Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Peak Oil and Us (You, Me, Everyone) Part 1- What Is It, and Why Do I Care?

With the gulf of Mexico filling with oil and killing everything in it's path from birds to incomes, I think it's time we talk about Peak Oil. And what it means.

Before I do, let me just say this - there's a lot of really in depth research out there, and I don't claim to be that. What I am is a voracious reader, and deeply interested in the topic, but by no means an expert. I'm also a bit of an optimist, and I really don't think that things will be as bad as some of the predictions. Peak oil is very real - even Dick Cheney would tell you that at some point, the oil is going to run out. And once you start reading about all the things made with petroleum, you understand why Peak Oil is such a big deal that it deserves to have capital letters.

Basically, it works like this:
1. There's a limited supply of oil, and an even more limited supply of oil that is reachable by current technology. And getting to some of the deposits is incredibly risky and expensive (talk to someone on the gulf coast about how risky it is).

2. Oil production will peak and then begin to decline sometime in the near future, if that point hasn't been reached already. No one is really sure, and there's a ton of debate. Let's just say that the debate is about a less than 20 year period though, and most estimates of the realistic most conservative and most optimistic scenarios are only about 9 years apart - 2016 to 2025. That's um, not that far away.

3. As oil production declines become more apparent, gas prices and other resources will become increasingly expensive. For those of us in the northeast that use home heating oil (that would be me), heating our homes becomes a tremendous issue. Let me put it this way: a barrel of crude peaked at $147 a barrel in June of 2008 when prices were skyrocketing. At that point, gas for my car was about $4.12 to $4.38 a gallon here in the Boston area, or about double the price we had been paying a few short months ago. If oil hits $200 a barrel, which has been predicted by some of the best industry analysts out there, that's probably $6.50 gas. Per gallon. I don't know about you, but that's a lot of money to me.

3. Almost everything is made with petroleum. And I do mean everything . So much for those of us who need antihistimines in the summer, antiseptic for anything, take vitamins or medications, want to glue something, paint a wall, throw around the old pigskin, or need an artificial limb. About 6000 products are estimated to have petroleum components.

4. The supply chain will have deep interruptions. Most of today's procurement by stores is 'just in time' meaning they have enough for a short period of time and frequently restock. This means that stockrooms heaped with lasting supplies of goods are a thing of the past, and most factories order based on short-term demand. Then there's the trucking industry - at the height of the spike in oil prices a couple years ago, I read that it was costing about $1700 to fill a tank for a truck. What happens when stuff is too expensive to make or bring anywhere? That's a problem.

5. Food is the scariest supply chain interruption. Most food is trucked or freighted approximately 1500 miles before it hits your grocery store shelves. Finding sources of local sustainable food, including what you can grow is the only way to offset this. But building up sustainable food supplies locally isn't easy or quick. When Peak Oil hits, food is going to become a big, big problem.

6. If you can't afford to get to work, you probably lose your job. Although if it comes to that, the stock market plummets probably have eliminated your job anyway. With a nationwide average of 10ish% unemployment, a lot of states unemployment funds have long since gone broke. Imagine the effects of much greater job losses. We can barely afford the government we do have.

7. No one wants to talk about this. At all. The assumption is that life will go on as it has - increased prosperity, opportunity, nice vacations, good jobs, etc. The sheer idea that it might not happen, and that the Great Recession was just a warm up exercise is so unthinkable to most of us that the only option is to make those that do talk about it into survivalist crazies not fit for normal society. Except that they aren't crazy. And not talking about something does not make it go away, sorry folks. All I'm saying is if you have the dream trip of a lifetime planned, don't put it off until 2026.

8. There's pretty much nothing we can do about it. Even if preparedness were something the nation was ready to have a conversation about, the discussion is probably so depressing that most of us would just get back to 'Dancing With The Stars' anyway.

9. The worst case doesn't have to happen. I mean that. We're pretty good at adapting, us humans. We've lost a lot of the know-how, and that's a problem, but there are still those amongst us who know what we need to know.

10. It's not going to happen overnight. And that's a very very good thing.

Scared you yet?

Good. You should be scared, this topic makes Rob Zombie look like a cuddly teddy bear. And, my little smurfs, it is true, all true.

But all is not lost, and I'm going to tell you about that. But not tonight. Sleep tight.

1 comment:

Jen said...

cliff hanger! Thanks for the info on this.