Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Fuel Follies

First we have this astonishing news:
The world may have no more than half a century of oil left at current rates of consumption, while surging demand from the developing world threatens to create “very significant price rises” before substitutes like biofuels can serve as viable alternatives, the British bank HSBC warns in a new report.

“We’re confident that there are around 50 years of oil left,” Karen Ward, the bank’s senior global economist, said in an interview on CNBC.

The bank, the world’s second largest in assets, further cautioned that growth trends in developing countries like China could put as many as one billion more cars on the road by midcentury. “That’s tremendous pressure on oil to power all those resources,” Ms. Ward said.

This is nothing new, indeed, back in January I wrote about this based on a New York Times Magazine article on offshore oil wildcatters. Basically, every last drop of oil on earth has been mapped. We know where it is -- all of it. There will be no new oil discoveries. What the challenge is, and has been, is getting to it. The easy oil is gone -- long gone -- and what remains is either politically difficult to tap (because it’s in places Not America governed by people hostile to us) or technologically difficult to tap (because it’s miles under the ocean or trapped in sand and shale.)

But none of that matters. Even the stuff left in places Not America and the tiny bit that remains in America is not sufficient to fuel our nation, let alone the globe. So I don’t for the life of me understand why anyone thinks it makes sense to continue on our merry way gobbling gasoline like it grows on trees. I think if people really understood the folly of our ways they’d be ditching their gas guzzlers and demanding alternatives yesterday. We're just delaying the inevitable.

So I’m not entirely encouraged to read this story from last week’s New York Times:

Start-Ups Work to Reinvent the Combustion Engine


As the first mass-produced electric cars hit the streets, Pinnacle is just one of several start-ups backed by prominent Silicon Valley venture capitalists aiming to reinvent the century-old internal combustion engine. The big promise: vast improvements in fuel economy and reduced greenhouse gas emissions at a lower cost.

Nothing demonstrates capitalism’s failure as a driver of innovation more than venture capitalists backing start-ups reinventing the internal combustion engine. I mean, dudes: you’re like three decades too late.

It’s like a real-world example of what Doug at Balloon Juice was talking about yesterday:

They kid, but this illustrates (1) that our Galtian overlords aren’t inventing perpetual motion machines, they’re finding new ways to overcharge people for fruit and (2) that this is one market that’s not all that rational...

Capitalism has failed but in the age of Peak Oil, what will replace it? Thugocracy? Neo-Feudalism?