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So - what happens when we run out of oil?

 
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The other day I got to chatting with my Dad about a few different predictions about climate change, etc. He mentioned that it isn't even so much climate change that he was concerned about, and we started talking about crude oil. He mentioned to me that one single barrel of crude oil has the equivalent of about 4.5 YEARS worth of man-hours, labor wise. That's insane. I looked online and that's about comparable to some of the calculations I've seen (people are doing variations based on fitness & health levels of the supposed man, etc but it's pretty accurate).

I think we all know that oil is a finite, and non-renewable resource. I just didn't realize we were so close to running out. He'd recommended the book "The Long Emergency" which I have been reading and honestly I'm kinda blown away. it is a pretty big history lesson of oil usage, etc and what it means for our future, because we WILL run out. I haven't finished it yet but I've come to realize that we will probably reach the zero-gain point of oil very soon (where it takes more energy to produce a barrel of oil than the energy it provides) and then at which point, what do we do?

We don't have an adequate substitute for oil just yet. We have a few potentials, and maybe some things that will work on a small scale, but nothing on a big scale. When we run out of oil, we'll most likely go back to pre-1900s levels in terms of tech, at least temporarily. (I say that just because that's where we were before oil) Oil lamps, gas stuff, steam powered, etc. At least until humans can find an adequate substitute for oil. Even the renewable power sources like solar, etc. are currently reliant on oil for their components, both in materials and power to produce the parts themselves. So if you're set up, great - until the parts break and you can't get more.

I would be surprised if we didn't run out of oil before 2030. So then what? Or maybe Elon Musk really IS Tony Stark and will come up with an arc reactor or some sort of energy that is comparable right at the last minute?

I dunno, I would assume a massive economic crash, followed by a massive amount of die-off because our population is probably about 6-7 times what it could support without oil, not to mention any diseases that might arise out of it. And THEN all the "people in charge" will take things seriously and put some effort into finding a replacement, instead of playing "kick the can" the way they all have been doing so far. Or would they?

What would life look like for the people who are left? How long would it take before civilization would sorta somewhat recover? Or would it ever?
 
pollinator
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While life with no oil is an interesting question, we will not run out any time soon, and I mean 100 years type of soon. What will happen is the price will start to rise as recovery costs go up, which will cause a natural weaning off of the substance. for specialist plastics etc that are valuable we will never get to the stage of running out. It simply becomes harder and harder to extract and therefore the price will increase. We would also start using lower quality oils/tars that at present do not make economic sense to utilise, often due to sulphur content or degradation. Remember that all that talk about "reserves" is basically lies. a oil reserve is a self reported amount that the oil company thinks is in their reservoirs AND is economically extractable with current technology and pricing. it is often not even half of the actual volume of oil calculated to be present.

As to non renewable geologically speaking oil is renewable, we do not know how long it takes to fill a reservoir estimates range from 100 years to a million years. But what we do know is that some reservoirs are refilling as we empty them, so even 1000 years in the future we will have oil, even if only in truly small amounts.

As a thought experiment removing oil tomorrow is an interesting one. If we make an assumption that all hydrocarbons are gone (oil/gas/coal etc) then we end up with basically nothing. no food imports, no food storage no heating for millions, no medicines and a huge percentage of the developed world would die. given a short warning say 5 years fewer would die instantly but long term the population drop would probably be the same.

Death by starvation would be common, even with warning, many parts of the world, including all of western Europe have too many people to support if you take England for example there are 1.7 people for every acre of land, and of course not all that land is usable some is mountain/swamp etc. so even with advanced planning, tools seeds etc the population is simply unsustainable without mass food movement, which relies on oil.

I seem to remember that previous mass deaths have caused periods of cooling, so I suspect we would also enter a mini ice age which would kill even more up here in the north.
 
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With continued unhindered population growth, oil availability will be more of a steady decline rather than some Hollywood apocalyptic event.

There's actually more 'unconventional' reserves (those in tar sands, etc) than in 'conventional' reserves (wells). And, that doesn't count the hard to get/unknown/currently protected (arctic, Antarctica) resources, recovery technology e.g. Plastic recycling, garbage tip mining, synthesised oils.

Industry and military establishments will probably lead change - the big users like air, sea and rail transport, and the big military countries. All the powerbrokers want the status quo to remain, so a resource war is unlikely ... as long as technology and R & D continues to evolve and gets funded.

I consider unbridled human population growth and habitat destruction to be this planets largest threats - clean water, air, and retention of viable soils.
 
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My thoughts mimic Skandi's, but I think Clean Coal will be the next big thing. The diesel engine was not invented by Rudolf Diesel to burn fuel oil, but rather coal dust. In that respect he utterly failed and why he took his own life by suicide, but a hundred years later we have technology that could make it work.

I say coal because we have so much of it.

Back in 2000 I visited the Black Thunder Coal Mine in Wyoming, and asked the guy giving us the tour how long the coal would last. He said that particular coal seem went from Wyoming all the way through Montana and into Canada, he said at the rate they were extracting it, it would last another 400 years, but there is enough coal in North Dakota alone to last another 300 years, and we still have not talked about the coal in Ohio, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New Brunswick, Antarctica….

As solar, wind, nuclear, and other forms of power and energy get developed, it just makes peak oil be extended that much farther out. I mean just the fuel economies they have placed on cars has reduced oil consumption so greatly in this country.

I am 45 years old, and I can go back through the decades and remember the great scares we have been told about through the years, and none of it has come to fruition. I know a lot of money can be made in fear, so as I get older, I grow less and less concerned about the media hype that develops. I mean the person that is screaming about the environmental impact the most, has a $5000 a month electric bill....that person does not seem to concerned.
 
Travis Johnson
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I just did a little math, and this is what I came up with...

If a barrel of oil is equal to 4.5 years of human hand work, that means 1 gallon of oil equates to 214 hours of human work.

I average 175 gallons of fuel consumption per year for my tractors...farm tractor, skidder, bulldozers, etc...so that is the equivalent of 37,500 hours of manual labor.

