June 4th, 2010 may someday be remembered as being the day that the future changed. On this date, the privately built and financed Falcon-9 rocket was launched from Cape Canaveral. Why is event of such great significance?
To understand this we first need to consider where we--human civilization--are at as of mid-2010. Our global political economy is based upon hydrocarbon energy: coal, natural gas, and most especially, oil. Yet oil planetary production has likely peaked. Oil discoveries peaked in the mid-1960's, and discoveries of new oil have declined precipitously since then. Despite use of more sophisticated technology, future production must decline. Current production has been flat for six years now:
There are only a handful of coal exporting countries--principally the U.S., Australia and Russia. The quality of coal being mined now is decreasing. High grade, high energy content anthracite coal seams are being replaced by lower-quality, lower energy and more polluting, bituminous and sub-bituminous coals as anthracite deposits are exhausted. As a consequence of this the net energy produced by coal mining per year may already have peaked. Each succeeding year, less and less net energy will be gained from these inferior, energy-deficient coals, even though the total tons of mined coal will rise for several decades to come.
Natural gas is difficult to transport, creating mostly regional, pipeline based markets. For North America, maintaining current supplies requires use of resource-intensive (particularly water) and environmentally-damaging technologies, principally hydraulic fracturing, or "fraking" as it is commonly referred to. And supplies of this resource will inevitably begin to decline too.
The bottom line is simple: Future growth of the global economy, including maintaining the rapid development of China and India, cannot be sustained. Consequences of hydrocarbon use, principally rapid climate changes as heat builds up in the atmosphere and the oceans, will knock the Earth's climate out of energy balance.
Agriculture is a bet that we understand long-term weather well enough to reliably grow crops. This assumption is violated as the planet slips out of energy balance. Further, each calorie of food grown using "modern" agriculture requires input of about 10 calories of, ever scarcer, ever more expensive, hydrocarbon energy.
Worse yet, the entire global economy consists of debt-based money. Such money only has "value" if future economic growth can be reasonably anticipated to pay it back. Without this assumption the world economy must collapse.
Nothing on Earth, not nuclear, not solar, or wind, or tidal energy can fill the looming energy deficit. We appear to be doomed to civilizational collapse given that nothing on Earth can save us at this late hour.
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