Orchard Analogy

Peak Oil is a very difficult concept for many people to understand initially.

I believe this is because Peak Oil deals fundamentally with the behavior of a flow rate over time. Most people are able to visualize a quantity: like apples in an orchard. Most people are able to visualize how the number of apples will shrink with the steady work of pickers. What is less intuitive and hence more difficult to visualize is changes in rate at which apples get picked.

Analogies only go so far, but let us imagine an apple tree full of ripe apples in an orchard. The tree is like our oil reservoir the picked apples like oil.

Imagine that this orchard is mechanised in that it has a conveyor belt to take the picked apples into the storage shed. A picker collects apples in a small basket and then empties them onto the conveyor belt. Another person sorts the apples that arrive on the conveyor into bins.

The first picker arrives with a basket and is able to stand under the tree and pluck fruit readily from the lower branches. It is a good crop so more pickers arrive and spread out around the tree. Eventually the first picker runs out of low hanging fruit and must fetch a chair to stand on. He is able to continue picking at a new layer of fruit, but his process is more complicated. He has to take a smaller basket because he now has to hold it while standing on the chair. He has to step down periodically and empty that smaller basket more often. Eventually all the pickers are standing on chairs. The tree still has loads of fruit left higher up so our first picker fetches a step ladder. This gives him access to higher fruit still but once again the process of setting the ladder in the tree is more complex than moving the chair. Furthermore it takes more time to climb up and down the ladder with each basket and you have to move the ladder more frequently to cover the same area as you could from the ground or the chair. Finally all the ladder fruit is picked and the remaining fruit high up can only be picked from a bucket truck.

The Peak Oil relevant question concerns the staffing levels at the sorting end of the conveyor belt.

At what point will there have to be maximum staffing level in the sorting shed?

The answer is when all the pickers are picking the low level fruit before the first picker resorts to using a chair. There is still lots of fruit in the left in the tree at this point but because the pickers slow down the number of apples arriving on the conveyor drops from then onward until the tree is picked clean.


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