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Patrick Arnesen, Vancouver BC, May 2009

This paper is available in document format at the bottom of this page.

What is the energy crisis?

Our society depends on oil, coal and gas for the majority of its energy needs. There are two big problems with these fuels: They are the cause of global warming, and they’re beginning to run out.

Why is energy important?

Energy is the ability to do work. It’s what allows us to grow our food, build our homes and produce and transport our goods. For most of history the world’s population has numbered less than 1 billion. Today there are over 6 billion people in the world. Only an industrial society can sustain such large numbers of people - and industry cannot function without a vast supply of energy. Energy is the foundation of our entire society. Modern agriculture, for example has frequently been characterized as “little more than a system of turning oil into food as pesticides, herbicides, agricultural machinery and food transport all depend on oil.” - Rob Bolman

Don’t we still have enough oil, gas and coal left in the ground?

Jeroen van de Veer - CEO of Shell, 22nd January 2008 “Shell estimates that after 2015 supplies of easy-to-access oil and gas will no longer keep up with demand.”

Katsuaki Watanabe - President, Toyota– June 2008 "Our view is that oil production will peak in the near future. We need to develop power train(s) for alternative energy sources."

Sadad al-Huseini - former head of exploration and production at Saudi Aramco, 31st October, 2007 “The evidence is that in spite of the increases - very large increases - in oil prices over the last four years, we haven't been able to match that with increasing capacity. So, essentially, we are on a plateau.”

Financial Times Lead Article, 17th April 2008 “Preparing for the age of peak oil - Russia's vast oil and gas reserves were seen not so long ago as the best hope of meeting growing world energy demand. No more. This week a top Russian oil executive echoed earlier official warnings that oil production could fall for the first time in a decade.”

James W. Buckee - Retired President and CEO of Talisman Energy Inc., 29th January 2008. "If you think that at the moment the world is consuming 30-plus billion barrels a year of oil and is finding seven or eight billion barrels a year, and this state of affairs has been going on now for 20 or more years. It's obviously unsustainable and the world is increasingly drawing on the bigger, older fields. You couple that notion with the irreversibility of decline and you've got a very alarming picture."

The general consensus is that oil and gas production has peaked or will peak within the next 10 years. That doesn’t mean there won’t be any more oil around. What it does mean is that no matter what we do, old wells will be drying up faster than we can bring new wells or tar-sands projects online. The overall supply may decrease as quickly as 4% per year, while demand from existing economies and emerging giants like China and India keeps growing. The net result is that the price of oil will go through the roof and stay there.

We’ve already seen the beginnings of this crisis. In 2008 the price of gas at the pumps passed $1.50/liter. Only the biggest recession in living memory was able to bring it down again, and here at the bottom of the recession, oil still costs about $1.00/liter.

There is still a lot of coal around. Can’t we just switch to that?

There is more coal available than oil or gas, and for a price you can turn coal into gasoline. But if coal takes over from oil and gas then we’ll be burning it up much faster and it’s very likely the supply of coal would peak and go into irreversible decline well before 2050.

Another problem with burning coal is that burning it produces almost twice as much carbon dioxide as oil and gas. Coal power is already the single worst source of the man-made carbon dioxide that scientists believe is driving global warming. If we replace oil and gas with coal then we will accelerate global warming and would probably find ourselves living in the worst-case future scenarios.

But these problems won’t become serious for another 10 or 20 years. Why worry about it now?

Right now, our civilization runs on oil, coal and gas. That’s thousands of power plants and factories and millions of cars, trucks, planes, ships and trains. We can’t produce enough every year to replace it all overnight. Based on the number of cars sold on a good year, it would take over 15 years to replace 90% of the cars and trucks on the road today. A new power plant big enough to run a city, or the equivalent in wind or solar power, costs billions and can take as long as 10 years to get running. We’ll need to build thousands of them to replace our existing oil, gas and coal plants. If we don’t get serious about overhauling our society today, we’ll run out of time.

