Transition Plans

The end of the fossil fuel era and the beginning of the sustainable energy era

The people of the United States will soon realize that the era of cheap fossil fuel is ending soon. They may learn of this from political leaders, journalists, scientists, the Web--the sooner the better. Once Americans accept the existence of the oil depletion problem, they can apply their intelligence and ingenuity toward a transition to sustainable energy.

The Busby Report is good example of a transition plan although it applies to the United Kingdom. [1]

Life after the Oilcrash also describes the transition. [2] The author is from California.

Eating Fossil Fuels is an essay painting a terrifying view of the future. [3] It is well written and well researched.

Here are some possible scenarios for the transition to the era of sustainable energy;

Plan 1: The Smooth Transition Plan

Here is a rough sketch of a hundred year plan that attempts to make a smooth transition to sustainable energy. It is sheer hubris to outline such a plan but any plan, even if imperfect, is better than no plan. The timeline is imprecise and suggests an ongoing process. It is mind boggling to realize that the transport system must be replaced by a system that does not use oil. Americans must be willing to "plant a tree they won't sit under."

Step 1 (timeline: right now)

The government passes legislation to tax gasoline and diesel fuel at European rates. This is unfair to poor people, but that could be redressed by a tax adjustment. Tax jet fuel. Tax any new passenger vehicles (especially including SUVs) that do not get good mileage. Outlaw recreational vehicles of all kinds. The president explains to the people that it is patriotic to conserve oil and gas. Enforce 55 mph on all highways.

Conservation is not the final solution but conservation buys time while a long term solution is implemented. The conserved fuel may be needed to implement the long term solution.

Women around the world are empowered to control the reproductive capacity of their bodies in order promote population control. Overpopulation makes all problems worse.

Step 2 (timeline: one year)

Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) oil is not exploited--it will be much more valuable in 50 or 100 years. Since truck transport consumes four times more fuel (on a ton mile basis) than rail transport, use of railroads is expanded. Carpooling, public transportation, and bicycles also reduce oil use. Funding is expanded for nuclear fusion research and development. The technical difficulties are immense but success means almost limitless power, no green house gasses, and very little radioactive waste.

Step 3 (timeline: 5 years)

Use of oil and gas for electricity generation ends. Wind power, solar power, and tidal power make up the deficit. Better light sources and more efficient refrigerators help also. Some cities have automobile free areas as Europe does now. Coal and nuclear are heavily used although the environmental costs are high. It is now fashionable to conserve energy.

Step 4 (timeline: 10 years)

The Internet actually begins to replace automobile-centric shopping malls. Amazon.com is the prototype for the new fuel-efficient system for distribution of goods. This was supposed to happen in 2000. Many new cars will have three cylinder diesel engines and some will be hybrids. New nuclear power plants begin supplying elecitricty, but many old ones must be shut down as they are well past retirement age. Bioreactors that produce hydrogen and methane from solar energy are investigated.

Step 5 (timeline: 25 years)

Railroads are electrified. Oil and gas are very expensive and usage is less than half of the peak. Biomass generated methane makes a significant contribution to the natural gas supply. Nuclear power provides 40% of all electricity, up from 20% on 2003. (Nuclear power provides 70% of the electricity for France in 2003.) Construction of a full scale fusion reactor for electricity begins. There is widespread recognition that the earth can not sustain the10 billion people that live on the earth. Population control becomes a priority.

Step 6 (timeline: 50 years)

239 mpg carCarbon dioxide content of atmosphere peaks. Sea levels continue to rise. The ultimate fate of Florida, Bangladesh, and other low lying areas is still debated by scientists. The population of world starts to decline due to universal empowerment of women. Large areas of the southwest are devoted to solar farms that produce electricity, hydrogen, and methane. Cities are no longer automobile-centric. Automobiles weigh much less and they get very good mileage. (Volkswagen has a prototype that weighs only 600 pounds and gets 239 miles per gallon.) People often walk to jobs, neighborhood grocery stores, restaurants, shops, etc. Air pollution is much reduced. The obesity, diabetes and asthma pandemics recede. Ocean going ships, air travel, and agriculture still require oil. ANWR oil is finally utilized.

