Global Climate Change, Human Security & Democracy -- Orfalea Center for Global & International Studies University of California, Santa Barbara -- October 2010
Nov. 21, 2010 -- This is the final chapter of the paper: Peak Energy, Climate Change, And The Collapse Of Global Civilization: The Current Peak Oil Crisis, by Tariel Mórrígan. A pdf version of the entire paper (14 MB) is available here.
“All that needs to be done is to completely overhaul modern culture and find an alternative to money.... We are not starting from zero. We have an enormous amount of existing technical knowledge. It's just a matter of putting it all together. We still have great flexibility but our maneuverability will diminish with time.... Things have to get worse before they can get better. The most important thing is to get a clear picture of the situation we're in, and the outlook for the future”
--M. King Hubbert, geophysicist and energy advisor Shell Oil Company and USGS, 1983
• Peak oil is happening now.
• The era of cheap and abundant oil is over.
• Global oil production likely peaked during 2005-2008 or will peak by 2011.
• Huge investments are required to explore for and develop more reserves, mainly to offset declineat existing fields.
• An additional 64 mbpd of gross capacity -- the equivalent of six times that of Saudi Arabia today -- needs to be brought on stream between 2007–2030 to supply projected business as usual (BAU) demand.
• Since mid-2004, the global oil production plateau has remained within a 4 percent fluctuation band, which indicates that new production has only been able to offset the decline in existing production.
• The global oil production rate will likely decline 4 percent-10.5 percent or more per year.
• Substantial shortfalls in the global oil supply will likely occur sometime between 2010-2015.
• Furthermore, the peak global production of coal, natural gas, and uranium resources may occur by 2020-2030, if not sooner.
• Oil shortages will lead to a collapse of the global economy, and the decline of globalized industrialcivilization.
• Economies worldwide are already unraveling and becoming insolvent as the global economicsystem can no longer support itself without cheap and abundant energy resources.
• This current transition of rapid economic decline was triggered by the oil price shock starting in 2007 and culminating in the summer of 2008. This transition of decline will likely accelerate and become more volatile once oil prices exceed $80-$90 per barrel for an extended time. Demand destruction for oil may be somewhere above $80 per barrel and below $141 per barrel.
• Another oil shock and/or permanent increase in oil prices would likely push many nations and the global economy over the cliff edge into economic collapse.
• Economic recovery (i.e., BAU) will likely exacerbate the global recession by drivingup oil prices.
• A managed “de-growth” is impossible, because effective mitigation of peak oil will be dependenton the implementation of mega-projects and mega-changes at the maximum possible rate with atleast 20 years lead time and trillions of dollars in investments.
• Peak oil and the events associated with it will be an unprecedented discontinuity in human andgeologic history.
• Adaptation is the only strategy in response to peak oil.
• Mitigation and adaptation are the only solutions for climate change.
• Existential crises will soon confront societies with the opportunity to recreate themselves based on their respective needs, culture, resources, and governance responses.
• If the international community does not make a transcendent effort to cooperate to manage thetransition to a non-oil based economy, it may risk a volatile, chaotic, and dangerous collapse of the global economy and world population.
• Ironically, peak oil and energy resources may offer the only viable solution for humanity tomitigate anthropogenic climate change on a global scale-by essentially pulling the plug on the engine of the global economy that has driven the climate system to a very dangerous state.
• Nevertheless, this potential mitigation of climate change will not stop the committed climate changes that are expected to occur in the future, nor will it stop all anthropogenic sources ofgreenhouse gas emissions altogether.
• It is possible that climate negotiations may be abandoned or at least marginalized for a long time (if not permanently) as the crisis of peak oil and economic shock and awe overwhelms the stability and security of every nation.
• It will likely require a concerted and transcendent effort on the part of any remaining international climate negotiators, their governments, and the public to pursue a meaningful international climate policy -- much less a binding international climate treaty.
