Forgive me if this has been discussed elsewhere, and if it has, please point me to the thread. I did a search on “Peak Oil” and came up empty.
Peak Oil is the very plausible idea that we are at or near the peak of global oil production. It supported by a lot of data, and dovetails with the fact that most nations have already peaked. The United States, for instance, hit peak oil production in the early 70s, which is why we are an oil importer. Global peak oil discovery was in 1964. A number of geologists and people in the oil industry think we will hit peak in this decade, if we haven’t already. After that, oil production will decline yearly, at a time when demand for oil will be greater than ever.
The general thought seems to be that when oil is in decline, the marketplace, or inventors, or the government, or somebody, will come up with something to replace oil. Most people, if they think about it at all, assume that some combination of solar, hydrogen, wind, biomass, nuclear and the like will replace oil (and natural gas, which is also in depletion).
Unfortunately, these assumptions do not seem to make any sense at all, from the information I have been able to discover. You are not going to run a fleet of cars and trucks on windmills or solar panels. Nor, President Bush notwithstanding, are you going to do this on hydrogen, either. Hydrogen is an energy carrier, not an energy source. And to use hydrogen, you’d have to replace, probably at a cost of scores if not hundreds of billions of dollars, our existing infrastructure of pipelines, delivery vehicles, service stations and the like, which are totally unsuited to hydrogen. Furthermore, those who think we can just “switch inputs” from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources usually fail to grasp that making the components of stuff like high-tech windmills and solar panels requires a robust fossil-fuel infrastructure which, if Peak Oil is right, is not going to exist a few decades hence.
There are tar sands and oil shale and the like that can be exploited, but the cost of extraction is so high that it may not be worth the effort. We could return to coal, at the price of producing vast new quantities of greenhouse gases, and with the proviso that coal, like oil, is limited. We don’t know how much extractable coal remains. All of these problems are compounded by the fact that the demand for fossil fuels is at a record high and soaring. The economies of China and India alone will need vast new fossil fuel inputs just to sustain (never mind grow) their current economies.
I realize that this is a forum of skeptics, and there seem to be a fair number of scientists hanging about, so I am hoping that someone can debunk Peak Oil — show that oil really isn’t at or near peak, despite what seems to be a preponderance of evidence that it is; or else show that there is some plausible scenario under which we can account for more than a fraction of our current energy needs with alternative energy sources. Because if Peak Oil is true, and if alternative energy sources don’t scale to support industrial high-tech society, then in a few decades we are not going to be marveling at Rovers on Mars or anticipating the construction of the next great space telescope or sending astronauts back to the moon and beyond. Instead, we are going to be struggling to feed ourselves in a post-industrial world. Comments are welcome.