That would equate to that consumed fuel saving me 19 years worth of hand labor per year, or put another way, from me having to hire 19 different people to work on my farm, to do the same amount of work. This is actually historically accurate because in 1930, my Great-Grandfather had 14 teams of horses and their teamsters he kept busy on this farm, so add in some laborers not working with horses, and the numbers cited do really seem to be accurate to how my farm was operated years ago.

In real world numbers, that would mean, 19 people would spend more money on fuel commuting to my farm to work in one month, then I consume in fuel for my tractors for the whole year. More importantly, it saves me the headaches of having to try and manage a farm crew of 19 people like more poor Great Grandfather had to do. With people, come their problems too.

But I am not saying any of my tractors are efficient. My skidder is a 2 stroke diesel so it consumes an incredible amount of fuel. And my bulldozer is way too slow to be efficient at anything it does. And my Kubota, it takes me 3 days to till a 10 acre field that our 9684 New Holland can do in 20 minutes. In fact, my Kubota takes about 3 gallons of fuel per acre, while the giant new Holland only take 3/4 of a gallon per acre. It is a huge tractor, but it can do so much more work.

So I guess now that I did some figuring, I do not feel too concerned about the 175 gallons of diesel fuel I burn every year farming as a one farmer farm.
SDC10580.JPG
Blue Tractor is 4 times more effecient then the Kubota tractor
Blue Tractor is 4 times more effecient then the Kubota tractor
 
pollinator
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F Agricola wrote:

I consider unbridled human population growth and habitat destruction to be this planets largest threats - clean water, air, and retention of viable soils.



I agree.  I used to be a Peak Oil "doomer" which ruined my life for a time, but now I see oil decline as much less of a problem than climate change and biosphere collapse.

And of course I think permaculture is the solution to these problems.

 
master gardener
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Tyler Ludens wrote:

F Agricola wrote:

I consider unbridled human population growth and habitat destruction to be this planets largest threats - clean water, air, and retention of viable soils.



I agree.  I used to be a Peak Oil "doomer" which ruined my life for a time, but now I see oil decline as much less of a problem than climate change and biosphere collapse.

And of course I think permaculture is the solution to these problems.



Yup....that's why I hope that most of us are here....work smarter not harder.  I think it comes down to the value systems people hold in their mental models.  The way I've come to see things, people think they live in the real world, but they live in a model running in their brain that dramatically limits them.  An example, I think trees are the highest lifeform on Earth and I think a tree is about 100,000x more awesome than a car and I choose to live in an opening in a gorgeous forest.  My neighbor loves cars and he has almost no trees (a few survive on the edges of his land).  He has probably about 8 cars in various states of functionality.  He lives surrounded by a large lawn he has to mow with a touch of junk yard ambiance.  He tells me I should cut down my trees to help keep the biting bug population down.  I stare at him blankly.  My land is covered with edibles and wildlife, his land looks like hell.   My neighbor uses a lot of oil to keep his land awful.  I do hand work and enjoy it all.  I suspect if oil left our lives and if people learned to appreciate how amazing nature works and mimic it then we would be much happier and live the lives we were made to live.  To me we are meant to live in a world that is like the garden of Eden.
 
pollinator
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There are new developments in this area every year, if not more frequently.

I recently read an article that described a project underway at MIT that has been successful in converting CO2 to a liquid fuel using sunlight and a catalyst. I shall try to find the article, which described the process better than ever I could. It may have been a hydrogen-based project, I do not remember exactly. But the jist of the matter is, simply put, that by recombining atmospheric elements in the presence of certain specifically designed catalysts, all powered by the sun, a zero-carbon fuel for internal combustion engines could be had. No drilling, refining, or distribution, just point-of-use generation, or point-of-sale, at any rate.

There are other materials chokepoints that will affect us more than fossil fuels, I think. We are currently experiencing an electronics boom. It's my opinion that the only way we are likely to get the raw materials for the escalating scale of technological development without ripping apart our own celestial spaceship is to mine the debris fields caught, like us, in the orbit of the sun.

We could catch Near Earth Objects as they pass, using solar sails and thruster technology of the past century to manoeuvre them into a stationary orbit behind our moon, where it could be mined. The low-gravity environment would require strenuous excercise to avoid atrophy, but that would be less of an issue for geriatric patient of a lunar hospital, who would otherwise be bedridden, or for the mobility impaired who could be trained to facilities and machines operation for the mining process.

That is really just an example of the type of ingenuity I think will be required to keep us from destroying our biosphere, but the specific example isn't without merit, I think.

So our shift to electric motors and engines needn't be so disastrous as all that. The development of small, modular Molten Salt Reactors for the processing of existing nuclear waste into energy should yield over a thousand years of electricity for the world at current consumption rates. We have enough plastic waste literally floating around that when we get around to filtering it from the oceans and incinerating it in high-temperature incinerators for energy, we'll have an energy glut.

And yes, we won't ever run out of oil. We'll just have more cost-effective means of producing the energy we need. We are resourceful creatures. When we can't burn tarsands for power anymore, they will become a source of high-cost synthetics, resultant of a clean process, and it will be wondered why it wasn't done that way in the first place.

And as to homestead adaptations in a post-oil world, I expect for vegetable oil-burning conversion kits to become popular, probably hybridised with electric implements and backup, such that an idling engine recoups its lost energy. I expect that modern derivations of wood and alternate biomass gasification will emerge, hopefully producing literal tonnes of clean char for composting and biochar production as a "waste" stream.

Unbridled human population growth is only a bad thing if we can't grow the size of our system. We have currently hit some barriers, and need to push out to the next frontier (not the final frontier, but I really wanted to say that).

Space mining, along with moving the earth's industry into orbit and the solar system, will benefit ecology on Earth, and give impetus to the colonisation of the Sol System.

I firmly believe that an Earth-based corollary to this is that colonisation of the sea floor, driven by sea floor-anchored vertical mariculture, is another outlet, literally for population, as well as for creativity in design and human adaptation. Undersea cities thriving from such undersea food production would employ more people in difficult and rewarding jobs and feed not just themselves, but the rest of the world, to replace destructive industrialised fishing and rebuild the ecology from the ground-up through regenerative practices and ethics.

