Sunday, November 21, 2010

Peak oil and climate change in 13 minutes

At the recent 2010 International Conference on Sustainability I made a brief presentation focused on using concrete illustrations that explain peak oil and climate change in ways that relate to people's everyday experiences. I have been searching for methods to bring the basics of peak oil and climate change out of the realm of the abstract, and this is my first public attempt to do just that.

What I am most interested in are your ideas for how we all might do a better job of making these important issues more vivid for audiences, especially those who are just starting to learn about them. While my presentation is not the classic "elevator speech" (unless the elevator ride is 13 minutes long and you have room for props), I do think it was a good first step.

Here is the presentation:


Anonymous said...

I think you are on the right track, although there are some limitations. One of the basic premises of Hubbert Curves and resource extraction is that resource distribution in nature itself seems to fit this curve. In other words, name your mineral resource, roughly half of all the resource is on the low quality side of the curve. One way you might demonstrate this is with three buckets, some hand crank pumps, some teaspoons, some dixi cups, and six volunteers. One bucket is filled with water, the next bucket is filled with jello or pudding or the like (you may need to experiment with this first), and the third bucket is filled with solid ice cream. (they don't have to be large, half gallon will probably do.)
Have one person turn the hand crank to fill dixi cups with water and hand it out to the others so they can have a drink, (don't forget that the cranker needs to drink too)(They don't actually have to drink it, but it would make a better presentation). The benefactors of the water distribution are "Society". It should be evident that one person can deliver quite a good flow rate of water to the five people standing around ("Society") because the water is easy to pump. This is a good EROEI. Lots of net energy available for the rest of us. Just before the water bucket runs out, have another volunteer start pumping the jello bucket. The jello is going to be a lot harder to pump, so the flow rate is low. Assign two or three people to help with more pumps. Suddenly there is less net energy. More of the pumped product is being used just to extract it, and you still might not be delivering it as fast as the water was. Before the jello runs out, assign another person from "Society" to start spooning ice cream. Finally, the only resource left is the ice cream. The pumps won't work at all on it, so assign ALL volunteers to teaspoon out the ice cream into their dixi cups. No net energy for society. Very little of the ice cream will be eaten. At this point, no matter how tasty the resource, the rest of it will be abandoned because is no longer serves a useful purpose to society. In fact with zero EROEI there is no "society". Explaining why an EROEI of grater than one can still cause extraction to stop will be a little more difficult. You would have to work in some representation of capital. In reality, "Society" will run out of capital to assign people to resource extraction long before zero EROEI is reached.
While an exercise like this will help, it is of course no guarantee that everyone will "get it". Taking my brother as an example, he is Peak Oil Aware, although he is still skeptical of Climate Change. Despite agreeing that resource depletion is happening and there are changes ahead, he believes this is still 10 to 15 years in the future yet. He has a good paying job, expects to work until retirement, and just bought a new SUV because he likes to down hill ski a lot in Colorado. Being Peak Oil aware has made no appreciable change to his lifestyle yet, and is unlikely to until he has a personal bad experience from the everyday world that is clearly linked to resource limitations. The choices we make are based on our beliefs, not necessarily facts or reason.

sofistek said...

I'm not sure that the insurance analogy is entirely apt.

Firstly, many climate change deniers simply deny that there is any probability of catastrophic climate change, and so there is no need to take out insurance against its happening.

Secondly, insurance is intended to provide you with the resources to adapt to the catastrophic event, perhaps by replacing or repairing your home. It's not for preventing or mitigating the impacts. For a few people, the chances of their home burning down would cause them to take some measures to reduce the probability of its happening; so they may install fire alarms (though the chances are that they would still take out fire insurance), for example.

For peak oil, some (not me) would argue that actions are already being taken to move to other energy sources (wind, tide, solar, bio-fuels, nuclear), with the implicit assumption that such actions can produce energy at rates required to keep everything ticking along as "normal". With peak oil being almost impossible to argue against (though timing is a hot issue), we need a story that shows alternatives just can't keep civilization powered in the way that fossil fuels did.

Of course, then there are other resources that will also peak and decline ...

Henry Warwick said...

this is a bit off topic, but I think you should read this. It's a really interesting idea of how to use energy resources to pay off debt, in Iceland.