Are Technological Solutions to Peak Oil Possible?

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Honda hosted a truly excellent “thought leadership series” this week, “Race Against Time,” on the topic of our diminishing oil supply (especially relative to global demand) and how we can try to deal with this critical topic. Honda representatives asked me to respond if I had more to add to this conversation. I did have some thoughts to add to the conversation after reading the posts. The following is my first response (I am planning to write another one on EcoLocalizer next week). First, though, is a very brief summary of the first five articles.

Kathy McMahon, Psy.D., a licensed psychologist, kicked off the Race Against Time series with a discussion on how to deal with the reality of Peak Oil once it hits you that it is really going to happen (and soon) and that it is going to mean massive societal change (maybe not pleasant).

Chris Martenson followed that up with an excellent piece on how Peak Oil = “Peak Economy.”

The Oil Drum added an in-depth discussion of the fuel challenges and limited opportunities we will be faced with in the coming years.

Michael Kanellos was more hopeful than the others, it seemed, regarding the possibility that electric cars could address fuel concerns, especially if marketed correctly.

And Preston Koerner of Jetson Green got into the ways our buildings — what we use to make our buildings, how we use our buildings, where our buildings are located, and how we power our buildings — influence our oil and fuel supply and how smart solutions can lead us to a brighter future.

These were all good or even great posts, but there are some holes in them I thought I’d delve into here on Cleantechnica.

Are Technological Solutions Really Going to Solve Our Oil and Fuel Problems?

While some of the articles above imply or say outright that technological solutions to Peak Oil will never be able to solve the problem or keep us from massive societal change, others are more hopeful that with technological breakthroughs and smart decisions by humans we can alter our lives but not have to dramatically change them.

A few videos from a post I recently wrote on our sister site, Planetsave, regarding Peak Oil, Peak Coal, Peak Top Soil, etc. delve into this topic in greater detail than any of the articles above.

The takeaway points from them, as far as I can tell, are as follows:

  1. We are not just running into Peak Oil soon. We are running into Peak Coal as well, and much more. Why?
  2. Because exponential growth, as Chris Martenson discussed as well, is not really possible.
  3. While we have many great clean energy solutions being developed, they also rely on finite resources….
  4. So, perhaps we can keep innovating and using our creative abilities to maintain the lifestyles we have become accustomed to, but really this looks highly unlikely.

Here are these three videos:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eC5uMDQCcRk&feature=player_embedded

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oMIexXz02yc&feature=player_embedded

If You Think There are No Technological Solutions to this Crisis, What are You Doing on a Site about Technology?

This might be the first question that comes to your mind after reading my takeaway points above.

First of all, what is a “solution” and what are the “problems” we’re facing?

We’ve already discussed the problems, right? Sort of. But really, what is the fundamental internal problem for humans? It is that our lifestyles and the way society is organized needs to change, and these changes don’t look appealing to us.

I don’t think there are “solutions” that are absolutely going to say that is not true. But, there are solutions that:

  1. will give us much more time to make that change and to make it more smoothly, and
  2. will perhaps open up new lifestyle and societal organization options for us.

Furthermore, while I said very simply above that innovating our way out of this oil crisis seems “highly unlikely,” I didn’t say, as some of the other authors did, that it would be impossible. I’m not big on making absolute statements like that, especially when it comes to human ingenuity.

Humans have massive unlocked potential, I believe. And while I and many experts on this subject may see no way out of this dilemma, I don’t think there is any point in saying that we can’t try. I love to read and write about amazing technology breakthroughs that no one would have imagined possible ten years ago, let alone 100 or 1000. And while I do think massive lifestyle and societal change is coming, and know that the science behind Peak Oil and other Peaks is strong (and don’t necessarily think massive change would be a bad thing anyway), I don’t really know what lies ahead.

Perhaps we are just in a race against time to solve these Peak Oil and fuel problems, and perhaps that is a race humanity really can win…

Related Story:
Peak Oil This Year, Leaked German Military Report Says

Image Credit: madaboutasia via flickr


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Zachary Shahan

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA], NIO [NIO], Xpeng [XPEV], Ford [F], ChargePoint [CHPT], Amazon [AMZN], Piedmont Lithium [PLL], Lithium Americas [LAC], Albemarle Corporation [ALB], Nouveau Monde Graphite [NMGRF], Talon Metals [TLOFF], Arclight Clean Transition Corp [ACTC], and Starbucks [SBUX]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.

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