Ugo Bardi

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(Chemistry professor at "University of Florence;" member and Past-President of the "Association for the Study of the Peak Oil in Italy - ASPO Italia,"
In 1956 Prof. Hubbert in United States published an article arguing that any fuel-field production have a Gauss form with three main phases: rapid growth, peak, decline. Then, Hubbert estimated Oil production in United States (with the “peak” expected and happened in 1970.). The presence of a cap in the annual world Oil production, with a following decrease, has important consequences on the Economy (now strongly Oil driven): at a certain point, Oil supply has difficulty in facing the growing Oil demand, so Energy costs rise and with it also that of goods; life become more expansive and unsustainable. How post-Oil epoch will be? How can we act in order to become less dependent from this fuel source? Ugo Bardi, Chemistry professor at University of Florence and ASPO – Association for the Study of Peak Oil – Italia’s past president, will answer to our questions.
INTERVIEW - (May 2012)
The interview was realized and published in May 2012 - (Original interview in Italian)
Subject: Peak Oil: causes and consequences; the post-oil world
1. Question: Can you explain what is the Peak Oil  (or Hubbert Peak); when will it come - according to the most reliable estimates - and what will be the direct consequences?

There is nothing of special in the fact that the production of a finite and no-renewable source, like the Oil, is bound to end. Between the starting and the ending point, there is a peak point. In some cases the curve of production is symmetric; it is like a “bell” (Gauss curve). In this case we call it “Hubbert Peak”. It is not sure that this form will be the rule: thanks to big investments, it is possible to avoid the decline of a certain source – at least for a limited period. This is the current case, where the Hubbert Peak in the Oil production has been delayed thanks to the investment financed by the rising price. In poor words, we can still have Oil for a certain time, but it will be more and more expensive. Sooner or later, the Oil decline will be unavoidable.
2. Question: How do you imagine post-Oil world?
The world without Oil is still far and it is difficult now to imagine  how it will be.. If we were able to substitute Oil with other sustainable sources, it would not be very different from the current one, but a bit quieter. In the opposite case, the world would be poorer.
3. Question: What source do you think will be the best substitute of Oil?

There is no substitute of Oil in terms of compactness and convenience. But we have an enormous amount of available energy in form  of sun, wind, water, and perhaps a new generation of nuclear technologies. Nevertheless, all these technologies, produce electric energy but doesn’t substitute Oil in the mains of Transports.  So a world based on renewable sources must develop new forms of technologies coherent with such kind of energy sources.
4. Question: Nicola Tesla and others, in their studies, talked about an infinitive form of Energy. What do you think about it? In other terms, do you think men will have an infinitive and polite energy in future?

I think that many of the things have been said about Tesla are not real. He was a good scientist, and many of the things we now have are a result of its studies. But we cannot consider him as a saint dedicated to the complot theory. The only infinitive thing, freely available, is the human stupidity!
5. Question: Recently we have interviewed Cristiano Bottone, one of the facilitators of Transition groups in Italy (Trancition cities Italy). Do you think that this movement, that is spreading around the world, is the right answer in order to make humans more resilient to Oil?

 The Transition towns movement is based on a good idea and have a good implementation program. But, it has still limited effects. In future, we will have a rapid evolution of the economic system with consequences on the social fabric and humans relations. We hope that the Transition towns’ approach will help us face the difficult period that is coming.
6. Question: What do you suggest people to be prepared for facing a post-Oil epoch (with regards to their purchases – home, cars – and more simple actions)?

It is difficult giving advices on this matter. What I’m certain about is to avoid buying an house located near a river; for people who have such a kind of house, I suggest to sell it.
7. Question: How do you imagine future houses? What do you suggest building entrepreneurs to do? How will be the mains of transports in the future?

Now, I’m working on a researching plan granted by European funds aiming at helping the Building sector face the current crisis. In future the construction of new buildings will decrease, but their quality will increase. There will be opportunities for both the restructuring and the demolishing industry. With regards to the Transport sector, surely we will travel less, but we will carry on travelling.
8. Question: Apart from the amount of Energy sources, the great impact human activities have on the Earth make us thinking seriously about a decrease in consumption (Latouche-Pallante). Do you think such a process is possible without economic and social shocks (unemployment for example)?

“Decrescita” is not a choice; it is a need deriving from the progressive depletion of natural sources. Some authors think of a “Decrescita felice – Happy decreasing”, but I think it is a vision a little bit optimistic. We have been in recession for some years, but many people have difficulties of adaptation. Also adaptation is not a choice,  but a necessity.
9. Question: In your latest book, “La Terra svuotata”, it is explained that human extraction activities are causing changes with a rapidity we have never had in million years of history; these changes are deeply transforming the Earth. Could you explain what you exactly mean with the term “svuotata – empty”?

50 years ago People lived in a Planet completely different from the current one.  Fifty years ago there were 3 billion people; now we are 7 billion; the world average temperature was 1° Celsius less than the current one and the Co2 air concentration was still sustainable. Now we are observing an accelerated changing process: arctic ice melting, Oceans acidification , climate change, global warming and so on... Among all these changes, there is also the general depletion of mineral sources: in other words, the “Earth emptying”. Millions of years are necessary to recreate the depleted sources, and some of these (coal, for example), will not form again. It is an irreversible change, a tipping point in the Planet history with consequences for millions of years in the future.
10. Question: What is the most worrying problem (climate change, declining marine eco system, sources depletion, nuclear plants, uneven distribution of richness, intensive agriculture and excessive exploitation of earth etc…) for the humankind?

The most dangerous thing is the humans’ inability to set long term plans; humans act without thinking of the future consequences of his actions. There is  an epoch-failure of humankind in rightly managing  our Planet. This is the basic reason of all the negative changes mentioned.
11. Question: As an ASPO member, can you explain its main objective and how it is contributing to a change in the world socio-economic paradigm?

In almost a decade since its birth, ASPO has done its utmost in making the world population aware about the problem of Oil and other fuels depletion. This association - taking into account the absence of funds - has been very efficient: Thanks the great contribution of ASPO, now we can say that  the Peak Oil concept is well-known around the world. ASPO has launched the message; now it’s up to politicians to make the right decisions in order to face the problem. Unfortunately, few has been done so far, except for keeping on with the current levels of productions, even though this has heightened Oil price and air pollution. Nevertheless, ASPO message has been determinant in the development of renewable sources; with the hope to preserve the so called “civilization” of the current world
12. Question: A message to adult people.

We cannot predict future, but can be prepared to face it
13. Question: A message to young people.

The world you are going to live in will be the world you are going to create. With a bit of fortune, you can do better than the previous generation.