by Chris Martenson
I want to be optimistic about the future. I really do...
But there's virtually no chance of the world transitioning gently to
an 'alternative energy-powered' future.
These are The
'Good Old Days'
I'm often asked where I stand on
wind, solar and other alternative energy
My answer is:
I love them. But
they're incapable of enabling our society to smoothly slip over
to powering itself by other means. They're not going to "save
Some people are convinced
If we can just fight off
'the evil' oil companies, get our act together, and install a
national alternative energy system infrastructure, we'll be just
fine. Meaning that we'll be able to continue to live as we do today,
but powered fully by clean renewable energy.
That's just not going to happen. At least, not without
a lot of painful disruption and sacrifice.
The top three reasons why are:
Time, scale and
I walk through the detail
I'm doing so to debunk
the magical thinking behind the current "Green Revolution" because I
fear it offers a false promise.
Look, I'm a huge fan of renewable energy. And I'm 1,000% in favor of
weaning the world off of its toxic addiction to fossil fuels.
But we have to be eyes wide open about our future prospects.
Deluding ourselves with "feel good" but unrealistic expectations
about green energy will result in the same sort of poor decisions,
mal-investment, and crushed dreams as fossil-based system has.
As we constantly repeat here at Peak Prosperity:
Without as much available, the future is going to be exceptionally
difficult compared to the present. Which is why I call the time
we're living in now The Good Old Days.
Now is the time to prepare for what's coming, to acquire the skills,
the land, and make the financial, physical and emotional adjustments
in your lifestyle that will boost your resilience for a future of
less and more expensive energy.
Let's start with the math.
Suppose we agree on the goal to entirely replace fossil fuel energy
by 2050. (We're going to have to do it by some point, because oil,
coal and natural gas are all depleting finite resources.)
With 2050 as a starting point we can run some simple math.
We start by converting the three main fossil fuels - coal, oil and
natural gas - into a common unit: the "millions of tons of oil
equivalent" or Mtoe.
A million tons of oil
= 1 Mtoe, obviously.
And there's an amount
of coal, if burned that has the same energy as 1 Mtoe.
Ditto for natural
If we add up all of the
fossil fuels burned in a given year, then we can express that as a
single number in the many thousands of Mtoe.
has run the math for us in his recent article in Forbes:
In 2018 the world
consumed 11,743 Mtoe in the form of coal, natural gas and
petroleum. The combustion of these fossil fuels resulted in 33.7
billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.
In order for those
emissions to reach net-zero, we will have to replace about
12,000 Mtoe of energy consumption expected for 2019.
So that's our starting
alternative energy systems get installed will have to replace around
12,000 Mtoe. Now, it bears noting that 12,000 Mtoe is a truly
massive amount of energy.
To visualize this, let's use gigantic oil-bearing cargo ships.
Here's a picture of the
Ultra Large Crude Carrier, the Oceania, which can hold a bit
more than 3,000,000 barrels of oil at a time. That's a staggeringly
massive ship. Ginormous...
We'd need 2.4 of these massive ships to hold 1 Mtoe.
Which means we'd need a
fleet of approximately 30,000 of these tankers to hold 12,000
Mtoe. (By the way, there are currently only 4 ships in the world of
Because these truly
gigantic ships are 1,246 feet in length, our fleet of 30,000
would stretch over 7,000 miles if parked stern to nose in a
Are you getting a sense
yet for how mind-bogglingly large the world's annual fossil energy
what would it take to
replace those 12,000 Mtoe with alternative fuels by 2050?
Pilke answers that for
Another useful number
to know is that there are 11,051 days left until January 1,
To achieve net-zero carbon dioxide emissions globally by 2050
thus requires the deployment of >1 Mtoe of carbon-free energy
consumption (~12,000 Mtoe/11,051 days) every day, starting
tomorrow and continuing for the next 30+ years.
Achieving net-zero also requires the corresponding equivalent
decommissioning of more than 1 Mtoe of energy consumption from
fossil fuels every single day.
