October 11, 2003


'Too little' oil for global warming (New Scientist, 05 October 03)

Oil and gas will run out too fast for doomsday global warming scenarios to materialise, according to a controversial analysis presented this week at the University of Uppsala in Sweden. The authors warn that all the fuel will be burnt before there is enough carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to realise predictions of melting ice caps and searing temperatures.

Defending their predictions, scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change say they considered a range of estimates of oil and gas reserves, and point out that coal-burning could easily make up the shortfall. But all agree that burning coal would be even worse for the planet.

The IPCC's predictions of global meltdown provided the impetus for the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, an agreement obliging signatory nations to cut CO2 emissions. The IPCC considered a range of future scenarios, from profligate burning of fossil-fuels to a fast transition towards greener energy sources.

But geologists Anders Sivertsson, Kjell Aleklett and Colin Campbell of Uppsala University say there is not enough oil and gas left for even the most conservative of the 40 IPCC scenarios to come to pass.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 11, 2003 7:29 AM

Which only makes sense.

After all, at one time, all the carbon in fossil fuels was in the atmoshpere.

Yet here we are.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at October 11, 2003 7:50 AM


Posted by: oj at October 11, 2003 7:59 AM

Let's not forget that for over a century people have been under estimating the amount of petroleum that exists, and so predicting we are about to run out in a decade or so. Why should this be any different?

What's amusing is that this says that real scientists will have to pick one-- global warming or the end of petroleum. It's the pseudo-"scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change" types who will still be able to believe both (and before breakfast, too.)

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at October 11, 2003 2:24 PM

Actually, Jeff, there's evidence that many "fossil" fuels aren't "fossil" at all. Oil and gas may have nonbiological origins. See Thomas Gold's book "The Deep Hot Biosphere," or a summary on his page here: http://www.people.cornell.edu/pages/tg21/ . Google will also find many articles on him and this theory, such as http://www.juneauempire.com/Archive/September99/090599/stories/090599/Ins_oil.html . In Sweden, they tested his theory by drilling 22,000 feet into volcanic granite, and got 84 barrels of oil. Not much, but according to traditional theory, impossible. If he's right, there is a *much* larger amount of such fuels than we now believe.

Posted by: PapayaSF at October 11, 2003 3:24 PM

Also, the Sun was a lot cooler when it was young, so the Earth needed more CO2 in the atmosphere to maintain liquid water on the surface.

Posted by: Bill Woods at October 12, 2003 3:50 AM


I heard of that theory, although I thought it had been found wanting. As far as I know, all the known oil reserves are associated with certain rock formations--sedimentary, with overlying salt deposits--strongly indicative of organic origin.

It would be an interesting exercise to reverse engineer the known oil reserves to determine how much CO2 that implies in the early earth's atmosphere, and then determine if that is consistent with the Earth's and Sun's theoretical conditions at the time.

We already possess sufficient information to answer the question, and I can't possibly be the first to ask it. There must be some proposed answer somewhere.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at October 12, 2003 7:41 AM

Last I saw, PapayaSF's theory was still being investigated, although most scientists dismiss it (on faith, as it were). The theory had found some support from the fact that oilfields were "recharging" faster than fossil-based theories would explain. I do remember that, leaving the regeneration issue to one side, I was surprised at how little evidentiary support there was for the fossil theory.

Posted by: David Cohen at October 12, 2003 7:23 PM

Curiously, although weather appears to be mathematically chaotic, climate appears to be equally antichaotic.

That is, tiny variations in initial conditions result in widely divergent outcomes in weather forecasting.

Yet, in climate forecasting, no matter how much variation has been put into the initial conditions, the outcome is always the same -- a warm globe around 60F on average.

Myles Allen in the Sept. 18 Nature has a short discussion of why current methods of prediction are unreliable.

He advocates a probablistic approach.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at October 13, 2003 6:35 PM