Step 7 (timeline: 100 years)

Fusion reactors become economic and widespread. The fission era is over, the fusion era starts. Oil and gas are essentially gone. Coal is little used. Earth begins to cool. Sea level stabilizes. Most automobiles get power from roadside supplied electric power. They are automated and do not require drivers. Liquefied methane has replaced oil wherever a compact source of energy is required, but it is very expensive and it is used sparingly.

Plan 2: A Bad Plan

This might be called the "market-based approach" or the "politics as usual approach."

Exploit all means to discover and produce oil and gas. Environmental concerns carry some weight but economic concerns carry more weight. ANWR oil is exploited. CAFE standards are encouraged but not if it causes pain to domestic automakers. Of course, no administration can increase the federal gas tax without being voted out of office.

Iraq has the second largest oil reserves in the world and the most underutilized. No effort is spared to exploit this resource. In five years it should be possible to produce enough Iraqi oil to break the OPEC cartel. Saudi Arabia must have money from oil to survive and so they must sell oil at the market price. The resulting low cost oil should keep the economy strong and the Republicans in power for 10 or 12 years.

But this is a bad plan because it lacks foresight. Rapidly exploiting the last of the earth's oil means that the inevitable plunge at the end will be fast. Americans would be bequeathing to their children a nation with a nonfunctioning transportation system and the resulting economic chaos.

Plan 3: An Even Worse Plan

This plan combines Plan 2 with American military might.

The United States is undeniably the world's only superpower. American military is without question the most formidable in the world. At the present time, the U.S. has a strong military presence in Iraq and in Afghanistan. In ten years the Middle East will be the primary source of oil for the entire world, a world still very dependent on oil.

A Middle Eastern country (or countries) might try to conserve its oil resource to its own economic advantage. Or a Middle East country might fall to an Islamic or popular uprising. In any case, there would be an interruption to the flow of oil. That would set the stage.

The United States military might be tempted to invade and to occupy another Middle East oil producing country to restore order and the flow of oil. Sabers have already been rattled at Iran.

That would put the U.S. in de facto military control of the Middle East and its oil. But that is an untenable position because the same region is home to 1.1 billion enraged Muslims. There would be conflict. It is difficult to know what form the conflict would take, but a sudden loss of Middle East oil seems likely.

This is the worst plan for several reasons. The military solution is very expensive in terms of lives, money and world goodwill. Military adventurism cannot increase the amount of oil in the earth. It is clear that Muslims would continue to object to the occupation of their countries. Their resentment is not appreciated by the Bush administration. The outcome has the potential to be cataclysmic.

Future Cars and Future Fuels "Find the cars of tomorrow...here...now" General Motors had the Volt but abandoned it. These are much better. Ultimately, people will have to give up speed, size, comfort and sexiness in their transports. 

[1] http://www.after-oil.co.uk/  The Busby Report considers the measures to be taken to ensure the survival of the United Kingdom in a new century during which the world’s oil will run out.

[2] http://www.lifeaftertheoilcrash.net/ Life after the Oilcrash says: "Civilization as we know it is coming to an end soon. This is not the wacky conclusion of a religious cult, but rather the result of diligent analysis sourced by hard data and the scientists who study global “Peak Oil” and related geo-political events." 

[3] http://www.fromthewilderness.com/free/ww3/100303_eating_oil.html   Author Dale Allen Pfeiffer says this: "This is possibly the most important article I have written to date. It is certainly the most frightening, and the conclusion is the bleakest I have ever penned. This article is likely to greatly disturb the reader; it has certainly disturbed me. However, it is important for our future that this paper should be read, acknowledged and discussed"