There are many ways, and many possibilities, and many of those can coexist on the same planet at the same time. I suggest you read over David Holmgren's Future Scenarios. It's quite detailed, and provides many answers to the questions being asked.

-CK
 
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People tend to be resistant to new ideas, but once a narrative gets imbedded into the public conciousness, it stays there for quite a while, even after the narrative is no longer true (or maybe, when it is proven it never was true, a lot of old people won't eat butter, because margarine is healthier).  It took a long time to convince people we were in danger of overpopulation.  It took a long time to sell the gospel of environmentalism.  It took quite a while to really convince people that oil was a limited commodity.  Once we are convinced, we start to act and attack the boogyman, whatever the problem is.  Even when the boogyman is gone, we will still act like he's under the bed for a long time.

Realistically, we aren't going to run out of oil (meaning, we had oil last month, but now it's all gone, SURPRISE!).  As a commodity gets scarcer, the price goes up.  As the price goes up, people use less and less.  As it gets scarcer, we will wean ourselves off of oil and onto alternatives, reserving what is left for the most critical needs.  This will force us to use less energy.

In the short term, the US is relying on fracking right now.  This is the equivalent of going through the mine tailings after the mine has been worked out to get what ore was overlooked.  We have lots of 'tailings' so right now we are good, short term.  I think fracking is risky because oil is held in place by an impermeable layer of rock (shale or clay) that keeps it from migrating upward.  (water underneath forces it to rise because it's lighter than oil).  If in the course of your fracking you break that impermeable layer, the oil will migrate up and contaminate your aquafers above the oil.  Most of our oil is deep and depending on the permeability and the size of the fracture, it takes a while for the oil to migrate, so you might not see the contamination for several years or decades after the fracking or you might see it in a few days.

Slightly longer term, the US has more oil reserves in oil shale in the west than there are in the entire middle east.  We won't run out soon, but it's a more expensive and evironmentally damaging process, which is why we currently leave it mostly alone.  If prices go up enough though, we'll go for it.  An easier target is switching over to natural gas.

As far as overpopulation, I think that is going away.  Europe is in the middle of the 'white death' (kind of like the black death, but slower and less visible) as the europeans die off and aren't replaced by their children.  They are well below replacement levels and have been forced to import their replacement population.  Same with the US, although we don't talk about it much.  According to the US Census data, the US has been well below replacement levels since the early 70's.  The reason our population has grown is because of massive immigration.  That is also why there has been a dramatic ethnic shift.  (2.1 is the usual number quoted for 0 population growth, the only major group in the US to go above that is newly arrived Hispanics, Blacks are about 2.0, Whites are about 1.5).  A couple of years ago Mexico reached 0% population growth.  The population growth in Africa is falling.   I think in a few generations we may eventually see developed countries competing for immigrants as they don't replace their populations and the third world population bombs fizzle.

I think a more immediate and longer term problem is probably rising expectations.  As the third world becomes richer, they start using more energy.  They eat more meat.  They live in smaller households (several people living in a single house use fewer resources than the same number in several houses).  They drive more cars, use more electricity, etc.  That isn't going away.  The third world countries look at the richer countries and say, (quite reasonably), if you can do this, so can we.  You may have cleaned up your environment now, but you really screwed it up when you were in your development phase.  Now it's our turn!  

People get all wound up about plastics in the ocean.  The overwhelming majority is coming out of Asia.   If you want to talk about air pollution, check out Mexico City or Peking.




 
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Bethany,

I did my history masters program largely specializing on the history of energy, particularly the history of oil.  I am just old enough to vaguely remember the 70s oil shocks and for quite a time I, like yourself earnestly believed that we were rapidly running out of oil.  To be more specific, I believed (because I was told) that we had approximately 30 years of oil left before we could no longer maintain enough supply to meet demand and shortly after, oil production would cease entirely.  I even saw evidence of us running out of oil by seeing many abandoned, unused pump jacks in severe disrepair from oil wells I assumed were pumped dry.

All of the preceding paragraph is a commonly held assumption, and as I discovered during my masters research is fundamentally flawed.  This actually kinda hurt at first because it upended so many preconceptions I held.  But I will start with the first, that we have, that being a 30 year supply left.  What I found in my research was a basic phenomenon that dated to the first modern well drilled in Pennsylvania with something resembling a modern oil derrick.  It dug about 50 feet deep and hit oil that then flowed out of the ground by the pressure of trapped natural gas.  At first the oil flowed vigorously, then moderately and eventually it just barely bubbled out.  After this point it had to be pumped to get any.  At that point, those drilling for oil had a sort of depression set in and they (without any concrete reason whatsoever) assumed that the oil well would only last another 30 years.  This cycle repeated itself over and over countless times and remarkably the assumption was strikingly consistent, after oil stopped flowing out of the ground by its own pressure, it would only have 30 years of oil left at which point it would be empty.

Ironically, the 30 year timeline stuck and we have been perpetually 30 years from oil exhaustion for about 140 years.  To boot, despite my exhaustive research, I could find not one well that that actually ran dry.  Many became uneconomical to produce, but much of this had to do with the highly volatile nature of the price of oil.  Further, reserves of oil have only increased, even as consumption increased.  In fact, today we have more oil reserves than ever before in history.  Oil is increasingly being found in places where none was expected earlier or was thought to be unreachable.

All of this was rather shocking to me, but I eventually realized that all of my earlier assumptions about oil scarcity were fundamentally wrong.  Please don’t take this as meaning that I support or am oblivious to the dangers of oil.  For me it meant that I had to re-conceptualize how we could make the world no longer dependent on oil & coal.

Even harder to accept was my unbridled faith in solar and wind energy production.  I am not anti-wind/solar, but even after many billions of dollars (in the Obama administration, over 100 billion dollars was spent on wind and solar projects,  Germany spent even more), these two sources of energy produce only a tiny percentage of total energy use.  Strangely, nuclear has better economics, a better footprint and has fewer emissions and greater supply than wind and solar, though this is an unpopular opinion and I make this statement not to convince, merely pointing out what I found in my research.