Peak oil is happening now. The era of cheap and abundant oil is over. Global conventional oil production likely peaked in 2005-2008 or will peak by 2011. Thereafter the global conventional oil production rate will likely decline 4 percent-10.5 percent or more per year. Since mid-2004, the global oil production plateau has remained within a 4 percent fluctuation band, which indicates that new production has only been able to offset the decline in existing production (see Figures 20a and 20b). Sometime between 2010-2015, substantial shortfalls in the global oil supply will likely occur (see Figures 8a, 8b, 9a, 9b, 20a, and 20b).
Furthermore, the peak global production of all known energy resources may occur by 2020-2030, if not sooner (see Figure 72). Global peak coal production will likely occur between 2011-2025 (see Figures 65 and 66). Global natural gas production will likely peak sometime between 2019-2030 (see Figure 68). Global peak uranium will likely occur by 2015 to sometime in the 2020's (see Figures 69 and 70). Oil is used to produce, distribute, and build and maintain the infrastructure for coal, gas, unconventional oil,nuclear and renewable energy resources. Consequently, a decline in oil production could very simply bring about declines in the production rates of the other energy resources sooner than the above dates indicate. In other words, global peak oil may mean global peak energy resources.
Oil shortages will lead to a collapse of the global economy, and the decline of globalized industrial civilization. Oil is by far the primary transportation fuels currently available, and it will be for some time. It will take at least 20 years to change modern civilization over to a non-oil-based economy and infrastructure; and would cost trillions of dollars and would still result in a massive global economic depression. A managed “de-growth” is impossible, because effective mitigation of peak oil will be dependent on the implementation of mega-projects and mega-changes at the maximum possible rate.
Economic recovery would stimulate oil demand and thereby increase oil prices. Therefore, economic recovery (i.e., BAU) will likely exacerbate the global recession by driving up oil prices. Given that many nations and their citizens are insolvent and on the brink of debt default, another oil shock and/or permanent increase in oil prices would likely push many nations and the global economy over the cliff edge into economic collapse.
Global oil reserve discoveries peaked in the 1960's (see Figure 10). New oil discoveries have been declining since then, and the new discoveries have been smaller and in harder to access areas (e.g.,smaller deepwater reserves). Business as usual oil production projections require huge investments to explore for and develop more reserves, mainly to offset decline at existing fields. An additional 64 mbpd of gross capacity -- the equivalent of six times that of Saudi Arabia today -- needs to be brought on streambetween 2007-2030. Yet, non-OPEC oil production is in decline and OPEC is entering decline. As demonstrated and discussed throughout this analysis, the above claims are supported by publications and statements made by several national governments, the George W. Bush and Obama administrations (see Figures 8a and 8b), the U.S. Department of Energy (see Figures 8a and 8b), the U.S. and German militaries, leading energy information reporting agencies, the oil industry (see Figures 9a and 9b), the private sector, science, and academia.
There are not enough recoverable unconventional oil resources (oil sands, heavy oil, oil shale, gas-to liquids, and coal-to-liquids) to offset declining conventional oil supplies and to supply future demand. Furthermore, unconventional oil resources require enormous amounts of water and natural gas (supplies of which are peaking worldwide). Production of unconventional oils also causes substantial long-term environmental damage and human health risks.
Natural gas, coal, nuclear, and renewable energy sources (e.g., wind, solar, tidal, geothermal) in any combination or aggregate cannot replace oil as a transportation fuel on a global-scale in the near- and medium-term. There is not enough time, money, or uranium resources left to build enough nuclear powerplants to offset energy production decline or to supply future BAU energy demand. Furthermore, nuclearelements like uranium are some of the most dangerous materials known to humankind, and its storage and disposal are potentially very risky. The dangers of nuclear proliferation are also major security issues.
As Ruppert suggests, renewable energy resources cannot support the edifice of civilization built by fossil fuels. Nevertheless, renewable energy resources should be developed on a massive scale. It will be important to assess which geographical areas can benefit and which cannot benefit from renewable energy resources. For example, producing and using tidal energy requires access to coastal and marine environments.
