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The End of fossil Energy

The lower curve shows per capita oil production. Source: http://www.albartlett.org/articles/art2000jan.html

Why is energy in a state of crisis? Simply because there is a decreasing amount of freely disposable energy to meet the demand of a growing global population. The chapter on Guidelines for Energy will show that this is not a reason for despair. There is one virtually infinite nuclear energy source and of course it’s called the sun. The past century has been spent by burning a condensed form of solar energy: petroleum.

This is not a peak oil debate. The peak oil debate is over.

The basics. Is oil finite? Yes. When will it be finished? We don’t know. Will it finish at once? Of course not; prices will rise and demand will gradually diminish. Is oil supply already declining? Very probably.[1] But what really puts all who question the peak-oil thesis at bay is per capita peak oil.

As the chart shows, oil production per head of the global population peaked already in 1979! So is oil a finite resource? Discussion closed.

Chris Martensons adds that we should be looking not at barrels produced or price, but at the net energy that is needed for extraction. In the next video he simply shows how in the 1930’s one barrel of oil was needed to extract 100 barrels, while now one barrel delivers just enough energy to extract just about three; oil as an energy source is very quickly simply running dry.

There are other forms of fossil energy, like coal and natural gas. Oil companies point out[2] that natural gas emits less than coal, that there is enough coal around for another two thousand years, and that environmental effects of coal can be countered by new technologies like capturing CO2.

But at what cost? Fossil fuels already are getting more expensive.[3] What if future costs of climate change would be incorporated? What if costs of oil-related wars like the recent wars in Kuwait and Iraq would be accounted for? Whatever angle you take, fossil fuels are just a way too expensive way of using the sun’s energy. Other ways of harnessing solar energy (also in derivative forms like wind and biomass) and their political and scientific viabilities are examined in the section on Guidelines for Energy.

  1. [1]International Energy Agency (2010). World Energy Outlook 2010: Executive Summary. Paris: Author, p. 6. In Rifkin 2011: 15.
  2. [2]See for example http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yUpsxAKHOjU
  3. [3]See our Crisis Indicators section