Staring into the Singularity.28/08/2007 Written by tripwire
If you use a finite resource it tends, well, to deplete. Especially if you use more and more of it, every year, just like it wasn’t *really* finite.
We live in a paradoxical age, where everyone, at every level, wishes and believes that, magically, hydrocarbons will continue to flow abundantly for some time, if not forever. Maybe in 20 years, they say, maybe in 30, oil will become scarce. By that time, they say, we’ll be prepared to manage it.
This is very wrong. Oil is not yet completely depleted, of course: but in 3 – 4 years it will be as if it were mostly gone, and nobody is ready to cope with this.
This incredible state of blindness is due to many reasons, one of them being our weak pattern-matching skills when adverse conditions build up slowly enough to go unnoticed by our collective nervous system. And, of course, we are being systematically deceived on this subject by the media and the powers-to-be, thanks to our will to be deceived.
Most non-OPEC countries already reached and went beyond their “oil production peak” point on the curve. The U.S. oil and gas discoveries peaked in the ‘60s, and the extraction peaked in the early ‘70s. North Sea has peaked in the ‘90s, Mexico and Russia are peaking as we speak, and so on.
Middle East countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq will peak in the next 5 to 10 years, which is why oil wars are plaguing the region since 1991: in a few years, the majority of the world’s oil reserves will be located in those 3 countries.
Officially, world spare extraction capacity today is no more than 6 million barrels per day (mbd), with a 2007 consumption rate of nearly 90 mbd, while energy demand is expected by the IEA to grow 1,5 – 2% a year in the next 5 years.
Fact is, there is no “new” oil ready to go online anytime soon, existing wells already show diminishing outputs, and unconventional oil reserves (tar sands, deep water, etc) proved to be much more tougher and expensive to exploit than it was expected 10 years ago. We are in trouble.
It is easy to calculate that to generate all the energy used, directly and indirectly, by an average western citizen in 2006 (about 6 tons of oil per person), it takes 400 square meters of best of breed, highly expensive solar panels, not talking about all the batteries required to store those Kilowatts. Since it takes too many barrels of oil to build and deploy them, most likely, they won’t be deployed.
So, do the math by yourselves: in a best case scenario, a 1,5% annual energy demand growth summed to nowadays daily consumption of 90 mbd, and with 6 mbd of spare capacity left, means that next year (which means: from this fall on) supply will barely satisfy the demand. In 2009, spare capacity will become zero. In 2010, we’ll be missing some 1 – 2 mbd, then 4 in 2011, then 7 in 2012: for the first time since the beginning of the oil age, demanding more oil won’t magically mean obtaining it.
Trapped in a “grow or crash” global economy, with the impending threats of climate change and a projected population growth of a half billion more people within 2015, it has definitely come the time to start thinking very fast, and act even faster, preparing for the Singularity.
The global security implications of the simple math I just sketched are so mind boggling and staggering, that I’m tempted to believe I’ve missed some important point, and that this is not true. Please resist the instinct of denial, and realize that, indeed, it is.
Now, to wrap things up a little… We need to begin today asking ourselves and our partners extremely important questions like: will XYZ be a sustainable and profitable business in 5 years?
How will the ads-based web services pay the energy bills in, let’s say, 2010 (GMail, Google, MySpace anyone)? How will end users pay their bandwidth and electricity?
How much can we shrink consumption in order to assure business continuity, in 5 years from now? How much energy is needed to run the Internet, by the way?
What will happen of digitally generated, transmitted and stored information, in a world of increasing energy shortages? How will programming need to change, in order to improve the ridicously low energy efficiency of today’s systems?
How will cyber-criminals and hostile forces in general exploit the all-new weaknesses introduced by the scarcity of energy? In a shrinking economy, with less and less investments, will the “Moore Law” still work?Or will we have to shut down our energy-guzzling datacenters, one by one?
And so forth.