Saturday, August 19, 2006


Even the guys who get it best don't always get it

Bob Hirsch, of Hirsch report fame, gave a presentation at the 5th Assn. for Study of Peak Oil conference in Pisa, Italy. Looks like he's planning for business as usual on climate--sees no limit to the amount of liquid fuels we can make from coal if we simply apply enough money. The thought that we might not all need to be driving apparently hasn't entered into the calculations yet.

This decision of whether to use coal-to-liquid to replace lost oil is to my mind the biggest question to face humans since our origins. At least some of the cons are obvious even to me, a non-specialist:

a. the implied increase in coal extraction and use will shorten the useful life of coal as a resource - from something like 5 decades to 2-3 decades

b. even with a humongous investment, I doubt that it can replace the missing oil or even come close, assuming 4-5%/year oil extraction rate decreases starting in a few years

c. doubling coal use doubles the rate of co2 production which more than overcompensates for what we've been doing with oil, so the rate of co2 production overall would actually go up in spite of reducing oil use

d. implication of "c" is almost certainly disastrous for everyone, and combined with peak coal in 2-3 decades would most likely be far worse than powering down starting now with peak oil, especially factoring in the troubles associated with dealing with rapid climate change at the same time as trying to become sustainable with less and less oil: in short, the more we overshoot, the worse the end result

I'm very glad I won't be around to see the consequences should we actually make the oil to coal switch for transport. That will produce the most ugly of all possible scenarios I can think of. The real problem: I think this switch, or at least an attempt to switch, is highly likely and has already begun.
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