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Monday, May 11, 2009

Imagining a Post-Oil Future

It appears that we have reached the peak. Even the Wall Street Journal is finally reporting on it. It is not a headline, of course. A blogger for WSJ wrote last week:

Global production of petroleum peaked in the first quarter of last year, says analysts Raymond James, which “represents a paradigm shift of historic proportions. Unfortunately, mankind better get ready to live in a peak oil world because we believe the ‘peak’ is now behind us.”

Raymond James’s notes that non-OPEC oil production apparently peaked in the first quarter of 2007, and given precipitous falls in oil output from Russia to Mexico, there’s not much hope for a recovery. OPEC production—and thus global output—peaked a little later, in the first quarter of 2008, Raymond James says.

The contention rests on a simple argument: OPEC oil production actually fell even as oil prices were above $100 a barrel, a sign of the “tyranny of geology” that limits the easy production of ever-more crude.

“Those declines had to have come for involuntary reasons such as the inherent geological limits of oil fields … We believe that the oil market has already crossed over to the downward sloping side of Hubbert’s Peak,” the analysts write.

This should be headline news in every paper. The president should be speechifying about this every chance he gets. He should be preparing us for reality. But it is too frightening, I suppose. Instead we prop up a dead system with stimulus funds to build...roads? For what? Military vehicles?

Peak oil does not mean the oil has run out, of course. It means we have already drilled, processed, and sent into the atmosphere half of it. The first casualty is the economy which is based on growth. You can't grow a growth economy unless you increase energy input.

Just a few hours ago Energy Current posted this editorial, a summary of our economic collapse as it relates to the peak of oil production:

The lesson to be drawn is that conservation can work within limits, but at some point, there is a straw that breaks the camel's back and the whole system collapses. Ultimately, the inability of the oil supply to keep pace with global demand proved to be a key contributing factor to the current recession.

James Quinn of the Cutting Edge provides a fine summary of what peak oil means and he puts it creatively and bluntly:

When oil prices collapsed from $147 a barrel in the summer of 2008 to $35 a barrel in January 2009, American drivers, Congress, government bureaucrats, and the mainstream media refocused on other more pressing issues such as executive bonuses, Michele Obama’s wardrobe, and the tax law knowledge of Obama’s cabinet. The attention span of the average American is shorter than that of a gnat. As they text and twitter through life, the energy infrastructure continues to rust away, decades old wells are closer to depletion, and alternative energy projects have been scrapped by the thousands. Peak oil likely occurred between 2005 and 2009. The production of oil will now embark on a long slow decline. The world is not prepared.

It is time to imagine a new future. James Howard Kunstler is one of my favorite analysts. In addition to his non-fiction works regarding energy and the economy, he has written a novel, World Made By Hand: A Novel of the Post-Oil Future. Here is a review of it and a few other novels in this genre of speculative fiction.

This is the good work ahead of us now. The oil-based economy is has been an unsustainable charade. The Cheese Doodles, ipods, and SUVs were great fun for some. That party is over. Hopefully it will end with a whimper and not a bang. We need to imagine and make choices about what life is going to be like in the next few decades, and imagine it as a possibility of healing and justice for Earth and its inhabitants.

Here is James Kuntsler on Colbert. Good show.



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