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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Peak Oil and Future of Energy

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David Goodstein outlines the approaching peak of oil drilling that is commonly referred to as Hubbert’s Peak. He notes that most of the energy used by humans, animals and plants is from the sun. This energy is stored in various forms including oil and coal. The exact amount of these forms of energy has not been established reliably. However, the number of discoveries of new oil fields has declined significantly since 1980. Once oil production has peaked it is likely to lead to a host of problems. Goodstein asserts that oil is too important for other aspects of human activity to be wasted so much on transportation. Other energy forms must be developed especially clean forms as climate change is also a growing threat to the planet. He then considers some of the alternatives and concludes that we must address these problems immediately.

Vaclav Smil contests the point that we have reached peak oil but notes that there is a finite amount in the planet. Smil also concedes that reliance on oil has to change but energy system change is very slowly because it is so complicated and tied to the economy, society, polity and culture. He argues that consumption levels are too high, especially in US. It consumes a quarter of the world’s energy. If the US reduced its consumption through better infrastructure design, urban planning, building techniques and the like, the US would become a net exporter of oil. These policy changes would not necessarily result in a lower standard of living. He compares energy consumption levels in the US to that of Europe to make his case. He also maintains that innovation leads to both better extraction methods in oil drilling but also in energy use. He concludes that other problems are much more imminent than the threat of peak oil.

The accompanying audio files provide the complete recording of the two talks.

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David Goodstein talk.


Vaclav Smil talk