by user Feralmet

I wrote this piece some time ago for Unknown News, a great website that has enough faith in it's contributors to post thoughts and ideas that have not yet entered the mainstream. This is actually a story about entropy - a law to which all things living and non-living must ultimately yield - no exceptions.

COME ON IN - THE QUICKSAND'S FINE part in the oil crisis.

Chris Shaw feral metallurgist

Let me admit from the start that I am a dunce where money is concerned. Many of the finer points of economics are just arcane mysteries to me. Maybe that is a serious handicap. Maybe not.

Trying to make sense of oil supplies by observing market forces is tricky. Obviously there are people who profit from rising oil prices and those who profit by price instability. It's like trying to get the ants off a carcass, to see how much flesh remains.

Let's stick with the simple physical things that we think we know. We think that we may have used the "easy half" of the world's endowment of oil. In the best mining tradition, we have preferentially consumed the better grades of oil, as that is where the greatest energy profit may be had. But even the better quality oil deposits tend to yield their lighter fractions first, leaving the heavier, energy-lean residues to be scavenged later.

We know that the more abundant poor grades of oil contain less energy and more dross (tar sand is an extreme example). We know that they require more energy to be consumed in extraction and processing, to produce the gasoline and diesel we need. So dwindling oil quality is double jeopardy for the production of the desired article. By slow degrees, MORE energy must be sacrificed to liberate ever LESS contained energy.

No matter that we have enjoyed a plenitude of easy gasoline and diesel, that wonderful resource was never more than the "spare" energy left over after extraction, transport and processing.

It follows that as the remaining oil quality decreases, the supply of crude oil and the scale and pace of refining must increase for a steady amount of fuel produced. Yet producers are experiencing this phenomenon during a period of increasing fuel demand.

Now add the tyrannies of distance and depth to reach unexploited oil deposits.

Add the costly investment, relative to the yield of smaller oil deposits.

Then to make things really confusing, realise that it is oil energy which sets the value of money, not the other way around.

For example, if we wish to boost nuclear power in the teeth of dwindling fuel supplies, we will discover that the "cost" of plant, mining, processing and other infrastructure will become uncomfortably high by present expectations. The more we try (and the more gasoline and diesel we burn in the process) the higher will go the "price" of the essential ingredients. It will be like chasing our own shadows. The same effect will plague the remnants of the oil industry itself. And once burned, the energy is gone forever.

We could call that the Quicksand Effect.

A more ominous example of the Quicksand Effect is the present method of garnering oil by force of arms. This policy burns huge amounts of precious fuel, sinking us deeper and ever more rapidly. The US Department of Defense is the largest single-entity user (addict) in the world. Every tiny unit operation, from the largest aircraft carrier to a lace in a soldier's boot, is created and maintained with high-quality energy. This leaves me wondering: Is the US military a high-tech superpower, or do I see a dinosaur stuck in a tar pit?

The harder we try, the more we sink. The faster we run, the more distant our goal ... because our energy goal is actually behind us, and there can be no turning back. Shall we slow down, to see if it will catch up? Shall we empty the treasury into the bog in order to get a little more traction?

We have honed economics until it has achieved cult status in our western societies, but of what use is that cult if it departs from physical reality? Money measures the scope of dreams, but only energy can fulfil them. How then did the money dream catch us all unawares?

This is my theory:

  Money is the best way there is 
  To put the greatest distance 
  Between our actions 
  And their consequences. 

No wonder money trumps science and ethics. No wonder we embrace it so.

Having thus discovered and admitted to this basic flaw in my tiny western soul, I turn to government in the hope that wiser heads might have somehow congregated at the seat of power.

I see no evidence for that.

I see only the usual tiresome Bronze Age pursuit of money, using raw political and military force. I see only false leaders, false gods, false morality, bizarre economics and delusion masquerading as science.


  Money has no existence 
  Apart from useful energy.
  Oil is a black dog
  And economics, the tail.
  The fleas live on the tail
  Cause that's where all the money is.
  The only thing those fleas will ever see
  Is the backside of the dog
  As it goes forever away.

Further reading:

US DoD Energy Requirements

FYI- Where all this is taking us

Unknown News homepage - enjoy!

Best clearinghouse of all things oily:

From The Opinion Wiki, a Wikia wiki.

From The Opinion Wiki, a Wikia wiki.

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