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Energy, Wood, Fossil Fuel, Nuclear, et al.

by T. Peterson, Ph.D.
(the following text excerpts are taken from:
The Creator's Window -Viewing Global Change,
Universal timelines, & The Promise, © 2000)

• Energy

Conversion of raw materials into finished goods, transportation, and power for homes and businesses requires energy. Fossil fuels and nuclear power provide the North with a majority of the world’s total energy use. The elite, about 23% of the population, consume 80% of the world’s energy. In poorer regions, fossil fuel and wood provide the remaining 20% of the world’s heat and power. Again, using figures for 1989, the US. with only 4.5% of the population, produces 25% of the total CO2 emissions. China, about 23% of the population, produces approximately 5% of the world’s emissions. As China’s economy grows, so do its CO2 emissions, perhaps one day soon to a point exceeding present US levels.

In a world totally at peace, a united effort might phase out oil to adopt solar, wind, hydrogen, fission, and fusion alternatives. Unfortunately, economic and technological problems thus far prohibit the replacement of carbon fuels. Solar and wind are still not cost effective. Fission (nuclear) power generates extremely hazardous radioactive waste—the majority of which still awaits proper disposal. Fusion awaits a breakthrough discovery and commercial development. Technology that maximizes carbon fuel efficiency is presently a tool to buy time, to conserve fuel, and then await future solutions. Further, the world is not at peace. Any conflict in oil producing regions sends shock waves of fear and price fluctuations through global markets. For example, in July of 1991, just before the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the spot-market price of oil was $19 per barrel. Several days after the invasion the price increased to $28. The economics of oil depends on more than the total reserves in the ground. Who sits on top of the oil can easily upset the markets. In the future, energy use becomes a reflection of the globe’s economic, environmental, and security issues. Industrial nations are still headed into a period of extraordinary dependence on foreign oil, most of which comes from the Middle East, because that is where the major oil reserves are located.

I think the Administration and Congress both agree that increasing dependence on (oil) imports is just not a good thing for us in the long term. Oil imports account for half of our total balance of payments.' — J. H. Gibbons, Science Advisor to the President (SXi 190)

Earth Lights

NASA photo -Earth at Night With Lights Shining Bright

According to figures cited by WorldWatch Institute, Americans sit atop 10 years of oil reserves while the Middle East holds 110 years of the world’s oil supply. These figures only reflect oil use based on 1989 consumption rates. As population slows in the North and grows in the South, the world’s consumption patterns and total demand change. To summarize this another way, D. G. Howell, and co-authors, state:

Dreary as the domestic situation seems, the world oil supply provides a temporary comfort zone. Reserves in the Middle East plus anticipated discoveries there amount to 750 billion barrels. Elsewhere in the world are another 650 billion barrels or so. At the present rate of worldwide consumption of 20 billion barrels per year, this would suggest a 70-year supply. (It is likely that consumption will go up as developing countries attain higher standards of living.) But what will happen—politically, socially, and economically—as we try to distribute this oil? What will be the pressures as we approach the final drop of consumption?'

Is free access and total consumption of all the world’s oil a safe assumption? This point is rarely discussed. I suspect many secretly fear the cumulative greenhouse consequences for oil consumption over 70 years. First, the environment cannot bear the continued CO2 emissions without certain climate change, so humans must stop using oil and coal. Second, present civilization is fixed on resources with no immediate, nor economically practical alternative, so humanity continues to use them. Humans are environmentally damned if they do, and are economically damned if they don’t. And I await the knee-jerk response characteristic of dysfunctional societies who wait to the point of crisis to fix problems. From all appearances, from this window view, the crisis is clear—it’s already here.

The addiction to oil can only be fueled by evidence indicating new or increased reserve capacity. Recent estimates suggest upward adjustments for reserves in the Middle east and elsewhere—extending the potential for oil use beyond previous estimates. Thus, the nature of the material beast continues producing and consuming because the old economic assumptions state that greater market activity is better. The simplistic approaches, putting off concerns for change to the future, gain favor where the system is fueled by an incredible dependency. At any moment, an oil crisis dramatically shifts prices thus tripping a trap door under the global economy. The North may absorb episodes of this form of monetary extortion, but the South can hardly afford the extra burden.

Window Pane Three

Oil for Tomorrow — A Detailed View


Figure 4: United States Oil Consumption (Past and Projections for the Future). The total consumption is the sum of US. domestic production (8) plus net imports which is represented by the upper-most line (1). Total domestic production comes from adding natural gas and other sources (10) to Alaska’s oil (9) plus that of the lower 48 states (total represented by 8). Lines 2, 3, and 4 represent savings if US. auto manufactures produce autos and trucks with increasingly greater fuel efficiency. If we increase automobile fuel efficiency, from 28 mpg to 38 mpg (line 2), or to 50 mpg (line 3), and even increase truck fuel efficiency (line 4), the US. dependence on future oil imports may stay comparable to present levels. Lines 5, 6, and 7 represent potential increase in domestic production from alternate fuel programs not yet in place.

Figure 4 is a technical examination of US. oil consumption (line 1)—for the past and projected for the future. Domestic production (line 8) drops slowly because immediate depletion of limited reserves is offset by imports. Domestic dependence on imports may be reduced by future production of synthetic fuels from biomass, coal liquifaction, liquid fuels from natural gas, and by increasing miles per gallon (mpg) efficiencies of trucks and automobiles (lines 2, 3, and 4). Increasing synthetic fuels, effectively raises domestic production, and lowers dependence on foreign supply (lines 5, 6, and 7), but only conservation lowers overall demand (lines 2, 3, and 4). At best, line 4, the US. achieves a constant demand. This level still leads the world in per capita use and is inadequate to prepare the US. for the anticipated oil depletion in the 21st century. Figure 4 reflects a status quo approach, it does not acknowledge potential effects of another oil crisis, nor does it offer a plan that continually reduces oil use.

I leave you with one final thought on oil’s timeline. Three hundred million years were required to produce the pockets of oil located under the US. Consumption, by comparison, is virtually instantaneous, driven by the spark of human industriousness within a 200 year time frame. Humanity has tapped a one-time, short-term, supply. Global change presents several absolutes that I see with certainty. Running out of oil seems certain—how humanity will respond is uncertain.

This is just one of many panes in the WindowView. This is a fraction of the process identified earlier within the section entitled 'Convergence.' Keep exploring the view, visit our page titled 'Experience WindowView' to see how global changes are part of a larger holistic paradigm which is the reason behind assembling this cyber-place. Putting the picture together helps to envision humanity's direction along the dimension of time.

A copy of this text with footnotes and a complete listing of references used in writing this text can be obtained by downloading the chapters and reference list for the Creator's Window. References that appear as ''(SXi #)'' signify the page number from Sigma Xi's publication related to a 1991 forum on global change (see reference list for the Creator's Window for a complete citation of this work).

The importance to global change is in looking at how social, biological, and physical sciences all reveal data and signs for more ominous changes in the near future. This is change in every aspect of human and earthly affairs ... globally. The Window looks further to see change as a backdrop to a biblical timeline. Driving forces for change force us to ask the most important questions about our true origin, who we are, why we are here, and what the Scriptures tell us about the future. Change forces us to look deeper to face choice or crisis. Life is an opportunity to look for the answers.

References from SXi and page number refer to the Sigma Xi Forum Proceedings: Global Change and the Human Prospect: Issues in Population, Science, Technology and Equity, November 1991. The importance of this science society's forum is that the meeting was forward looking and demonstrates how scientists from social, biological, and physical sciences all saw change on the rise. Not just climate change, but change in every aspect of human and earth affairs ... globally.

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