Saturday, May 19, 2012


We've already covered Peak Oil, Peak Coffee and Peak Chocolate, Peak Health, Peak Sports, Peak Houses and Peak Movies, and much more. Here are a few more, courtesy Lloyd Alter at Treehugger:

Peak Gold:
Martin Mittelstaedt writes in the Globe and Mail that gold is getting harder to find and more expensive to get out of the ground. Mittelstaedt writes:

    Many precious metals analysts and gold miners are taking a cue from the claims that global oil production will exhibit a peak, and then begin an inexorable decline accompanied by sharply higher prices. They're starting to say the same concept applies equally well to bullion and may lead to outsized investment returns from buying the yellow metal.

    Believers in peak gold say that mining has a number of uncanny similarities to oil extraction.

Others point out that oil is consumed, whereas gold is recycled forever, and consider the term "peak gold" to be a copycat move.

    "I'm sure that you'll find that many in the resource industry will claim that they are now on the back side of their own Hubbert curve," says Jeff Rubin, former chief economist of CIBC World Markets, who has written a book about the end of the cheap oil era.
Peak Asphalt:
At the Oil Drum, there is concern that asphalt, made from crude oil, might soon be too expensive to buy and maintain, and that roads may have to revert to gravel.

    Asphalt comes from crude oil. It is made from bitumen which is a heavy and viscous form of petroleum; normally the residual of the distillation of crude oil. Could it be that with peak oil we don't just have a problem of availability of fuels and of energy, but also of bitumen for paving roads?

They note that we are certainly not running out of bitumen; that is what the tar sands are made of. But it will become more expensive. Maintenance is also becoming a lot more costly and governments are letting the roads deteriorate.

    It is likely that in the coming years we'll see more and more roads returning to gravel, as it was commonplace in the Western World up to about 50 years ago. When most roads were not paved, cars and trucks had much softer suspension systems and lighter wheels; we may see a comeback of this kind of vehicles which, by their nature, are not made for high speeds. After all, gravel roads don't mean the end of transportation. We'll just have to slow down considerably, and that may not be a bad thing.
Peak Olive Oil
On April 1, the Economist expressed concern about the future of olive oil in Europe; Changing climate was going to put the Mediterranean out of the oil business.

Russia, however, expects to profit handsomely: its steppes, freed of permafrost, will soon host vast olive groves; a series of pipelines will send extra-virgin supplies westwards. Yet not all are happy. A Russian deal to pipe oil directly to Germany has caused dismay in central European countries that will be bypassed, potentially leaving salads undressed.
And then there's Peak Plastic:
But if we’re running out of oil, that also means that we’re running out of plastic. Compared to fuel and agriculture, plastic is small potatoes. Even though plastics are made on a massive industrial scale, they still account for less than 10% of the world’s oil consumption. So recycling plastic saves plastic and reduces its impact on the environment, but it certainly isn’t going to save us from the end of oil. Peak oil means peak plastic. And that means that much of the physical world around us will have to change.

Plastic is more than just water bottles and Tupperware. If you’re indoors, look around. There’s a good bet that much of what’s in your field of view is made of plastic. Paint. Carpeting. Upholstery. The finish on a wood floor. Veneer on furniture. And that’s before you go into your kitchen, or bathroom, and never mind a subway car or a hospital (disposable, sterile medical supplies, anyone?). Plastic is so ubiquitous that it’s almost invisible.

In the last century or so, chemists and chemical engineers have done as Pynchon described, and developed thousands of plastics for use in tens of thousands of applications, if not more. That means that we’ll need to find replacements for these oil-based plastics for every one of those uses, probably from previously unconsidered renewable sources. It’ll be a different world.

Note that the "consumer economy" begun in the 1950's was entirely dependent upon plastic materials (and cheap food, widespread home ownership and television). Take a look around a Target or a Wal-Mart and ask yourself what, if anything, could be sold there without the ability to mold plastic.

Peak Phosphorus:
You may remember the food-price unrest of a few years back, sparked in part by shortages and soaring prices of fertilizer. Yet large amounts of phosphate-based fertilizer continue to be wasted, write James Elser and Stuart White in Foreign Policy, “lost from farm fields, through soil erosion and runoff, and down swirling toilets, through our urine and feces.”

The two academics say the long-term problem isn’t insufficient production (the problem recently); it’s finite supply:

    Our supply of mined phosphorus is running out. Many mines used to meet this growing demand are degrading, as they are increasingly forced to access deeper layers and extract a lower quality of phosphate-bearing rock. … Some initial analyses from scientists with the Global Phosphorus Research Initiative estimate that there will not be sufficient phosphorus supplies from mining to meet agricultural demand within 30 to 40 years. Although more research is clearly needed, this is not a comforting time scale.

    The geographic concentration of phosphate mines also threatens to usher in an era of intense resource competition. Nearly 90 percent of the world’s estimated phosphorus reserves are found in five countries: Morocco, China, South Africa, Jordan and the United States. In comparison, the 12 countries that make up the OPEC cartel control only 75 percent of the world’s oil reserves.

The upshot, the authors write, could be international tension, rising prices, even “a Malthusian trap of widespread famine.”

Peak Helium:
Physicist Robert Richardson from Cornell University is warning against plans implemented via the Helium Privatization Act to sell off our National Helium Reserve by 2013.

    Although cryogenic applications in magnetic resonance imaging, semiconductor processing and basic research consume the largest portion of the helium market presently, this light, inert gas has many other uses. NASA uses it in the pressurizing and purging of its rocket engines while civilian industries use approximately 13 million scm annually in various welding applications. By the time one accounts for helium's role in atmospheric control and leak detection as well as its obvious use as a lifting gas, it is clear that the industry is an important part of the U.S. economy.

Helium is a non-renewable material here on earth. About 80% of global reserves are in the American Southwest, created as a by-product of refining natural gas. Dr. Richardson recommends raising prices drastically, so a helium balloon would run around $100, to reflect the value of the gas inside.

And Charles Hugh Smith thinks we've reached Peak Government:
The twin peaks of oil and government are causally linked: central government's great era of expansion has been fueled by abundant, cheap liquid fuels. As economies powered by abundant cheap energy expanded, so did tax revenues.

Demographics also aided Central States’ expansion: as the population of working-age citizens grew, so did the work force and the taxes paid by workers and enterprises.

The third support of Central State expansion was debt, and more broadly, financialization, which includes debt, leverage, and institutionalized incentives for speculation and misallocation of capital. Not only have Central States benefited from the higher tax revenues generated by speculative bubbles, they now depend on debt to finance their annual spending. In the U.S., roughly one-third of Federal expenditures are borrowed every year. In Japan -- which is further along on this timeline, relative to America -- tax revenues barely cover social security payments and interest on central government debt; all other spending is funded with borrowed money.

The fourth dynamic of Central State expansion is the State’s ontological imperative to expand. The State has only one mode of being, expansion. It has no concept of, or mechanisms for, contraction.
We Have Reached Peak Government (Of Two Minds). I would argue we've actually reached Peak Complexity, and are now experiencing diminishing returns, soon to dip into negative territory.


  1. Peak Plastics: Maybe it will soon make 'economic sense' to harvest the Great North Pacific Gyre for recyclables.

  2. Gas leak detection is the process of identifying possibly hazardous gas leaks by means of various instruments. These instruments usually employ an audible alarm to alert people.


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