|Illinois Renewable Energy Association|
|Host of the annual Illinois Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair|
Peak oil delayed but not over
Some analysts say peak oil is over and the current global supply of oil proves it. A closer look suggests peak oil remains an issue but it is occurring differently than had been projected.
The peak oil concept was based on the scientific understanding that the amount of conventional, low cost oil in the ground is finite and at some point will be depleted. The late Shell geologist, M. King Hubbert, illustrated that the rate of petroleum production from an oil field increases until reaching a peak and then declining gradually. Production follows a bell shaped curve.
In 1956 Hubbert successfully predicted that oil production from conventional wells in the United States would peak in 1970. Later he predicted that global supplies of low cost conventional oil would peak around 2000. It is suggested that conventional global supplies of oil peaked in 2005.
As low cost conventional oil decreased, investments in unconventional supplies increased. These energy sources are more costly to secure, use more energy to produce, carry higher levels of risk and are of lower quality. Securing them also releases higher levels of climate changing gases while polluting air and water supplies. Art Berman, a director of the Study of Peak Oil, points out that we are not running out of oil but out of affordable oil.
In 2015 US crude oil production approached 9.5 mb/day, nearing levels of the 1970s peak. In recent years roughly half of the oil produced in the United States has come from unconventional oil sources. The new wells supply oil on average for only three to four years with half coming during the first year of operation. In order to continue producing oil, additional costly horizontal drilling and fracking operations must continue. The oil produced is far more costly than conventional oil. On average oil shale operations need $60 to $70 barrel to be profitable, so with oil around $30, many firms are going bankrupt and production is dropping.
Rapid development of fracking operations was based on large pools of money available from the sale of risky bonds offering high yields. Repayment of the loans depended on the price of oil remaining high. By continuing to develop more wells to sustain production and pay off the loans, when demand for oil dropped, a surplus developed which crashed its price.
The low price of oil and gas is forcing major cutbacks in exploring and developing new energy supplies. Global investments in new projects declined for two consecutive years setting the stage for higher prices in the future. Since the new supplies will come from nonconventional sources, the concern of running out of affordable oil will impact society.
It’s spring – time to start thinking seriously about gardening. Casual thinking began the week after Christmas with the arrival of colorful, tempting garden catalogs. Cold hardy vegetables will be planted during March; delicate ones in April and May.
Last week, dinner guests perked up our meal with a salad of mixed greens they had just picked. They make good use of their hoop house growing and enjoying fresh vegetables throughout the year. The simple plastic covered structure functions as an unheated greenhouse.
We’ve eaten fresh greens from our hoop house in past winters, but this year, our schedule was interrupted by a high wind that tore the plastic cover off in pieces. After replacing it, weeds were removed, leaving a clean, bare spot to seed. Next week, we’ll plant fresh greens and still enjoy them earlier than from the outdoor garden.
The meal was a fine finish to a busy week. With a small crew, we helped burn most of the prairie at Sand Ridge, owned by the Prairie Preservation Society of Ogle County. Sites, generally burned every other year, begin growing soon after the fire, which is done to enrich the soil and retard the growth of invasive woody plants. Burning every other year reduces the amount of carbon released to the atmosphere. Even restoration leaves a carbon footprint.
The week before, we burned our own prairie plot and are burning parts of our woodland. Species diversity has flourished at Sand Ridge and our property. We usually burn the woodland first to avoid damaging early spring flora, but our schedule has been thrown off by early blooming dates. Climate change has speeded up the onset of spring, which for years remained fairly stable. We maintained records for a while, but lost track of them. One memorable blooming date is that of violets. When we were young, they could be expected by Mother’s Day; now they appear nearly a month earlier. But not all plants are equally affected. Bloodroot came into bloom this past week; dutchman’s breeches are about to. According to Swink & Wilhelm’s 1994 edition of Plants of the Chicago Region, both are right on schedule.
A friend who is a restoration director for a forest preserve observed that first blooms are moving earlier in the year. Although they keep no actual records, the general consensus of land managers is that they think phenomena are moving up by a week or two.
Aldo Leopold collected data in Sauk County, Wisconsin, between 1936 and 1947. His daughter, Nina Leopold Bradley, collected data from the same county between 1976 and 1998, both studies spanning a total of 61 years. “The record includes 74 phenophases, focusing especially on arrival dates for migratory birds and dates of first bloom of spring flowers.” Biological data were correlated with the date of ice melt in Lake Mendota. The mean change was 0.12 day per year earlier. Significant changes occurred for forest phlox and baptisia as well as for eastern phoebe and rose breasted grosbeak. Some changes were not significant.
