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I was talking to investigative journalist and energy expert Alice Friedemann via email about some of the topics we deal with here and she has formulated her thoughts in a post on her indispensable website ‘The Energy Skeptic‘. I’m reblogging it here because it really gives you an idea of the embodied energy within our massively built up civilization and what is required to maintain it. Add the destruction that climate chaos will bring along with the ever-growing wealth disparity around the world and it becomes clear that our current way of life, and perhaps our species, is not going to be around for much longer.

Cascading failure + Liebig’s Law + Supply Chain Breakdown = Collapse of civilization

Declining supplies of high-quality, easy-to-get fossil fuels with no alternatives ready to replace them (ever) is the #1 issue, because with oil all problems can be solved until its use depletes every other resource.  But meanwhile it’s a fountain of life, a pill that cures all diseases, allowing the destruction of the most remote rainforests, depletion of all schools of fish, and even the growing of food without soil on rocks with enough fertilizer.

The #2 issue is that all of our infrastructure was built when energy was extremely cheap and plentiful, with an EROI of 100:1.  Now the EROI of some oil is down to as little as 10:1, and at best 30:1.  So we don’t have enough fossil fuels left to replace and often maintain our infrastructure:

Concrete. Roads, bridges, buildings, airports, and anything else made of cement is not going to last — a century from now concrete will be nothing but rubble.

Oil & Natural Gas pipelines. The 2.6 million miles of oil and natural gas pipelines are rusting apart. According to the PHMSA, “Pipelines deliver trillions of cubic feet of natural gas and hundreds of billions of tons of liquid petroleum products every year. They are essential: the volumes of energy products they move are well beyond the capacity of other forms of transportation. It would take a constant line of tanker trucks, about 750 per day, loading up and moving out every two minutes, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to move the volume of even a modest pipeline. The railroad-equivalent of this single pipeline would be a train of 75 2,000-barrel tank rail cars everyday.” (U.S. Dept of transportation pipeline & Hazardous materials Safety Admin).

Coal. Just like oil, coal has peaked, and the easiest to get at and highest energy coal has already been mined.  We’re probably past the “peak energy” of coal, and the dregs are low quality or too remote to mine.  How are you going to transport this remaining coal if the roads and bridges have crumbled?  Even if there were still viable oil or gas pipelines left that happened to be near a coal mine, you’d use up most of the energy in the coal to liquefy it and move it by pipeline.  The clock is ticking on coal mining.

Electric grid: It’s rusting and unprotected from cyberattacks.  In addition, due to deregulation, it’s falling apart and not being maintained properly — it used to be triple-plated (a failure in one part still left two other intact components for electricity to flow through and buffer the grid from failure), now it’s barely single-planted. See my Electric Grid Overview for details.

The #3 issue is that supply chain failure from financial collapse, wars, and social unrest will make maintenance of the existing complex system impossible in some places, and since the world is so inter-dependent, and there are single points of (supply-chain) failure, that will affect even stable, peaceful nations.  Key and essential products absolutely essential to operating today’s complex society will stop being made — forever — because microchips and other specialized tools and vehicles will require fossil fuel energy, materials, infrastructure, and knowledge that won’t be available when the world emerges from the first collapse.      Read the rest…