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?


At 12/24/2006 1:43 PM, Blogger tess said...

I spent a good deal of time this past summer reading Peak Oil books. One was by a former oil industry geologist, and really delved into the science of oil exploration. He was quite realistic, but not fatalistic, about the implications of Peak Oil.

Personally, I suspect that as we get closer to the date (and prices at the pump really skyrocket) there will be near mass hysteria (hate that word) a la Year 2000, and then ... the car companies will unveil their new all-electric models, your grocery bags will suddenly be made out of bioplastic, the oil companies will have found some ridiculous way to extract an unheard-of gazillion tons of oil out of the massive reserves locked in the sands of Alberta, and wa-la, the crisis will be averted and we humans will go on killing each other over something else.

Gawd, is that cynical. I don't, however, mean to imply that no change in behavior is needed, only that the wrong changes will very likely be made (people will be either ignoring the whole thing as long as they can pay their gas bills, or alternatively getting all survivalist, having back-to-the-land, off-the-grid exercises, etc., as in 1999) ... instead of the changes that really would make a difference in the actual (as opposed to the imagined) future: using less of the stuff in our everyday lives. Hmm.

New Scientist of 14 October '06 had a great article on the post-human future of the planet. It's oddly comforting, even though all the speculation is couched in terms of "will" and not "would" ... which troubles the human reader more than one might imagine. $4.95 to buy a back issue online, or you can get it like I did, free at my local library. :)


At 12/27/2006 7:28 PM, Blogger Algernon said...

I generally agree that actual events tend to find a middle ground between the prognostications of disaster and the ho-hum of status quo. yet I find myself hoping for the disaster--- why should that be? perhaps my quixotic bent drives me to lens the windmills I tilt at into monstrous behemoths of evil intent. more than that, I want the people to shake off their blinders and reconnect with their mother planet, to see the truth of the impossibility of our present way of life and move thoughtfully toward something sustainable, out of love for this earth.

it occurred to me lately that one could view the fossil-fueled industrial revolution as a boon, a gift from the planet to help us raise our standards of living-- and, to some extent, our consciousness-- to a vastly higher level than before, quickly and globally. indeed, the disparity of wealth caused by greed and certain accidents of resource distribution did not make this transition as smooth or painless as one might have wished for. yet still, from an historical perspective, it seems as if the liquid-fuel industrial revolution is indispensible in securing our arrival at this pinnacle of human achievement and advancement. I shudder at the thought as I write this, because I am all too well aware of the cost we have paid, are paying. but that's just it: now it is time for us to use the gift of our technological advancement to lift us out of this present dangerous pass and up to the next level, the position of sustainability. part of the raised consciousness brought about by the industrial revolution is indeed the very consciousness that it will, it must, come to an end; that its pursuit is inevitably a dead end for us and the earth. now we are technologically ready to shift to a new paradigm of living.

doesn't that historcial arc seem almost uncannily as though somehow pre-arranged? it has lately seemed that way to me. let us now recognize this unique historical opportunity and seize it. the time is now. shift to sustainability.

At 1/02/2007 7:08 PM, Blogger Algernon said...

I read the New Scientist article today at my library. Uh, yeah, that's kinda sobering. Maybe we (humans) should consider leaving Earth soon. Do some good.


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