July 17, 2011

Aftermath: The World Without Oil

Just a moment ago I watched a show on television called 'Aftermath: The World Without Oil.' It aired on and is produced by the National Geographic Channel. This show, being part of a series of "what if's?", revolves around a hypothetical scenario when the oil runs yet it isn't set in the future but in the present day. The show explores ramifications in the short and long term. How long do the oil reserves last? How does it affect food production? In an economy totally depended on fossil fuels the ramifications are enormous and could potentially lead to many casualties, lawlessness and mass migration from the cities to the countryside and warmer regions.

Fortunately, It's not all doom and gloom. Even with todays standard of technology (and resources) substitutes are available yet the show correctly points out that these are not adequate enough to power a nation such as the U.S. or continue the present way of life and consumption. A massive change in energy infrastructure would need to occur and people would have to adapt to products being more scarce. When oil runs out alternatives need to be manufactured. The diesel engine can in fact run on vegetable oil made from soybeans, peanuts and even algae. Producing large quantities of biodiesel requires a whole new infrastructure which also needs to be planned and crops planted.

Gasoline engines can run on a substitute; ethanol. Which is produced by fermenting corn or sugarcane. Another alternative, hydrogen, is something I missed in this NGC show and the technology to produce it has been around for a while. Lastly, the show also points out that lithium, a mineral that goes in (car) batteries, will become just as or even more valuable than gold. Keeping all these alternatives in mind, the show points out that a society without oil is far more depended on agriculture since crops would be planted for both fuel and consumption.

It's a good show to watch since it should be clear to anyone that the global oil reserves are diminishing each year and could drop even faster when other economies in the world such as China and India continue to grow. There will come a time when there's not enough oil to meet the consumption. Having alternatives seems like a sound plan. Ultimately you have to find something more sustainable. Maybe at this point in human evolution people will start to consider something like the Venus Project.

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