Harnessing the Hydrocarbon

The Hydrocarbon Honeymoon
For about the last 100 years, we have been living in what has been called the "hydrocarbon honeymoon." The world has been transformed. It has given humans such dominance that we are now causing the "Sixth Extinction."

The scale of our use of hydrocarbons is mind-boggling. The use of hydrocarbons is usually measured sing 'barrels'. A barrel of oil is 42 US gallons. Interestingly, although the 55 gallon drum is the most widely used for general purposes, the crude oil barrel is based on the size of the 'whiskey barrels' in 19th century US. For 2016, the IEA Oil Market Report forecasts worldwide average demand of nearly 96 million barrels of oil and liquid fuels per day. So if you took those barrels of oil and stacked them end-to-end, they would wrap completely around the world at the equator one and a half times every day.

This really should be the basis for a complete rethinking of our actions as humans. Every day we suck enough barrels of crude oil out the the earth to wrap around our planet at the equator no less ... one and a half times. As thinking human beings we must sense that there is something wrong with this activity.

A great interactive website that shows the production and consumption can be found here.
Historical Energy Usage
Civilization initially relied on burning of 'renewable' wood (biomass) for energy. Unfortunately, this caused severe ecological degradation in many parts of the world. It was not until around 1900 that even coal surpassed biomass. The twentieth century saw a remarkable transformation of society's use of energy.
Crude Oil Production in Millions of Barrels Per Day
It is hard to grasp the scale of our the mining of hydrocarbons. The unique aspect of our use of hydrocarbons is our propensity to build machines whose job it is to mine more hydrocarbons. Our use of hydrocarbons (think plastics, cars, tractors in farming, etc.) is integral to virtually all aspects of human activity, from transportation to housing to agriculture. The problem with this overwhelming reliance and use of hydrocarbons is:
  • Eventually we will run out. The peak oil concept, although it has lost its sense of immediacy, still shows a very well-documented bell curve to the supply of crude oil. In other words, the production from any oil field tends to rise rapidly, level out at the peak, and then fall rapidly once more.
  • The massive burning of hydrocarbons is causing the planet to warm up, presenting humanity with some enormous problems.
When the Honeymoon Ends
The consensus at Fringe In is that the potential disaster caused by the unprecedented mining of hydrocarbons does not need to end in a global catastrophe.

In the ideal scenario, we are able to leverage our use of non-renewable fuels to build out an infrastructure that supplies enough renewable energy so that we can make a transition to a sustainable existence. And what might still be surprising to our audience is that that is exactly what is happening.