>Richard Heinberg
>The Coming Energy Famine
>Richard Heinberg is the author of six books including The Party's Over: Oil,
>War and the Fate of Industrial Societies (New Society, 2003), and Powerdown:
>Options and Actions for a Post-Carbon World (New Society, 2004). He is a
>journalist, educator, editor, lecturer, and a Core Faculty member of New
>College of California, where he teaches a program on "Culture, Ecology and
>Sustainable Community." His monthly MuseLetter (www.museletter.com),
>was nominated in 1994 for an Alternative Press Award and has been included
>in Utne Reader's annual list of Best Alternative Newsletters. His essays and
>articles have appeared in many journals including Z Magazine, The Futurist,
>Earth Island Journal, Wild Matters, Alternative Press Review, and The Sun.
>Richard will discuss his latest book, Powerdown: Options and Actions for a
>Post-Carbon World, an analysis of the options available to a civilization
>facing resource depletion, biosphere collapse, and financial insolvency.
Richard began his talk by showing us a chart of energy sources for the US economy vs. time from about 1850 to the present. Back in the Civil War time frame, most of the energy used was provided by domestic animals, maybe a fifth of it was provided by human beings, and the rest (less than 20%) was provided by burning fuels. Since then the situation has changed to the point where almost all of the energy we use is provided by consuming fuels. Not only that, but the fuels have gone from being wood and whale oil to rock oil (the literal translation of the Latin petroleum) because whale oil was becoming a depleted resource.

He then explained that there is usually a forty or fifty year time lag from the time from the time a country's oil discovery peaks to the time its production peaks. He gave the example of the Lower 48 States of the USA, where oil discovery peaked in the 1930s and oil production peaked in the 1970s. Showing us the graph, he pointed out that the numbers it came from the US Government, an authority that is usually fairly on reliable when it's talking about what has already happened.

He then pointed out that figuring out the global picture is a little more difficult. One reason is that many countries tend to overstate their proven reserves. He pointed out that there is no Global Energy Resources Board that goes around and sticks a dipstick in the ground to check the supply situation out in places like Saudi Arabia. However, his best guess is that global oil production will probably peak in or near the 2007 time frame.

Then he showed that a similar kind of fall in production is likely to happen in natural gas supply, except that the falloff in supply will be much steeper and peak production may already be behind us for that fuel.

As evidence that we may really be dealing with a supply issue, he showed us a chart of wildcat well drilling vs. time superimposed on a chart of oil well discovery. For a few years after US production peaked a huge number of wildcat wells were drilled, but the oil companies stopped doing that after it proved to not be cost effective. Richard showed last year as an example, where they invested $8 billion in exploration, but found $4 billion in new reserves.

Heinberg is unconvinced that some of the technohype solutions on the horizon will work. He pointed out that old fashioned car batteries give you better energy storage efficiency than Hydrogen. Most of the available hydropower resources in the USA have already been developed. He recommends using less energy. We need to be careful about getting more energy from wood because while it is a renewable resource it is also a depletable resource. He showed us a pie chart of American energy resources, and at least 3/4 of our current consumption comes from oil, coal, and natural gas. Reasoning from there, he thinks we need to figure out a per capita lifestyle that uses a quarter of the energy we now consume.

During Q&A a number of other points were discussed:

Solar power is a good part of the solution, but we are having difficulty getting them because a lot of the worlds production is being bought by Germany and Japan at this point in time. Heinberg thinks that one of the good things about getting solar is you learn that there are large investments required in the energy industry.

Wind power is also a good alternative. Germany is currently the world leader in wind, and they have concluded that the intermittent nature of the supply makes it imprudent to rely on it for more than 20% of supply.

After the fossil fuel wave has passed, the best place to live is probably somewhere with a mellow climate and not much in the way of natural resources. The problem with natural resources is that greedy foreigners have a tendency to come fight for them.

Tian Harter