Biofuels, including fuels produced from algae and microorganisms, cannot replace current oil demand on a global-scale. Many biofuel crops yield little or less energy than the energy required to produce them.Growing any biofuel crop (including algae and microbes) will compete substantially for land, water, and nutrients for food crop production, and can cause substantial environmental damage (e.g., from appropriating vast areas of natural habitats, runoff of agrochemical residues, and invading non-native habitats). Genetically-modified biofuel crops pose an additional hazard of genetic contamination of the environment.
The tradeoff between the environment and producing and using energy is evident with peak oil -- without energy resources society will break down; but without a well maintained and preserved environmentsociety will also breakdown. Producing and consuming energy resources can greatly impact theenvironment. For instance, anthropogenic climate change is being driven primarily by GHG emitting activities associated with energy production and use. Humanity should not take so many resources as to undermine the integrity of the environment on which it depends. Population growth and quality of life should always be examined with the connection between the energy and environment in mind.
Even if any of the above energy resources alone or in combination could replace oil and supply global energy demand, there is not enough time left before peak oil to build the production facilities, infrastructure, and markets to produce and distribute any of these potential energy resources, nor time or money to manufacture, upgrade, or retrofit the global stock of vehicles, machinery, and infrastructure that are powered and supported by petroleum.
Furthermore, pesticides, herbicides and other agrochemicals will become scarce, which may decrease future crop yields. Scarcities in pharmaceuticals and plastic medical supplies will increase medical costs,decrease access to health care, and may increase mortality rates. New plastic materials produced from biomass rather than petroleum will need to be developed and mass-produced in order to replace oil-basedmaterials. Biomass crops grown for materials (e.g., plastics, fiber) competes with food production andnatural habitats for ecosystems.
Clearly, the consequences of peak oil will be systemic and utterly disruptive for global industrialized society. The severity of the collapse will be largely determined by individual, social and governance responses to the resulting multiple systemic crises. Peak oil and collapse will likely have much of humanity question the institutions and global paradigm that has existed for the past few centuries. Peak oil and the events associated with it will be an unprecedented discontinuity in human and geologic history. A discontinuity in human history occurs when the world is no longer perceived, described, expressed, characterized, classified, and known in the same way from one era to the next. This refers to extreme and unprecedented changes in history. For instance, the three discontinuities in the past century of global history are World War II; the dropping of the nuclear bombs on Japan; and September 11, 2001. Another discontinuity in history could occur when the world experiences the passing of a major climate tipping point. This would also be a discontinuity in geologic history (i.e., discontinuities that occur on geologic time-scales rather than human ones). Mass extinction events are also discontinuities in geologic history, like the one that extinguished the dinosaurs; and like the current Holocene mass extinction event that is progressing at an accelerated rate.
At this point, it is worthwhile to quote Marion King Hubbert at length regarding his analysis of peak oiland its consequences. As Hubbert stated in an interview published in 1983:
“I was in New York in the 30s. I had a box seat at the depression.... I can assure you it was a very educational experience. We shut the country down because of monetary reasons. We had manpower and abundant raw materials. Yet we shut the country down. We're doing the same kind of thing now but with a different material outlook. We are not in the position we were in 1929-30 with regard to the future. Then the physical system was ready to roll. This time it's not. We are in a crisis in the evolution of human society. It's unique to both human and geologic history. It has never happened before and it can't possibly happen again. You can only use oil once. You can only use metals once. Soon all the oil is going to be burned and all the metals mined and scattered.”
Peak oil is not the end of the world, it is simply the end of the world as we have known it for only a few generations. As Hubbert stated, people have the necessary technology, “all that needs to be done is to completely overhaul modern culture and find an alternative to money.” Peak oil will require a change of economic and social systems, and will result in a new world order. Peak oil does not mean that everyone has to suffer unduly and perish. However, the future of the world will be determined in large part by the human response to peak oil. As Hubbert stated,
“We are not starting from zero. We have an enormous amount of existing technical knowledge. It's just a matter of putting it all together. We still have great flexibility but our maneuverability will diminish with time.”
