Take a minute or two to study the chart below. It is just issued by the International Energy Agency, an industry-centric organisation not prone to engaging in eco-alarmism. But this is alarming, truly shocking in fact.
The dark blue chart area is the one to watch. This is the real, live oil, the stuff civilisation runs on. Today, it provides around 70 of the 82 million or so of oil-equivalent barrels we burn each day.
Now, follow the line to 2020 – in just 10 years, it’s plummeted around 60% to 40 million barrels a day, from fields currently producing crude. Add another 10 years, and it’s down to maybe 25 million barrels. Demand, on the other hand, is estimated to have climbed by 2030 to maybe 105 million barrels a day.
With only 25 million coming from our currently producing fields, one of two scenarios will play out: (a) by some miracle, fields as yet undeveloped will chip in at least 20 million barrels a day, PLUS fields yet to be found will whack in close to another 20 million barrels PLUS non-conventional oils (like the filthy Alberta tar sands), along with additional enhanced oil recovery PLUS a huge upsurge in the usage of liquid natural gas will plug the remaining chasm; or (b) this isn’t going to happen in a million years, let alone 10-20.
Let’s be glum for a moment and assume (b). This scenario is likely to mean that current crude, plus whatever else can be squeezed into service, may manage 50-60 million barrels a day – i.e. less than half the projected demand by 2030, and well behind even today’s level. That’s not good.
The oil shocks of the 1970s, which flung Europe and the US into recession for the guts of a decade, were triggered by a single-digit percentage temporary and reversible reduction in oil supply. Put simply, by any rational analysis, these IEA projections are incompatible with what we might call electromagnetic civilisation, ie. the way we’ve run the world for the last century and more.
An energy crash on this scale would be off the Richter scale in terms of anything we’ve had to cope with. Societies with access to non-fossil energy and plenty of it, will do a lot better than those that don’t. As societies desperately switch to more and more coal burning to keep the lights on, the climate crisis deepens. For us, that’s not good at all. Renewable energy still looks like a pipe dream here, especially inside those time scales, and at the current rate of progress.
We won’t go nuclear, of course, because we know better, and have done so for the last 30 years. That ship has, most likely, already sailed. Speaking of ships, if the graph above maps our future, it reminds me of the old mariners’ charts which used to mark the uncharted extremities with the phrase: “there be dragons”.