October 08, 2003
Will Sun Cooling And Oil Depletion Prevent Global Warming?

Scientists at the British Antarctic Survey say the Sun is not going to contribute as much to global warming in the rest of the current century as it is currently. Energy output from the Sun is expected to decline in the next 100 years.

New research on the sun's contribution to global warming is reported in this month's Astronomy & Geophysics. By looking at solar activity over the last 11,000 years, British Antarctic Survey (BAS) astrophysicist, Mark Clilverd, predicts that the sun's contribution to warming the Earth will reduce slightly over the next 100 years.

This is a different picture to the last century when solar flares, sunspots and geomagnetic storms, increased in number. This rise is simultaneous with emissions of greenhouses gases and an estimated increase in solar heat output, which together have warmed the Earth's temperature by a global average of 0.7 degrees centigrade.

The solar contribution to the increase is variously estimated to be around 4-20% leaving greenhouse gases to make up the remaining 80%. Clilverd and colleagues conclude that solar activity is about to peak and predict less activity in the next 100 years, with the occurrence of space storms likely to decline by two thirds. Their assumption is that the solar heat output will decline slightly accordingly.

You might think this decline in the Sun's output is good news because it will help offset the heating effect caused by a rise in greenhouse gases that is supposed to take place for the rest of the 21st century and beyond. Well, sorry, the conventional wisdom is all wrong if the folks at the Association for the Study of Peak Oil (ASPO) are to be believed. While they have been making the argument for years that oil production is going to peak much sooner than others estimate they finally attracted a lot more attention to that argument by point out that if they are right then there is not enough oil to burn to cause the more pessimistic global warming scenarios to play out in reality.

But geologists Anders Sivertsson, Kjell Aleklett and Colin Campbell of Uppsala University say there is not enough oil and gas left for even the most conservative of the 40 IPCC scenarios to come to pass (see graphic).

Well hey, if there isn't enough oil to burn to keep the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere continually rising in the 21st century and if the sun is going to cool off as part of a turn in its natural cycles maybe Earth's climate is going to start getting more chilly later on in the century.

The fossil fuel production pessimists say natural gas production will peak later than oil production.

Conventional natural gas reserves also are heading for peak production as endowment is probably about the same as oil. Less gas has been used so far, but the global peak in conventional gas production is already in sight, in perhaps 20 years, forecast Robert W. Bentley of ODAC, "and hence the global peak of all hydrocarbons (oil plus gas) is likely to be in about 10 or so years."

It is worth noting that Russia has as many Btus of natural gas as Saudi Arabia has of oil. Natural gas is harder to transport, particularly over longer distances. But technologies to make it easier to transport are under development. Still, natural gas will peak in production not long after oil does.

Oil production has already peaked in 50 countries.

Roger Bentley, head of The Oil Depletion Analysis Center in London, insisted that the predictions made in the 1970s were basically correct. About 50 countries, including the United States, have already passed their point of peak oil output, he said.

The world's total reserves of crude, excluding oil found in shale and tar sands, are estimated to exceed 3 trillion barrels, according to the U.S. Geological Survey and other conventional sources of data.

Campbell insisted the true figure for reserves is closer to 2 trillion barrels, due partly to what he described as overstated reserves reported by Saudi Arabia and other OPEC nations.

Investment banker Matt Simmons says US lower 48 state onshore production peaked in 1970. (PDF format)

The U.S. peaked at a daily production of about 9.6 million barrels per day. A decade later, this base had fallen to 6.9 million barrels per day, despite a drilling boom that produced 4 times more oil wells each year.

When Canada’s oil production is added to and viewed as a North American picture, one can see that Canada also reached peak production in 1973. Today, Western Canada’s oil output is only half of what it was when it peaked.

Today, the U.S. base has dropped to about 3.4 million barrels per day, down from 1970’s record 9.6 barrels per day production. This excludes Alaskan and deepwater oil, as neither had anything to do with the U.S. lower 48 and Gulf of Mexico shelf.

The argument is that once the rate of discovery of new fields starts declining there will be a decline in production within a number of years later. Since discovery is declining the world over it is reasonable therefore to expect a decline in production in the foreseeable future.

