We all know about peak oil and its popular derivatives, but a research team in Germany and at Yale looked into the rate at which we use all kinds of stuff. It turns out that we peaked almost everything and more or less at the same time.
Many separate studies have estimated the year of peak, or maximum, rate of using an individual resource such as oil. However, no study has estimated the year of peak rate for multiple resources and investigated the relationships among them. […] We found 21 resources experienced a peak-rate year, and for 20 resources the peak-rate years occurred between 1960-2010, a narrow time window in the long human history. […] To test the hypothesis that peak-rate years are synchronized, i.e., occur at approximately the same time, we analyzed 20 statistically independent time series of resources, of which 16 presented a peak-rate year centered on 2006 (1989-2008).
Of course you could propose all kinds of explanations for this, but I think a lot of it has to do with the absolute sovereignty of oil over the global economy. If peak oil production has already hit, as some experts have persuasively argued, and oil powers pretty much everything else we do then the global economy may not have the basic vim and vigor to dig stuff out of the ground and turn it into other stuff at the same rate that we used to do. Keep in mind that most other places have not enjoyed anything like the even modest growth that America achieved under Obama. Globally the economy has been basically ‘meh’ or worse since Lehman Bros. shat the bed.
That hypothesis would provide a tidy explanation for the recent and startling oil price drop – slack global demand and a boom in frakked US petro would do that – and it fits nicely with what economists expect peak oil to do to global economies. Basically markets and the price of oil should yo-yo for a while as booms run up against a fixed petro ceiling and bust out, reducing demand and oil prices until cheap energy boosts growth again, growing demand until it hits that ceiling. Increasingly sophisticated exploration and extraction technologies will hold the ceiling up, for a while, but at some point the peaks get lower and the valleys deeper.
So, um, happy Thursday. If you want to cheer up maybe don’t look at the latest news about the sea level.
Interesting. At the beginning of the oil industry, the prices yo-yoed just as well, because it was unclear how much demand there would be, and how much supply there is. So unless the dependency on oil decreases, we might see several oil dependent boom-and-bust cycles.
If peak oil has already happened, and manufacturing enters a decline because everything is focused on oil, then global economic growth will depend more on services. I think that’s also going to increase economic volatility (because manufacturing capital, machines, factory buildings and infrastructure is less mobile than capital in services).
It reminds me of something I ran into a few years ago. Guess who’s using recycled paper most? The Chinese buy up our recycled paper so they have enough for packaging.
Also, there’s a growing re-use movement as well.
Also we are having a fortunate aging of the population. Older people are more likely for financial and personal reasons to keep what they have and reuse more. Plus a lower demand for cars and less driving.
How about Peak Police Brutality?
After a disagreement broke out at the latest NYPD union meeting…
Members started beating each other up.
7 billion more mouths to feed on the way, courtesy of the contraception haters and the idiots who think their worthless genes MUST be passed along!
We’re not at peak food yet but it’s coming. Any ideas on how things go to shit when that happens?
GONNA BE FUN.
Good description Tim, and it’s what I’m expecting as well. Most folks forgot about peak oil, but it never went away.
Low oil prices are likely to cause a lot of shale oil production to slow down over the next year, and we’re likely to see absolute all-liquids peak within the next year. That will cause a price spike in oil in a few years time, which will bring a bit more marginal fields back online, bring up the supply and lower the cost marginally, etc. Just like you said.
As for Peak Everything, I think it’s worthwhile for everyone to read the much maligned (unreasonably so) but very insightful book The Limits to Growth, the 30 year update. The book, unlike what it’s critics say, does not make forecasts. It simply lays out scenarios based upon different starting conditions of the world (e.g. how much non-renewable resources are in the ground) and policies (e.g. pollution management). They take as a given that material growth on a finite planet with non-renewable resources has to end at some point, and try to understand the “how” and “when” of it.
There are two scenarios they lay out I think we’re trapped between — a scenario in which non-renewable resource limits causes industrial production to permanently slow down around 2015-2020, and a scenario in which pollution from industrial production causes a pollution crisis around 2030-2040 and a much steeper fall. Put that way, we should be glad peak oil is hitting us before the worst of climate change gets us.
I thought the blog had reached peak gloom just before the midterms, I guessed wrong.
