Sciencemadness Discussion Board

The future, and oil

searat - 22-3-2005 at 05:54
What do people think of this. Should we all be going onto the internet to get as much infomation as possalbe, or is this some nut?

Say it is true what will peoples plans and ideas be to protect themselevs and family?

T_FLeX - 22-3-2005 at 06:33

I feel the whole subject of peak oil and the future demand crisis is a serious subject especially for people like myself who are still in school trying to live the American dream (work hard and it will pay off). I see that my country has become dependant on foreign oil and I don’t see enough effort to reduce this dependence, in fact all I see is just the opposite like the war in Iraq and various tax breaks for people who purchase huge SUV’s. I don’t think people realize the mechanism for why the U.S. is so powerful. We are effectively the “middleman” in almost all global oil transactions because the sale of oil is done using the U.S. dollar. This creates a huge demand for our currency, hence our trade deficits. We no longer make actual goods, and we don’t really need to as long as the system stays where it is. Our number one export is actually U.S. dollars and various “services” which will not hold water when the scarcity of oil is realized. Our whole economy has become centered on money which is supported by the global trade of oil. Once demand and price goes up I am positive countries will cut out this middleman, and I say good for them.

Every time I try to voice my concerns and try to explain this to people they get defensive. I don’t necessarily hate my country, I’m thankful for the opportunity it has given me so far, but I honestly can’t see the country going anywhere but down in the coming years. The U.S.A. is becoming way too religious/ignorant for my liking and after graduation I plan on moving to Brazil.

rift valley - 22-3-2005 at 07:47

The general public when they hear oil crisis, they think gas prices at the pump will go up. They never stop and look around them and realize that almost everything in their lives originated with the use of crude oil. Our roadways, anything plastic and most importantly our food. It will be interesting to see how food prices/availability change once fertilizer can no longer be made so cheaply, all of the earths arable land is already being used for the production of food so what will happen when the soil becomes depleted of its nutrients and cannot be replenished with fertilizers? In America we destroyed the grasslands long ago, which were once a wonderful producer of food for cattle etc. are now replaced with corn fields that are fed fertilizers, and the corn is in turn fed to cattle, along with steroids and antibiotics (why I am a vegetarian). I forget the exact statistic but for every ten calories of energy that is put into food production we obtain five calories from. I don't know how far away it is from happening, but unless big changes are made there is going to be a oil crisis. Sorry for going off on a tangent but this whole situation deeply worries me.

fvcked - 22-3-2005 at 08:42

*Sigh* I had this thing I wrote... And it was gone in a matter of a few seconds... I'll just paraphrase it so you get the meat of it, if you will.

If we were to grow hemp and use it to it's full extent, we would reduce cost of clothing, reduce our oil dependency, and be able to export actual goods again! Wow, a few paragraphs condensed into that... :(

12AX7 - 22-3-2005 at 10:13

Originally posted by fvcked
If we were to grow hemp and use it to it's full extent, we would reduce cost of clothing, reduce our oil dependency, and be able to export actual goods again! Wow, a few paragraphs condensed into that... :(

Not to mention crime concerning illegal drug trade.

Let's see... when oil dies... Idunno about the petrochemical industry, but fuel will probably go to grain alcohol and biodiesel. Natural gas may turn to city gas, although the monoxide would probably prevent that happening again (whether or not it works well). Maybe destructive distallation of wood.. hydrogen, methane, formaldehyde (sure, that should burn a little?), and so on. Or get rid of natural gas altogether as it gets more expensive...


Twospoons - 22-3-2005 at 13:41

Too many people. Thats the real problem.

As for the US dollar - if the Chinese ever unpeg the yuan from the dollar, then the dollar will go into free-fall, and I'd guess the Euro will become the currency of choice.

my guesses

Polverone - 22-3-2005 at 13:49

We'll see much heavier use of nuclear power. Wind power will also be more heavily used. Reprocessed biomass and coal will both become more popular as feedstocks for producing chemicals and fuels. Standards of living will decline slightly over the medium term, and might decline sharply over the short term. The good news is that industrial civilization can continue. The bad news is that we'll continue to pump CO2 and pollutants into the atmosphere for a long time yet, and that there may be severe disruptions in the near future.

rift valley - 22-3-2005 at 16:02

This is a very well written article that was in Harpers almost a year ago (IIRC) The Oil We Eat

T_FLeX - 22-3-2005 at 16:34

Originally posted by fvcked
If we were to grow hemp and use it to it's full extent, we would reduce cost of clothing, reduce our oil dependency, and be able to export actual goods again! Wow, a few paragraphs condensed into that... :(

Indeed that would be a start, but I got a feeling our government will not change the laws regarding marijuana anytime soon. Maybe more states will allow medical marijuana but no changes on the federal level will be made in my lifetime.

