# Peak Oil and World Population

Discussion in 'Earth Science' started by jmpet, Feb 8, 2011.

1. ### jmpetValued Senior Member

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I watched a documentary that asserted the argument that our population- if not the world population then certainly the first world population- is as high as it is because of oil. I have heard this argument before and it is a strong one- to briefly go into it, if we didn't have the abundant and potential energy oil has, we wouldn't be able to service the cities which produce nothing and import everything. If the cities had to rely on local sources for food and such, they would quickly starve. It is because of oil that we are able to send food all over the world for consumption and therefore sustain the world population.

This brings up the concept of peak oil and its ramifications. The documentary asserted that X will happen to oil production causing a spike in oil prices then when X is fixed the price goes down- but not back down to where it originally was. In other words, the price of oil is slowly going up as we reach peak oil.

I think it's a given that everyone here agrees with the notion of peak oil and most of us agree that it's going to happen sooner (within the next 10 years or so) rather than later (20+ years from now).

What are the ramifications of this to the human population? What will happen when gas and oil cost $6,$7 a gallon? What do you think is the timetable for this and do you think we have the means to sustain ourselves when peak oil hits?

3. ### nietzschefanThread KillerValued Senior Member

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Na, tankers,trains and trucking will still go on (some electrically off whatever power source -nuke/solar/etc), however your own personal gas guzzler might not be maintainable for most people. Won't stop people from going into debt for ownership, particularly men who can't get laid without one.

Food will get more expensive, but africa is on the rise and has many historical "bread basket" areas. Demand to ship it might decrease, or ship it shorter distances. For we in the west, it might mean cutbacks to your cellphone/cable/hotrod repair....bills. I remember a time most people where I came from anyway, had NONE of those things.

Peak oil means that supply is not increasing, but it doesn't mean we are suddenly cut off. Demand will level off, because it has to level off. Most of the world does not work on a scarcity driven economy.

5. ### spidergoatValued Senior Member

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Of course this is true. Our society will go into a long period of instability. Populations will decrease due to malnutrition, hardship, and lack of optimism for the future. The interstate trucking system will break down, since high fuel costs would eat the slim profit margins. Local farming will increase in importance. Suburbia as we know it will cease to be a viable way of life. Rich people will gather in gated communities, and the federal government will become increasingly impotent. Just read "The Long Emergency" by James Howard Kunstler.

http://www.kunstler.com/index.php

7. ### jmpetValued Senior Member

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I think mega cities with populations of over one million will cease to exist... I think suburbia will do fine being halfway close to the farms that supply the food. In that vein, I would have to concede that the price of aerable land will go up in America- that may actually be a boon to tens of millions of acre-owners.

I think we will once again settle down only this time IN suburbia- places with less than 100,000 population all over America with local farms providing food.

Is it fair to say that the most valuable thing America has left is the physical land of America, which will be valuable worldwide?

8. ### spidergoatValued Senior Member

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It will become increasingly impractical to live in high-rise apartments, that's true.

9. ### jmpetValued Senior Member

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Yes- one can say whereas the power of Rome was in its army, the power of commerce is in the farmer's ability to bring product to market. And when it's no longer sustainable to support 10 million people in a city that city will diminish to a fraction of it's people.

10. ### spidergoatValued Senior Member

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Actually, I think cities are fine, except for high rises that require pumps, elevators, and air-conditioning. Urbanism will become even more important than it is now.

11. ### jmpetValued Senior Member

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Cities provide SERVICES. Amd with no oil, there is no greater service than providing FOOD, which keeps you alive. Cities of one million plus are doomed... we all have to take a step back 100 years and figure it out all again.

Gosh- if we only listened to Tesla from the start...

12. ### spidergoatValued Senior Member

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Of course they will have to be surrounded by agricultural lands, and fortunately, most cities are located next to rivers anyway, so I don't see that as being a problem. The advantage of cities is that you don't have to travel far to your job. There will still be work in manufacturing, which used to take place in cities before the widespread use of petroleum.

13. ### Fraggle RockerStaff Member

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That's been the price of gasoline in Europe since WWII. (It's been rising with inflation but actually I think it was even more expensive 30 years ago, in 2011 dollars.) The national governments levied heavy taxes on it for two purposes:
• Discourage people from buying cars, which would squander petroleum and also require them to build more roads.
• Use the tax money to build commuter and intercity railways.
But to answer your question, what absolutely has to happen in the United States is for our dinosaur-era managers to embrace telecommuting. One-fourth of U.S. petroleum consumption is used directly for commuting. And that doesn't count the myriad second-order effects, such as energy-inefficient fast-food joints feeding people who aren't home, "health" clubs for people who don't get home early enough to get exercise by doing their own gardening, heating and cleaning the office buildings where people sit all day working on computers and talking on telephones just like the ones they have at home, and nannies driving all over town to raise children whose parents never see them when they're awake.

14. ### jmpetValued Senior Member

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Yes- this is half the answer, but what is the other half?

15. ### spidergoatValued Senior Member

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Telecommuting is a band-aid on a spurting artery. The real problem is people living sprawled out all over the place. This is going to change.

16. ### Fraggle RockerStaff Member

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24,690
Obviously we're going to have to transition to another source of energy. There's a whole thread discussing the pros and cons of nuclear power.