For the details of this claim see the 5 part set of PDF files for the The Study of World Oil Resources and the Impact on IPCC Emissions Scenarios, Anders Sivertsson, Uppsala Hydrocarbon Depletion Study Group, Uppsala University, Sweden. From the 4th part of the Results (PDF format) that is most dramatically apparent is the inevitability of increased world dependence on Middle Eastern oil production.

Furthermore, the production of non-regular gas is assumed to increase, mainly because of an increase of coal-bed methane production. The total peak of production of all hydrocarbons appear in 2010, thereafter production is heading downhill. The swing role of the Middle East Gulf countries was mentioned earlier and the scenarios determining world production/consumption of regular oil. Figure ## shows what will be required from Middle East Gulf production in order to achieve the five scenarios described in the oil depletion model. Regardless which scenario is chosen the Middle East Gulf countries must increase their yearly production compared to 2002. By following the base case scenario, as is illustrated in figure ##, the product must increase by about 42% until 2010 to keep world production/consumption flat. Following the very high scenario, the production must be doubled by 2013. Even the low scenario requires an increase in production of 55% until 2018, and although the very low scenario allows the production to decrease for a few years it still has to reach the 2002 level again before 2020.

Because the global resources are unevenly distributed, the oil production of the future will also be unevenly distributed. The Middle East Gulf has got roughly two thirds of the resources of regular oil and their share of world production will exceed 50% by around 2020 (base case scenario, illustrated in figure ##). Thereafter, their share will steadily increase. This is shown in figure ##, which shows different regions’ share of world oil production. USA obviously had more than a 60% share of the world’s total production towards the end of 1940 when the Middle East Gulf started increasing their share of the market.

The United States will probably respond, at least in part, by shifting more toward burning coal. Certainly, it is possible to develop much cleaner ways to burn coal and research toward that end should be continued and even accelerated. But we really need a massive push to develop a large number of technologies to develop replacements for oil and natural gas. The United States goverment ought to be spending tens of billions per year on energy research projects across a large number of areas including nuclear, biomass, cleaner coal, photovoltaics, and batteries.

Still not worried? Too abstract a problem for you to spend much time thinking about? Well, imagine the panic that would set in if we were going to run out of beer.

Colin:"Understanding depletion is simple. Think of an Irish pub. The glass starts full and ends empty. There are only so many more drinks to closing time. It’s the same with oil. We have to find the bar before we can drink what’s in it."

The world doesn't have enough oil bars.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2003 October 08 05:58 PM  Climate Policy

RB said at October 9, 2003 8:43 AM:

Since people have been saying the same thing, that oil production will peak in ten years, for over 60 years, one does become a bit jaded by such predictions.

New known oil reserves have been outpacing increases in oil consumption for over half a century. It is conceivable that no new major oil finds will occur, but would you bet on it?

I agree that it is past time to invest in renewable energy and alternatives to fossil fuels. Dependency on Persian Gulf oil is becoming more expensive, in too many ways.

Oh, what if solar energy is responsible for 60% of observed warming, instead of 20%? That rather paints a reduction of incoming solar energy in a different light as regards future climate. We certainly are due for an ice age.

ERA said at October 9, 2003 12:42 PM:

There is new technology that takes garbage, toxic waste, or trash, and converts it to light crude oil at about $15/bbl. The first commercial plant is functioning in Missouri.

They can take anything carbon-based and make oil. The other by-products are natural gas (used to fuel the process), minerals, and water. The designers expect the price of the oil produced to fall to $10/bbl.

Think of what this could mean:
no adding to landfills
digging up and converting landfills
less dependency on oil from outside the US
a way to get easily rid of toxic waste

The technology can be read about at http://www.discover.com/may_03/featoil.html

Here's the URL for the company's home page http://www.changingworldtech.com/home.html


MikeR said at October 9, 2003 3:55 PM:

Why isn't there anyting about coal in this article? There is one hell of a lot more coal than oil and it's even better as a source of CO2 emissions.

Randall Parker said at October 9, 2003 4:05 PM:

Mike, I did mention coal: ""The United States goverment ought to be spending tens of billions per year on energy research projects across a large number of areas including nuclear, biomass, cleaner coal, photovoltaics, and batteries.".

