ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

The Unsustainable Deficit - Hydrocarbons

Updated on August 7, 2011

Chart of Projected World Oil Production

This chart is a forecast of global oil production, whether it is accurate, or not, the amount of oil in the ground is clearly finite.
This chart is a forecast of global oil production, whether it is accurate, or not, the amount of oil in the ground is clearly finite. | Source

Another Deficit to Worry About

I believe that the modern age has been made possible, because mankind has discovered how to exploit fossilized hydrocarbons. We use them as energy for our machines and as a key ingredient of many products.

Hydrocarbons have always been valuable to us. They feed us, fuel the fires we use to cook our food, feed the horse that plows our field, and are what we seek from the animals we hunted and wild plants we gathered before that.

In the steady state, a certain amount of the sun's energy reaches the earth, plants use a fraction of that energy to combine water and carbon dioxide into hydrocarbons. We eat a fraction these hydrocarbons, burn them for fuel, and make things from them.

The discovery and use of fossilized hydrocarbons (coal and oil) has temporarilly greatly increased the supply that is available to us, and we are having a really wild party on this beggar's feast. The party started around one hundred and fifty years ago. I suspect it won't last another hundred and fifty years. It is doubtful that we will be able to reign our consumption back to steady state levels without experiencing catastrophy.

In 1798 Malthus predicted that human populations would reach unsustainable levels. So far, he has been wrong. I suspect that it is our use of fossilized hydrocarbons that has forstalled his prediction. Mostly because machines have made us a lot more efficient at growing and transporting food. They have also facilitated national and global scale organizations that mostly preserve law and order and control deseases before they turn into plagues.

Recently, much of the discussion about the use of hydrocarbons has had to do with global warming. This may indeed be a consequence of our using them for energy. I am personally more alarmed that we use something so precious, so casually. Let's imagine what the world will be like when hydrocarbons are no longer abundant and cheap. I suspect that day will soon be upon us.

A free market system rations scarce resources according to who has money and what they are willing to pay. So, inevitably, the hydrocarbon deficit will cause intensified competition between the various uses of hydrocarbons. Someone will starve, because someone else needed gasoline for their car, or drugs needed to prolong someone's life won't be available, because the demand for plastic in consumer products will make the drugs too expensive. I think this already happens, but it will get worse. I don't know how quickly it will get worse, how bad the result will be, or when, but we are headed in that direction.

The bag of apples in front of me is made of plastic, as is the packaging for something my son bought, the bottle of dish soap, and the finish of my diningroom table. The food I am cooking was grown on a farm that used machines powered by oil. That farm is not close to where I live. So, a truck that was powered by oil brought it to a store. I drove to that store to buy the food. The flame that is heating the food is methane, the simplest of hydrocarbons. The asprin I took this morning is made from petroleum.

The food I am about to eat could have been fermented and turned into fuel.

When I was injured, the tubes that transfused blood into my body while surgeons worked on me was made of plastic. The lenses of my glasses are, too. Without them, I would not be able to see well enough to write this article.

Airplanes that I ride when I travel for business or pleasure, burn aviation fuel to get me where I am going. My car burns fuel less prodigiously when I drive somewhere.

If oil became as expensive as gold, what would happen to me?

Maybe it is possible to make a smooth transition to alternative sources of energy, and hydrocarbons for manufacturing. My impression is that would be difficult, even if, mankind were making a concerted effort to make that transition. However, I think there are too many people who believe religiously that the results of free market activity are always optimal and benign, and I think there are a lot of people and organizations that have a short term, vested interest in not making that transition. So, I am not optimistic about this. I hope I am wrong.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Phil Plasma profile image

      Phil Plasma 

      7 years ago from Montreal, Quebec

      Well written hub, I certainly have been following Peak Oil and Climate Change for quite some time now. I fear that any alternatives being suggested are too little, too late, and that the energy required to ramp up the alternatives is just not available, or too expensive.

    • hootnhowell profile image


      7 years ago from Peoria Heights, Illinois

      It is a very large train we are trying to bring to a halt, this takes time & considerable effort. Do not despair or lose hope in mankinds ingenuity. Alternatives are surfacing now and I predict will become common place within 50-100yrs. I do not believe in global warming as far as it being a manmade calamity. That being said to error on the side of caution seems prudent and responsible to me.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)