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Days of Future Past

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Whispering Death
Whispering Death
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"It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future." Yogi Berra.

Anticipating the future course of events for the coming years and decades of this century is both easy and hard. Easy because the broad outlines are already determined. Hard, because the specific ways in which causal variables (for example global warming and the economy) will influence one another is difficult to foresee accurately.

A good strategy is to keep the modelling as simple as possible, though no simpler. The simplest model involves only two variables: a independent variable ("IV"), and an dependent variable ("DV"). It can be graphed like this: IV-DV. Meaning that any change in the independent variable, CAUSES some corresponding change in the dependent variable.

For the IV I have selected human-caused (anthropogenic) climate change. For the DV, the global economy. Anthropogenic climate change is driven primarily by burning carbon-based fuels: coal, oil, and natural gas. These substances, coincidentally, power human civilization. Human civilization thus is dependent upon substances that, if overused, will destroy it. Like any addiction, the only cure is to stop using the harmful substance. Yet the business of running our economy is massively dependent upon these dangerous fuels.

Is global warming "real"? It is alleged that global warming is a hoax perpetuated by countless thousands of scientists for some reason or another. (1) Frankly, anyone who actually believes this garbage is a fool who well deserves to be a part of the mass extinction they are allowing. We know global warming is indeed real because we understand physics. Greenhouse gasses such as carbon dioxide have the effect of preventing solar radiation from escaping back to space after striking our planet. That is not opinion, it is easily verified physics. Without the greenhouse effect provided by our atmosphere, Earth would be about 140 F colder than it is!

Currently, the magnitude of excess heat buildup in our atmosphere is, per climatologist James Hansen: "The equivalent to exploding 400,000 Hiroshima bombs per day, 365 days per year."(2) Scientists refer to this excess energy as a "forcing". This because it forces the environment to behave differently from otherwise. Currently our excess radiative forcing amounts to about 3 watts per square meter (yard). This may not sound like much, but considering the scale of the planet, it is. All of the above can be easily determined using objective measurement.

Because the Earth is very inhomogeneous (different parts of it are very different: mountains, seas, rivers, icecaps etc.) the manner in which it responds to this forcing is less clear. But respond it does, per the laws of thermodynamics. Given increasing energy buildup, the result inevitably MUST be the progressive destabilization of the atmosphere as it is knocked out of energy balance. Ever-increasing destabilization of the atmosphere MUST wreak havoc with industry, agriculture, all of human civilization. THIS is our inevitable near-term future if we continue with business as usual. But it gets more complicated.

Production of conventional oil peaked in the last decade. In 2010 the UN's International Energy Agency (IEA) confirmed this fact. (3, 4) Only energy-intensive production of ever-less-desirable fuel sources such as tar sands and "tight" oil and gas via fracking, has, for now, allowed for total (including nonconventional oil) production to remain about even with its peak in the last decade.

Fracked wells have steep decline rates--about 3 years and they are at least 90 percent depleted! Only ceaseless drilling allows for production to increase--for now. (5) Many analysts anticipate that the US boom in fracked oil will turn to bust for this reason later in this decade. My assessment is that fracked production will begin a relentless decline around 2016-17.

Further, all of this new unconventional oil required much more energy to produce and refine than did conventional oil. The energy return on energy invested (EROEI) for such oil is low, and falling. See my previous article HERE for much more on EROEI and its significance. However, to grasp the implications of EROI decline, at a time when conventional oil production has peaked, see this graph:

Source: http://peakoil.com/generalideas/energy-part-ii-eroei

Here's where things get REALLY bad! Even with all-out production, the net EROEI drops far faster than does production. This results in the worst possible outcome: massive amounts of additional carbon being added to the atmosphere corresponding with ever-diminishing amounts of net energy to actually power our economy. Global warming thus intensifies while our economy undergoes remorseless energy-derived contraction. Further, ever-intensifying climate change further destabilizes the economy and human civilization in general.

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Michael P Byron is the author of The Path Through Infinity's Rainbow: Your Guide to Personal Survival and Spiritual Transformation in a World Gone Mad. This book is a manual for taking effective action to deal with the crises of our age including (more...)
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