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Thursday, January 12, 2006

212. SCARY PREDICTION FROM DAVID GOODSTEIN

Dan from the peakoil.com blog has a funny report on a talk by David Goodstein at MIT. In case you don't know, David Goodstein is a physics professor, vice provost of Cal Tech, and author of yet another boring, unoriginal, peak oil rehash called Out of Gas.

Anyway, after thrilling the crowd with the usual PO bromides and buzzwords, he dropped this bombshell:

"Civilization as we know it will come to an end sometime in the century, when the fuel runs out."

Wow. And to think that when I first started reading about peak oil about a year and a half ago, civilization as we know it was supposed to be going over the "Olduvai Cliff" sometime in the next year or two. Your only hope was to buy guns, gold, MREs and a place out in the country to play Hee-Haw. Just goes to show how pathetic the "pessimistic" position has become. In light of this new disclosure, our buddy Matt Savinar over at LATOC might want to add a footnote to his intro:
Civilization as we know it is coming to an end soon. This is not the wacky proclamation of a doomsday cult, apocalypse bible prophecy sect, or conspiracy theory society. Rather, it is the scientific conclusion of the best paid, most widely-respected geologists, physicists*, and investment bankers in the world. These are rational, professional, conservative individuals who are absolutely terrified by a phenomenon known as global "Peak Oil".
*) Yes that's right. The physicist Matt links to is David Goodstein. It might be more informative, Matt, to let your readers know that "soon" in this context means "sometime before 2100".
-- JD

28 Comments:

At Thursday, January 12, 2006 at 9:56:00 PM PST, Blogger Omnitir said...

Possibly Goodstein is trying to separate himself somewhat from the extreme pessimists?

The predictions are always changing from when oil will peak to how long after peak it will take for civilisation to collapse. It’s interesting that many doomers are becoming more open to the possibility that collapse isn’t something that happens quickly. Though many still fantasise about imminent collapse.

For those that acknowledge the possibly of a drawn out collapse, how the ongoing collapse will unfold in the decades ahead is a recurring theme in peak oil doomeristic discussions. Yet for some reason optimists aren’t allowed to bring up where future high technologies might intervene in the supposed collapse. If peak oil is the trigger and collapse takes many decades to unfold, isn’t bringing up technological and economic possibilities of the coming decades a valid peak oil counter argument?

 
At Thursday, January 12, 2006 at 10:08:00 PM PST, Blogger John Markos O'Neill said...

I've mentally distanced myself from the peak oil point of view that it's starting to look kind of weird to me. For one thing, there's this crashist (collapsist?) mentality that says, "We must crash." "We must become less than we are." It makes me wonder, why do we have to crash at all?

When doomers talk about civilization crashing, they're not talking about a transition from a high energy society to a lower energy one. They're not talking about ecological footprint. They use the term "societal complexity" and refer to it as something that has to decrease. This way of thinking implies that anything that's technically sophisticated (computers, for example), anything that makes daily life easier by using energy (like an electric toothbrush), or anything that brings far away people closer together (like the Internet) has got to go. It's not a matter of the ecological footprint of these goods. It's their inherent complexity and connection with a complex society.

Well, what if that's completely wrong? As a fan of the techno-fix, I believe that societal complexity and technical sophistication are tools that we can use to adapt to energy constraints.

 
At Thursday, January 12, 2006 at 10:14:00 PM PST, Blogger EnergySpin said...

Did someone read the actual entry by Dan at the depletion blogspot?
Because as far as I can say, he is not making end of the world statements:

Quotes:

"We can no longer live on light from the sun."

"transportation is the most important application of oil"

"Nuclear is the best."

Goodstein gave a pretty thorough rundown of all the major technofixes and their associated "challenges." The most common "challenge" was simply scale.

we would need 200,000 square Kilometers of photovoltaic
it takes 3-6 gallons of fuel to make equivalent 1 gallon of hydrogen gas
We would need 10,000 gigawat nuclear plants

But we can do these thing. "We understand the basic principles."

and he finished by saying: Fusion is our hope


And yes if we build nukes, massive offshore wind farms and deploy PVs at a large scale it will the end of this world, but it will not be the Apocalypse.

Unless I am wrong in my interpretation of the entry in the blogspot, Goodstein is moderately optimistic.

 
At Thursday, January 12, 2006 at 10:34:00 PM PST, Blogger John Markos O'Neill said...

