Spike, the story of your life

You were born near its tip.

You know nothing other than this. The endless growing choices, abundance, opportunities that came as the spike burst out of the plain and rocketed skyward, breaking into space from the surface of the earth below.

That sounds a bit like science fiction or fantasy, doesn’t it? Yet it’s very real.

It’s what happened with the fossil fuel explosion.

First coal. Then oil. Then gas.

Each has powered (pun intended) that spike higher and higher.

With the spike climbing higher, everything else skyrocketed, too.

Population. I was born in 1954. There are 257% more people alive now, in 2013, than existed on the planet when I came into it.

Money. A hundred years ago, we were all on the gold standard. Then we moved to a gold exchange standard, because, frankly, there wasn’t enough gold to handle the growing numbers of people and enterprises needing it. Then to a pure fiat currency standard. Finally to a pure credit standard, reaching its end now with the last throws of the quantitative easing dice.

All logical effects of the attempt to keep up with the spike.

Figuring out how to use coal to power machines led to the industrial revolution, which further increased the demand for coal … a set of positive feedback loops underwritten by geologic hectomegayears’ worth of time laying down stored sunpower in the form of fossilized or (in the case of oils and gases) cooked plant matter.

Everything you know about the world is the end result of that.

And everything you’re going to learn about the world that’s emerging from the spike derives from the ending of that story.

For end it has — and just as the spike shot vertically at great speed, so, too, the trip back down the other side will be fast, furious, and a very steep drop.

You didn’t want to hear that. Technology is supposed to save us from that!

Technology can help — but it can’t save us. We can use techniques to ameliorate the trip down, and to make the plateau out of which the spike shot a little better. We can’t keep the spike growing ever upward on the back of it.

Why? Well, you see, there’s this little thing called low-hanging fruit.

You’re in an orchard. The apples are ripe. So you reach your hand up and pluck one. Yum! Juicy!

That’s a low-hanging fruit. It’s the equivalent of drilling a hole at Spindletop, Texas, and watching the oil plume high into the sky under its own pressure.

Shales and oil sands? That’s like getting a power truck into the orchard, going up in the bucket, and grabbing the last few apples off the very top branches of the tallest trees. The ones, in other words, that ordinary technology like a ladder couldn’t reach.

You need a lot more capital, and a lot more energy for the technology, to get oil out of non-conventional sources. Or coal. Or gas.

And the non-conventional sources, in turn, don’t produce as well, or as long, as the low-hanging fruit did.

For coal, we’ve burnt just about all the really good hard coal, full of energy in each lump. Now we’re digging out poor coals because that’s what’s left. More pollution, more energy used to transport them, and more tonnes of coal being used because you don’t get as much from each lump.

For oil, we’re well into the end game on cheap conventional products. All that’s left is stuff that, up to now, wasn’t worth going after — which ought to tell you something about how good it really is (and why the spike isn’t growing, carrying us all upward into ever greater prosperity).

For gas, the shale gas “revolution” is making up for declining conventional gas, but only up to a point — and where a conventional gas well might have produced for forty years, a shale gas well produces for four, and cost four to ten times as much to establish.

Can you say “uneconomic”? Can you say “not worth it”?

Get to know the story of the spike. It controls everything — the economy, the climate, the food supply, you name it.

To survive and thrive, you need to get this into your head. Everything you’ve known is wrong. We’re now on the downslope — and that’s a brand new world.

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