Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Good article on Energy slaves

Taken from and continued here


Energy slaves don't look like the workers honored on Labor Day: the lineman restoring your power after a storm, the backhoe operator digging a house foundation or the nurse changing a patient's bandages. They symbolize the energy sources that heat and cool the buildings and power the machines that run our society. One energy slave represents the power output from a human working as hard as a slave driver might drive a slave. A strong human working hard all day can put out roughly 100 watts of power. Working hard 12 hours per day, six days per year, 50 weeks per year, a human can produce about 1 million BTUs of energy — the amount of energy contained in eight gallons of gasoline.

From oil alone, 150 energy slaves serve the average person in the United States. The electrical line worker drives a truck everywhere; the backhoe makes digging a foundation in flinty soil seem effortless compared to digging by hand in sand; and the nurse uses bandages and medicines made with and from oil, in a hospital heated with oil.

But now the slaves are starting to slip away.

World crude oil production peaked in May 2005 and is down 2 percent – despite record-high oil prices and economic growth that normally translates into increasing use of oil. This world peak and decline has been forecast for over 50 years. When half the recoverable oil in a region is pumped out of the ground, the rate of production starts declining. The U.S. oil production peak was in 1971, and production has halved since then.

Oil is finite: The permanent decline in world oil production is inevitable. A 2005 study for the U.S. Department of Energy concluded that to successfully prepare for peak oil, the nation needed to begin 20 years before the peak and with an Apollo project level of effort. Yet peak oil seems to have already arrived.

There's not much that can substitute for oil. There's a lot of talk about ethanol and biodiesel for vehicles, but their production worldwide can be increased by less than a million barrels per day in the next five years, while demand is expected to increase by more than 10 times that much. Natural gas can heat buildings (and even fuel vehicles), but natural gas production itself is years past peak in North America and increases in imports are unlikely.

In Vermont, we're especially vulnerable. We have long, cold winters, a rural population dependent on cars, and we use oil to import 95 percent of our food (and to grow all of it). Vermont has no in-state sources of oil, and the United States as a whole (once the world's largest oil exporter) imports about two-thirds of its oil. As world oil production declines, oil-producing countries will likely use a larger proportion of their remaining production themselves. Oil may become scarcer faster in Vermont than in the world as a whole.

It's past time for us as individuals and as a society to start learning to live with fewer of these energy slaves. The key is to use energy much more efficiently and relocalize our economy, using food, renewable energy and materials from our own backyards or state rather than from across the globe.

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