Peak Oil is You

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Page added on May 30, 2007

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Global warming, peak oil, and coal-to-liquids

As James Hansen has recently warned, coal-to-liquids and other attempts to extend the era of oil, such as exploring the tar sands of Canada or Venezuela, will make the global warming picture much worse. The intrepid writers at The Oil Drum have been pointing out for some time now that these various “unconventional” sources of oil are feeble attempts to deal with the problem. They will be horrendously expensive, use up copious amounts of rapidly depleting water, and use up so much energy we don’t even know if we’ll come out ahead energy-wise. The promise of these projects is being used to lull the public back into their American Dream daze.

The phenomenon of the peaking of the supply of oil worldwide is usually called “peak oil”, which means that oil supply builds to a crescendo and then starts a long slide down, even as global demand goes up: pop goes the price of oil.
Perhaps those who are concerned about global warming will worry that arguments made for peak oil will lead to even worse solutions such as coals-to-liquids. But don’t shoot the messenger: those environmentally disastrous schemes will be pushed by energy companies no matter what. In fact, energy companies hate peak oil ideas even more than global warming ones, because if people really thought fossil fuels were running out, horror of horrors, they might really take renewable energy seriously.

The best response to arguments that global warming mitigation will be too expensive is to argue that the supplies of fossil fuels are declining anyway, so we might as well get on with it. This decline includes the coal that the coal-to-liquids lobbyists are depending on.

The best response to arguments that we must go to “unconventional” sources to avert peak oil is that such measures will make global warming worse and that “unconventional” fuels only postpone the inevitable while wasting a huge amount of resources (there is a third leg to this, biofuels and ecosystem destruction, that I will follow up on later).


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