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How Would You Survive A World Without Fossil Fuels?

Fossil fuels won't last forever, but the conflict needn't be fear-inspiring.
Fossil fuels won’t last forever, but the conflict needn’t be fear-inspiring.

Have you ever realized how much we depend on fossil fuels? Fossil fuels are involved in practically every single activity known to modern man.

I’ve been laid up in bed a couple of days with the flu, which gave me some time to watch some documentaries I’d been trying to find the time to watch, including a couple of documentaries on “Peak Oil,” that is, when mankind’s consumption of fossil fuels exceeds supplies or that which can be extracted. Fossil fuels are perhaps the single most important key to our ability to thrive as a species, but they won’t last forever. “Beyond Petroleum” or “British Petroleum,” or whatever BP is calling itself these days, estimates that there are maybe 53 years of petroleum left in the ground, so image, if you will, if fossil fuels suddenly ceased to exist.

Actually, this isn’t far off from the truth, considering that fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, and natural gas, were only formed a couple of times during our planet’s history. Mass extinctions of plant and animal matter, ancient forests and the dinosaurs, compressed and decayed over thousands of years, leaving carbon-rich materials trapped between rock layers in our planet’s crust. According to some studies, the only reason this planet can support 7¼ billion people is thanks to fossil fuels. The amount of concentrated energy in fossil fuels is what enabled us to break one billion inhabitants.

For example, fossil fuels are involved, not only in the transport of goods, such as diesel fuel for tractor trailers, but in the goods themselves, such as the resins used to make a laptop casing. Imagine our food chain, not only requiring diesel fuel for the entire plowing, planting, and harvest aspect, but the herbicides and pesticides, most of which are petroleum-based. The same studies that suggest fossil fuels are the only reason we broke one billion in world population also suggest that, without fossil fuels, this planet can possibly support just 1½ billion. How will we survive?

Because fossil fuels already cause conflict (the US involvement in practically every war since WWII was over maintaining oil supplies) increasingly-scarce fossil fuels will bring even more conflict. Is there anything that we can do? Is there any hope? First, we need a fundamental change in the way that we think about life, such as reducing how much energy we use to considering what we buy. Second, we need to encourage technological development that eliminates fossil fuels from the supply stream. Stay tuned for future articles in this series.

Image © FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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  1. One thing that disturbs me is the goal of trying to replace the electricity generated by fossil fuels with giant wind turbines that ruin vast swaths of scenery, add insidious noise to the countryside, and kill birds & bats in growing numbers. It’s already become a major problem with only a small percentage of the wind turbines pseudo-environmentalists would like to see installed. A 2009 Stanford study concluded that we’d need close to 4 million large wind turbines around the world to make a big dent in electricity generation. Significant quality of life would be lost if we turned thousands more rural zones into eyesore industrial parks. It makes a lot more sense to put solar panels on buildings that already exist, or install them over parking lots. Wind turbines that tower over their surroundings are one of Man’s most flawed inventions.

  2. Fossil fuels are not cheap a cracker at a refinery burns more oil than it makes product. I would prefer to electrolise water to make HHO where 6 watts of input can give 35,000 kW output we are being had by the people we voted for scums.

    • HHO is unproved pseudo-science. Water has little energy except through gravity or waves and tidal forces (wind and moon power). You’re also wrong about petroleum being a net energy loser. The whole reason oil is so useful is that it provides very high energy density. EROI declines as oil-bearing rock gets tighter (e.g. shale fracking) but the energy gains are still large enough if the price of oil is high enough.

  3. KingsleeSpurling Conspiracy theories aside, however, fossil fuels are still “the easy way” and “the cheap way,” but I believe that people are slowly coming around to the fact that the long-term costs of continuing fossil fuel use outweighs the short-term savings. (Renewable energy is already cheaper than fossil fuels in some places.)

  4. LoneWolffe beepee Yeah, between the worldwide sinkholes and the ‘ring of fire’, they may suddenly remember something about the ‘word’ referring to the world being destroyed by fire (proportionately the yoke is to the core, as the mantle is to the egg white, as the egg shell is to the earth’s crust).  Destroyed maybe, but only as we now know the earth to be, remembering that ‘dirt’ is the only thing on earth that won’t burn.

  5. beepee LoneWolffe well, until the money-colored glasses come off, that egg-shell is open season for the highest bidder. won’t they be surprised when there’s nothing inside.

  6. LoneWolffe beepee First off, I like the video (but now I’ll have
    nightmares).I agree, man HAS been
    ingenious, and due to necessity and/or evolution, has moved through the
    ‘ages’.But the impact of ‘money’ has blurred
    the vision.As if to say that the
    promise of a “fiddle of gold” has no consequences.The point is that, “getting and spending, we
    lay waste our powers; little we see in nature is really ours”, was written a
    very, very long time ago.The egg shell
    is as strong, as it is fragile. . . . but once compromised, will be interesting
    (for about 7 days).
    explosion, for that I don’t have an answer. 
    But that is where man’s ingenuity could prevail – provided that “the
    love of” money (in the person of oil extraction) doesn’t first cause the earth’s
    demise (you know, the egg shell thing)..

  7. beepee it’s quite possible that, simply maintaining the status quo could lead to a population implosion. on the other hand, mankind is pretty ingenious. isn’t that the whole point?
    there was a point brought out in one of the documentaries, i forget which, that said something to the effect of “man didn’t get out of the stone age because he ran out of stone, and man didn’t get out of the iron age because he ran out of iron, he’ll get out of the industrial age the same way, man’s ingenuity.”
    on a side note, “money is the root of all evil” hasn’t been correctly quoted for centuries. the proper quotation has always included the preface, “the love of…”
    even further OT, i’ve always loved Primus’ rendition of the original classic, especially with the claymation music video 🙂 http://youtu.be/X9uk9IcoQ0w

  8. “First,
    we need a fundamental change in the way that we think about life”, . . . .Now, that’s
    interesting.  Man’s evolution is
    continually changing the fundamental “laws of physics”.  They’re subtle changes, but changes nonetheless.  Just as I was told (as a child) that we
    couldn’t develop “Engine Motors”, based on our concept of “Energy” (heat), I
    was told that “money was the route of all evil”.  Well now it’s, “THE LOVE of money, is the
    route of all evil”. . . . Money, in and of itself, is the absolute embodiment of
    School energy concepts where fine, but “this is not your Father’s Oldsmobile”.  “53 years of petroleum left”, may be
    accurate, but the earth’s “egg shell crust” will be compromised long before then.  Maybe the earth’s demise is a good thing
    because supporting 7 billion people represents only one tip of the proverbial iceberg.  That means potentially an exponential
    population explosion represented by 3 million daily births (less 1 million
    daily deaths – that’s 2 million people reaching productive age, EVERYDAY in the
    near future).
    are intelligent beings that can figure-out almost anything (that’s how Physics
    has evolved as a science).  But, we are
    also creatures of habit, and our ‘love of money’ makes/allows us to ignore the handwriting
    on the wall.  With what we know about: 1)
    alternative (non petroleum based) green materials and efforts; 2) the new (non
    heat based) energy concepts; 3) the ecology of organics (eliminating pesticides
    (herbicides technically fall under the description of pesticides)); and finally
    (possibly man’s greatest invention ever); 4) the “organically fueled” diesel
    engine, we’ve seen the enemy. . . . and, the enemy is ourselves.
    the Pied Piper and Charlie Daniels:  
    bet a fiddle of gold, against your soul”
    Enjoy:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K6RUg-NkjY4


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