Bethany,  again, I am not trying to be argumentative.  But the idea that we will run out of oil by 2030 is simply not supported by facts or experience.  Truth be told, I have no idea how much oil is left and while it is indeed a finite resource, it is a surprisingly vast resource.  These conclusions still rattle my brain as it contradicts what I had been told my entire life.

Eric
 
Skandi Rogers
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Eric Hanson wrote:Bethany,

But the idea that we will run out of oil by 2030 is simply not supported by facts or experience.  Truth be told, I have no idea how much oil is left and while it is indeed a finite resource, it is a surprisingly vast resource.  These conclusions still rattle my brain as it contradicts what I had been told my entire life.

Eric



You don't know because no one knows, yes the discovery of new fields is slowing down, but recovery rates are rising hugely with improvements in drilling, imaging and injection techniques. So whereas a field when first  discovered was thought to have a maximum possible recovery of say 40% that is now higher sometimes up to 80% obviously that impacts reserves and also means that fields that have been shut for many years can be successfully re-drilled.  Greed is as always an issue, extracting oil to fast can cause issues and reduce the amount that it is possible to remove. but finance companies want 10billion in 5 years not 15 billion in 10. I should also add that my post is written as someone with a Masters in Petroleum geology, so I do have some idea of what I am talking about and am not trying to sell scare books.
 
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Any time I am confronted with news about something terrible looming on the horizon, I ask myself the same question.  Is there something I can do differently that will help alleviate the issue?  If there is something I can do that will help, I try to implement that.  I've done it with any number of things in my life, adopting organic and permaculture practices, adding insulation to buildings that need to be heated, cutting back on unnecessary electricity usage, installing wood stoves to cut down on LP use, and on and on.  If, on the other hand, there isn't really anything I can do, I promptly forget about it and move on.  In this case, I'm already building resilience into my various systems as well as I can, and trying to use gas and oil as efficiently as possible, so if we run out of oil, I'll worry about it then.  I have food, water, shelter covered, so I'm less concerned than I would be if I didn't have those things covered.  Beyond that, worrying about running out of oil would just add stress, and no benefit.
 
Eric Hanson
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Skandi,

Actually I was largely supportive of your earlier post.  I hope I did not come off otherwise.

One fact I remembered from my research was that any given 30-year prediction of the end of oil, by the time 30 years had passed, not only had oil consumption for the 30 previous years dramatically exceeded the previous estimates of oil left, but the future reserves were vastly larger than the previous estimates.

In one particularly dramatic example, the CIA, in the early 80s, wrote a memo to the White House stating that there was at best 7 years of oil left on earth and that the United States should take immediate steps to secure as much of that supply as possible.  The note was never taken seriously—for good reason, but it highlights the tendency to drastically underestimate the amount of oil left on earth.

And you are absolutely correct, no-one knows how much oil is left.  I am pleased that your science-related knowledge essentially backs my history oriented research.

Eric
 
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I doubt we run out. They're constantly drilling and then stopping around here depending on the price. We have oil, we just don't have the financial incentive for these big companies to drill it up.
 
Bethany Dutch
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Great discussion, thank you everyone! I would agree that we aren't going to "run out" in the sense that it would be truly gone, although it makes sense to me that there would be a point where it is so difficult to produce since all the "easy" oil has already been extracted, that it isn't worth it except for some high end stuff. In other words, it would be hardly worth extracting if it takes two barrels' worth of energy to extract one barrel of oil.

Ideally, by the time that happens, we will have already figured out a substitute or replacement, I'm just not sure if that would end up happening. Everything I've ever heard about alternate power is that it takes more power to produce the components than they produce in their lifetime although our technology does improve exponentially so it would make sense that at some point, we'd find a way around that.

However, I'm definitely not educated on this and that's why I posted, I always get such a wide variety of opinions and thoughts here.

I'm already working on being as self sufficient on my homestead as I can, this is just one more scenario that I thought about. Was off grid for years but finally put grid power in this summer and love having it! But still this is one more reason why I ought to probably have some un-powered backups for things, etc.
 
Bethany Dutch
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Chris Kott wrote:

There are many ways, and many possibilities, and many of those can coexist on the same planet at the same time. I suggest you read over David Holmgren's Future Scenarios. It's quite detailed, and provides many answers to the questions being asked.

-CK



Thank you for the rec! I will definitely check it out.
 
Travis Johnson
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And do not forget, there is a lot of oil that is just off-limits to get. Maine has lots of oil off its coast, but they are not allowed to drill there. It is the same with Antarctica...lots of oil.

When I worked for the shipyard building US Navy Destroyers we had a saying; "With a stroke of the pen, we have jobs, and with a stroke of the pen, we lose jobs."

It is the same with oil. In a stroke of the pen oil starts being pumped out of the Gulf of Maine. It really is that easy

But the great thing is, while we may have lost of oil still, it does not mean we should not be conservative. I have plenty of wood, but that does not mean I am not going to put insulation in my house. It just makes sense to conserve what I do have, so solar, wind, geothermal...all these things are good. It allows us to have oil for the stuff that cannot readily be replaced. Sure, I would love to have a nuclear power tractor, but that is not likely, nor a solar powered tractor at this point either, but as I showed, 175 gallons of fuel consumed per year is reasonable for the work accomplished. 800 gallons of propane to heat my house when I have wood, is not.
 
Mick Fisch
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I read the other day that one of the biggest mistakes people make is thinking that things are actually planned.  Here is a poem to illustrate the point,

The Calf-Path
Sam Foss


One day through the primeval wood
A calf walked home as good calves should;

But made a trail all bent askew,
A crooked trail as all calves do.

Since then three hundred years have fled,
And I infer the calf is dead.

But still he left behind his trail,
And thereby hangs my moral tale.

The trail was taken up next day,
By a lone dog that passed that way;

And then a wise bell-wether sheep
Pursued the trail o'er vale and steep,

And drew the flock behind him, too,
As good bell-wethers always do.

And from that day, o'er hill and glade.
Through those old woods a path was made.

And many men wound in and out,
And dodged, and turned, and bent about,

And uttered words of righteous wrath,
Because 'twas such a crooked path;

But still they followed—do not laugh—
The first migrations of that calf,

And through this winding wood-way stalked
Because he wobbled when he walked.

