How, Precisely, We’re Fucked

A review of a seminal collapse textbook

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Tom Murphy, Jr.; https://escholarship.org/uc/energy_ambitions

Energy and Human Ambition on a Finite Planet is a fantastic (and free) textbook. It teaches physics in the most fascinating way, describing how, precisely, we’re fucked.

I’ll get to how fossil fuels are bad, but for now I’ll talk about how they’re good.

Tom Murphy, Jr.; https://escholarship.org/uc/energy_ambitions

Fossil fuels are incredibly dense and powerful energy sources. A vial of gasoline the size of a AA battery (7 mL) has enough power to lift a car (1,500 kg) up as high as a house (4 m). Fossil fuels are energy dense enough that they can power rockets to the moon. They have been a miracle for mankind, and a curse to our descendants. But we’ll talk about them later. Right now the getting is good.

Fossil fuels have fueled a flourishing in human travel, technology, science, leisure, and debauchery. My grandfather took a boat to England, and now my wife is able to fly back and forth enough to see the children. It’s wonderful. And also temporary. As Tom Murphy magically writes:

Historical progress can fool us into thinking that we can expect a continued march to better substitutes. Having witnessed a half-dozen rabbits come out of the hat in the example of lighting technology, we are conditioned to believe more are forthcoming. It will be true until it isn’t any more. One way to put it is that 6 rabbits does not imply an infinite number. We should welcome each new rabbit, but not hinge our future on a continual stream of new rabbits.

Fossil fuels, of course, are not infinite. By common definition, they are not renewable. Mathematically, they take 100s of millions of years to form, and we’re simply using then 100,000 times faster than creatures can ever get dead and buried. Plus we’re killing all the creatures. Shit is going to run out. We’re already fracking the bottom of the barrel.

Table 8.5: Summary of proven reserves, usage rates, and time remaining for the world and for the U.S.
Tom Murphy, Jr.;
https://escholarship.org/uc/energy_ambitions

The world will run out of oil and gas in about 60 years. Coal in a 100. They’re’ll be some dregs…

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Indrajit (Indi) Samarajiva is a Sri Lankan writer. Follow me at www.indi.ca, or just email me at indi@indi.ca.