@schrodinger’s cat: Gloom is a renewable resource, because stupidity is infinite, self-financing, and self-replicating.
@schrodinger’s cat: Nah, there’s an endless supply my friend, an endless supply.
Well, at least Elon Musk will have something to be happy about.
Also in the report.
But not all water is renewable. ‘Fossil water’ stocks are isolated water resources, which are consumed faster than are naturally renewed. There is currently a lack of time-series data at the global scale on the status of hydrological resources (Fan et al. 2013). As an example of national trends, the greatest rate of groundwater extraction occurred in 1975 in the USA (1975-2005). Water conservation and rationing rules likely reduced the rate of ground water extraction (Gleick and Palaniappan 2010). For maize, rice, wheat, and soybeans, the yield per area is stagnating or collapsing in 24-39% of the world’s growing areas (Ray et al. 2012), which may explain why the peak-rate years have passed at a global level. The peak-rate years of renewable resources collectively suggest challenges to achieving global food security (Foley et al. 2011). We identified a sequence in the peak-rate years of resources associated with food production: 1950 for conversion to cropland, 1978 for conversion to irrigated land, 1983 for fertilizer use. Because all peak-rate years for food resources appeared afterward, we inferred that the strategies to increase food production changed from land expansion to intensification of production. Furthermore, the pattern of peak-rate years occurring in land, food, and not yet for nonrenewable resources suggests that sustained intensification of agricultural production is not limited by energy but rather by land.
Paul in KY
@CONGRATULATIONS!: Soylent Green will save the day!
unfortunately, the peak in oil production that has gone and past is in conventional oil. and there are a lot of other hydrocarbons (and accounting trickery) that have been ramped up to take its place, making it look like there isn’t as much of a problem as there is.
expect this to last a bit.
The unfortunate thing about the current huge dip in US gas prices (and boost in current domestic supply from fracking) is that it: a) is already inducing a substantial number of people to revert to purchasing bigger, less gas-efficient vehicles; b) seat-of-the-pants seems to reinforce the climate deniers’/promoters of continued use of fossil fuel over renerwables / greener (or at least less brown) alternatives. So if we’re in for a succession of up-and-down feedback ripples in oil supply/economic growth, the current “cheap” interlude will tend to set US society/economy/political background back for the duration of the interlude, and we won’t be nearly as prepared for either the next downcycle interlude or the longer-term macro-transition to a more sustainable energy/economic future. The piggishly stupid folks will drag the rest of us down the wrong road with them.
We could really be fucked if a Koch-minded GOP candidate wins the Presidential election in 2016 – in the mold of Reagan gratuitously tearing the solar panels off the White House Roof in 1980, except on a vastly grander, more maliciously destructive scale, setting out to clear-cut the regulatory landscape of anything competitively inconvenient to coal, oil, and continued dependence on fossil fuels.
Tree With Water
What’s-his-name over at Eschaton once pondered: why is it that oil companies haven’t invested in non-carbon technologies, to best control later that which they control today. Big oil may be run by average non-entities with degrees from the Ivy League, but even those soulless bastards know times are changing.
@schrodinger’s cat: Population bomb and peak oil talk just harsh my mellow. I’m not even sure I buy the former.
That article looks rather dubious. Their conclusion that most of the resources have a peak year between 1960-2010 might not be entirely uncorrelated to the fact that most of the data they have looked at only covers the period from 1960-2010 (Table 2, if you’re interested). Calling that “narrow time window in the long human history” when it’s the only window you’ve actually looked at is rather disingenuous.
That the peak rate year is 2006 might also not be entirely correlated to the fact that that was the last year before the Great Recession hit. IMO we’re too close to that event still (specially considering that their data doesn’t go any further than 2010) to properly assess whether that the 2006 peak is really related to resource issues or it just marked the end of an economic boom period.
@Calouste: Lies, damn lies and statistics!
@SatanicPanic: The population bomb discussions predictably veer into Godwin territory in short order.
@cmorenc: This is why you need public policy instead of relying on “the market” all the damn time. Oil prices are high, people buy efficient cars and drive less, renewable energy ventures and alt-energy projects are economically feasible, environment is helped… until oil prices go REALLY high, then noxious crap like fracking and tar-sands become economically feasible. The good thing about this oil price crash is that, if it continues long enough, all the ventures doing tar-sands, Keystone, fracking, etc, will go bankrupt. And as well they should.