I've posted about coal in the past. I'm just not repeating every relevant fact about every energy source in every article. Click thru to my Energy Tech category archive and search on coal.

Paul Banks said at October 9, 2003 5:44 PM:

What would a overhaul of the Iraqi output + a Saudi revamp do to output? I mean, other countries are not as important; if Russia and a few others modernize, that is what will determine oil output. Plus, if production were to, hypo., drop off, that does not mean it will cool. Plus, I would beleive and drop off, if such spec. pred. are accurate, would be much closer to the 4% than 20%; in fact, here is my ignorace peeking through, are we being silly ASSUMING CO2 emissions and the like actually leads to permanent or long term global warming?


Randall Parker said at October 9, 2003 6:24 PM:

Paul, If CO2 emissions drop far enough then uptake of CO2 by plants will eventually lead to a decline in CO2 levels from whatever CO2 peaks at. The more emissions drop the more atmospheric CO2 will eventually decline.

There is a lot of uncertainty in all the models because models are vast simplifications of reality. Heck, the Japanese only just within the last month managed to built a climate model big enough that it produces hurricanes. I don't personally assume that high levels of CO2 will eventually result in an environment that will be a net detriment to humanity. I don't know. However, I can see a number of benefits to a higher CO2 atmosphere such as vegetation being able to grow across and cover large desert areas as is already happening in the Negev, Sinai, and the Sahara.

But short term changes in Saudi or Iraqi production don't matter in terms of total eventual CO2 emissions. If we burn more now then that just means we will have less to burn later. The really important argument in all of this is the question of just how much oil is there to burn in the first place. I think there is a strong case that there is less than the IPCC models assume. US 48 state production has been declining. Increased drilling isn't going to change that. Ditto for the North Sea and a number of other areas.

Probably the two biggest wildcards are clathrates (methane down at the bottom of oceans) and coal. But there is probably not enough oil or enough natural gas to raise CO2 up to most (or perhaps any) of the IPCC model levels. There is also shale and the Alberta oil sands. The latter has about as much oil in oil sands as the Saudis have in oil. If this report is correct then I would expect Alberta production will rise as prices rise.

The other thing to keep in mind about this latest report: They are talking about peak production. Oil fields can continue to produce a great amount of oil for decades after peak production is reached. So while we may be burning 25 billion barrels of oil per year and these folks may state that there are 3,500 billion barrels recoverable we can't continue to burn at a 25-30-35 billion barrel rate because evenutally all the fields will be producing at some rate well below their current production levels. Oil moves slowly. I'm no petroleum engineer but it is my impression that you have to wait for oil to slowly seep thru to where you have shafts drilled and pumpt it up as it gradually seeps to near where it gets picked up.

David said at August 15, 2004 2:35 PM:

For years now when you hear the discussion on OIL it seems to me it that the discussion is about the money and/or how the deplition of the oil will effect our economy.
But, I never hear anything about how this would effect or planet.
I apperciate the above information on this web site. It was good information
But what I would like to know is this: What would happen to our good Earth if oil was deplited?

Chris said at September 9, 2004 8:29 PM:

Canada's Oil production has not peeked, this is incorrect. In fact one provience in Canada has the largest known oil reserves in the world, considerably more then even Saudi Arabia, production has only just really started. This has been known for over 30years but only recently have people begun to belive the claims being made..


Xavia and Metusela said at March 2, 2005 5:42 PM:

I am 11 years old and would like to know if you could give me some answers for my question.
I would also like to know any non profitable organizations that I could support and are legal.
Thank you for your time, Xavia.

Talofa my name is Metusela, I would like to know if there is any organizations that I can support that are non profitable. I would also like to know if you could help us to inform others about preventing global warming and the effects that we are causing due to our daily human activities.
Thank you for your time, any help would be greatly appreciated,

Ruby Reed said at May 24, 2005 7:46 AM:

I am 14 years old and vary consernd with all this Global Warming stuff, most people know it`s happaning Jast that a few are to lasy to do anything about it! Now, I whant to know if this idea would work, like talking to a garbage manager and geting them to have people recycle things not only will it keep the Earth looking better and cleaner, it will also keep some of the Carbon Dioxid out of the atmostpher! Would that work? Another idea geting people to walk to places instead of useing cars which if you hink about it cause tons of Carbon Dioxid.

