Monday, April 11, 2005

Oil Famine: Preparing for a Post-Oil Future/Course Outline

I'll be teaching another three-session class on world peak oil production this fall. The dates are still being determined. Below I am posting information on the course.

Course Description

Cheap oil is coming to an end. Within the next decade or two world oil production is likely to reach a peak and then begin an irreversible decline. The end of cheap oil threatens to stall and even reverse economic growth worldwide. It could lead to profound disruptions in our way of life, especially in the areas of transportation and food production.

This course examines the inevitable collision between our growing thirst for oil and the certain decline in its availability in the years to come. What might the consequences for the world economy be? Can we find alternatives to oil before its production begins to decline? What can an individual do to help us make a successful transition to a post-oil economy? Alternative energy, lifestyle changes, conservation and efficiency measures will be discussed.

The course will emphasize discussion and interaction among all the participants.

Meeting Times:  Sept. 27, Oct. 4 & 11
                        6 p.m.-8 p.m.

Location:           L. Lee Stryker Center
                        Kalamazoo College
                        1327 Academy Street
                        Kalamazoo, Michigan 49006

Instructor:         Kurt Cobb

Cost:               $39

Registration:     Click here to register
                        or call (269) 337-7354.


The purpose of the course is to familiarize participants with the concept of world peak oil production, an event that almost all reputable geologists agree will happen within the next 30 years. Predictions range from 2005 (Deffeyes) to 2037 (U. S. Energy Information Administration). Because so much of our way of life is dependent on oil and oil-based products, this event has profound implications for how we will have to change our society.

The closer the peak is, the more urgent the need for action. A recent U. S. Department of Energy report evaluating the possible effects of world peak oil production recommended a 20-year head start on a crash program to develop other liquid fuels to replace oil.

Key Concepts

Fossil Fuels - Also known as mineral fuels, are hydrocarbon-containing natural resources such as coal, petroleum and natural gas.

World peak oil production, often "peak oil" for short - The time after which the rate of world oil production will begin an irreversible decline.

Net energy - The amount of energy yielded by a resource minus the amount of energy it takes to find, extract, refine, transport and utilize that resource, i.e., it takes energy to get energy. If the net energy is positive, the resource is an energy source. If the net energy is negative the resource is an energy sink. (Also referred to as Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROEI) and Energy Profit Ratio.)

Renewable Energy Source - includes all sources of energy that are captured from on-going natural processes, such as solar power, wind power, water flow in streams (hydropower), biomass, biodiesel and geothermal heat flows. Most renewable forms of energy, other than geothermal and tidal power, come from the Sun.

Plan of Course

Session 1 - Peak Oil and the Oil Predicament

Please read the following article before coming to class:
Do high oil prices foreshadow a deeper crisis?
Kurt Cobb, October 25, 2004

In-class video: The End of Suburbia

Session 2 - Consequences & Responses

1. Oil: It's Everywhere, Attached

2. Energy Evaluation Criteria, Handout from The Party's Over by Richard Heinberg.

3. The Long Emergency, James Howard Kunstler, Remarks in Hudson, NY
listen to Kunstler's 2003 Interview with Julian Darley. Scroll down to where you can see the choices that include "Complete Interview", "mp3" and "Transcript." The mp3 is a large file but can be easily downloaded if you have high-speed Internet access.

4. A Letter From the Future, Richard Heinberg, Museletter, March 2001

5. Peak Oil 'To Do' List: Why We Should Do These Things Anyway, Kurt Cobb, April 9, 2005


Some perspective from the optimists. See if you can spot the flaws and strengths in their thinking:

6. The Art of Energy - The future will not be painted in oil. By Peter Huber and Mark Mills Slate, Feb. 1, 2005

7. Why We'll Never Run Out Of Oil, Discover Magazine, June 1999.

Session 3 - Consequences & Responses

1. Alternative Energy Sources, Walter Youngquist

2. Financial Sense Newshour's Ask The Expert - Richard Heinberg - 08/07/2004, audio interview and downloadable mp3 file. Start at 28 minutes into the interview for discussion of responses to oil depletion.

3. Winning the Oil Endgame, Executive Summary, Rocky Mountain Institute


The long-term forecast from an optimist. This lengthy and somewhat technical article suggests oil, natural gas and coal will remain dominant and affordable fuels to the end of the 21st century, with natural gas becoming the world's major fuel. Look for the underlying assumptions.

The Global Energy Market in the Long Term: The Continuing Dominance of Affordable Non-Renewable Resources, Lecture by Peter Odell, March 16, 2000.

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