Peak Technology- and You Thought Peak Oil Was a Problem

July 25th, 2007

First came Peak Oil– the idea that we are at, nearly at, or past (depending on whom you ask) the point where more oil has been removed from the ground than there is let to extract. Shortly after came Peak Gas, Peak Coal and Peak Uranium before someone put the pieces together and pointed out that the common factor among all these “peak” theories is that the world produces energy for the most part by using finite resources- and called the whole concept “Peak Energy“.

Follow the idea downstream and you start to wonder about the underpinnings of modern society, and technology in particular. Never mind that a Second Life avatar uses as much electricity as the average citizen of Brazil- check out Data Center Knowledge for a glimpse at how important a consideration energy is to web-centric businesses. Yesterday’s PG&E outage in San Francisco certainly shows how even local disruptions can affect the web in a big way.

Writer James Kunstler posted a recent polemic in which he points out that technology has led us to this point in history, and yet we put our hopes in technology to lead us out again. To paraphrase, the question he asks is “where will we get the energy to build hybrid cars, solar panels and wind farms” when oil costs skyrocket?

Global warming activists have started talking about “stabilization wedges“- numerous varied efforts each designed to reduce or replace a portion of CO2 currently being emitted through fossil fuel use, and using currently available technology.

I think this idea is right on- or at least more realistic than saying we need to return to localized economies- but it’s going to be a close race. If we can’t bring together enough wedges it’s going to be tough to maintain a technology-based society- and then there’s the question of how to rebuild a society where all the readily-available energy resources are tapped out.

I hate to end this on such a glum note. I’m certainly hopeful, but as I said, it’s going to be close.

  • Having spent a lot of time considering these topics over the past 3 years I’ve got to say I’m very optimistic about the future.

    The peak non-renewable fuels problem is actually a great opportunity – there is something like 30,000 times our current energy consumption available from solar, wind, geothermal and ocean power resources, so its not like we’re going to succumb to Kunstler’s vision of collapse (let alone the visions of the really hard core peak oil doomers) unless we choose to ignore these alternatives.

    John Doerr recently said that that cleantech boom that global warming is igniting will be 10 times the size of the internet boom – the peaking of fossil fuel production just feeds into this – the technology industry is going to find big new areas opening up in areas like smart grids and vehicle-to-grid technology helping to solve these problems.

    Thanks for the link !