Oil and Gas Shortage Cause and Effect Essay 112728

People on the edge of starvation will rarely if ever display enlightened activities in relationship to their environment or each other, as they battle for survival. Early farmers could see the effects of deforestation, erosion, and soil exhaustion, but gentle, sustainable practices were often defeated by market forces, imperial prerogatives, and warfare. What could be obvious to farmers was not evident to potentates sitting on distant urban thrones, merchants, or money-changers, and as the city conquered what became the hinterland, short-term economic plunder took precedence over long-term environmental management far too frequently.

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Did the larger brain lead to the behaviors, or did the behaviors lead to the larger brain? If other evolutionary trends have relevance, they mutually reinforced each other and provided positive feedbacks; down one evolutionary line it reached conditions that led to the human brain. The initial behavior was probably the use of a body part (the brain) for a new purpose, and its success led to selective advantages that led to mutual reinforcement. Although it is by no means an unorthodox understanding, I think that the likely chain of events was walking upright freed hands for new behaviors, which led to new ways of making and using tools, which enhanced food acquisition activities. This allowed the energy-demanding brain to expand, as well as related biological changes, which led to more complex tools and behaviors that acquired and even more energy. That, in short, defines the human journey to this day, which the rest of this essay will explore. There has never been and probably never will again be an energy-devouring animal like humanity on Earth, unless it is a human-line descendant.

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When humans began to raze forests and use the resultant soils to raise crops, they were working their way down through the food chain, no longer harvesting ecosystem detritus but destroying entire ecosystems literally at their roots for short-term human benefit. That practice eventually turned forest ecosystems into deserts. As this essay will survey, that was a rampant problem in all early civilizations. Eventually, humans learned to reach even further back into the ecological horizon as they began burning energy stores that were hundreds of millions of years old; was first and second. They were burned a million times as fast as they were created. In all instances, humans were releasing sunlight energy that had been captured and stored by organisms. In the 20th century, when humans began using nuclear fission, they were going even further back in time and harvesting energy stored via billions of years ago. With each new energy source, humans were harvesting older, more concentrated energy sources, which released far more energy than the previously used source. In each instance, humans plundered the energy source to exhaustion. Humans have not lived in “harmony” with nature since they learned to control fire.

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Energy is the master resource of all organisms, all ecosystems, and all economies. When a civilization centralizes its energy consumption, which were food and wood in preindustrial civilizations, to a central city, and it has to keep expanding farther and farther from that city to obtain that energy, the is going to reduce the EROI of those increasingly distant energy resources, and hence reduce the . Also, the practices of and agriculture provide short-term agricultural yields, but the wood would be almost instantly used (about 90% of the wood imported to Rome was burned, which was the typical ratio for ancient cities). The soils became eroded, depleted, and often abandoned as the land could no longer support farming, partly because the entire process made the land more arid. If they could import water to irrigate (usually a rare situation), that could help ameliorate the process, but it took more time and effort and made it more difficult. There were no accountants, scientists, or engineers monitoring and measuring the process, but all of those dynamics would reduce the system’s EROI and surplus energy and make it less resilient, so it was vulnerable to disruptive shocks.

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Perhaps the most damaging deficiency in FE efforts, after self-serving orientation, was that the participants and their supporters were scientifically illiterate and easily led astray by the latest spectacle. Scientific literacy can help prevent most such distractions. While writing this essay, I was not only bombarded with news of the latest FE and alternative energy aspirants' antics, but I had to continually field queries regarding whether Peak Oil and Global Warming were conspiratorial elite hoaxes (or figments of the hyperactive imaginations of environmentalists and other activists), for two examples that readily come to mind. Digesting this essay's material should have those questions answered as mere side-effects. Far from being a hoax or imaginary, Peak Oil was and , and it is all downhill from there, and conventional oil will be almost entirely depleted in my lifetime. , although both were heavily promoted in the USA in 2014. In every paleoclimate study that I have seen, so-called greenhouse gases have always been considered the primary determinant of Earth's surface temperature (after the Sun), and carbon dioxide is chief among them. The radiation-trapping properties of carbon dioxide are not controversial in the slightest among scientists, and after the Sun's influence (which is exceedingly stable), declining carbon dioxide levels are considered to be the conditions that have dominated Earth for the past 35 million years. Humanity's increasing the atmosphere's carbon dioxide content is influencing the cause of Icehouse Earth, and , and are merely proximate causes. Increasing carbon dioxide can turn the global climate from an to a Greenhouse Earth, and the last time that happened, Earth had its . But have purposefully confused the issues, and a scientifically illiterate public and have played along, partly because believing the disinformation seems to relieve us all of any responsibility for our actions. Although scientific literacy can help people become immune to the disinformation and confusion arising from many corners, and reading this essay's first half can help people develop their own defense from such distractions, my goals for this essay's first half are far greater than that.

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For this essay’s purposes, the most important ecological understanding is that the Sun provides all of earthly life’s energy, either (all except nuclear-powered electric lights driving photosynthesis in greenhouses, as that energy came from dead stars). Today’s hydrocarbon energy that powers our industrial world comes from captured sunlight. Exciting electrons with photon energy, then stripping off electrons and protons and using their electric potential to power biochemical reactions, is what makes Earth’s ecosystems possible. Too little energy, and reactions will not happen (such as ice ages, enzyme poisoning, the darkness of night, food shortages, and lack of key nutrients that support biological reactions), and too much (such as , ionizing radiation, temperatures too high for enzyme activity), and life is damaged or destroyed. The journey of life on Earth has primarily been about adapting to varying energy conditions and finding levels where life can survive. For the many hypotheses about those ancient events and what really happened, the answers are always primarily in energy terms, such as how it was obtained, how it was preserved, and how it was used. For life scientists, that is always the framework, and they devote themselves to discovering how the energy game was played.