Energy In An Exponential World
By EV World
Congressman Roscoe Bartlett is one of just three PhDs in Congress. He represents conservative western Maryland. He also has a small homestead in West Virginia that is largely solar-powered. He drives a Toyota Prius and plans to buy his second one next year to take advantage of the Energy Policy Act's generous, if limited tax incentive. He can be fairly said to practice what he preaches.
And of late, that preaching includes trying to warm his colleagues in Congress about the reality of peak oil, including giving a number of speeches on the floor of the House. He also recently formed the Peak Oil Caucus in Congress.
He opened his lunch-time address by saying, "I run as a Republican, but after I am elected, I try to be an American", a comment that drew loud applause from the audience of energy industry professionals, environmentalists, lawmakers and media.
His next line drew guffaws of laughter when he said, "If you pick up a [voting record] score card, you will see that I am a very conservative Republican, but I try not to be an idiot." He added that he's been who he is for nearly 80 years now and he's not about to change. "So, what you see is what you get".
And what the ASPO USA participants got was a lecture on the power of exponential growth, which is good when it comes to savings accounts, but less so when it comes to population growth and the consumption of the planet's finite resources, including oil.
He pointed out that just two percent growth means that population doubles every 35 years.
When you apply this, for example, to China's current rate of economic development and its accompanying resource needs -- China is now the worlds leading import nation in nearly every consumable category except oil, which the U.S.A. still leads -- its current 9-10 percent rate of growth means it needs would double in seven years. By 2025, their economic rate of expansion would be eight times what it is today.
The obvious conclusion is either China's rate of growth must slow dramatically, or it must use its resources far more efficiently. The same applies to the rest of the world, which is also competing for many of those same commodities. That includes oil, as Bartlett pointed out.
"Every decade until the [President] Carter years, we used as much oil in the world as we had used in all of previous history. That's a stunning statistic. After the Arab oil embargo that slowed down and we've gotten very good a efficiency". He cited the example of a modern refrigerator that uses as little as a third of the energy of previous models. But this improved efficiency only slightly slowed the rate of consumption.
To illustrate the power of exponential growth, Bartlett referred to an example used by Professor Albert Bartlett from the University of Colorado, who was also present at the conference. Supposedly, the Persian inventor of the game of chess was asked by the king how he would like to be rewarded for his invention. The man asked that the king simply fill each square of his chess board with a grain of wheat, doubling it each time for the sixty-four squares: 1,2,4,8,16,32,64, etc. (Note: there are, in fact 204 squares on a standard board, but pieces can only occupy the alternating colored 64 blocks).
The king unwittingly agreed, not realizing that by the time the last block was filled, it would require more wheat than in all the world.
"Such is the power of compound growth".
Congressman Bartlett reflected on previous presentations at the conference by individuals from the various sectors of the energy industry including shale, tar sands and coal-to-liquids that in fact, we shouldn't be trying to fill the growing gap between world energy consumption and energy production.
"The first reason is we are already doing enough damage to our environment with the level of energy use now. Why would we want to increase that?
"And the second reason is that the higher you go there [in energy production and consumption] the more you're going to fall. There's a saying that if you're digging a hole, stop digging. And if you're climbing a ladder from which you know you will fall, and we know we're going to reach a peak [in oil production] and we're going to come down the other side, the higher you climb that ladder, the further you have to fall".
"So, I would suggest that what we ought to be focusing on is how we can have a high quality of life and use less energy than we're now using."
He went on to say, "We, essentially in this country and the world, have blown 25 years when we've known darn well that this worldwide peak was probably coming because M. King Hubbert predicted it would occur in the United States about 1970. It did. He predicted it would occur in the world -- if you factored in worldwide recessions -- right about now. If he was right about the United States, why shouldn't he be right about the world? And wouldn't it have been advisable to pay a little attention to that?
"So we've blown about 25 years when we had a chance to cushion this fall. So what now do we do?"
You can find out what he recommends by listening to the entire 57-minute program using the Flash-based MP3 Player above or by downloading the 13.6MB file to your computer hard drive for playback on your favorite MP3 device.
EV World expresses its thanks to ASPO USA, Steve Andrews and Randy Udall for granting us permission to attend and record this historic event. The next conference will be held in Boston, Massachusetts in 2006.