More than 1 Mtoe of
alt-energy systems would have to be installed every single day?
Between now and Jan 1
No resting on Sundays
But that's only half of
We'd also have to decommission and retire an equivalent 1 Mtoe
amount of still-functioning fossil fuel property, plant and
Do you have any idea how
much money and embedded capital is contained in all the world's
current energy infrastructure - including our cars and homes -
that's built around fossil fuel use?
Somehow, the world would have to replace the equivalent of the
energy contained within 2.4 Ultra Massive crude ships,
Day... for 11,000 days straight, without missing a single day.
A 7,000 mile long
cargo train of ultra massive ships retired at the rate of 2.4
per day for the next 30 years.
What would that take?
Again from Pilke:
So the math here is
to achieve net-zero
carbon dioxide emissions by 2050, the world would need to deploy
3 [brand new] nuclear plants worth of carbon-free energy every two days, starting tomorrow and continuing to 2050.
At the same time, a
nuclear plant's worth of fossil fuels would need to be
decommissioned every day, starting tomorrow and
continuing to 2050.
I've found that some people don't like the use of a nuclear
power plant as a measuring stick. So we can substitute wind
energy as a measuring stick.
dioxide by 2050 would require the deployment of ~1500 wind
turbines (2.5 MW) over ~300 square miles, every day
starting tomorrow and continuing to 2050.
So to dismantle that
7,000 mile long conga-line of ultra massive crude carriers,
we'd have to build
and commission 3 new nuclear plants every 2 days. Or 1,500 very
large wind towers installed across 300 square miles every day...
It's just not
going to happen...
Even if the world got totally, completely serious about doing this,
it remains an exceedingly improbable task. That's being kind, too.
When something strays this far over the line of improbability, it's
really an impossibility.
Oh, and I started writing this article on Tuesday. Since it's now
Friday, that means we're already behind by 9 nuclear plants. We'll
need to hurry to catch those up.
But maybe you're still holding out hope. If all the countries of the
world suddenly made this their #1 priority, could we have a shot?
This brings us to complicating factor #2:
One huge reason that an easy, seamless transition to alternative
energy won't happen is because our biological wiring is
terrible at responding to such big, complex, long-range
saber-toothed tiger crouching right in front of us? That we know
how to respond to.
Filling our bellies
from a ripe fruit tree to sate our hunger? We're absolutely
wired for solving problems like that.
But organizing ourselves against a faceless distant threat? Not
in our wiring.
Trying to convince
people to make sacrifices today for no immediate or visible
reward? Really not at all in our biological wheelhouse.
When united towards a
common goal, humans can do amazing things.
Simply brilliant and
astonishing works exist that inform us of what's possible when we
set our collective minds to a shared mission:
The great pyramids.
Towering middle-age cathedrals. The Great Wall of China. The
But far less is possible
when we're fractured and divided... as we are now.
We're currently having
trouble trying to agree on which gender(s) should use a particular
bathroom. Or being civil when standing in line for a discounted TV.
Given this, it's impossible to imagine the increasingly-divided
populations in the UK, France, America or Germany agreeing on much
of anything, let alone a gigantic and massively expensive energy
Each country is currently struggling with its own brew domestic
social and political problems (of their own making, I should add).
They have neither the appetite or ability to take on the much more
challenging task of a 30-year global energy infrastructure re-build.
Making this energy transition will require an enormous diversion of
effort - away from this and towards that.
It will be hard. It will take a lot of political capital and expert
leadership. Huge pain and suffering will result as entire industries
are shut down and new ones are started up.
Just drive through any former mill or mining region and you can
still see the bitter remnants of its abandoned industries. Some have
not yet recovered, even hundreds of years after the initial loss.
When the coal mines died out, so did the cities:
When the mills left, so did the vitality...
With an energy transition
away from fossil fuels, there will be similar examples of ruined
economic ideas littering the land.
