Tag Archives: Ugo Bardi

Charts du Jour, 18 March 2015: Shale and Seneca’s Cliff

In the words of the Roman philosopher Seneca:

Increases are of sluggish growth, but the way to ruin is rapid

Lucius Annaeus Seneca was musing on the accelerated rate of decline and fall of empires a couple of thousand years ago. The chemist and scholar of the post-growth world Ugo Bardi has borrowed the philosopher’s name for his idea of a Seneca Cliff–the precipice over which our complex society will likely (according to him) tip and fall.

While such ideas gained considerable traction a few years ago (fanned by rocketing fossil fuel prices and the impact of the Great Recession), they are now deeply out of fashion. Doesn’t Bardi know that we live in an age of abundance, or so the shale oil and gas story goes.

Befitting the name of his blog, Bardi remains a committed Cassandra, warning all those who will listen. To my shale oil production chart of yesterday, Bardi responds with this first (all is well in the world of cod):

Cod Landings jpeg

And then this (perhaps it was not as well as it seemed):

US Cod Landings Latest jpeg

Full blog post by Bardi on this theme is here. But does the argument “so goes cod, so will go shale” hold true?

This is certainly the view of the geoscientist J. David Hughes, who maintains a web site called “shalebubble.org“. On it, you will find a number of Hughes’ reports published under the imprint of the Post Carbon Institute, the latest going under the title of “Drilling Deeper‘. The full report is 300 pages long, but Hughes concludes that the US Energy Information Administration has built a production forecast on the back of a series of three false premises. Further, based on these, the US economy has taken as truisms a series of false promises (click for larger image).

False Premises and Promises jpeg

Should Hughes’ analysis be correct, then Seneca’s Cliff may beckon. Within a decade we will know one way or another. Never forget: Cassandra was proved right in the end.

All Liquids Are Not Created Equal (Revisited)

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post pointing out some of the difficulties posed by the move away from ‘crude oil’ to ‘all liquids’ reporting by BP, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) and the International Energy Agency (IEA) when they publish their flagship yearly reports (see herehere and here).

I also showed some numbers taken from Table 3.4 in the IEA’s World Energy Outlook 2012 (click for larger image). The declining share of crude oil within the overall ‘all liquids’ mix is obvious.

Oil and Liquids Supply jpg

It’s worth drawing attention to some charts taken from a post by Marco Pagani on Ugo Bardi’s excellent blog Cassandra’s Legacy. Note Pagani’s post is, in turn, a summation of original work done (in Italian) by Antonio Turiel. We start with the IEA’s headline chart that shows ‘all liquids’ on a healthy (in energy terms rather than climate) rising trend:

IEA Predictions jpeg

Turiel then makes two adjustments to the chart. Continue reading

The Club of Rome, Skeptics and Myths We Believe

On Wednesday I attended a Cafe Scientifique talk in my home town of Henley. The presentation was on peak oil theory and given by Professor Chris Rhodes (who blogs at Energy Balance).

While the talk was of interest itself, what jumped out at me the most was one of the questions within the Q&A session. It went along the lines:

We have seen forecasts of future resource scarcity before, but in reality technology and the market have shown such forecasts to have been ridiculous. Didn’t the Club of Rome predict that the oil would run out 50 years ago?

At the mention of the Club of Rome, there was a general nodding of heads and murmur of approval.

At this point, I need to give a bit of an explanation of what Cafe Scientifique does and the kind of people attending (for those unfamiliar with the organisation). Its aim is to foster debate on the scientific and technological issues of the day within a non-academic context. Cafe Scientifique, and its sister organisation Skeptics in the Pub, attract a certain kind of person: highly educated, numerate and questioning. Many of them view themselves as “skeptics” (or “sceptics” if you like) in the original sense of the word (before the rise of the “climate skeptic”); that is, individuals who will not accept a proposition as a fact until it is subject to analytically robust evidence-based testing. Accordingly, I believe that few in the room didn’t have a science or numerate-based degree, and many had advanced degrees.

With this is mind, the statement within the Q&A session that the Club of Rome had predicted the world would soon run out of oil and other resources appeared to be taken as a fact by all those highly educated and very “skeptical” people. Except, of course, it isn’t a fact—it is pure fiction. Continue reading

Technology: Singularity or Collapse? (Part 1: For Ever Exponential)

In the opening chapter of Ray Kurzweil‘s “The Singularity Is Near” we are presented with the following parable:

A lake owner wants to stay at home to tend to the lake’s fish and make certain that the lake itself will not become covered with lily pads, which are said to double their number every few days. Month after month, he patiently waits, yet only tiny patches of lily pads can be discerned, and they don’t seem to be expanding in any noticeable way. With the lily pads covering less than 1 percent of the lake, the owner figures that it’s safe to take a vacation and leaves with his family. When he returns a few weeks later, he’s shocked to discover that the entire lake has become covered with the pads, and his fish have perished. By doubling their number every few days, the last seven doublings were sufficient to extend the pads’ coverage to the entire lake. (Seven doublings extended their reach 128-fold.) This is the nature of exponential growth.

While ‘the water lily and the lake’ appears a strange choice of metaphor since if nothing else it highlights the importance of boundaries to growth, what Kurzweil was trying to communicate was how technology has barely begun to transform our lives.

By contrast, consider the 1972 report to the Club of Rome published under the title “The Limits to Growth.” Much maligned and mostly misrepresented, The Limits to Growth (LTG) was nothing more than a mathematical analysis of linear and exponential growth rates and ultimate constraints. According to the authors, the tyranny of exponential growth rates would eventually lead population and industrial production to explode, setting off a negative feedback in terms of burgeoning pollution and the eventual exhaustion of food and resources. The report never provided specific dates for the depletion of individual materials, although nine our of ten commentaries on the report claim it did (for a post I did on this particular urban legend, see here). Nonetheless, what the report did do was suggest that the idea of inevitable constant human progress was a dangerous myth. Continue reading