Tuesday, October 12, 2004

"Sharp CO2 rise divides opinions"

Maybe I'm just a worrier, but some of these news articles are making me increasingly nervous. Messing around with feedback systems for years (well, for decades) has given me an appreciation for the power of feedback, both positive and negative. There's lots of mass and thus lots of inertia in the system comprising the sun and the earth, and it is easy to believe that upward (or downward) fluctuations in temperature, once started, would be very hard to stop.

If that news article seems a bit too hard to believe, "Out of Gas: A Systems Perspective on Potential Petroleum-Fuel Depletion" at http://www.pegasuscom.com/AAR/model5.html is a column I wrote on the potential to run out of petroleum. While, from that model and from discussions with Gary Long of the U.S. Energy Information Administration, it's unlikely we'll ever run out of petroleum, it is likely we'll run low enough so that we'll choose to stop using it as a fuel. In some ways, it's simple: there's a finite supply. We've reached the peak U.S. production decades back, and current estimates place the peak world production of petroleum somewhere between now and a couple of decades away. Because we use petroleum at a much faster rate today than we did, say, 100 years ago, the time from peak production to the end of the petroleum age will be much shorter than the time from the "discovery" of oil in Pennsylvania until now. In other words, many of us alive today may see the day when there will be no more gasoline- or diesel-powered cars, trucks, ships, or airplanes.

So what do we do? How do we think seriously and effectively about such major problems, given all the other things we deal with in life? Even if we decide these effects are likely to come to pass, what can and should we do? I'll save that for another day.

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