Places where refineries
now stand with their thousands of jobs will become rusting
derelicts. Ditto for hundreds of other dependent businesses, ranging
Jiffy Lube to Boeing to gas stations to
Which brings us to complicating factor #3:
time, scale and cost.
Suppose for a moment that we did decide This is it!, and
began building 3 nuclear plants per day in earnest.
First: how much
would that cost? Who would pay for it?
Second: are there
enough skilled workers and manufacturing facilities to make
and install all of the components?
Third: even after
these nuclear plants were all up and running, is there even
enough Uranium in the world to fuel the eventual 16,500
new, additional plants?
The answer to each of
these questions is some form of,
that isn't really possible..."
In the third case, the
entire amount of all known Uranium reserves are only currently
sufficient to supply the existing ~400 reactors in the world of 90
If we expanded the number of reactors by a factor of 41
(16,500/400), that 90 years of supply shrinks to just a bit over 2
years. Nobody is going to build a nuclear plant with just 2 years of
Uranium around to supply it (that said, I am a fan of researching
the use and installation of
Thorium reactors, which I've
Similar supply constraints arise if we calculate out the amount of
resources required to build the amount of wind towers or solar
panels that could replace these nuclear plants.
The costs are
The global resources
There aren't enough
new hydro dam sites to even make a dent
Also complicating things,
each of these so-called alternative energy systems requires a
huge amount of fossil fuels to mine, manufacture, install and
The world has yet to see
a single windmill or solar panel that was mined, manufactured and
installed without using fossil energy...
The Vision We
The answer to the post-fossil fuel era is not an alternative-energy
system capable of providing us with the same way of life... because
that's just not feasible.
The answer lies in doing more with less...
We already know how to build structures that will last for hundreds
of years and which require almost no energy to operate for heating
and cooling. But those are very rarely built today, because they
We already know how to build small, light vehicles and operate mass
transit very energy effectively. But society prefers its huge cars
and trucks, because they're affordable (while debt is cheap) and
We already know how to grow more food, closer to home, that is far
healthier for humans and the ecosystem. But it's still only done on
a boutique basis because it costs a little bit more.
This is why people need to be told the truth and inspired with a
vision that we can all share.
With a grand cause,
anything is possible.
Without one, nothing
will be done.
The vision we need will
align what needs to be done with proper incentives to get those
We'll be told the truth,
what is expected, and our role in the project. It will imbue many
lives with a sense of meaning and purpose that are currently missing
in the lives of most people.
However, given the enormity of the challenge, and the fractured,
divisive social and political landscape, you really need to plan for
That no vision
is coming along, no savior will appear, and that we're
going to merrily continue along until we run out of time and
resources to do anything more than regret our mistakes...
Odds are we're going to
keep heading straight along our current trajectory.
Until - clunk! - we go
right over the edge...
Given the math, human tendencies, and the issues pertaining to time,
scale and cost, the current green energy movement currently is
little more than hot air.
It's just not
going to happen in time...
We're nowhere close to being able to build out the massive energy
The equivalent of 3
nuclear plants every two days for the next 30 years...?
That's a total pipe dream...
We lack the political
will, the cultural readiness, the proper narrative. Even the
Beyond those concerns, nearly everything about how we heat, move,
cool and manufacture the components of our modern lives will have to
be refashioned (and possibly jettisoned) as part of that project.
Such an ambitious undertaking has no historical analog.
It's a ridiculously
complex set of problems (which have solutions) and predicaments
(which don't). It's exactly the sort of situation that politicians
will avoid as long as possible, after which it will be too late to
do very much about it.
Which means you need to adjust your expectations and investment of
your money and energy, accordingly. The entire world - which is
utterly dependent on infinite growth - is only years away
from grasping the impossibility of that approach.
When it does, everything
will change. Quickly...
This is why we spend so much time and effort alerting people
to these realities, and then helping them take
informed individual actions that align with the future we all see
(or feel) coming...