I hope this stuff works.

DavidS said at September 25, 2005 7:14 AM:

I don't think the period of declining oil consumption after peak oil will see a decrease in global warming. As MarkR pointed out earlier, there is a lot of coal out there and its use will increase after peak oil. Because of that increase in coal use, global warming will continue for a long time, until "peak coal" is reached. I wish that peak oil could save the planet from global warming, but unfortunately there's too much coal in the ground for that to happen. I hope I'm wrong. If I am, please explain.

Roland said at November 29, 2005 2:00 PM:

I wouldn't worry too much. Yes, coal is a dirtier fuel than oil, but here in Australia we're hoping to build "zero-emission coal" plants within ten years, using geosequestration. Sequestration is nont perfect, but it's better than just spewing it straight into the air. Coal is fantastic, actually. As long as oil is above $30 a barrel, the new Fischer-Tropsch plants can turn coal into high-quality synthetic oil, with a byproduct of electricity and hydrogen, and producing almost no emissions.

If that gets you worried about Peak Coal in 50 years, remember that you can also use thermal depolymerization to turn rubbish into oil. And there's biofuels. But more importantly, the cost of renewable energy is falling exponentially, whereas the cost of fossil fuels is not. Wind energy is already comparable in cost to coal, and solar energy will be the same in a decade or two. When renewable energy is cheaper and better than fossil fuels, it will replace them. It won't happen in time for Peak Oil, but it will before Peak Coal.

My prescriptions for Peak Oil would be:
1. Drive less. Make cities that are not so car-dependent.
2. Abolish heavy trucks all long-distance food transport to trains.
3. Fuel transport vans on biodiesel.
4. Boost the ethanol industry.
5. Build low-emmission FT plants to turn coal into oil, hydrogen and electricity
6. Shift quickly to coal for fertilizer production in anticipation of Peak Gas, or even better, use natural urea instead of fossil fuels (like in organic food)
7. Heavily subsidize renewable energy

All this is going to happen very quickly as oil gets more expensive.

As an individual, here is what you can do (and what I have done), to become more immune to high oil prices and help mitigate global warming and save the environment:

1. Switch to the Green Power option of your electricity company, if it has one. For an extra 50c a day or so, the company will ensure that ALL your electricity is from renewable sources, cutting about 75% from your emmissions.
2. Sell the gas-guzzler and buy a hybrid car.
3. Go to a website like www.carbonneutral.com and offset the emmissions from your hybrid car by having an equivalent number of trees planted in a site of your choice. Congrats, you are no longer contributing directly to global warming.
4. Stop buying useless consumer crap and recycle as much as you can.
5. Don't eat packaged, processed food. Buy organic - it's more expensive, but it tastes better, is more nutritious and does not use petrochemical fertilizers.
6. Wherever possible, bicycle, walk and catch the bus. If needs be, move to smaller digs closer to your work instead of living in the suburbs.
7. Tell other people about these issues and write to your congressman or MP.

When individuals, governments and corporations move together, solving these problems becomes damn easy.

Kenneth A. Edwards said at August 4, 2007 4:32 PM:

This Ice age is definitely coming. When, nobody really knows, first, there is this warming of the Planet caused by us burning all these fossil fuels that were once living bacteria, fed from carbon and other elements, after decaying it stored energy from the Sun which was locked away by sediments over millions of years. The elements on earth have always been here. It has, for a purpose, so that all life, complicated as it is, will evolve over and over again. We the intelligent, evolved Homo sapiens have altered the natural elements. The moment we invented the wheel, was the beginning of our downfall. It is up to us to make amends and fix it. It has to happen, World Wide. We have talked about it enough. Action is what we want, as quickly as we can. The Sun, Wind, Tides and Technical Know-how are there to put into action. If this is not done, not many of our Descendants will ever see an Ice Age. We know our Ancestors survived a past Cold Spell but not a hot Time on earth.

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