We are considering maintaining phenological data once again. Others may also want to do it, as changing biological timing can be an indicator of climate change.
Economic impacts of climate change
For the scientific community climate change is real; a major factor in its existence is burning fossil fuels.
The national solution as embodied in the Clean Energy Plan advanced by the Obama administration is currently hung up in court awaiting resolution. With widespread resistance, Congress is unwilling to implement policies to curb emissions.
While the Paris Accord had participating nations agree on the goal of limiting their carbon emissions to keep the global temperature from rising above 1.5oC, it will take years before the world will know if the commitments are being implemented.
A paper entitled “Greenhouse Gas Emissions Targets for Limiting Global Warming to 2oC” created a global “carbon budget” detailing how much more carbon each country can release before crossing the global limit of a 2oC temperature rise. If carbon emissions remain equivalent to those of 2006 the “planet’s carbon budget would be exhausted by 2024.”
Assuming governments would initiate action to curb carbon emissions, a group of green investors set up the Carbon Tracker Initiative to determine how much C02 is in the world’s fossil fuel reserves. They concluded that 80% of the world’s fossil fuel reserves would have to be left in the ground to prevent uncontrollable climate change. Tar sands, oil shale and methane hydrides were not included with the reserves,
Bill McKibben, a climate activist, relied on carbon budget figures in developing a presentation used in a tour to alert the public to the numbers and their implications. His advocacy included stimulating college students to ask their schools to divest their endowments of fossil fuel investments.
The pressure to curtail carbon emissions has raised concerns of investors in firms whose earnings could be adversely affected. Warren Buffet addressed the issue in Berkshire Hathaway’s 2015 annual report under the heading of “Important Risks” that they have recognized and taken into consideration. One of the firm’s investments is in the BNSF railroad which moves large volumes of western coal. Buffet acknowledged the certainty of the loss of coal shipments for their railroad earnings as coal plants close. He mentioned another energy related risk to earnings: the potential of energy storage developments adversely impacting the future of their renewable energy investments.
For Dr. James Hanson the time for action was 1988 when he declared to Congress that the greenhouse effect was already changing our climate. He continues his effort to convince our leaders of the need to address climate change. In his latest paper appearing in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics he claimed that we are headed for a much more rapid rise in sea levels than earlier projections.
While the science regarding climate change is gaining acceptance, political resistance remains and estimates of the costs rise as political turmoil rolls on, investments in renewable energy and efficiency continue to grow.
Earth Hour 2016
“As the world stands at a climate crossroads, it is powerful yet humbling to think that our actions today will decide what tomorrow will look like for generations to come. This Earth Hour, switch on your social power to shine a light on climate action.” (www.earthhour.org)
Each year, in the middle of March, people around the globe observe Earth Hour, the largest grass-roots environmental event ever. A movement that began in Australia in 2007 will be observed on Saturday, March 19, from 8:30 – 9:30 p.m., when people turn off their lights and electronic devices to demonstrate support for fighting global warming. When viewed from space, it will appear as a rolling blackout.
Although one hour of the 8,760 hours of the year is a symbolic gesture, it reveals “an unprecedented global mandate for action on climate change.” Earth Hour is a collective statement by people worldwide, showing that they can work together and make a difference.
Not only is turning off lights and electronic devices symbolic, it will allow people to experience the beauty and silence of the night and will provide the opportunity to reconnect to others without distractions. Expanding our reconnection from friends to all of Earth’s people can remind us that we all have the same goal of healthy lives on a healthy, livable planet.
A few years ago, a friend sent us the photo of Earth from space at night - with densely populated areas brilliantly illuminated. His comment was “This is awesome!”
How much more “awesome” to see all of the Earth’s lights, from the Eiffel Tower through the Empire State Building and Chicago’s iconic skyline to the Sydney Opera House extinguished for an hour each – a voluntary rolling blackout by all of Earth’s people pledging dedication to saving our precious planet. Although turning lights off for only one hour is a symbolic gesture, it reveals “an unprecedented global mandate for action on climate change.”
How much more impressive it would be if the lights stayed out throughout the night - not only a rolling blackout, a progressive one.
We need not only turn off the lights for an hour, but continue the impact beyond the hour itself. We could go back to old ways of behaving or continue to act on the dedication we felt for that one hour, expanding it throughout the year. Each of us can do our part and work to protect our own part of the earth. Collectively, we can meet the challenge to change the direction in which we are moving. Although we cannot change what is, we can change what might be.In 2016, Earth Overshoot Day will occur in about five months. What would happen if we continued our Earth Hour beliefs, actions and dedication so that Earth Overshoot Day will no longer exis