Friday, December 16, 2005


Roy Spencer has a nice essay on sustainability in TCS daily. The only sustainable thing is change, he says. He also argues that if the consumption of oil or production of carbon dioxide were unsustainable, a slower rate of the same processes would be unsustainable, too.

Sustainability becomes irrelevant because of technological advances in almost all cases. Spencer chooses Michael Crichton's favorite example - the unsustainable amount of horseshit in New York City 100 years ago when there were 175,000 horses in the city. Its growth looked like a looming disaster but it was stopped because of cars that suddenly appeared.

Also, he notices that the employees of a British Centre for Ecology and Hydrology - that had to be abolished - were informed that the center was unsustainable which is a very entertaining explanation for these people who fought for sustainability in their concerned scientific work. Also, Spencer gives economical explanations to various social phenomena. For example, the amount of possible catastrophic links between our acts and natural events as well as the number of types of our activities that will be claimed to be "unsustainable" in the scientific literature is proportional to the amount of money we pay to this sector of science.

It looks like we can run out of oil soon because the companies have no interest to look for more oil than what is needed right now - it is expensive to look for oil. That makes it almost certain that we will find much more oil than we know today.


  1. Lubos:
    No technological advance of ANY kind by any intelligent life is capable of breaking any of our known physics laws. The sole exception which do break physics laws is the perpetual motion machines of the first kind and the second kind, which as you know, have not been successfully invented yet.
    Ultimately sustainability that lasts forever is impossible due to the second law of thermal dynamics, and due to the fact that a close system would have an entropy maximum. The situation is improved slightly if you adapt my QUITAR theory, which modify the second law to that the total quantum entropy of the universe neither increases nor decreases, but is conserved.

    If you look at history, every single technology advances simply means we utilize more of the natural resources, poluting the environment more, rendering our home planet more inhabitable. In the language of theromal dynamics, each technology simply increases the entropy more. We have not invented anything that goes against the second law of thermal dynamics yet.

    Now it is a fact that it is expensive to find new oil and the oil company is unwilling to invest money finding new oils. But that fact is due to the fact that the un-discovered oil reserves are depleted and there's less and less left to be found. The more scarce a resource is, the more difficult it is to find it.

    You can not blame oil companies for unwilling to invest to find the remaining oil. All the exploration and mining activities cost not only huge amount of money, but huge amount of energy, too. It cost energy to build and operate all the machinery and equipments for discovering and mining the remaining small oil fields. When you spend more energy and oil doing all those activity and the recovered oil is even LESS than what you invested in the first place, then it is NOT worth doing that.

    Do you know that there are more than half a million oil wells in the USA, and each one produces less than 10 barrels of oil a day!!! Do drilling and operating those oil wells not cost anything at all? They have huge costs. When the productivity per well drops further down, then they are better off recycle the scrap metal of all the oil equipments, rather than trying to extract the remaining few drops of oil.

    It's reported that some US oil wells are now injecting 100% of water and recovering only 1% of oil with another 99% being water!!! Even Sandi Arab see 30% "water cuts" in many of their old fields.

    Likewise, technology advances do not come like magic or come cheap. We can foresee new technology that can bring abundance energy from new sources. But the point is you don't just wave a magic wander and all the technologies magically show up. It takes a huge amount of time, money and effort to develope new technologies, and especially it costs huge amount of energy, too, energy that is in short supply right now.

    And it is very questionable if we still have enough resource left which will allow us to develope the alternative energy source, before the society totally collapse. We have already passed both the peak oil and peak natural gas. And make the matter worse, we will pretty soon pass peak copper. A precious metal that is vital in anything that relates to electricity, a metal that we can not afford to be without, when we are looking for new technology and alternative energy source.

    Also the Helium has passed peak, too. There wouldn't have been any helium except for the precious few that's generated by the natural radioactive decay of elements, and that's trapped in natural gas fields. Without helium, virtual all things that relates to untra-low temperature becomes impossible, that includes your beloved LHC, which rely on Helium to keep the super conductive coils cold. So when helium is depleted, not only kids will no longer have ballons in the shopping malls, it's the end of big accelerator particle physics and low temperature physics as well.


  2. Most geologists agree that the earth has been pretty thoroughly surveyed, some places multiple times, and there can not be too much oil left un-discovered. Small oil fields are still being discovered today. But there is not a single big oil field discovered in the last 40 years!

    See here I have a reasonable estimate of the amount of fossil fuel, based on what we know about Oxygen.

    I would advice any one interested to buy a copy of "Twilight in the Desert" by Matthew Simmons. An excellent book which should deserve nothing less than 5 stars. This is a must read book.


  3. My figure of 30% water cut in Saudis oil field was incorrect. That number was from Simmon's "Twilight in the Desert". Unfortunately it's obsolete now. According to this, some of their older oil fields now see water cut as high as 70%-90%. i.e., 70% to 90% of what pumps out are the waters that they originally injected in, only 10%-30% is oil.

    And in some US fields, they are producing 99% of water, with a 1% oil cut.