The Eye of the Fish

August 5, 2012


Oil. Yes, oil. We all use it, but really, how often do we stop and think about it?

I mean, really, what is it, and where does it come from? Answers? Come on, what’s your first thought? “it’s oil, it comes from out of the ground, we dig a deep hole and it spurts up, and why is the Fish asking this stupid question?”

Well, yes, you’re right, it does come from the ground, but what is it doing there? And what is it made from? Did God / the supreme being / the architect of the world just say “I’m gonna make some stuff called oil and I’m gonna put it under the ground where it’s really hard for y’all to find it.” ? Or is there more to it than that? What is it doing 3 kilometers deep under the ocean floor? Why is it there? Why do the Arabs have so much of it? And – what is it really made of?

When you really start to think about it, oil is a most incredible resource. Let me get this straight. Oil is a byproduct of a previous age, it is basically a whole lot of hydro-carbon matter. Doesn’t contain much oxygen. Just mainly hydrogen molecules and carbon molecules. Ancient, ancient organic matter. Undigested. Algae. Planktony sort of stuff. Primordial ooze. Coming from creatures that didnt deal well with oxygen – hell, coming from algae that didn’t even meet the stuff we call oxygen. Coming from a time when our planet had an atmosphere that had virtually no oxygen in it. Algae, the smallest damn thing that is alive, from a time when our planet was mainly rocks and soup and shit. And they grew. And they died. And they grew again. And they died again. And it sank to the bottom of the sea and never got digested, because there was no suitable life form to digest them. Because God hadn’t invented the internal combustion engine at that time.

So, this sort of thing went on for many years. Quite a few many years in fact. Year in, year out, for year after year, algae grew, algae died, it drifted to the bottom of the sea, or covered the land, and sat there, not rotting, because it didn’t know how to rot. Non-aerobic activity, which is what I do when I sit at home watching the Olympics. They’re doing quite enough aerobic activity for me thank you. I can sit here, quietly not-rotting. And that’s what that algae did, for millions, and millions and millions of years. And millions. And millions. Life on earth must have been pretty unexciting back then. Even worse than now, because there wasn’t tv to while away the boredom of just being algae. Nothing to do but grow, and die, and fall to the bottom of the ocean and not rot. The sky was full of carbon-dioxide and other gases, but not really much oxygen at all.

And so eventually it came to pass one day that God invented plants, who started to take in the carbon dioxide, and do a little growing, and turn a bit of that into carbon-based life forms, and release some oxygen into the air. But there wasn’t enough oxygen for them to rot either, so the plants grew, and died, and fell to the bottom of the forest, and there was more sludge. And more plants grew, and more carbon-dioxide got absorbed, and more oxygen got put back into the atmosphere, and we (the earth) gradually started to have enough oxygen in the atmosphere that we could invent new life forms, which we call animals. But we haven’t quite got there yet. And if you are a Christian, or Jewish, or Muslim, you’ll believe the Old Testament, where it said that all this happened in less than seven days, which seems like quite a tight time-frame to me really.

This sort of thing went on for quite some time – time enough in fact that the sea floor could sink down and be squished into rock and encase all those dead things and keep them squashed up and keep them from rotting for, ooh, several hundreds of millions of years. Which is a mighty long time, apparently. So long, in fact, that the area we now see as the middle-east had time to go from being lush and green and covered in algae and slime and forest, to being folded under the earth, and by a geological quirk, hold onto all that sludge in just one place, and squash it down really hard, and in the mean time grind down some mountain ranges and invent sand and cover the whole country with it until that was pretty much all there was and nobody wanted that useless sandy stuff.

Eventually, the architect of it all invented dinosaurs, or at least slugs to start with, and perhaps even modest types of fish at the beginning, who started to eat the plankton and the plants and occasionally fart and burp and slowly begin to populate the earth. And they grew up some more, developed tails, and legs, and started to run marathons, or at least walk upright, before one bright spark called Benz invented the Mercedes and then we started driving, and now we drive around, sitting on rubber rings in steel chassis and use elaborately crafted engines to eek out our use of this most precious substance, oil.

