Tuesday, August 22, 2006

peak oil

it appears that the nation and the world is facing the imminent reduction in supply of the single natural, non-renewable resource upon which we have become the most profoundly dependent: oil. demand continues to increase while supply is finite and, many now argue, nearing an end.

while the actual date of global peak oil production is a matter of some debate (estimates range from last year to more than 30 years from now), the consequences of the event are straighforward. global demand is continuously rising (world production is about 85 million barrels/day at present; the DOE estimates that figure will rise to 119.2 Mb/d in 20 years), yet production appears to have flattened and discoveries of new oil reserves have dropped off steadily since 1980. when production does peak, it will tend to fall off with increasing speed as existing oil resources are more rapidly depleted to meet the constantly growing demand. the shortfall will tend to rise with increasing speed. you can see where this will lead.

approximately 70% of oil is used for transportation. we humans, most especially we "first-worlders", have become extraordinarily accustomed to our mobile lifestyles. we depend upon food and other goods being shipped great distances to meet our needs (well, our desires!), we often work at considerable distance from where we live, we generally feel not the least compunction about getting in the car to go see, do, or buy anything on a whim. in short, we have enslaved ourselves to a lifestyle that, predictably, has a limited lifespan, given our present choice of fuel. additionally, much of the rest of the precious juice is used to manufacture an enormous array of goods that we use daily, from dish soap to trash bags to toilet seats to fertilizer to milk jugs. what to do?

I had the good fortune, over the weekend, to hear Richard Heinberg speak on the subject of peak oil at SolFest, the annual sustainable living fair held in Hopland, California, at the headquarters of Real Goods, home of the Solar Living Institute. I also bought his new book there (due out officially on September 8): The Oil Depletion Protocol: A Plan to Avert Oil Wars, Terrorism and Economic Collapse. (New Society Publishers, ISBN 978-0-86571-563-9)

without resorting to hysteria-raising, he lays out the case why, regardless how many years between now and peak oil, work must begin immediately to ameliorate its potentially disastrous effects. the transition to an oil-free (or oil-lite) world will not be simple and cannot happen overnight--- as it seems many believe. we are wicked entrenched in our fossil-fuel lifestyles here, and it's not just just transportation that will be turned upside-down. the protocol refers to a proposed methodology to help ease the transition out of the oil economy through a schedule of incrementally declining production by OPEC (and any other oil-producing) nations.

if we do nothing, the likely near-future scenario will be a world increasingly divided along have/have-not lines of oil. the more powerful nations will ratchet up their already imperialistic bullying tactics in their insatiable quest to continue the flow of crude toward money and power. you think this little iraq conflict is a disaster? the unremediated post-peak world will make it seem a picnic, I suspect.

what can you do today to reduce your dependence upon oil, both fuel and products?

Monday, August 07, 2006

raising consciousness

I've spent a great deal of time lately considering the problem of raising consciousness among my fellow 'mericans. I find myself laboring under an odd admixture of resentment, bordering on contempt, coupled with a hopeful admiration and a cheerleader-rah-rah spirit, for my countrymen.

here is this once great nation of entrepreneurs, original thinkers, and spirited iconoclasts that has gone to the dogs with its consumer-culture indolence, avarice, pettiness, and apathy. I am no jingoist, I despise the present form of flag-stickering patriotism that has been so easily promulgated as a tool by the neocon right to further their heinously imperialistic agenda in iraq--- but I still believe that 'merica once was a great nation; at the very least it was an amazing geopolitical experiment begun by some forward-thinking minds. what we've done with that great experiment is often disturbing and, at the very least, terrifically disappointing.

and here we are now, 230 years later, wallowing in our own depravity. okay, that's the cynic talking. but honestly, we're running as fast as we can toward the edge of a cliff and the best we can do is mutter to ourselves, "I just know I'll figure out how to fly by the time I get there."

fortunately, there are signs of change. I've met more than a few people with good hearts and brave souls (not bravehearts!) and I just hope we can get the message out to the ones with blinders on, the ones hurtling toward the cliff and trying to drag us all along with them.....