February 23rd, 2010 5:33 pm | by Ari Phillips News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, Politics, Environment

After Fossil Fuels: The Great Transition Ahead


Richard Heinberg, energy expert and senior fellow at the Post Carbon Institute, was in town last night as part of the 2010 Illahee Power and Change lecture series.

In a far-ranging presentation entitled “After Fossil Fuels: The Great Transition Ahead”, Heinberg detailed what the audience already seemed to know – that life after fossil fuels will not be the same.

Although he may have been preaching to the choir, Heinberg still managed to slip in a few unfamiliar, or at least uncomfortable, verses such as (sing it with me), “This is the end of affordable air travel.”

On the other (less confrontational) hand, global warming didn't come up at all. The audience was left to consider energy for energy's sake and resources for resources' sake, without having to factor in the fate of the planet – just the fate of our lifestyles.

Here are a few other “highlights” from the 64-slide presentation:

Slide 4:
In the early 20th century more than half the world's oil came from the United States.

Slide 7:
U.S. oil discoveries peaked around 1930. U.S. oil production peaked around 1970. World oil discoveries peaked around 1960.

Slides 12-15:
Goldilocks and the three fuels: oil, natural gas, and coal. Oil: $70/barrel to justify looking for new oil, $80/barrel starts to undermine economic activity. In other words, low price kills supply, high price kills demand. “Not too high, not too low – just right.”

Slide 20:
Did peak oil contribute to global economic crisis? Well, it probably helped light the fuse.

Slides 27-40:
Why care about coal? It's the world's fastest growing energy source by quantity and it's the most carbon intensive fossil fuel. Coal produces about 50 percent of electricity in the U.S.

How much coal do we have? In 1907 the U.S. Geological Survey's first scientific survey forecast about 5,000 years worth. The most recent survey – from the 1970s – forecast about 250 years. What happened to those 4,000 plus years? Mr. Heinberg thinks U.S. coal production will peak between 2025 and 2030. The same will happen with world coal production, although in China it will happen sooner and be a much sharper peak.

Slide 41:
Eighty-five percent of the world's energy comes from fossil fuels, and these will soon be going away.

Slide 42-44:
False hopes: Ethanol/biofuels (low energy return), nuclear (uranium supply limited).

Slide 46:
There is no credible scenario in which alternative energy can take the place of fossil fuels.

Slide 48:
(to applause) Cutting back must be the core of our response.

Slide 52:
The only way we can continue to have growth is to redefine what growth is.

Slide 56:
We need to re-localize economies.

Slide 63:
Emphasize what has not peaked: community, cooperation, free time, happiness, artistry, personal autonomy, and more. We will never see global economic activity again like we saw in 2005-2007.

Slide 63:
Remember: crisis = opportunity. This is the biggest opportunity of our lifetimes. We will be redesigning the whole human project over the next century, even over the next few decades.

For more check out Mr. Heinberg's KBOO Air Cascadia interview from yesterday.
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