There’s still debate out there about global warming. Until it’s settled, why should we take it seriously?

Because we can’t risk hoping that global warming isn’t real and then finding out that it is; also fighting global warming means taking the same steps as avoiding an energy supply crisis. We have two choices: We either act to stop global warming or we don’t; and there are two possibilities: Either global warming is real, or it isn’t. So let’s consider the 4 possible scenarios:

Global Warming isn’t real, but we do try to stop it: Even before Oil and Gas peak we work hard to replace them with sustainable, green energy sources. The impact of the energy crisis is lessened and after some tough times in the 2020s through 2040s, we come out of the crisis with an energy supply that will never run out.

Global Warming isn’t real and we don’t try to stop it: Oil and gas go into decline by 2020 and we switch largely to coal, which then goes into decline before 2050. The 21’st century is characterized by a continual fuel supply shortage, meaning higher prices for everything and a continually worsening standard of living. Third world countries, priced out of the fuel markets, face starvation and war.

Global Warming is real and we do try to stop it: Everything in scenario 1, except we still end up facing floods and droughts and the flooding of the world’s coastal cities as the oceans rise. But with a secure green energy infrastructure and steadily shrinking C02 emissions, we struggle through and emerge from a rough 21st century to a sustainable future.

Global Warming is real and we don’t try to stop it: Everything from scenario 2 along with increasingly terrible floods and droughts which devastate our food and water supplies. As access to oil and gas run out, poor countries turn to wood for fuel and strip their forests within a generation. The world’s eco-systems go into collapse with mass extinctions everywhere. The oceans die, taking our fisheries with it. With the combined strain of a dying ecosystem and declining energy supplies, our whole civilization faces massive poverty, war and starvation.

If you look at these 4 scenarios it should be obvious that we can’t risk ignoring global warming. It should also be stated that while some scientists deny global warming, the large majority of informed scientists believe that global warming is real and that modern industry is the biggest contributing factor.

Barack Obama - The issue of climate change is one that we ignore at our own peril. There may still be disputes about exactly how much we're contributing to the warming of the earth's atmosphere and how much is naturally occurring, but what we can be scientifically certain of is that our continued use of fossil fuels is pushing us to a point of no return. And unless we free ourselves from a dependence on these fossil fuels and chart a new course on energy in this country, we are condemning future generations to global catastrophe.

So what can be done?

Get the Message Out

1.      We have the technology to move beyond oil coal and gas. What’s needed now is the political will to switch over to them. That will only happen when the majority of Canadians want it to happen, so please forward this page on to as many people as you can. Send out the link as email, or print it and hand out, and tell your government how you feel.

2.     Demand hybrids or zero emission vehicles. Tell your dealer you want a series-hybrid like the GM Volt, or a fully electric car. If you think electric cars still suck, check out the Tesla Roadster. When the price of gas goes through the roof again, you’ll thank yourself.

3.      Tell your government to support research into energy efficiency and green energy technology. There are dozens of very promising technologies out there that need funding.

Learn about the Available Solutions

       Learn about the alternative clean energy technologies that are available. My strong belief is that alternative nuclear power is the cleanest, cheapest and most direct way to tackle climate change and the energy crisis. By far the best solution is a design call "Liquid Flouride Thorium Reactor", or LFTR for short. LFTR is a fantastic clean, green and safe power source and solves virtually all the problems posed by today's conventional nuclear technology. If we are to overcome our challenges, public perception of atomic power must change. It is up to each and every one of us to educate the people around us. 

       Also, know that solar and wind power are real options, though they have their limitations. They can be useful as a secondary power source, but for primary baseload power, the energy from renewables must be buffered for when the sun goes down or when the wind isn’t blowing. It's possible to build an energy economy based on renewables but you would need to build storage solutions such as molten salt heat storage, compressed air turbines, high efficiency batteries and long distance, high-voltage power transmission to get the power from source to consumer. The cost however, both environmental and  economic, would be far higher than the nuclear option. 

For more information please continue on to Affordable Green Power for Canada.