But all this is stupid. We should have an extreme tax on fossil fuels that raises the price of gas at the pump to $10/gal, and that tax should stay constant, regardless of what the markets do, adn all that tax money should be invested into renewable energy projects and mass transit. And we should have a functioning welfare state and a livable minimum wage so that the fossil-fuels tax isn’t so regressive. And tar sands and fracking should be illegal. But all those require a functioning political system, which we do not have. So instead we have to rely on the very crude tools of the market to get the job done.
I’m confident that just as soon as people start buying SUV’s again, the price of gas will go up to $4 and stay there long enough to put a stop to that. Then when the fracking and tar-sands ventures get into shovel-ready mode, the price will crash again. This is what we’re left to work with.
About the population bomb, the ways to defuse that means raising the standard of living of the poorest while at the same time conserving resources which is a hard balancing act. It can be done-if we recycle resources, go on solar/wind/alternative energy and educate people so that they have alternatives.
@schrodinger’s cat: I don’t get peoples’ attachment to that theory. seems like a generational thing.
The big underplayed story in the current oil price decline is how renewable energy is probably causing serious demand side pressure. It has been shown repeatedly how responsive oil prices are to very small differences in the supply and demand.
@Tree With Water: because most businesses don’t think that far ahead. this is especially true of big business. most big businesses are run by people who are risk adverse and R&D, especially in areas other than established/profitable areas, is inherently risky. instead, they see it as better to block competition and make the barriers to entry too high for alternative energy sources. smaller companies usually have the ability to think further ahead and adapt easier, they tend to be less risk adverse because they tend to be newer and don’t have to worry about stock prices and boards of directors and a few thousand employees in a couple hundred locations.
The stupid, it burns.
After the run up in gas prices, over the last fifteen years, including a couple of significant stretches of $4.00+/gallon gas and an average gas price of around $3.00+/gallon for the last 5-6 years, you’d think folks would realize that $1.90/gallon gas is a temporary thing.
Brother Shotgun of Sweet Reason
One of the commenters on the late “The Oil Drum” site had this as his sig line “Are humans smarter than yeast?” which led me to a simple summation of your statement above. Are we going to end up like the yeast in beer or wine?
Beer: we consume all of our resources until there’s nothing left and then die.
Wine: we consume all of the resources available then drown in our own waste
@SatanicPanic: Not if the stuff batteries are made out of are peaking too.
@Brother Shotgun of Sweet Reason: I like this quote from Edward Abbey: Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.
@gene108: People aren’t that stupid. They know it won’t last, but the average American drives their car for what, three years? They’ll just downsize when prices spike again.
@liberal: Are they?
@Brother Shotgun of Sweet Reason:
there’s a hilarious bit in “There’s No Tomorrow” about the yeast thing (bacteria actually IIRC).
not a bad intro movie for people really.
@Tree With Water: @KG: The enterprises are not responding because the inevitability is for them too far out. The nations, however, are responding at the state level in several places. Among OPEC, Iran and various Emirates have been exploring post-petro economic factors for some time – not least in the case of Iran looking at nuclear power as a possible domestic solution. The foresight appears to be one of those places where responsible governance looks further ahead for policy than the private enterprises too wedded to quarterly profit/loss statistics to see further than the fiscal year.
@SatanicPanic: Don’t know. But if you’re going to propose an alternative to conventional energy sources and storage, you need to spec things out long-term.
Wikipedia claims (believably) that if we could extract all copper from the earth’s crust, regardless of concentration, we’d have an essentially infinite supply. Problem is of course that less concentrated mineral reserves are more expensive to extract. I don’t know what the situation is for cadmium.
Ultimately, I think all these problems are probably technically solvable. The problem is with humans tending to war on each other when resources get further constrained.
OT dog-bites-man: Burnsie turns out to be completely wrong about something.