Undoubtedly, there will likely be a decrease in the human population from conflict, hunger, and other natural and man-made events and disasters without a transcendent effort made by local-, national- and international-level communities and organizations. Hubbert summed this conclusion well by stating that unless society is made stable, a non-catastrophic solution is impossible:
“This means abandoning two axioms of our culture ... the work ethic and the idea that growth is thenormal state of life ... our window of opportunity is slowly closing ... at the same time, it probably requires aspiral of adversity. In other words, things have to get worse before they can get better. The most important thing is to get a clear picture of the situation we're in, and the outlook for the future -- exhaustion of oil and gas, that kind of thing ... and an appraisal of where we are and what the time scale is. And the timescale is not centuries, it's decades.”
However, when Hubbert made this interview, it was nearly three decades ago. Now, the “time scale” is not in decades, it is in months and years.
Ultimately, the carrying capacity of the environment and quality of life and human rights issues should be considered when considering peak oil and adaptive strategies to energy scarcity and climate change. As Hubbert observed nearly three decades ago, the planet's carrying capacity is being pushed and that modern population growth
“... is an aberration. For most of human history, the population doubled only once every 32,000 years. Now it’s down to 35 years. That’s dangerous. No biological population can double more than a few times without getting seriously out of bounds. I think the world is seriously overpopulated right now. There can be no possible solutions to the world’s problems that do not involve stabilization of the world’s population.”
The global human population is currently about 7 billion. The global population is projected to be around 9.2 billion people by 2050 assuming BAU156. As discussed in this paper, the Earth’s human carrying capacity might be between 0.5 billion-7.5 billion people by 2050 due to environmental constraints on land, water, and energy resources for food production, and because of projected climate change impacts on food and water production systems. However, without abundant energy resources, the human carrying capacity of the planet might only be around 0.5 billion-2.5 billion based on historical population and energy consumption trends.
Although it is possible that the actual carrying capacity of the planet may be significantly more than 7.5 billion, the estimates presented in this analysis are based on the “best case” range of data, projections, and assumptions. The planet might be able to support up to 7.5 billion or more people, but the quality of life might not be very high for most of them. Even if the planet can carry 7.5 billion or more, it is clear that the global human population may be close to passing a threshold for the global carrying capacity. Indeed, it may be possible that the global population has already passed this threshold. If the human population has truly exceeded the global carrying capacity, then peak oil and subsequent economic decline may causea rapid population crash within several years or decades time. A more detailed analysis of the human carrying capacity of the global environment would be very prudent in order to better manage environmental resources and the human population.
Ultimately, adaptation is the only strategy in response to peak oil. Mitigation and adaptation are the only solutions for climate change. Existential crises will soon confront societies with the opportunity to recreate themselves based on their respective needs, culture, resources, and governance responses. The impacts of peak oil and climate change will not be the same equally for everyone everywhere at any given time. There are probably no solutions that do not involve at the very least some major changes in lifestyles. Local and societal responses and adaptation strategies to peak oil and climate change will vary and be influenced based on many factors including: geography, environment, access to resources, economics, markets, geopolitics, culture, religion, and politics.
Cheap and abundant energy resources, especially oil, allowed humanity to develop society, culture, and technology to unprecedented levels of advancement. They have also allowed the human population to expand exponentially in size and power to come to dominate the global ecological, environmental and climate systems while pushing the limits of the planet's carrying capacity. Energy scarcity and future climate change may decrease the Earth's human carrying capacity and reduce the global human population in the near- to long-term. People not only have to adapt to a world of declining resources and dramatic climate changes, they will have to learn to live within their means lest they amplify and perpetuate the hardships and disasters that they create by living beyond the capacity of the planet.
