Economic growth requires more than the free flow of capital. It requires energy.
The world economy hit the wall because the supply of energy available from conventional sources also hit the wall and nobody thought ahead enough to put the necessary infrastructure in place to assure access to the energy we need for sustained growth and economic well being.
The Fed, the worlds banks, the worlds governments all attempted to prop up failing economies by injecting more liquidity, more capital, more money, that which facilitates the flow of goods and services.
Because oil in particular was at the supply limit, all the injected capital simply drove up the cost of oil higher sucking all the money back out of the economies.
If we drill deep enough there is more oil. Oil is not made exclusively biologically. Much of it is made through an chemical process requiring only heat and pressure and the proper ingredients which are water, iron oxides, and calcium carbonate; all of which are available in large quantities where the ocean floor is subducted under continental crust.
This process has been replicated in the laboratory and works just fine without the aid of bacteria. It in fact works at a pressure of a hundred atmospheres and a temperature of around one thousand degrees Fahrenheit.
When you put iron oxide, calcium carbonate, and water under these pressures and temperatures, you get out a mix of hydrocarbons that is characteristic of light crude. If this mixture rises up from the mantle and encounters a non-porous cap of granite or basalt, or some other non-porous substance, then all of the hydrocarbons are trapped until tapped and represent a source of light sweet crude.
If no non-porous capstone exists; then the lighter distillates evaporate off and what you end up with is heavy crude and bitumen. It’s also possible for the oil to pick up sulfur and other impurities along the way or they may be present in the original mix. When the crude contains a lot of sulfur it is said to be sour.
The Russians know about this abiotic oil, the Chines know about it, and US oil companies know about it, but it is expensive to tap because it required drilling 20,000+ feet through granite or basaltic basement rock, or it involved drilling under miles of water through miles of seafloor.
US oil companies have only recently developed or acquired the necessary technology to tap these very deep deposits and presently there is a world-wide shortage of drilling rigs capable of tapping these deposits. Drilling to this depth requires tungsten or depleted uranium drill bits, both are expensive and the latter is hazardous to work with.
Between increased demand from China and India, and the lack of equipment necessary to tap these deep deposits; we ran up against the supply wall, and the worlds economy attempted to adjust; but governments kept injecting liquidity and that delayed adjustment until an absolute crises forced it and now we’re in the middle of it; the economy collapsed and oil demand fell back to levels supply could keep up with.
All things left to their own, eventually the world wide supply of these drilling rigs will catch up with demand and supply will increase.
The real problem we all face isn’t lack of oil, it’s lack of atmosphere. We can not keep turning all of our oxygen into carbon dioxide and survive. Doing so not only alters the climate, it alters the atmospheric chemistry.
People will say, healthy people can tolerate as much as 5000 ppm over an eight hour period, but what people don’t realize is that the human lungs become less able to rid the body of carbon dioxide and more sensitive to carbon dioxide partial pressures with age. While young people can withstand 5000ppm, 500ppm can be fatal to the elderly at sea-level, and tolerance decreases with altitude as well.
So in a way this whole global warming thing is somewhat self-limiting, because as levels approach 500ppm, we’re going to see the incidence of cardio-pulmonary issues and deaths related to same increase among the elderly. In other words; we’ll reduce global population by killing off the elderly and people with lung disease while many others who were formerly healthy will become less able to tolerate exercise.
This is particularly true of people at higher altitudes. Many conspiracy theorists have predicted that the capital will be moved from Washington DC to Denver. This might actually be a good thing because not only would it make the capital more centralized, but it will also place it at a high altitude, where our legislators will be particularly subjected to the effects of the increased carbon dioxide levels.
And then there is the “clean coal” idea, the idea that one can sequester carbon dioxide and thereby make it safe to burn coal to generate energy. I’m really not in favor of this idea, because to make the carbon dioxide that will be sequestered, you have to take oxygen out of the air; and instead of being recycled by natural means, plants turning it back into carbon compounds and releasing the oxygen, instead of that happening, that oxygen is gone for as long as the carbon dioxide is successfully sequestered. In case it hadn’t occurred to you yet, oxygen is what we breath and there is not an unlimited quantity of it.
Even this doesn’t result in clean coal because coal also contains mercury, radium, and a host of other substances you don’t want to be released free into the environment. These things are better left locked up in the mineral they were in and left in the mountain. Whether these things go up the stack or into a landfill, they’re still very problematic materials. Unless you can find uses for all of these materials coal is still anything but clean.
At best, switching from being heavily reliant on coal to being more heavily reliant on an even more carbon intensive hydrocarbon, coal, only delays the problem. The bottom line is that, over the long term, we do not have enough oxygen in our planets atmosphere to satisfy our growing energy needs by reacting it with carbon or other elements even if we have plenty of carbon to react it with and can find a safe method of disposing of the carbon dioxide.
So what we need to do is modernize our power grid, that alone will save the energy equivalent of all of the oil we import, just eliminating the majority of unnecessary losses in the power grid. Then with that modernized grid we need to add renewable sustainable energy sources, wind, solar, geo-thermal, ocean-thermal, wave power, tidal power, ocean current power, or controlled hydrogen fusion, which I believe can be done.
There are multiple technologies that can make controlled hydrogen fusion a reality, the conventional Tokamak, which is what ITER is, is perhaps the second worst choice because that technology can only work on a very large scale and is extremely expensive.
A huge improvement on conventional Tokamak designs is the spherical or short aspect ratio Tokamak. These improve the confinement by approximately 3.5x which makes a much smaller and less expensive machine possible. A machine that could be built at a cost similiar to a conventional fission reactor but one in which the fuel is essentially free and no long-term nuclear waste is produced. There are however short-term neutron activation products produced in a Tokamak because at persent we can’t obtain the necessary energy levels to fuse anuetronic fuels such as proton-boron.
However, there are at least three alternative fusion reactor designs that have the potential to reach the necessary energies, the most promising is the Bussard Polywell reactor, but the navy funded it and is now keeping it out of public view. While it will be good to have the dirty fission reactors on aircraft carriers and submaries replaced with much safer and cleaner fusion reactors, it still ultimately is for destructive purposes that don’t benefit mankind. I would very much like to see this technology wrestled from the navy and made available to the private sector for power production.
While too large to power cars and probably even trucks, the Bussard reactor is sufficiently compact that it could power trains, cargo ships, ocean liners, possibly even large aircraft, in addition to the military fleet.
There are also alternatives known as the Z-pinch reactor. Early models were a one-shot affair destroying their electrodes with each firing and thus not useful commercially, but new designs involving robust coaxially positioned electrodes that aren’t destroyed with each power shot, promise to make the reactor one that can be used for continuous power production.
There is also a new design called a levitated dipole, and it’s based on the fact that the Earth’s magnetic field very efficiently contains a very hot plasma, all three of these devices have the promise of producing energy without neutrons and thus without even signficant quantitues short-term radioactive wastes. Very minor quantitues are produced by unintended side reaction but these are minimized in the Bussard design by the fact that the colliding energies are finally tuned so that they are only efficient for the desired atoms to interact. The Z-pinch and levitated dipole are still thermal devices and so these devices will have more undesired side reactions than the Bussard machine.
We don’t know how long it will take for any of these to come online, but the sun shines and the wind blows today and the Earth has hot magma under the surface today, and the oceans have currents and tides and thermal gradients today. We should take advantage of all these things today; to eliminate the energy barrier and allow the global economy to prosper.