Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Climate change in doubt? Doesn't matter!

In the lead-up to the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, predictably, doubt about anthropogenic global climate change is rapidly springing up in the media. Whether this turn of events is a result of better organizing on the part of right-wing media (an unusual preponderance of "denier" headlines appear on Fox, after all!); or represents a genuine crumbling of the supposed climate science consensus; or perhaps simply demonstrates the predictable boredom of the populace, tired of arguing immediately unproveable theories; or even reveals all media's attempt to boost sales by injecting more vitriol into the "debate"---- who can say?

The point remains: the need for drastic course correction of our global, oil-fed juggernaut remains unchanged. We must get off the juice, and we must begin the process yesterday. Absent a dramatic shift away from fossil fuel sources, we very likely face, in the short term, a massive catastrophe encompassing economic and societal spheres across the globe, and affecting all aspects of daily life-- all largely unrelated to current and predicted environmental disasters. The phenomenon precipitating this catastrophe is Peak Oil.

Here's an image of a very useful, information-dense chart showing the oil peak (by Rob Bracken and Dave Menninger):

Peak Oil Poster

This copy of the chart was produced in July, 2006, and I'd like to find a more current version, as 2008, in Colin Campbell's estimation, may well have seen the peak.

======== Algie 'splains Peak Oil in a Nutshell! ========
Peak Oil is not technically about "running out of oil," though they're related concepts. Long before you run out of a resource-- I mean, one in great demand-- you run out of the ability to obtain enough of the resource to meet growing (or even steady) consumption. Imagine a bell curve (or look at the humorously idealized Hubbert peak at the link just above the peak oil poster, above). The area below the curve represents global production, with a timeline as the x-axis. The easy stuff (e.g., sweet Arabian crude) gets used up first; but before then, folks look for other sources. Lower-quality oil (heavy crudes, shale oil, etc.) is more expensive (and energy-intensive) to extract, making it more expensive. More importantly, global discoveries of new sources have been in steep decline since the 1960s. They keep looking, but they don't find nearly as much anymore, and more and more of what they find is harder and harder to get. Prices go up. And up and up. And no matter what they drill, they can't keep up with ever-growing demand. When all aspects of your modern civilization-- from transportation to manufacturing to food production-- are utterly dependent on that resource... well, let's just say that's a place you don't want to be.

By many (most?) accounts, we're now on the downslope of global oil production. But demand for the stuff continues to rise; with China and India both in the throes of massive economic development, the gap between annual energy production and demand can only increase. And oil is the biggest energy player. All fossils are limited, but the oil peak has been an area of intensive study because it represents the most key cheap energy source (yes, sunlight's cheaper, but not as well established in the energy economy!) that is fundamental to our modern way of life: it's the dominant fuel for engines of all sizes, so is the cornerstone of major industry and transportation globally.

And we're right now at the point where supply will begin to be unable to keep up with ever-growing demand. Journalist Richard Heinberg, who has written extensively on the subject, has reflected the widely held belief that the time it would take to successfully shift our global economy away from fossils, and avoid the worst of the disasters, would be on the order of 20 years, counting from the oil peak. Even a crash global effort (and, I would say, that's assuming an unprecedented, international, cooperative agreement), would take at least ten years to implement, and would not avoid massive disruptions and humanitarian strife. Yet here we totter at the apex, facing a downslope into an abyss of chaos that it would not be alarmist to suggest is civilization-changing-- and we have exactly zero (known) plan. (You can bet that powerful people around the world are indeed preparing for the worst. It's no secret, for example, that China has been buying up oil reserves. Just to hedge their bets in lean economic times, do you think?)

And how often do you see headlines about peak oil? Is it a topic of concern or even occasional conversation among your peers, friends, family, colleagues? Chances are, no. And the time to change that sad fact is long overdue.

As always, begin by educating yourself:

Association for the Study of Peak Oil & Gas

Wikipedia article

The Oil Drum

Hubbert Peak of Oil Production

Peak Oil News


After the Peak: the end of cheap oil

End of Suburbia

Escape from Suburbia

The next step is to bring this vitally important issue into the scope of daily conversation through discussion in your network of peers, family, and friends. Put it on facebook, tweet it, myspace it, staple flyers on telephone poles if you must, but get it out there. Bring it into the light where it belongs. Once this topic hits the headlines, of course the right wing will attack it as "a flagrant grab for attention by the liberal media, in their desperation to keep debunked anthropogenic climate-change conspiracy theory afloat" (look for a shorter version of that headline on Fox!), but who cares?

Once you've had a chance to investigate Peak Oil, and have passed through the period of profound shock that understanding it typically produces, you may then be eager to get on board with a solution. I strongly recommend reading a copy of Rob Hopkins's The Transition Handbook. This book outlines the components and steps needed to relocalize our economies and our lives, in preparation not simply for the inevitable lower-energy lifestyle that's ahead; it offers a hope-filled and exciting opportunity to recreate a way of life that is better than what we now experience. Consider joining or starting a Transition Initiative in your town/city/region/county.

I look forward to creating a preferable, more sustainable future with you!

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