This forest path became a lane,
that bent and turned and turned again;

This crooked lane became a road,
Where many a poor horse with his load

Toiled on beneath the burning sun,
And traveled some three miles in one.

And thus a century and a half
They trod the footsteps of that calf.

The years passed on in swiftness fleet,
The road became a village street;

And this, before men were aware,
A city's crowded thoroughfare.

And soon the central street was this
Of a renowned metropolis;

And men two centuries and a half,
Trod in the footsteps of that calf.

Each day a hundred thousand rout
Followed the zigzag calf about

And o'er his crooked journey went
The traffic of a continent.

A Hundred thousand men were led,
By one calf near three centuries dead.

They followed still his crooked way,
And lost one hundred years a day;

For thus such reverence is lent,
To well established precedent.

A moral lesson this might teach
Were I ordained and called to preach;

For men are prone to go it blind
Along the calf-paths of the mind,

And work away from sun to sun,
To do what other men have done.

They follow in the beaten track,
And out and in, and forth and back,

And still their devious course pursue,
To keep the path that others do.

They keep the path a sacred groove,
Along which all their lives they move.

But how the wise old wood gods laugh,
Who saw the first primeval calf.

Ah, many things this tale might teach—
But I am not ordained to preach.

To reduce our dependance on oil, we need to reduce our energy footprint.  The problem is largely systemic because of poorly designed systems (cities, neighborhood, transportation, etc).  Even if I do what I can, if I live 30-60 miles from my work (an hour isn't seen as an unreasonable commute in many areas), I've using a huge amount of energy just moving myself around.  Public transportation works well, as long as everyone is crammed into a small area, it's problematic at best when you get out of the city.  The biggest obstacle I see to our reducing our energy footprint is the layout of suburbs, towns and cities.  It's just a long way from point A to point B on foot or even on a bike.  We have arranged things in ways that looked OK at the time, but created problems later. (I'm talking in the USA, I don't have much experience elsewhere).  Changing that will take some real work.  I'm guessing that as areas become less and less valuable, they will eventually be rebuilt and hopefully redesigned better with affordable housing near work, stores and food production.  Back when people were using a horse and buggy, 10 miles was pretty much an all day trip, so things needed to be close.  This will require more, but smaller businesses.
 
Skandi Rogers
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Mick Fisch wrote:
To reduce our dependance on oil, we need to reduce our energy footprint.  The problem is largely systemic because of poorly designed systems (cities, neighborhood, transportation, etc).  Even if I do what I can, if I live 30-60 miles from my work (an hour isn't seen as an unreasonable commute in many areas), I've using a huge amount of energy just moving myself around.  Public transportation works well, as long as everyone is crammed into a small area, it's problematic at best when you get out of the city.  The biggest obstacle I see to our reducing our energy footprint is the layout of suburbs, towns and cities.  It's just a long way from point A to point B on foot or even on a bike.  We have arranged things in ways that looked OK at the time, but created problems later. (I'm talking in the USA, I don't have much experience elsewhere).  Changing that will take some real work.  I'm guessing that as areas become less and less valuable, they will eventually be rebuilt and hopefully redesigned better with affordable housing near work, stores and food production.  Back when people were using a horse and buggy, 10 miles was pretty much an all day trip, so things needed to be close.  This will require more, but smaller businesses.



This actually will become an issue quite soon in Europe I think, cars are getting out of range for the poorest people so they have to live close to their work, but there are only so many cheap housing options close to places of work, and as you point out outside of cities public transport is limited at best and in many places non existent. The solution may well be a return to tiny back to back terraces or more modern highrise buildings round large places of employment, I do not look forward to a return to the 1800's but with many jobs being automated away who knows what will happen.
 
gardener
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What's old is new again street lights run off of sewer gas in the old days and now biogas digesters. There is going to be change but with change adaptation occurs and opportunities. It's not going to be the same it can be better, time for me to get busy I only have 362 days left of opportunities and innovations in 2020.
 
pollinator
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Some perspective on the peak oil problem: It's not a simple matter of supply, but a more complex issue which (fortunately) can be distilled down to the ratio of energy return on energy invested. EROEI is the shorthand acronym for this concept and it expresses the amount of energy we need to use in order to produce and deliver a quantity of energy to power our demands. Since oil is the biggest piece of the present-day energy mix globally, we can consider how many barrels of oil (any common unit will do, like kWh) are needed to explore, drill, pump, transport, refine, transport further, and dispense every barrel into its destination (which will be some form of combustion...we'll get to that later).

An EROEI of 50:1 means that for each fifty barrels of oil ready to burn, you've used one barrel in all those other activities to reach that point. It's a margin, just like the profitability of a business. The higher the return, the easier it is to run the system: power all the energy demands and keep exploring, drilling and developing new reserves. And make profit, since energy companies are businesses, after all. As the EROEI goes down, you have less margin left over to do those things and when you hit the bottom of the barrel, the single digit ratios, you are faced with running your company at a loss or shutting down your cost centers. The problem industrial society faces is that we are "the company" and running at a loss is the same thing as starving, while shutting down exploration and development means announcing to everyone that we are done with oil.

Which we effectively are, but it's a long, slow and messy divorce.

We'll keep using the stuff, but at some point in the last decade we hit the point where we have burned more than half of all known reserves planet wide. That's only a small problem. The big one is that we've burned everything that was easy to get. Average EROEI of oil in the early days was far higher than it is now. A field like Spindletop, where you could poke a pipe into the ground and have a gusher on your hands, would produce at an EROEI of 100:1 or better. When the US oil industry was at its peak production in the 1970s, the figure was around 25:1. Now the US average, including fracking and unconventional liquids like condensates, is below 10:1. Worldwide, the figure has probably slipped below 15:1, but it's hard to know because many of the producers don't share their production costs willingly (among publicly traded companies the global figure was 18:1 in 2013).

The deeper we have to drill, the more shale we have to fracture, and the more tar sands we have to cook with natural gas, the more energy goes into all the activity. The researchers who have looked hard at the whole EROEI picture tend to agree that 7 is sort of a magic number, the lower limit for what our civilisation can tolerate. Beyond that, we go into catabolic decline, like a cheetah watching a parade of wildebeest trotting by but too emaciated to give chase.