And eventually we get to the whole point of this discussion, or diatribe, or rant of mine, depending on how you view this. Eventually we, the human race, found a way to dig up the oil from beneath the land, and later from beneath the sea, and we invented petrol refineries and the Shell logo and began to fill our cars up with highly refined non-aerobic organic sludge from millions of years of undigested algae, and drive down to McDonalds to buy a processed beef-burger with processed cheese. And as we do so, our mighty engines convert that ancient hydro-carbon based algae, at last, with the help of a few million oxygen molecules, back into the form it came from – carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide, and that carbon could, at long last, after umpteen zillion years, go back into the atmosphere where it belonged.

So that is what happens, in a slightly simplified form, every time you drive your car. You are converting carbon into carbon dioxide, and converting ancient life forms that have sequestered it for millions of years under the ground, into a Vapour that permeates the world. And so, in the last 100 years, since we invented cars, and found oil and put the two of them together and really started affecting the atmosphere, our rate of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has gone from being low ish, to being what it is now, namely ever so slightly more than low ish. And it is this that is making the difference to our planet.

And so the science bit, the technical thing, is that our rate of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, that is all tied up with the melting of the polar icecaps, and the shrinking of the glaciers, and the crazy storms that are popping up all over the world, is because, basically our entire planet’s future, is that the rate of carbon dioxide needs to come back down to under 350 parts per million. And then we might just have a future for the planet which doesn’t involve destroying everything we have.

And so we have gone in the last 100 years, through exactly half of all the dead algae that ever existed over millions of years, but never rotted, that we call oil – in 100 years we have undone several hundred million million years of careful earth-balancing evolution of every oxygen-breathing organism on the planet. And people have the nerve to tell me that they don’t believe in global warming, or that they welcome it, because they will be able to grow fruit in their back yard that they couldn’t before.

Global climate change is here, and it is caused by us, and we have wasted more energy in the last 100 years than the world can cope with. And what do we plan to do with the other 50% of the oil that is getting really hard to find more of, yet the existing stuff we are pulling out of the ground at a rate of billions of barrels of oil per day?

We just plan to,keep on getting it out, and using it up quickly, cos if we don’t, then someone else will, and screw the planet.

5 - 08 - 12

Yeah. We’re pretty much f#&ked. We should start harvesting the politicians for oil. It’s an unlimited, renewable supply afterall. And I’m pretty sure there’s enough in Gerry alone to keep the lights on for a year.

Related read:

5 - 08 - 12

That Rolling Stone article is incredible. Excellent journalism. Thanks Erentz.

60 MPa
5 - 08 - 12

Some men just want to watch the world burn

10 - 08 - 12

What a load of peak oil propaganda! Your Figure 5 shows a dramatic decline in oil production. But is it actually from 2007 with the oil production decline a FORECAST.

Why not use more recent figures? . . . well because the long predicted decline in oil production OBVIOUSLY DIDN’T HAPPEN (and mentioing this would just spoil the whole point of the article). As shown but up-to-date data such as see, world crude oil production shows continued GROWTH !!!

Sure the price will continue to edge up as cheaper reserves are depleted (although even this may not be true in the medium term if oil fracking becomes even half as successful as gas fracking). There is little evidence, outside the peak oil doomsayers, that total oil production has actualy peaked yet (in fact much of the cost increase in petrol is actually due to a lack of oil refining capacity, not available crude).

D on this article (can do better).

10 - 08 - 12

Tony, I feel totally justified in saying: fuck off you total dickhead. Did you even read a word of the article? Go away and troll elsewhere.

Slick Willie
13 - 08 - 12

Good on you for telling him to F— off. Missed the point entirely. Who cares if peak oil is reached in one year or in ten – all irrelevant. As you say, Carbon is the thing.

Point of interest to me, however, is that 1.1% of the worlds petrochemicals goes towards “feedstock”. Assuming that they aren’t meaning food for humans, then somehow that means they are feeding petrol by-products to cattle. That’s a bad double whammy right there. More CO2 from cow farts and cow burps, as well as an oily taste to your burger. Yuck!