Peak phosphate is one that will be very bad when it hits- this is THE critical substance for fertilizer in farming and must be mined (most sites are known and being rapidly depleted; new large sites do not appear to exist); another major substance in decline is copper – critical for all electric applications. Lower quality ore sources cost more in energy to obtain – further putting pressure on oil. Without tar sands, and fracking, we would be pass peak oil already. For now, those somewhat costly processes ($40+ per 55 gal for break even?) are extending this liquid fuel resource – the question is for how long? I do know that good fracking sites in the US are getting harder to find and yield from any and all sites are lower. Elsewhere in the world, there are many prime sites – so the hunt goes on but for how long is the question. Tar sands in south america (esp. Venezuela) are big and will out last Canada’s but compared to world demanded, would not last long. Depends on all sources and lets be realistic – a few trillion dollars of carbon are in the ground, owned by the 0.0001% and WILL be removed for profit. So, the time frame for real peak carbon energy ( a more accurate picture) is still a ways off; the real cost will be staggering in CO2 buildup in the air. Oil based life styles are costly.
Do they? I’m not sure that’s all that common.
ETA- OK, they fight over land. If land counts, then I agree. But other stuff? Not sure. Seems like one of those things that lots of people believe without having a ton of evidence.
If only there were a way to turn “smug” into an energy source…
i’ve heard it’s upwards of 20+trillion. yeah, that’s gonna stay where it is.
I would posit that of all the variables that drive state of mind in the US, the price of gas may be the most reliable. There is no viable political will to do something like this because the populace reacts in sheer fury at high gas prices. We settle into “new normals” over time, but still grumble about it and that anger reflects itself in different sentiments.
For those, above, considering Peak Food– Now is a good time to invest in Potash. It’s well-past Peak.
Fresh water is another resource that is in shorter supply by the day. Considering the crazy enormous amounts of fresh water needed to scrub Albumin in making of Tar Sand Oil, it is, by far the most worrisome shortage in North America. See also: Drought.
I looked at the figures in the paper, and only two things looked like they had a peak. Wood and wild fish.
Maybe I am just naive.
Why it makes sense that peak oil translates to oil prices DROPPING is also beyond me. I can imagine that if we THOUGHT we were at peak oil, then extra supplies came on, that prices could drop a lot.
Just Some Fuckhead
@Corner Stone: And yet, no one ever pulls back the curtain and explains why gas is $2/gallon or $4/gallon. Instead, we get a bunch of bullshit excuses like peak oil or lower demand or the market is reacting to something that hasn’t happened yet.
Ask the Japanese why they bombed Pearl Harbor. Something, something, … oil.
@Tree With Water: BP once ran a Marketing campaign where BP = “Beyond Petroleum”. They dumped that campaign and I don’t know if there ever was any content behind the PR. CNBC Article
@catclub: the Japanese were already at war when we decided to get involved
More time travel for a guy who was not President in 1980, but was in January of 1981.
@catclub: Peak oil is a misleading term; they mean the liquid stuff that was pulled up without fracking or tar sands (i.e. non-conventional oil.) That types does appear to be at peak. Non-conventional oil has pushed peak liquid fuel oil out a good bit.
@Tree With Water: BP once had a big solar operation (BP Solar). They shut it down in 2011. Figuring out when a new technology will overtake an entrenched one is very, very hard. Lots of companies lose money in the process. But it does happen, and companies that don’t figure out how to handle the transition go away.
(Who figures XOM will be around long after the conventional oil is gone.)
@Just Some Fuckhead: The main reason are the Saudi’s – they are pumping like crazy to drive the price down; why? because they do want to hurt fracking and drive off investors; our ass-hole State Department (with Obama’s blessing!) also agree with this Saudi policy because it is killing the Russians! Remember the Ukraine bullshit? That is why oil has fallen (I mean due to Saudi pumping and why we support it even though it is hurting our fracking people.) The Saudi’s will, at some point, have to give up but they are smart and have determined the time frame already to achieve their goal of knee-capping the fracking industry ….
@SatanicPanic: Japan decided to go to war after the West cut off its supply of oil. Of course, that’s a different scenario than the one I’m positing.
Other examples include territorial disputes over rocks in the western Pacific thought to be near fossil fuel deposits.
I’m not a peak oil expert, but I’ve heard people who claim to be big fans claim that finding new-but-harder-to-extract sources is entirely consistent with the viewpoint.
The real question IMHO is EROEI.
@Cermet: I’ve read that, too, and I think it’s plausible, but other people claim that what’s really going on is the Saudi’s trying to maintain their market share. (Why they would find it desirable to do that if it means plummeting prices, I have no idea.)