The fracking boom has bought us about a decade of reprieve from the cliff edge of supply, but it has come with its own cost. Ever wonder why the majors like Exxon-Mobil, BP, Shell, etc are not doing it? The simple reason is that with EROEI as low as 3:1 you will never get shareholders on board with the program. All the tight oil and gas plays have been financed by venture capital and this has blown up quite a bubble of debt, which is a road that the old-school industry could not go down. Someday fairly soon the hedge funds propping up the fracking industry will notice that the music has stopped and there are no chairs in the room.

On the combustion topic, since the greatest consumption of liquid fossil fuels is powering vehicles for transport, we need to consider the extra penalty imposed by inefficiency. The very best modern internal combustion engine still only delivers about 30% of the energy content of the fuel to the task of moving a car down the road.
 
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It feels that the doom and gloom version of peak oil and population collapse depends on a fairly simplified version of what's actually happening. As oil costs have risen in the last 20 years, other techniques like fracking has appeared, and I heard that the US for example has enough natural gas to last 300 years, and is exporting it as production has shot up past demand. While the cost of oil goes up perhaps governments/military use gets priority while consumer use migrates to other fuel sources. But I doubt anyone alive today will be around when we really start to run out of oil. I do expect many of us will be around when the long term contamination of ground water from the newest, poorly regulated extraction methods are discovered.

I forget if I read this in the book Radical Simplicity or somewhere else, that population growth is directly correlated to the education levels and human rights afforded to women of a particular area. As their rights and education increase, birth rates drop to neutral (2.1 ish)or below. So estimates that the world will reach 20 billion people in 50 years depends on keeping the developing world oppressed and uneducated, and getting total world population to drop (so that the average person has access to a fair share of the fixed world resources) could possibly be done through education and human rights. If the average couple had just 1 child, world population would drop by 50% in 100 years.

Climate change is certainly causing more severe weather patterns, so that may become the "whip" to convince rich countries to act faster, once it starts costing too much money to ignore. If a catastrophic calving event happens in Greenland or Antarctica and dumps enough ice to make ocean levels go up say 10-15 feet in a year or two instead of an inch a year, and destroys thousands of coastal cities, that would be a pretty big "whip". Sadly a lot of people live life from one emergency to the next, instead of making smaller course corrections before things get out of hand. We well may find out the hard way what will finally cause world-wide change.
 
pollinator
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Interesting posts, thanks to everyone.
I also think that the bigger problem is loss of biodiversity at the moment.

Regarding the "whip":
Just wanted to leave a link to an interesting article Scream - Crash - Boom which I read today:
https://www.nature.com/magazine-assets/d41586-019-02735-w/d41586-019-02735-w.pdf
 
Robert Ray
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I am curious to see what adaptations will occur. One thing that might be a blessing is the reduction of the production of plastics from oil. It's not going to happen in my lifetime but if and when it does what will it look like? Sailing container ships? Solar trains? Local food production? I have mentioned a friend before who is always preparing for the next disaster Y2K, Mayan calendar, Yukashima..... She was lamenting the success of my asparagus bed as it really started to produce. She explained to me that she never planted asparagus because she was never sure she would survive whatever the disaster de jour was to see if it would produce. Things are going to change peek over the fence, look around the corner, open a door, plant asparagus.
 
Skandi Rogers
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Robert Ray wrote:I She explained to me that she never planted asparagus because she was never sure she would survive whatever the disaster de jour was to see if it would produce.

Wow there is someone who is letting fear rule/ruin their life. Sure be prepared for whatever you think might happen, but still live life. I plant trees I don't expect to be alive when they mature, maybe someone else will cut them down maybe I will cut them down who knows, but I still plant them.
 
pollinator
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Robert Ray wrote:I am curious to see what adaptations will occur. One thing that might be a blessing is the reduction of the production of plastics from oil. It's not going to happen in my lifetime but if and when it does what will it look like?



All plastic waste could become new, high-quality plastic through advanced steam cracking

A research group at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, has developed an efficient process for breaking down any plastic waste to a molecular level. The resulting gases can then be transformed back into new plastics -- of the same quality as the original. The new process could transform today's plastic factories into recycling refineries, within the framework of their existing infrastructure.

 
Robert Ray
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They are also cracking plastics back into oils for fuel. It boggles my mind on just how much plastic goes through me into the waste stream. It's not that I'm not aware of it, you just can't get around it with current purchases. Convenience isn't neccessarily a good thing.  Self assessment of energy expended and affect on environment my EEAE should be how I look at things just as the energy companies use that EROEI for a guide. Quick google shows 4% of global oil goes to production of plastic and another 4% of oil is expended in making plastic, playing loose with those figures 10% of oil turns into plastic. Does that include synthetic fabrics? 63 million tons of synthetic fabric produced in 2015.  It is not just fuel that will disapear.
 
pollinator
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@Mick

> energy footprint... cities poorly designed

Sorta true. Any process or design can be reworked to gain efficiency - always room for improvement. But, there is a trade off that applies universally as far as I can tell: Greater efficiency --> less flexibility, less facility to adapt. And vise versa. This looks very significant to me, but my only best advice is a measly "moderation in all things". IOW, simply marking efficiency as the key to goodness does not look like a silver bullet - it comes with a price. And in this era of accelerating change, trading flexibility and adaptability for efficiency may actually be a bad idea.

@Bethany

> oil runs out

We hoi poloi get to live in hives and walk to work. People won't be able to afford to pick up and leave a bad situation. The cost of transportation will tie them to the land. The new era of serfs. Because of the demise of private transportation, the authorities will be able to gain almost total control of a person's location on this planet - to travel more than 10 miles a person will HAVE to use "public" or commercial transportation and this system has intrinsic choke points where everything "on board" can be monnitored and controlled. Human rights rides on the ability of individuals to tell their boss to piss off and then move on to some other place. Can't move, can't tell the Boss to take his job and...

THAT is what a huge rise in transportation costs will bring about.