"Civilization as we know it will come to an end sometime in the century, when the fuel runs out," sounds pretty doomy to me. It sounds pretty doomy, that is, unless he means that it will be replaced by some unknown civilization that's even more Bitchun.

 
At Thursday, January 12, 2006 at 11:24:00 PM PST, Blogger Joel123 said...

OK Matt, yet another revision of LATOC coming up.

 
At Thursday, January 12, 2006 at 11:34:00 PM PST, Blogger Roland said...

Civilization as we know it will come to an end sometime in the century, when the fuel runs out

How about this bewdy, the one and only product of the week-long Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate Conference that just happened in Sydney:

We recognise that fossil fuels underpin our economies and will be jan enduring reality for our lifetimes and beyond.

These people are so shortsighted, they need glasses ten inches thick. :-)

Civilization isn't going to come to an end because we run out of fuel. If it's going to end, it'll be because we didn't plan how to manage misuse of advanced technology because we were all busy worrying about running out of fuel.

 
At Friday, January 13, 2006 at 1:38:00 AM PST, Blogger Roland said...

I was just thinking, one thing that's struck me is that while the dangers posed by emerging technologies are just as significant as Peak Oil/ecological collapse etc., the futurist community is worlds apart from the doomer community. The futurists see the opportunity and try and eliminate the dangers. The doomers see the dangers and try and eliminate the opportunity.

 
At Friday, January 13, 2006 at 3:28:00 AM PST, Blogger John Markos O'Neill said...

Well said, Roland. Doomers and futurists observe the same reality and come to different conclusions.

 
At Friday, January 13, 2006 at 10:43:00 AM PST, Blogger Quantoken said...

I do not think the civilization itself will end, unless the resource depletion leads to a full blown nuclear war that leads to the total destruction of the earth, which is a possibility, but not a certainty.

If we manage to prevent the resource dispute from escalating to wars of massively desctructive scale, then we can still manage it with the remaining renewable energy: Hydro-electric, biomass, wind, solar, ocean wave, etc. But the amount of energy available will be much lower than current level and it will be impossible to maintain a world population at current level. So predictably the bulk of today's 6 billion population will be wiped out. It may not be a very visible massive die off within a short period of time, and may be a gradual process lasting a few decades, but in any case at the end of day we will wake up and see a world population reduced to no more than one billion or so. That's a given.

The futurist picture is completely wrong. Whatever form the future civilization takes, if it was to survive, then it must survive on locally available resources in a renewable way. Some future humen may immigrate to the Mars, but those remaining on the earth must do with what's available on the earth and not to expect large amount of resources be shipped to them from Mars. Likewise the Mars population must do with whatever is available on the Mars, and not rely on any resource shipped to them from the earth.

 
At Friday, January 13, 2006 at 11:45:00 AM PST, Blogger popmonkey said...

quantoken:

you say: "but in any case at the end of day we will wake up and see a world population reduced to no more than one billion or so. That's a given."

it is most certainly not a given. is it a possibility? yes. but a given means everyone agrees. by making such comments you make the rest of your argument irrelevant.

i figured perhaps this is a language issue that you weren't aware of, so i thought i'd point this out.

 
At Friday, January 13, 2006 at 11:48:00 AM PST, Blogger popmonkey said...

john and roland: i think it's fair to say that real futurists (not regurgitators) are aware of both the benefits and risks. the optimistic ones concentrate on communicating the benefits and on mitigating the risks. the idealistic ones dismiss the risks even though they are aware of them. the selfish ones actively debunk the risks for personal gain.

 
At Friday, January 13, 2006 at 1:31:00 PM PST, Blogger John Markos O'Neill said...

Something like that, popmonkey. At any rate, I grow frustrated with the optimist vs. pessimist debate. I'm intrigued by the pictures futurists paint and aware of the risks. I want to say, "Let's create a vision of the future we want to see, make an honest accounting of the possible benefits and risks, and then do what it takes to get there. If the accounting shows that the original vision was unrealistic, revise it accordingly." Can one apply GTD to an entire civilization? :)

Futurists provide a far more compelling vision than doomers do, IMO.

 
At Friday, January 13, 2006 at 3:19:00 PM PST, Blogger popmonkey said...

i'm with you john. my biggest worry is not with optimists vs. pessimists but rather with opportunists, especially at a state level.

as an example, the whole korean stem cell debacle did, imho, tremendous damage to genetic research.

