On the Road–It makes you think…

I was pumping gas into the tank of the P71 here in California and the nozzles are a little bit different.

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They have this thing on the end that you have to push hard in toward the filler neck or no fuel is pumped.  I understand that it is designed to capture any fuel vapors and also build up your upper body strength.

I remember some earlier designs that appeared on gas pumps all over.  The first ones were large accordion affairs and I believe they had vacuum to pull vapors out of the tank as you filled it.  They had a habit of not shutting off in time and sucking fuel in before the shutoff did its thing.  That way you bought a bunch of fuel that went back into the big tank underground at the filling station.

As I looked at the current design I thought about how it is created to capture unburned hydrocarbons.  That’s science talk for gasoline.  Modern cars have been equipped with vapor recovery systems for quite a while.

So this is a place where they try to capture vapors that otherwise might just float into the air as you fill your tank.  Pretty serious stuff, I guess.  Kind of like all that strontium 90 that was released into the atmosphere over the decades of above ground nuclear testing.

But it looks like the rules will be changing and the Federal government will be having California taking them off.  I guess that means everything is OK now.

So while the fuel is being pumped into the P71 I wonder what things will be like when we run out of oil.  First you have to figure out when that will happen, I guess.

Running out of oil has been something that has been speculated on and predicted since, well, since we started finding uses for oil and natural gas.  Some people think it could be ten years from now, or maybe by 2060, or maybe it can never happen.

Frankly, I haven’t got a clue.

But I do think about what life might be like without the petroleum that we get from under the ground.  No more plastic bags blowing around in the breeze.  No more nice motors.  Not just because there would be no fuel to burn in them, but no lubricant either.

Things would be a bit tough to manufacture, too.  Steel takes a lot of electricity to make and although you might think about wind power, hydro power, and nuclear power would be a source for the electricity, you would still need to lubricate the pumps and generators.  You would need to cool and lubricate the machines that make all the pumps and generators.  No more plastic cases.

And what would home life be like?  Would we all switch to whale oil like our ancestors in the days before petroleum?  I don’t think there would be enough whales to meet the needs of the world population that we have now.  We would have to convert to sailing ships again.

Would our trains run on wood?  Nah, not enough of that either.

Well our carbon footprints would be a lot smaller.  It would be tougher to move goods around the country to all those big box stores.  We might have to have more local manufacturing.

We could go back to horses and wagons, but there would be a big learning curve.  Not many people know how to take car of animals on that scale, let alone know how to hitch up a horse to a wagon.

You still have to feed and care for those animals.  We could all have our own chickens I suppose.  There would be a lot more flies around with all those animals.  Probably a lot less people, too.

Aw heck.  We’ll never run out, right?

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2 Responses to On the Road–It makes you think…

  1. Dan Paquette says:

    Not while we’re alive. The market will react appropriately. Rising prices will delay our running out of oil as it becomes more scarce. Truly synthetic lubes may allow us to drive our electric cars around with wreckless abandon and keep on manufacturing. That said, the true foundation of what drives our economies will whither… trains, ships, planes. You simply can not get a plane the size of an airliner aloft without fossil fuels. You can run ships and build new trains to run on coal again… I’m sure the hippies would love that. * We have a lot of coal. I’m thinking I’ll be dead before we run out of oil, and I have maybe another 40 years or so left on this planet. The difference is, I know I would find it hard to adjust without petrol chemicals… The younger generation that seems to like to live in the big cities would be in for a heck of a shock…and race for survival. Those out in the boonies would probably be inconvenienced, but I would put my survival money on them.

  2. markitude says:

    Dan, Jim

    Great points – I think sustainable population density is directly tied, if not proportional to energy density. The points you make on airliners, long haul trucks, trains, and most overseas shipping (there was a prototype nuke cargo ship, the Savannah) rely on fossil fuels, notably oil, in order to sustain our population density and appetite for diverse goods, services, and ability to travel freely.

    Mother is the necessity of invention. Petrol oil displaced whale oil. We’ve only had petrol oil perhaps 200 years, certainly not much more than 125 that it really mattered. Given time, a viable new technology will come along. Politics and economics probably are in the mix. If you eliminated the need (and value) for the primary export of many countries, what would they move to? This must be considered in the equation – conflict can arise from scarcity – dwindling supplies, or abolishing of income stream leading to economic collapse and chaos.

    It may truly take global planning and cooperation to make a smooth transition.

    Still, history is full of transitions where one way of life gave way to another, and if as a human race we have made it through many before, over thousands of years, we should have confidence that we will make many more. I just hope that our policy makers allow for the change by helping to find things that will honestly and truly work better rather than piling on taxes and regulations to cripple what we have now in the hope that something else will then look comparatively better. What races are legitimately won by adding handicaps to competitors? That doesn’t encourage us to improve.

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