Sorry, but it look to me like, if the cost of personal transportation rises to the point that essentially _all_ of us depend on "efficient" forms of mass transit, all roads lead to total population control.

Rufus

 
pollinator
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Bethany Dutch wrote:The other day I got to chatting with my Dad about a few different predictions about climate change, etc.

...


We don't have an adequate substitute for oil just yet. We have a few potentials, and maybe some things that will work on a small scale, but nothing on a big scale.

...

What would life look like for the people who are left? How long would it take before civilization would sorta somewhat recover? Or would it ever?




The Hubbard curve is a real thing : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hubbert_curve ,

If you'd like to look at a post petrol plan, look at  Jeremy Rifkin's  The third industrial revolution ( https://www.foet.org/books/the-third-industrial-revolution/ ) and zero marginal cost society https://thezeromarginalcostsociety.com/ .

Or read Paul Wheaton and Shawn Klassen-koop's building a better world in your back yard ( https://permies.com/w/better-world  )

...

Elan Musk forced the auto manufacturers to go electric by building a better car.  Trucks and farm tools are next.

...

Most of the arguments around "we can't without oil" or "an adequate substitute" is really PR from the involved industries.   A more correctly stated version might be "There is no adequate substitute that is cheaper, and is already done for you without any effort on your part... keep buying our oil!".  

...

Coal / gas and petrol.   it is currently cheaper to decom a coal plant and install wind power than to simply pay for coal shipments.    Gas power plants are being shut down and replaced with battery farms.  we are well on our way to the electrical systems being off petrochemicals.  The rest of it is a question of gumption and pricing rather than technology.  

...

For some insight into the entire collapse issue, one can look into the Seneca Effect / curve / trap. ( http://thesenecatrap.blogspot.com/ )


The short answer is diversify and understand where one is on the curve.

Note, we didn't run out of whale oil because we ran out of whales. We stopped killing whales when they got rare enough to be cost prohibitive compared to this new thing oozing out of the ground ( only some what true, but a good start) .
..


The scarcest thing about the end of oil isn't the oil.  It is the end of the Petro-Dollar.   This is _very_ important.  The USD is the defacto world currency, and the  US gets away with lots of shenanigans because it can just go and print more money when every other country in the world can't ( technically its more complicated than that... but not by much ).  


I can't tell you exactly what'll happen or how it'll go.   ( and with an Iranian conflict possibly rising up and blocking the straits of Hormuz
( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strait_of_Hormuz , maybe we'll find out about that sooner rather than later.  )   There are general responses and planning that we can individually do that will decrease the suffering around the time that it happens.  


e.g. Permaculture!    Gert doesn't much need to care too much about outside inputs ( https://permies.com/t/gert ) .    If everyone were Gert'n through life, we'd be much less effected by monetary system changes.



Way to long, sorry about that.






 
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Just adding this forthcoming article (dense read!) relevant to the discussion....doesn't appear to be behind a pay-wall that I can discern.  Let me know if the link does not allow you to read it.

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0921800919310067?fbclid=IwAR3Rr0qFCyjYQodEtSeqDatqjQnNlIHo2kLa0IaiZJKUkELDX4WrfHPJUO8#bib0745

Abstract
Our environment and economy are at a crossroads. This paper attempts a cohesive narrative on how human evolved behavior, money, energy, economy and the environment fit together. Humans strive for the same emotional state of our successful ancestors. In a resource rich environment, we coordinate in groups, corporations and nations, to maximize financial surplus, tethered to energy, tethered to carbon. At global scales, the emergent result of this combination is a mindless, energy hungry, CO2 emitting Superorganism. Under this dynamic we are now behaviorally ‘growth constrained’ and will use any means possible to avoid facing this reality. The farther we kick the can, the larger the disconnect between our financial and physical reality becomes. The moment of this recalibration will be a watershed time for our culture, but could also be the birth of a new ‘systems economics’. and resultant different ways of living. The next 30 years are the time to apply all we’ve learned during the past 30 years. We’ve arrived at a species level conversation.

--Ecological Economics, v169, March 2020, N.J. Hagens (auth.)
 
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Amusing anecdote:

In 1977, a time of dire peak oil concern,  my Alma Mater sponsored a symposium titled "What Happens When The Oil Runs Out?". The speakers included notables from industry (the CEO of Exxon), conservation (David Brower of Sierra Club), federal government (Walter Hickel, then U.S. Interior Secretary) and state government (Richard Lamm, then Colorado governor).

The gist of the speechifying amounted to this:
Exxon: "At current rates, the Hubbert curve says we'll run out around... here."
Hickel: "God will provide, we'll never run out!"
Brower: "Sure, we'll run out, but we don't have to run out quite so fast."
Lamm: "As supplies diminish, government will play an increasing role."

Afterwards, the floor was turned over to the audience for comments. The first commenter rather scathingly pointed out that not a single speaker had addressed the alleged topic of the symposium -- what happens when the oil runs out.
 
master pollinator
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Great topic to revive.  I have no doubt the oil will run out.  But, I doubt if it will be a specific point in time that is easily identified. Maybe the issue is ...runs out for who?  My point being is that in addition to the current strategic reserves, the government will add more to its stockpiles.  Major companies and individuals will keep their own reserves.  There will be an organized push toward electric vehicles ... maybe we are seeing that push now?  How will be know for certain?  Of course, the airline industry would be hit. Being a little cynical, I would watch out for electric combines harvesting corn, my imagination does not go so far to see electric planes.

That said, we may not especially notice when the oil runs out.  If any of "we" do notice, it will be the hard core deniers who insist a problem does not exist.



 
pollinator
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Lets just leave this here for people to enjoy music on this topic



As for when it is cost effective, oil was -$38 a barrel during this pandemic but still they charged us at the pump. They will milk us for all we are worth as long as possible.

Whenever I have mechanical trouble I look at what was done before industrialization. There is always a way to go. I keep saying I want a mule to go to and from town. I found out recently people did ride horses to town recently. Eventually I would like to get as off oil as possible.
 
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electric airplane.  anyone?
https://www.eviation.co
 
gardener & hugelmaster
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Sleek looking airplane & I love the concept. BUT Houston, we have a problem. There are no pitot or gyroscopic instruments shown. Not even a simple magnetic compass. That appears to be an all "glass cockpit" ... everything depends on electricity. Everything. On an electric airplane. What could possibly go wrong?
 