The only proposal I have seen that is feasible is to build a network of gigantic solar collectors in orbit, and beam the energy down in microwaves. The problem with this is that it would be the largest project the human race has ever attempted--perhaps by two orders of magnitude. It would require the cooperation of all the wealthy countries, and this means the United Nations would have to evolve into something a little more meaningful than a page in a stamp album. Although it can be built with today's technology, it will still take a hundred years. And how many years (centuries?) will it take for the USA, China, Japan, the EU, Brazil, India, Russia, etc. to agree to this level of cooperation?

In the meantime, while we're waiting, there's no other choice but nuclear power plants.

As I've said before, I'm glad my wife and I have no children. The people who do have children are leaving this world to them!

17. ### spidergoatValued Senior Member

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That sort of investment is only possible at the height of an energy boom. When peak oil hits, we will be lucky if we can afford to heat our houses over the winter.

18. ### SkepticalRegistered Senior Member

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I am far more optimistic than most of the previous posters. This is not the first time the world has foreseen major problems. Those of my vintage will remember the Club of Rome who, in 1973, published a missive titled "Limits to Growth". This involved lots of apocalyptic predictions, such as running out of oil by the year 2000. What they all had in common is that none of them actually happened.

Why do these disasters not happen? Because humans are smart and take measures to prevent them. Human ingenuity is our only real limit, and the limit is way less than pessimists predict.

While I know that oil will run out, I suspect it will happen somewhat later than normally expected, simply because of the effort put into finding more sources of oil. We can expect both a major effort to exploit such things as shale oil, and a major exploration effort to find new oil fields, even if these are in deep water or in high Arctic regions.

Human ingenuity being what it is, we will see a wide range of new methods of providing personal transport. Already the first electric cars, or plug in hybrids are available, and they will become more and more a feature of personal transport. Biofuels, synthetic fuels, and hydrogen based fuels will become a part of the transport story.

I know that many people will dispute this, because there is a strange and insidious emotional attraction to predicting disaster. However, the one thing I am certain of is that science and technology will continue to advance, and this means lots more tools for humanity to use in the future. This most definitely includes transportation.

So, no. Cities will not die. I predict they will grow. They will, of course, change. We will probably, for example, see a lot more underground rapid transit systems, run off electricity. We will see new and innovative ways of generating electricity. Nuclear, hot rock geothermal, tide power, ocean wave power, thermal solar. cheaper solar cells, wind turbines etc.

Perhaps we may see the world's first arcologies?

19. ### SyzygysAs a mother, I am telling youValued Senior Member

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There is actually a counter argument for this. The 2 energy crisises in the 70s pushed out peak oil into the future, thus it happened in 2008, instead of around 2000...

Personally I think there will be a very serious limit to population growth, the question is just if it will come in the form of worldwar or pandemic....

20. ### spidergoatValued Senior Member

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Skeptical, what happened is that oil was discovered in the North Sea. The likelihood of another major oil discovery is getting smaller and smaller.

What happened with the population is that advances in genetics translated into increased food production, so that disaster was simply delayed.

You need to read the 30-year update they published.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Limits_to_Growth

21. ### SkepticalRegistered Senior Member

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spider

Yes, but that is not news. The point is that predictions always need to be updated, because things are always changing. The biggest change is changes to human society and human technology, which are intertwined.

Predictions of disaster have happened throughout human history, and have constantly been demonstrated to be wrong.

Couple examples :
1. Rachel Carson write the book "Silent Spring", published in 1963, which predicted ecological disaster due to toxic pesticides. It never happened, due to human ingenuity designing new, more specific and biodegradable pesticides.
2. Dr. Paul Ehrlich wrote the book "The Population Bomb" published in 1978, which predicted population growth would push the world into massive famine with deaths in vast numbers - a billion or more. It never happened due to human ingenuity in designing new and more productive means of growing food.
3. The rest. Religious disasters, such as final judgements. Military disasters, such as the Ottoman Empire taking over the west. Computer disaster (Y2K). Assorted other ecological disasters. Ozone depletion. Oceanic pollution. etc. etc. Guess what they all have in common?

We have people throughout the 20th Century, and even posters on this forum, predicting massive human population growth causing massive disasters. In fact, the population explosion is over, and growth is slowing. When, 50 years ago, fertility in third world nations was 5.5 children per couple on average, it is now down to 2.5 and dropping. Today the United Nations forecast a maximum world population of 9 billion around 2050, and population stability thereafter.

The thing is that humanity is generating solutions to problems just as rapidly as the problems are arising. We will not be free of problems any time in the predictable future, but none will be overwhelming. Some problems, like limited fresh water supply, we will struggle with, and they will cause considerable human hardship. But we will improve our techniques incrementally, and prevent these problems becoming catastrophes.

22. ### spidergoatValued Senior Member

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I'm not predicting disaster. In fact, the post oil world will in many ways be more rewarding. We will have to make things by hand, and have more respect for craftsmanship and local artisans. But the way of life Americans have come to expect will go away. Rome did not last forever, neither did the Ottoman empire.

23. ### SyzygysAs a mother, I am telling youValued Senior Member

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Hey, Wikileaks just released cables, proving that high ranked Saudi Aramco officials believed the Saudi oilreserves to be 40% less than what the government says it is...