 
At Friday, January 13, 2006 at 4:00:00 PM PST, Blogger Roland said...

It may not be a very visible massive die off within a short period of time, and may be a gradual process lasting a few decades, but in any case at the end of day we will wake up and see a world population reduced to no more than one billion or so. That's a given.

Quantoken, with the pace of technological advance we're seeing, I don't think anyone's qualified to predict how we'll be able to use resources in a few decades. It's a sudden die-off or no die-off at all. Since I haven't seen any convincing evidence for a sudden die-off, that scenario doesn't worry me. It's misuse of technology that worries me.

I accept that your predictions could come true if innovation was static and the "western" way of life was unchanged, but that's just not going to happen.

 
At Friday, January 13, 2006 at 4:03:00 PM PST, Blogger Omnitir said...

Quantoken said:
the bulk of today's 6 billion population will be wiped out. It may not be a very visible massive die off within a short period of time, and may be a gradual process lasting a few decades, but in any case at the end of day we will wake up and see a world population reduced to no more than one billion or so.

I’d just like to put this die-off scenario into perspective:
Over the next few decades, just through the natural cycle of reproduction, we are looking at the population increasing to around 9 billion. So for die-off to result in a total population of around 1 billion people in the coming decades, lets just say over the next 40 years, we’d be looking at around 8 billion people dieing – so that’s around 1 billion people dieing every 5 years around the world post peak.

Around one billion people dieing every five years. That’s certainly a “very visible massive die-off”, but is it realistic?

 
At Friday, January 13, 2006 at 4:05:00 PM PST, Blogger Omnitir said...

I suspect this part of what quantoken wrote is at least partially a troll, but since it’s something I’m very interested in I’d like to respond:
The futurist picture is completely wrong. Whatever form the future civilization takes, if it was to survive, then it must survive on locally available resources in a renewable way. Some future humen may immigrate to the Mars, but those remaining on the earth must do with what's available on the earth and not to expect large amount of resources be shipped to them from Mars. Likewise the Mars population must do with whatever is available on the Mars, and not rely on any resource shipped to them from the earth.

Firstly you can’t really say with any certainty that any idea for the future is wrong. Anything is possible; we just don’t know what will happen yet.

As for locally available resources; what’s your definition of locally available? Something within reach of human powered mining operations? Not likely unless we get nuked back to the Stone Age. Technically, anything that we can get our hands on is local, because it’s within our reach. And our reach now extends into space. But talking about colonies on Mars indicates you have a misunderstanding about attaining off-world resources from space. What if in the decades ahead those on earth could acquire substantial and highly valuable resources from space – not by sending colonies to Mars – but simply by tele-operating semi-permanent machines in earth orbit and near earth trajectories? What if in the coming decades processes are established in space making further space missions cheap and easy? So for example, if we need a new LEO solar array built to power some growing population on Earth, instead of spending a fortune blasting the materials into orbit, we get the materials from a storage facility already in orbit, which was deposited there by a simple lunar mining operation (which is cheap to do once the basic infrastructure is established). Or alternatively, if we need metals here on earth, instead of spending a fortune strip-mining depleted existing terrestrial mines, we send another automated probe (again cheaply built in orbit with materials mostly from orbital reserves) which locates one of the many small near earth asteroids and nudges the rock into a high earth orbit, where it’s billions of dollars worth of both precious and common free metals are processed to be later dropped to any location on earth desirable. Or alternatively, instead focusing on electrical generation or metals, the process could be applied to acquiring volatiles from asteroids, which are also abundant.

It may sound far fetched to the non space enthusiast, but keep in mind I am describing a possible process that could occur several decades from now once a basic core infrastructure has been established in space. This “futurist picture” is not completely wrong, but completely possible. The vast resources locally orbiting our planet are within reach of our current technology. It’s really not that much of a stretch to imagine in the decades ahead that these plentiful resources become the resource base for earths future growing population.

But if you think it sound unrealistic, if you think it’s some Star Trek fantasy, stop and consider what one billion people dieing every five years would look like. Who’s really being unrealistic?

 
At Friday, January 13, 2006 at 4:49:00 PM PST, Blogger Quantoken said...

Roland:

No technology progress can break physics laws or exceed physics limit. You can't get more energy out of fossil fuels than the chemical energy that's actually stored there. You can't obtain resources in amount exceeding what's available for us in the nature. Also, any mining and refining activity would not happen in an efficiency that breaks the second law of thermal dynamics. So some resource may well be inheritantly none-feasible due to low EROEI.