Back on subject, I find myself wondering how drastic this crisis will be. I see on the news about how I shouldn’t be worried about high gas prices because historically the gas prices we have today are cheap! Be thankful right? But things have changed a lot in the last decade especially around Atlanta where I live. There are people that spend an hour commuting to work one way just because you can’t find houses at reasonable prices near work. I really can’t see people coming together and saying O.K. we have a crisis on our hands let’s work together and pull through this.

What do you guys think?

Don't forget about coal

blazter - 23-3-2005 at 15:15

If the price of oil goes through the roof, I highly doubt it would be as bad as people are saying it would be. Coal reserves are still very vast and coal can be refined to similar fractions as oil already is. One of my professors claimed that if gasoline reached a price of around 5$ a gallon without tax, it would become economically feasible to begin producing gasoline from coal.

On the other hand, if fossil fuels became so expensive, it would be likely that biofuels would become competitive and would probably take over the market simply because they would be cheaper. Hemp would be a promising source for biofuel, but I think it unlikely that the US govt would authorize hemp cultivation until a crisis is at hand.

The only other time that the US govt. has budged on the hemp issue was during WWII and rope fibers were in short supply. Supposidly much of the "ditch weed" found in the southern US is decended from plants that were raised for the war effort. In a bit of irony, the DEA is also allocated vast sums of money to fly helicoptors around to "eradicate" these same plants. The efforts seem even more futile because industrial hemp plants only contain minuscule amounts of psychoactive chemicals like THC.
Canada has already begun cultivating hemp for fiber and seed production, but the political climate there is much different than the US.

Its unfortunate that many people do not realize that strains of cannabis known as hemp have no psychoactive properties, yet is regulated the same as strains from Holland that have been selectively bred for potency. If one were to try and smoke parts from industrial hemp, it would probably be no more psychoactive than smoking newspapers.

12AX7 - 23-3-2005 at 20:26

Originally posted by blazter
Canada has already begun cultivating hemp for fiber and seed production, but the political climate there is much different than the US.

I'm always teasing my friends in BC about the wide spread of marijuana...

'Course, they are taking advantage of it, too.

Its unfortunate that many people do not realize that strains of cannabis known as hemp have no psychoactive properties, yet is regulated the same as strains from Holland that have been selectively bred for potency.

Although I don't doubt that some breeds of cannabis are low in THC, I heard it was the male plant which is nearly devoid of the chemical. The female plant however is rich with THC, especially the buds from which hassish is made.



MadHatter - 24-3-2005 at 17:03

Polverone, heavy uses of nuclear power ? I hope that's true ! It's the main choice
for high density energy production. My boss, at the university where we work, recently
showed me an article he contributed to. It discusses the use of this fission materials
that can be recovered from nuclear weapons that have been decommissioned.
The article emphasized 2 key points, both of which I agree with. 1) The material is already
enriched - no expensive processing costs. 2) This could keep it out of the hands of
terrorists by not having it lay around unused. Immediately, an environmentalist co-worker
pointed out the radiation of the wastes produced. I countered by saying that it's already
radioactive so why not consume it as fuel.

I see it as a potential to replace oil burning power plants. This would reduce our
dependence on oil imports. Then replace the coal burning power plants. IMHO, the benefits
far outweigh the risks. Certainly, less CO2 and hydrocarbon emissions into the
atmosphere has to be a plus.

I'll ask my boss if there's a website for the article. All comments and criticisms are welcome.

Geomancer - 24-3-2005 at 18:51

Hmm... so many interesting things to talk about. I think we can't actually afford to burn even the oil we have without suffering consequences. Certainly we can't afford to burn all the fossil fuels (coal and natural gas are almost as good as oil, and there's plenty of both).

As for alternatives though...
I don't think that hemp is likely to give more energy than corn (maize) will. For human consumption corn and potatoes, IIRC, give the most bang for the acre. Are you sure that hemp clothing is cheaper, per garment, than cotton? In general, I doubt agricultural energy production can fill demand, at least unless we eat a whole lot less meat.

Among existing technologies most are not good for general application. Wind is reasonably mature, but hardly as clean as billed (it uses land, makes noise, kills birds) and only works well in certain places. Tidal and hydroelectric have similar problems (I have an abiding hatred of the last one, in particular. Look at any detailed world map to see why.) Geothermal would be cool, but nobody seems to know how to do it in regular people's countries (Iceland being the exception, ironic seeing how they are known for their cold ground.). Solar has too big capital outlays, at the moment.

