there is no qual card for speculation? When folks disagree with my speculation by demonstration a lack of understanding of the present situation, I tend to discount their criticism. I could not get your Clee’s loink but did find this link:
“When Do Commercial Reactors Permanently Shut Down?”
“last three commercial reactors closed in the United States were Zion 1 and 2 and Millstone 1.”
Clearly making statements about the future is speculation. Clee’s statements about the present is incorrect. He has not provided a list of plants to schedule to shut down. While he believes NRC regulations are arbitrary, they are published in 10CFR20, 50. Nothing arbitrary there. The reason for the last three US nukes had nothing to do with regulations or public opinion.
I have provided the basis for my speculation based on the lat 10 years. Clee is using out of date information. In 1998 things were different, in 2009 it looks like the 104 nuke plants in the US will operatie for 100 years.
All of recorded human history is an endless cycle of over exploitation of local resources for a given level of technology, warfare, and societal collapse.
Affraid I can't agree LESS, Russ.
To me human history (and current news) suggests the collapse is typically triggered by bad political leadership, or lack of leadership. You know, Zimbabwe, Somalia, Sudan, Iran, Afganistan, Pakistan, etc. etc. And let's not start with some US prostitutians…
Resource limitations seems like a minor side-effect, by comparison.
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