Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Over a barrel

Excuse the cheap title of this post.

A spot of Googling this week (those who know me will probably realise why I am particularly interested in the subject at this moment) after I read about Ban Ki-moon's meeting with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia over the weekend. I turned up some interesting facts (Ask Me-Fi was informative as ever) about barrels of oil.

A barrel of oil, I discovered, is 42 US gallons - not the standard 55 gallon drum with which we are all familiar (1 US gallon being equivalent to 3.78 litres or about 6 and a half pints, whereas an Imperial gallon is, as any fule kno, a good 8 pints) Interestingly though, an actual 42 gallon barrel is apparently rarely seen. As with many things in life, history has played its part in this particular anomaly, but I will not digress on to this point. Of the aforesaid 42 gallons, around 20 will be turned into 'gasoline' with this ratio said to be decreasing year on year due to the changes in the quality of the stuff being torn out of the ground.

Anyway, Mr Ban tells us that his mate Abdullah has agreed to produce an additional 500,000 barrels of the black stuff EVERY DAY! That would equate to approximately 37,800,000 litres of Ford juice. Extra each day. I call bullshit on this one. Who knows anyway how much oil the Saudis have really got? A bit more trawling on Wikipedia about oil reserves made for some fascinating reading indeed, and inclines me even further along the path of believing that we really are on the way to hell in a handcart.

The Independent had a very sober and intelligent leader on Monday about the situation we're in, pointing out that any government which is serious about lowering carbon emissions and addressing the issues of world poverty needs to be looking at oil dependency pretty damn quick. Of course, none of those bastards are even remotely interested in that. Our wonderful economic model depends on ever-increasing consumption, and so the inevitable rise of the Chinese and Indian economies (who can blame them for wanting a Big Mac and fries instead of lentils, beans & rice? Who can criticise the desire to wander around a shopping mall before jumping into an air-conditioned 4x4 instead of carrying water for 8 miles just to make breakfast?) literally adds fuel to the fire and sucks the very life blood from our planet.

I admit it, I'm a Peak Oilist and I believe that if we don't do something NOW then we may as well kiss our asses goodbye. Terrifying stats show that in the US, energy from wind power represents 0.4% of total energy use and solar power 0.1%. So at the moment, despite the upturn in sales of solar panels thanks to the rising cost of filling up, it's extremely difficult to see how renewables can offer a viable alternative.

I don't think we're about to see Tina Turner straddling a Harley Davidson yet (thank God) but I also don't think we can just muddle through. Death by a thousand cuts is what we're due for, and some of those cuts will strike deeper than others - depending on how rich or poor we are now. I was wondering how I would cope if I was confronted with empty shelves at Waitrose like those we are seeing in Spain at present. The uncomfortable answer is that I almost certainly wouldn't cope very well at all, not being terribly well equipped to either grow my own veg or hunt local wildlife. Yet my own potential misery is as nothing compared to the (further) suffering already endured by those in the poorer countries of the world as they are denied what little they used to receive of the very basics of life, such as rice, bread and maize. None of us either can pretend that we didn't see this coming.
Worrying times lie ahead.


Gypsy said...

...a couple of days ago, my cousin approached me about a (Philippine) gov't deal under negotiation with a major supplier of oil... that they need acres of lands for moringa (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malunggay) trees... for oil extraction. Currently, these trees serve as low cost nutritious & fiber-rich vegetable leaves for ordinary Filipinos. i find these alternatives alarming. people should start burning fats & carbs, not oil...

Myeral said...

Gypsy, you are absolutely correct. Not only is food grown to fuel cars, but now they are taking plants out of the ground to fuel the oil industry. Depressing

john titor said...

I'll give you this for nothing. Your main worry will be sunspots, or rather the lack of them.

Myeral said...

Thanks for your gift John. I know a nice little sunspot not far from the Isle of Wight

EP said...

There have actually been quite upbeat assessments of the viability of largescale (very large scale) alternative energy installations over the next decade or so in both the Economist and Scientific American lately. See http://www.economist.co.uk/opinion/displayStory.cfm?Story_ID=11580723 (I think the main report will be subscriber only but you can read the leader here).

We don't seem to hear much about tech advancements in these areas but both wind and solar are coming on nicely.

Don't write off biofuels entirely either. The politicians have got involved here and therefore right now it's completely fucked up - as you would expect. However there ARE good applications for this technology especially when you look at some of the work being done to engineer algae to fart oil. Seriously. There are also more workaday moves to start using waste vegetable matter to provide fuel rather than food plants (duh!).

Why I think there is room for optimism? Well for one the money people are getting involved now. They are starting to see that there is massive opportunity for return on investment from these new technologies. Secondly - the US would dearly love to break their reliance on foreign oil for obvious reasons. I think this last one in particular will prove key.

Myeral said...

Ah, you scientists are all the same. But isn't this along the lines of turning round an oil tanker? I appreciate much of what you say, and have seen some applications of waste to energy, and indeed much to be optimistic about, but I just feel that it's such a drop in the ocean, and after all, things are hardly looking up for the ordinary folks, are they?

EP said...

Who are these ordinary folks? Are you one?

When you see the figures quoted in those articles this is not the usual drop in the ocean stuff. This is very big stuff. Potentially game-changing stuff. What it needs is some money and some political will behind it. And it may even get that in the short term for the reasons given. No, I'm not expecting the US to suddenly embrace the concept of global warming after so long denying it but the beauty is they really don't have to for some of this to work. I'm relying on greed and paranoia. Now tell me THOSE are in short supply.

Hell, I don't know if it's going to be enough, in time. I'm not even convinced we should be doing anything. The problem is so fantastically complex that we could end up making things 100 times worse with some well-meaning meddling. The real danger lies in "common sense measures". I cringe everytime I hear that. Using common sense it's obvious to every idiot that we stand on a flat earth with the sun whizzing round us.

But you might as well look on the bright side innit?

Myeral said...

Matter of fact, EP, I do count myself as 'ordinary folk' when I go to the supermarket and spend so much more on groceries each week, or when filling up the car (note that point, which I am newly able to make) Or, in seriousness, when I think about the future for my kids. On the other hand, I am of course incredibly lucky by comparison to many.

A point well made on greed and paranoia - maybe there is some hope for us after all. For what it's worth, I share your opinion on 'common sense measures' and have been frantically checking to ensure that I didn't make such a reference in this post. Thankfully not.

I do wonder how the 'experts' have so badly failed to see this coming and that the moves and investment you mention have not been happening for years - decades even. If they had, maybe we would be in a slighlty better place now.

As you say, we can be nothing but optimistic.

leo g carroll said...

I really must take exception to this comment. Tina Turner never rode a Harley in Mad Max 3 (Welcome to the Thunderdome.)

d havidson said...

Didn't she? That seems a shame