My grandmother understood that nothing lasts forever. That’s why she mended broken dishes, darned socks, and saved everything. She raised a family during the Great Depression and World War II when essential supplies were rationed.
Now we have three and a half times more people on planet Earth due to an exponential growth in population fueled by easy access to cheap energy in the form of fossil fuels. When the first oil well was drilled in 1859 there were just over a billion people on Earth. Population growth had remained flat for thousands of years. Coincident with widespread use of fossil fuels, first coal and then oil and natural gas, the population exploded and now, only 150 years later, approaches 7 billion. The amount of energy, water, food, and raw materials required to sustain 7 billion people is enormous and is described as our ecological footprint.
Some of what sustains us is renewable and is regenerated over time by normal biological and geophysical cycles. These renewable resources include aquifers, topsoil, forests, and ocean fish populations. The ability of the Earth to supply these resources is defined as the biocapacity of the Earth. In some instances the regeneration may take thousands of years as in the case of aquifers that are pumped dry or deserts created by deforestation and over grazing. Some of the resources we depend upon are not renewable such as metals, coal and oil. Once they are extracted and consumed they are not regenerated. Towards the end of the last century our ecological footprint began to exceed the biocapacity of the planet. We are now in a situation where demand exceeds supply by 25 percent. This translates as a continued crisis as water, food, and energy become scarcer and more costly for all of us.
Nowhere are the challenges as great as in the arena of energy use and consumption. Nothing lasts forever pertains especially to energy supplies. Petroleum geologists, geophysicists, the International Energy Agency (IEA), the US Department of Energy Information Agency (EIA), the Department of Defense, and oil companies recognize that oil production has or is about to peak and that recoverable reserves left in the ground are about 1.2 trillion barrels. At current usage that amounts to a 30-year supply. Coal production in terms of energy content (BTU/pound) has already peaked and evaluations of remaining worldwide reserves by the German Parliament Energy Watch Group and the recent report from Patzek and Croft, Department of Petroleum &Geosystems Engineering, titled, “A global coal production forecast with multi-Hubbert cycle analysis,” placed peak coal production in the year 2011.
So, Nothing Lasts Forever. Now here is the kicker. Unless we build a system that uses renewable energy, when we run out of exhaustible, non renewable energy supplies we will return to a preindustrial lifestyle. Can we all agree that we need to build a renewable energy system and that we need to start now before it’s too late?
Toby Grotz has worked on both sides of the energy industry as an instrument engineer and seismologist prospecting for oil in the north Atlantic, off the coast of Florida and in Mexico and has worked for the utility industry in operation, maintenance and design in coal, gas, and nuclear power plants. He also worked as an aerospace test engineer designing solar and thermal vacuum tests for space flight hardware including Space Shuttle and Hubble Telescope sub systems.
Reprinted with permission from Greenabilty Magazine March/April 2011, www.greenabilitymagazine.com/
By Toby Grotz