Nuclear, then, gets it, in the short term. Your coworker was right though, MadHatter. There is no conservation law for radioactivity. Nuclear reactors create radioactive waste by irradiating stuff around them. Moreover, the products of the reaction are often really nasty, like radioactive Iodine which the thyroid clutches onto like a bum with nickels (I think it has a short half life, thank God). That said, I think waste can be disposed of safely. Subseabed disposal, in particular, should be investigated. Politically it won't fly though. People will confuse it with ocean dumping.

Long term, covering every available manmade surface with cheap, effecient solar cells should meet most needs. I'm willing to bet these will consist of some sort of arrangement with a cyanobacterium or the like, the bug producing and maintaining the cell's sophisticated pigment arrays. Speaking as a US citizen, this could be great for my country, IF someone were paying attention. The production process is apt to be capital intensive, meaning not only do we get energy independence, we'll probably end up dominating the industry as well. We have reletively low latitude desert regions, allowing us to outcompete Europe (alas, so does China.). Lesser nations can then be strongarmed into signing on for increasingly heavy taxes on fossil fuels, increasing our own competetiveness and the export market for the cells. Yeah, that's right, you WILL be assimilated.

chemoleo - 24-3-2005 at 19:01

Btw, I never quite saw the problem with nuclear waste. I am happy for them to dump it in old salt mines. Give it a couple of hundred years, and the radioactive stuff can be dug out and be shot (cheaply hopefully then) directely into the sun. It won't even need that much energy, as, once out of the earth's gravitational sphere, it will enter a path towards the sun automatically.

So, with safe & reasonably cheap space technology, nuclear waste should not be a lasting problem, i.e. a problem of nuclear waste persisting for millions of years. 500 years at the most (unlike GW does something stupid ;) ) should sort it out.

12AX7 - 24-3-2005 at 19:10

The thing that pisses me off about nuclear waste is there's valuable U235 and Pu STILL in the rods. They (people and the respectively elected politicians) are too chickenshit to refine it and save the energy.


unionised - 25-3-2005 at 08:41

Your politicians might be that ill advised. Over here in the UK they reprocess the stuff.

BTW, I'm not sure that biofuels work very well, they need a lot of energy to fertilise and harvest/ process. In a lot of cases that will be more than the energy derived from them.

12AX7 - 25-3-2005 at 13:10

What we REALLY need to do is either a) set up solarthermal arrays in the desert as cheaply as possible (none of that silicon BS), or b) process biomass, by which I mean essentially go back to our roots and burn wood instead of fermenting, distilling and so on. Too bad a good (not to mention safe) firebug is hard to find in the average kitchen; solid fuel will never catch on.


Dave Angel - 25-3-2005 at 16:09

About those iodine isotopes - reactors produce at least a couple afaik: I-129 and I-131. The latter is useful in medical imaging and treatment and has a half-life of 8.04 days. However, I-129 is much more persistent with a half-life of 15.7 million years! Fortunately, such a long half-life leads to very low activity.

Something I recently found at wikipedia looks interesting; it's called an energy amplifier. Basically, it's a sub-critical fission reactor driven by a particle accelerator beam that could be sustained by the energy from the fission with excess to go around. Still in the R&D stage, it would also be able to convert existing nuclear waste to less unpleasant materials.

It's going to be politics with most of these things of course - I'll try not to get too political, but I'm sure all that money spent on the war could have set up plenty of these ideas. Let's just hope the politicians get their act together - sometimes I wonder if they have decent science advisors or if they even listen to them!

blazter - 26-3-2005 at 11:16

Low THC varieties of hemp do certainly exist, just as ulta high potency strains exist from selective breeding. Taken from a Canadian website

"industrial hemp seeds must be of a variety listed in Health Canada's List of Approved Cultivars. Plants and plant parts may not contain more than 0.3% THC when sampled and tested in the approved manner. Products made or derived from hemp must not contain more than 10 micrograms of THC per gram."

It would seem that the .3% limit also applies to the flowering tops (buds), and considering that high quality marijuana can clock in at something like 15% THC, this would probably some of the worst schwagg anyone could ever come across if they wanted to smoke it. There is some dependency on plant sex for THC content, but again, in this case .3% would be the upper limit of what would be legal for the female plants as well.

Supposidly the fibers and grain have some superieor properties when compared to other conventional crops. According to that website they also don't really need pesticides and well, they grow like weeds. At the very least it would seem like a useful niche crop.