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Devin Lavign wrote:Lets just leave this here for people to enjoy music on this topic





That video was awesome!



Whenever I have mechanical trouble I look at what was done before industrialization. There is always a way to go. I keep saying I want a mule to go to and from town. I found out recently people did ride horses to town recently. Eventually I would like to get as off oil as possible.



Animals for transport brings with own ecological issues, but most predominately in urban areas.  You see, the accumulation of horse manure on the open country dirt roads is not an issue, because it's dispersed and has time to break down naturally.  However, the same thing occurring in Paris was the core reason that French Intensive gardening techniques (which are known as "square foot gardening" in the United States) were developed.  Not so much as a solution to a lack of food, but what to do with an over concentration of animal "waste" without needing to truck it out to a dumping site in the countryside.  So if a few people ride horses or mules into town now and then, there's no real problem; but if even half the number of current commuters do so, there's most certainly going to be an ecological distaster.

And sadly, battery powered cars aren't the solution either.  Because there's no battery chemistry yet known that can both hold the charge necessary to do the job AND doesn't involve massive mining operations on a scale not yet seen on the Earth.  Many of the 'rare earth' minerals necessary in current battery chemistries couldn't do it anyway, because there's not enough of them in the crust of the Earth in total, so we'd just swap one peak resource issue for another one in short order.

No, the age of happy motoring will simply have to come to an end, and humans need to find a new way of living that doesn't involve so much transit.

 
Eric Hanson
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Creighton,

You make some valid points.  When I was a history undergrad I was assigned an article about the introduction of the automobile to London.  Tempting as it is to view a petroleum resource dirty and therefore bad, by switching to gasoline the incidence of cholera and other diseases associated with untreated animal waste dropped to virtually nothing.  I am not trying to advocate for petroleum, just pointing out that countless tons of unprocessed horse manure had serious problems of its own, especially in urban confines.

The electric vehicle is another issue that has hidden problems.  Though it is true that modern electrical vehicles are pretty amazing and already have quite a few miles stored in their batteries, they too have issues.  

But the issue of lithium may not be the upper limit on advanced battery designs.  Right now there are some intriguing developments in Magnesium batteries which might actually hold a better charge than lithium due to their two electrons to give up to lithium's one electron.  Another possibility is an aluminum battery.  At this point the aluminum batteries that have been developed (though right now they are pretty much all one-off batteries, there is no mass production) have about the same energy density of a lithium battery, but it can be fully charged in just a matter of a few seconds (but I can only guess how hot that would get!).  This could really improve the effective range of the car as it takes quite some time (at a minimum something like 20 minutes) to fully charge a depleted lithium battery.  Getting charging times on the order of that of a gas fill up could really make an electrical vehicle practical for cross country travel.  The most exotic battery I know about is the graphene battery, but this is still in the hypothetical stage.  20 years ago I was certain that fuel cells would start replacing internal combustion engines, but that has not worked out easier, even though it has some very promising qualities.

My ultimate guess is that we don't ever really run out of petroleum, but the cost of extracting and refining that petroleum becomes more expensive than some exotic battery (or fuel cell, please a fuel cell) and we gradually shift to the electrical format for vehicle production.

Much of this is hypothetical but still in the realm of possibility.  It will be interesting to see how and when things work out.

Eric
 
Chris Kott
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Most oil interests nowadays are acting like they believe peak oil demand has already happened, and the decline is already underway.

I suspect that those who like to motor will find a workaround. I also think that, due to a drop-off in demand, we probably will never exhaust our reserves. It will just turn into a niche thing, like functional miniature internal combustion engine models.

I suspect that there will be a great rail revival, or at least I hope, with transportation shifted to move masses of goods to central rail depots, where electric trucks will move goods to final destinations, and probably not crossing more than half a city to do it.

I also suspect that some smart person will put two and two together and start making carbon fibre sheeting and structural materials out of the tarsands, with a view to constructing heavy-lift thermal solar electric cargo airships to replace ocean freight. They could be constructed to not require a landing crew or infrastructure, and travel at the same speed or better than ocean freighters, but in straight lines, through the air.

Or we could be wrong, and someone could genetically modify grapes or something to produce a squeezable ethanol as a protective reaction against frost. Even if they required collecting, crushing, and freezing to separate out the water, à la Apple Jack, it would still be a way internal combustion engines could be transformed to be carbon neutral, to stay with us longer than we thought possible without petroleum.

-CK
 
Anita Martin
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Location: Southern Germany
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I have to admit I know little of batteries and their environmental impact.

But I still would say that a more widespread use of bikes and e-bikes is more realistic than going back to horses. Bikes and cargo bikes are quite popular here although still not as much as in the Netherlands.
When you use as little support as necessary (or switch off the assistment altogether) and reload the battery with electricity sourced from renewable sources (wind, water, solar) you have a relatively low footprint. Of course you have to consider the initial input of possibly oil-based products or those made with fuel from oil.

Since I have an e-bike (pedelec) I can cover larger distances and it is less exhausting to haul home all grocery shopping (which I did with my normal bike before).
I bought the e-bike second hand so this gives me a better feeling about not adding too much to initial production.

Regarding horses:
I found it very interesting to read that before motorization about a third of the acreage here in Germany was dedicated to oat and similar fodder for the horses.
Today, we have vast fields of corn that are planted purely for energy production in biogas plants. They also would cover 1/3 of the acreage if they were to provide all energy.

Why I don't think this is fine?
Because today's corn fields are septical and receive fertilizers and pesticides, they do not have hedges and trees around and make the landscape and wildlife poorer.
And because people think it is fine to have "alternative" energy sources that way and they keep adding things that need electricity.
Don't get me started on all the things that could be avoided like streaming of TV series, electronic billboard displays (even our municipality added one: it is now working day and night, sucking energy), excessive air-conditioning, smart homes, electric whatevers...

As to the resource of oil apart from energy production (fuel) there are many important usages that can't be easily replaced (medical etc.)

 
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