Omnitir:
You will not see human population increasing to 9 billion. It will be confined by resources. Most animals have much higher reproductive ratio than human, a typical fish lays millions of eggs at a time. But you do not see the population of fishes to grow to astronomical scale, do you?

The total population WILL decrease once the energy crisis fully kicks in, it doesn't matter how many babies you choose to have. Resource depletion results in widespready poverty, which means an average family can hardly survive, let along having the resource to raise many babies.

Tha massive population die off may take many forms, ranging from conscious decisions to have less number of babies, to failed pregnancies due to lack of nutrition, to child mortality due to the same reason. To war and disasters and overall degradation of the health of the populace, etc. etc. But the end result is the same, you will wake up to see a massively reduced human population. Once the population is reduces to sustainable level, the civilization may be able to continue.

 
At Friday, January 13, 2006 at 11:05:00 PM PST, Blogger Roland said...

No technology progress can break physics laws or exceed physics limit. You can't get more energy out of fossil fuels than the chemical energy that's actually stored there. You can't obtain resources in amount exceeding what's available for us in the nature. Also, any mining and refining activity would not happen in an efficiency that breaks the second law of thermal dynamics. So some resource may well be inheritantly none-feasible due to low EROEI.

Did I ever say that?

Quantoken, if you can disprove the self-compounding acceleration of technological development, or show my why Molecular Manufacturing cannot be done for many decades, or why artificial intelligence is impossible, then please do so.

If you can conclusively prove that to me, I can accept that population will probably peak in several decades and then decline, but it's hardly a "die-off", merely a result of falling birthrates that we are already seeing.

Peak Oil is not going to cause dieoff, since 90% of oil can easily be done without, eventually, by not driving. Coal depletion and global warming are far more serious, but in the very long term I just don't think they're a major threat.

 
At Saturday, January 14, 2006 at 2:14:00 AM PST, Blogger Freak said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At Saturday, January 14, 2006 at 1:25:00 PM PST, Blogger AustinElliott said...

"I accept that your predictions could come true if innovation was static and the "western" way of life was unchanged, but that's just not going to happen."

Roland, if you have not already read it, I highly recommend Diamond's "Collapse," which makes exactly your point. The Greenland Norse died off, not because of climate change, but because they would not adapt to imitate the Inuit lifestyle.

 
At Sunday, January 15, 2006 at 12:18:00 AM PST, Blogger Quantoken said...

Roland:

"Self-componding technology progress" rely on abundant supply of energy as a pre-condition. As the energy is no longer abundant, we will see the picture changed completely on technology progresses.

Molecular manufacturing or artificial intelligence is totally irrelevant as far as feeding the population is concerned. An average human consumes a certain number of calories per day. Technology has not helped at all in that aspect. You can make a computer run 10 times faster or consume 10 times less electricity. But you have NOT invented a technology that allow one to live healthly on 1/10 of of the amount of regular meals, have you.

Technology does figure out ways, with abundant fossil fuel, to allow more food to be produces to feed more population. More food that is than what otherwise could be produced naturally without the help of fossil fuels. Once that supply of fossil fuel dropped, so does the food supply, too.

And as I said, there has been no technology invented which allows more people to be feed on less amount of food. That never happens. Reduced food quantity means reduced population. Simple as that.

 
At Sunday, January 15, 2006 at 12:51:00 AM PST, Blogger popmonkey said...

quantoken, you need to stop making these sorts of statements as if they were fact: "Molecular manufacturing or artificial intelligence is totally irrelevant as far as feeding the population is concerned."

again, this is not a fact. in reality both will have a tremendous impact on feeding the population. molecular manufacturing can revolutionize aggriculture not to mention the actual creation of food. AI will help solve complex aggricultural and feed related problems much faster than humans would.

now, if what you're trying to say is, as i expect, that they are irrelevant if there's no energy to drive them then you're making an arguable point.

p.s. where's the lemming? i miss his insights.

 
At Sunday, January 15, 2006 at 3:13:00 AM PST, Blogger Omnitir said...

Quantoken:
Reduced food quantity means reduced population. Simple as that.

And yet the poorest nations in the world with falling food yields continue to have growing populations. So it’s not as simple as you think.

When people, especially those in developed nations, decrease food intake (a regular occurrence), they usually do not suffer a die-off.