Ironically, peak oil and energy resources may offer the only viable solution for humanity to mitigate anthropogenic climate change on a global scale -- by essentially pulling the plug on the engine of the global economy that has driven the climate system to a very dangerous state. Nevertheless, this potential mitigation of climate change will not stop the dangerous climate changes that are expected in the future.
While reduced GHG emissions may help to mitigate climate change, peak oil may interfere with global efforts to further mitigate and adapt to climate change. It is possible that climate negotiations may be abandoned or at least marginalized for a long time (if not permanently) as the crisis of peak oil and economic shock and awe overwhelms the stability and security of every nation. It will likely require aconcerted and transcendent effort on the part of any remaining international climate negotiators, their governments, and the public to pursue a meaningful international climate policy -- much less a binding international climate treaty. Two main arguments against pursuing an international climate policy will likely be made: (1) the peak oil shock and the associated collapse of societies and the global economy will be a more pressing issue; and (2) climate change will no longer be a concern since most oil demand willhave been destroyed which will cause GHG emissions to decline sharply. The international community and climate negotiators urgently need to review and reconsider the science and data regarding climatechange and energy supplies. If this reassessment and discourse does not occur, not only will the international climate negotiations be ineffective, if it is not entirely destined to failure, human security and the stability of all societies may be gravely threatened by future climate changes.
Peak energy resources, peak phosphorus, dwindling mineral and natural resources, the passing of thresholds for dangerous climate change, a human-driven global mass extinction event, peak economy, possible peak food production, and peak globalization -- this convergence of events all at the same time will surely create multiple systemic crises throughout the world, which will undoubtedly lead to a collapse of the current paradigm and the emergence of a new world order. The best and the worse of humanity will express itself in these coming times after peak oil. While civil unrest, revolutions, coups, conflicts and wars will likely occur as an indirect result of peak oil, the overall global outcome could either be relatively peaceful and benevolent or catastrophic. The international and local communities can come together and cooperate to create a benevolent and sustainable new world order, or they can drive theworld to further humanitarian and environmental catastrophe.
Currently, economies worldwide are unraveling as the global economic system can no longer support itself without cheap and abundant energy resources. The world is beginning a rapid and volatile transition: currency and trade wars; deteriorating wars in the Middle East and elsewhere; countless regional and intranational conflicts and coups; rapidly shifting and volatile geopolitics; the mobilization of extremist movements; the decline of the West and East; exponential population and economic growth; soaring foodprices; increasing natural resource scarcity; energy shortages; accelerating rates of extinction; and accelerating environmental degradation and climate change. At this point, even a global nuclear war might be possible, if either or both state and non-state actors escalate multiple crises into bitter conflict.
This current transition of economic decline that was triggered by the oil price shock starting in 2007 and culminating in the summer of 2008 will likely accelerate and become more volatile once oil prices exceed$80-$90 per barrel for an extended time. Assuming BAU, oil prices are projected to reach $100--$108 per barrel by 2020 and $115-$133 per barrel by 2030 (in real 2008 dollars). Demand destruction for oil may be somewhere above $80 per barrel and below $141 per barrel. So, it is likely that very few will be able to pay afford to produce or purchase oil in the near future. This will likely occur once global production enters terminal decline and major supply shortfalls occur in the near-term. At this point, the global economy and world order will pass the edge of the cliff into collapse without a transcendent effort by the international community to cooperate and manage the collapse as harmoniously and securely as possible.
With global civilization approaching the proverbial cliff's edge, there is little time left to prepare for peak oil and the collapse of global civilization. The new world order that will emerge will be largely determined by local and international governance responses. Peak oil will surely destabilize the world as confusion and collapse ensue. Climate change will further challenge societies' abilities to adapt and prosper. Nevertheless, the human species has the unprecedented opportunity from this unprecedented crisis to radically change the world for the betterment of all humanity. The world also has the opportunity and capacity to turn this opportunity into a catastrophe of apocalyptic proportions. One way or another, the ending of the Age of Oil is the beginning of very uncertain times.