Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Peak Oil and Us (You, Me, Everyone) Part V.1 - The End

The end of my Peak Oil story has two parts, sort of like the upcoming Harry Potter film, except that there is less in the way of wands and Voldemort and Weasleys. Too bad, really, it might be a bestseller if it did.

Even, if some naysayers are right, and the unlikely theory that some oil comes from abiogenesis, or components of it, and there isn't an inherently ending supply, it's unlikely that we can keep up with projected oil demand, which continues to outpace our ability to produce supply.

Our society is quickly coming to a tipping point. The question is, will we hide our heads in our neatly groomed lawns, or will we acknowledge that we are the proverbial frog in the pot of water? It's a question I genuinely can't answer. Most of us are much better at responding to events than planning for them.

The decline of oil is the sorites paradox of our time. The paradox asks at what point is a heap of sand no longer a heap of sand if the sand is removed, one grain at a time. And because I find the sorites paradox so fascinating, let's extrapolate some of the arguments on sand and replace them with the debate on whether there will be an oil shortage.

Here's what wikipedia says about denial of the heap to non-heap discussion.

'On the face of it, there are some ways to avoid this conclusion. One may object to the first premise by denying 1,000,000 grains of sand makes a heap. But 1,000,000 is just an arbitrarily large number, and the argument will go through with any such number. So the response must deny outright that there are such things as heaps. Peter Unger defends this solution. Alternatively, one may object to the second premise by stating that it is not true for all collections of grains that removing one grain from it still makes a heap. Or one may accept the conclusion by insisting that a heap of sand can be composed of just one grain, and solely deny the further conclusions regarding zero-grain or negative-grain-number heaps.'

At what point is there no longer oil to meet the need...or the want? This is what is called Epistimology, or an unknowable boundary. We've never calculated what we actually need. We humans confuse need with want on a daily basis.

Denial is one natural outgrowth of an unknowable thing. Atheists deny god, the faithful wholeheartedly believe, Agnostics sit on the fence, all without any evidence for or against. It's entirely normal and predictable that some will embrace the theory of Peak Oil and make, or try to make proactive changes. Some will deny it to the stars and use as examples the boundaries of what they can see and touch. Others will fall into the 'wait and see' camp. The conflict between the three perspectives only serves to make us look harder to find answers, even when they aren't apparent. That is, if we can all remember to play nicely together. If.

There are those that will bank on the world remaining as it is, with change only entailing growth and expansion. There are those who will forecast the end of the world. There are those who will take a more moderate approach in their predictions or reactions. I tend to think extremists on any end have less of the truth than those in the middle, but only sometimes. Sometimes the extremists are right (like, say, America's founding fathers, who technically committed high treason). I guess we'll have to see.

In the meantime, there are a few simple steps to take. I'll outline them in the final installment.

Interestingly, this month's issue of Mother Earth News has an interesting commentary on food miles, and the impact of oil usage on our future. While it's clear that the mileage our food travels is not the only environmental impact, it is the one that is most susceptible to the changes that Peak Oil. I'll talk more about food miles for the final installment, but it's worth reading a bit about.

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