@catclub: Agreed; didn’t see your comment when I posted mine.
My impression is that the J got much of their oil from the Dutch East Indies, and the West decided to close that spigot.
and when the cheap, easy stuff is gone, there can be a tendency towards volatility in price. OPEC has less and less price-fixing power these days/
It’s because they’re looking at Peak Output Rate, not Peak Output – so max f'(t) not max f(t). Basically the inflection point where output flips from convex to concave.
True, but Reagan (or his hard-edged ideological advisers) were probably already thinking of ripping down the panels as a symbolic move during post-election transition planning while it was still 1980. Because solar panels are pessimistic, and Reagan was about “morning in America”.
@SatanicPanic: Oil is a good example. It drove Japan into WW2 against the US: without the Indonesian oil resources, or access to Middle East or US oil, their economy – not to mention their war in China – was sunk.
Remember the Club of Rome and their widely derided Limits to Growth report released in 1972. Turns out their predictions are pretty much coming to pass.
What we are seeing is the result of diminishing returns. We need to expend more energy to extract energy supplies, mine ores, drill water wells and that means there’s less for other productive activities. Something’s got to give and when the artificial prop of ridiculously low interest rates was taken away, the world economy slowed down tremendously.
Do you know how to grow a year’s supply of your own food?
@SatanicPanic: The Japanese were already at war in China. War with the US was a decision triggered by the US embargo: their petroleum supply was affected enough that obtaining the territory holding the raw resource was the next best path. All through 1942 it worked, too: with Indonesia theirs, their needs were met. Japan overreached with the Solomons: otherwise they’d have had the Cooperative Sphere their planners wanted by April ’42.
It’s a very interesting piece of history. It’s very difficult to get people to understand that in many important ways the war in the Pacific was actually started by the Western powers, and at the same time Japan wasn’t a benevolent actor. Everything has to be black and white; there has to be a good guy and a bad guy.
@boatboy_srq: Saudi Arabia is intending to build at least 16 nuclear reactors and the UAE are actually building four nuclear reactors at the moment. Iran has one reactor operational at the moment and is investigating a deal with the Russians to build at least one more.
Part of the reason for building these reactors is to supply process heat and power for desalination but a larger part is that the Gulf oil states want to sell gas and oil they’re currently burning to meet their power needs and they don’t see the purchase cost of nuclear power rising as much as the selling price of oil and gas will over the next fifty years or so.
@SatanicPanic: I believe catclub’s point was that the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor to try and prevent us from interfering in their expansion into the South Pacific. An expansion they undertook because they needed … oil.
@SatanicPanic: Absolutely. A population of 40 or 50 billion would be a sooooper nice starting point for an egalitarian, sustainable future. Onwards to 100 billion! The sky’s the limit.
@Gravenstone: It was more complicated than that although oil was a factor. The Japanese in the 1930s under a militaristic regime had conquered Manchuria and a chunk of northern China, they had tried expanding west into Siberia and got a bloody nose from the Russians so the only route for expansion of their Empire was out into the Pacific where the US had already grabbed off Hawaii and the Philippines, the French had Samoa and other parts of the Pacific, the British had Burma and Singapore and Hong Kong, even the Dutch had their East Indies. For that expansion they needed their Navy which needed oil and that’s why the US organised the oil boycott to keep the Japanese battleships at home. Hence Pearl Harbor.
What the Japanese didn’t know was that Manchuria had quite significant oil reserves which no-one found until after the war was over.
What happens when you reach the peak is a period called the “bumpy plateau” where supply is static and no longer growing before the inevitable decline. Prices fluctuate up and down (sometimes wildly) and consumers go through periods of consuming and not consuming based on price. In peak oil, this period is estimated to be 10 or 15 years. Also, complicating things is the high price experienced 7 years ago has made marginal fields and technologies more viable, and that has added some supply.
Population had previously been predicted to level off at around 10B by 2050. Now they’re expecting it to continue growing to more than 12B by 2100. How do you feed that many people? Oil is critical to every phase of food production from seed to shelf, and it’s peaking. Phosphorus from rock phosphate has also peaked. A few years ago, we stopped producing more than we consume, so you could say we’ve entered peak food. I am really struggling to see how we DON’T hit the scenario laid out in the population bomb, at least for poor countries like many of those in Africa, India, etc.