Conservation can be applied to food consumed as well as energy consumed. There is plenty of “fat” to go through before people start starving to death en masse, just as there is plenty of wasteful energy consumption to be cut before all transport and power supplies disappear.

It’s as complex as that.


As the energy is no longer abundant, we will see the picture changed completely on technology progresses.

Recently JD posted about the possibility of PO resulting in an economic boom instead of a recession as everyone automatically assumes. Consider this possibility. As a massive demand for innovation sweeps the world, isn’t it possible that technological progress will actually speed up? It seems likely that companies, facing hard times, will be forced to innovate. R&D could quite possibly see a considerable growth spurt when energy is less abundant, simply because corporations can no longer afford to be wasteful.

p.s. where's the lemming? i miss his insights.
Out hunting down anti-Americans?

 
At Sunday, January 15, 2006 at 9:03:00 PM PST, Blogger Roland said...

"Self-componding technology progress" rely on abundant supply of energy as a pre-condition. As the energy is no longer abundant, we will see the picture changed completely on technology progresses.

Molecular manufacturing will improve the capabilities of solar like you wouldn't believe. Go read about it.

The fact is, only a small amount of oil is used in manufacturing. A relatively microscopic amount is used in hi-tech research. Only a miniscule proportion of fossil fuels are actually used to feed people.

Now, if coal was running out there would be a big problem. But it isn't. We're talking about oil, which is the most readily wasted of all the fossil fuels. I just can't see oil scarcity putting a clamp on technological innovation. If anything, it'll boost innovation aimed at alternate energy sources and better efficiency.

As for food, Popmonkey's right. Molecular manufacturing won't make food at first, but it will make energy and farming equipment much cheaper. It'll soon produce fertilizer, and eventually it will be able to make food directly.

Strong AI or more advanced Weak AI, with its ability to carry out independent scientific research and extend human problem-solving abilities, will have a big effect on everything, food included.

As you say, "Once that supply of fossil fuel dropped, so does the food supply, too." But the total peak of fossil fuels is decades away, and in the meantime tech progress is going to continue, to the point where fossil fuels will be irrelevant.

 
At Tuesday, January 31, 2006 at 10:17:00 AM PST, Blogger Override367 said...

I thought we had already debunked the oil=food debate, given that China produces a substantial amount of food from coal generated fertilizer - using decades old technology, not some utopian star trek gizmo that "will never happen".

 
At Tuesday, June 19, 2007 at 9:22:00 AM PDT, Blogger Caseygrl said...

I agree with Omnitir and JD's previous post of there being a boom rather then a bust. If one thinks that humans are just going to sit back and watch their world crumble to ashes, they'll have to wait for a veery long time. Logically, there would be a boom in the alternative fuel industry, as people realize that oil's not the fuel de jure anymore. It's already happening, at a small scale. It's going to happen in a larger scale in the near future, either due to PO or global warming. Look at the concept cars for many of the automakers, look at the various companies in the solar, wind, and fuel industry. I can predict that once the US gets a new president, preferably one who's not at the beck and call of the oil industry, we'll see a bigger rise in alternative fuels.
Here's another thing, Google's offering $10 billion worth in grants for alternative fuel companies. Wouldn't that be considered progress? Whether we notice it or not, change IS happening. And PO hasn't even happened yet. So the mitigation's already starting, albeit it's small right now, but give it a few more years, and it'll really take off.

 
At Saturday, April 26, 2008 at 2:07:00 AM PDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think there the largest threats to our food supply is not peakoil, but erosion, soil depletion and changing precipitation patterns due to climate change.

 
At Friday, March 12, 2010 at 8:58:00 AM PST, Blogger Richard said...

Goodstein is yet another chair bound EGGHEAD who is all theory, and lacks practical knowledge in terms of how the world operates outside of the ivory towers of academia. What does Goodstein know about the real world? NOTHING. Pure fear mongering. When I was a student at Penn State in the early eighties, a member of the faculty predicted that mankind would perish in a nuclear holocaust before the end of the 80s. Dah! Go figure! Goodstein never heard of the Bakken oil formation. Also, we have enough oil offshore to supply our energy needs for 100 years. Goodstein the absent minded professor also left out natural gas and nuclear energy out of his highly inaccurate equation. Goodstein is a superb writer of fiction. I'll bet the global warming kooks love this guy.

 

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