mike (digitalsushi) wrote,


I've been thinking a lot about oil lately.

Some people have suggested that we're existing in a temporary moment in history, maybe a hundred or so years long, roughly.  And as quickly as it was built up, more quickly will it collapse.

If you know what a bell curve is, you know that it can be used as a graph.  As a plot of consumption through history, there is a nice bell curve shape to our use of oil:  at the beginning of the 20th century, automobiles garnered an ever increasing demand for oil, followed by most technologies being invented along side them.  Farms, airplanes, jets, the chemical industry at large, plastics, clothing -- all these things started demanding oil for cheap and plentiful manufacturing.  Fertilizer is all based on the consumption of oil.  Oil is used everywhere.

The average vegetable in the United States travels about 1,500 miles from where it's grown to where you eat it.  That's on average.  That means for every head of lettuce that only went 50 miles, there was another one that went 3,000.  Each year, each American uses about 1,000 gallons of gasoline just getting their food to their mouths.  This is obviously not just trips to the store, but rather the trips the food takes in the trunks and vans and planes.

There is so much energy in a drop of oil.  How much energy is there in a gallon of gasoline?

How long would it take you, if you put your SUV in neutral, to pull it 10 miles down the Interstate, by yourself?  If it was flat, maybe you could do it in a day.  If you had good boots and cool weather, and lots of water and good food, you might even finish.  Under the best circumstances, you would be very, very tired at the end of that day.  Perhaps you would burn upwards of 5 to 8 thousand calories performing such a grueling task.  Imagine how much work you performed.  Imagine how accomplished you would feel.  How tired you would feel.

In a simple gallon of gasoline, there is enough energy to push that SUV 10 miles in 6 minutes.  In just 360 seconds, the same amount of work can be extracted from the gasoline.  It's equivalent work.  Look at a physics book sometime.  I fully admit I'm too rusty to toss the math up here, but I challenge anyone to prove my method is incorrect.

There is so much energy in a drop of oil.  Millions of years worth of sunlight, all bottled up in a convenient drop.

And it's so cheap for us to extract -- we put a nozzle into the earth and suck some out, and we have practically free energy.  We can waste it as we please, because there's always more.

The problem that everyone knows, of course, is that there's not always more.  No one knows for sure how much there is left.  Alarmists want us to believe that oil is already drying up and we're already coming back down the bell curve.  The oil industries all claim that there is easily 100 years left of oil, even with huge economic, population, and technological growth.  The truth is assuredly somewhere in the middle.

The alarmists say that, even with all of our alternative energies combined, we won't be able to produce anywhere near as much energy as we glean from oil.

I hope that's true.

I hope we run out of cheap energy.

I'm not an anarchist, no.  Nor do I have a dystopian view of the future.

If we run out of cheap energy, the world may very well have to de-industrialize.  Our applications of technology will no longer be wanton.  Many forms of growth will be viewed no longer as progress, but decay. 

The fat, miserable consumer model of these United States will no longer be viable.  I'm trying not to be smug saying this; look at what many of us have become:  overweight, depressed.  We eat when there is no need.  And what we eat is mostly useless.  We sit in our chairs glued to media as a distraction.  If we're enjoying what we watch, I don't consider this in vain.  But so often we slump down at a TV or web browser, enjoying nothing of that we consume with our eyes.  As we sit, we eat junk food.  Empty calories.  We sit and watch and eat and die a little more inside.  We pop pills to feel good.  The trend continues.  I've definitely straddled in this group I am defining.  Anytime you say "I should do ____" with an empty overtone of becoming a better person, odds are you are in this group, too.

If we de-industrialize, each of us will find more purpose for existing.  Each hour of our time will have more meaning.  We'll have to unplug from our media and learn how to communicate as people again.  I'm not anti-technology, or anti-media... I just see them as overused at times.  And our waste is just too high.

I don't really have a conclusion.. just wanted to ramble for a bit.
Tags: alternative energy, consumption, oil, peak oil
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