Tuesday, June 07, 2005

peak oil coverage in the mainstream media

So i'm sitting on the train this morning, and i glance over at the person sitting in the next row over, and she's reading an article in the Metro titled "Oil Gone," which in and of itself as a title is a horrible misrepresentation of the peak oil problem. but as i found when i flipped my own copy to said article, overall--the article was pretty good. Obviously with only a page of editorial and pictures and such it didn't really get too in-depth, but it was really pretty accurate and informative. I'm sure it was the first exposure many folks ever had to "peak oil," and for that purpose, it's not bad. it's not full of scare tactics and doomsday scenarios, like LifeAfterTheOilCrash.net (link below)--which was the first peak oil information that i ever saw.

let me break it down for you. and believe it or not, this is a bright and cheery outlook. you can check my numbers. they're correct. globally, we consume close to 82 million barrels of oil per day. that number gets higher and higher every year. and with a huge industrial and economic upsurge hapenning in China, expect it to grow even more rapidly. at peak operating capacity, we can "produce" about 84 million barrels of oil per day. we have extracted about half of the original 2.2 trillion barrels that were originally in the earth before we started extracting it in large quantites. so if you take what's left over, that's 40 years worth in the ground. plenty of time to get alternatives up and running, you'd think. yet over the life of an oil well, after half of the oil has been extracted, the maximum production of the well declines exponentially. recent technological improvements have allowed us to pump oil out of the wells at the same rate even after we've extracted half. so we've been able to maintain a longer period of maximum production. there's only so much the world can pump out in a day, and we've reached the point where that number--maximum production--is never going to increase. at the same time, global demands will very soon be larger than global supply. remember the oil shocks of the 70s? well neither do I but i hear they sucked. and that was something like a couple of percentage points of oil shortage for a short period of time. imagine that sort of economic unrest but over a longer period of time and getting worse and worse every year. unless we start to use LESS oil instead of more... well... soon we will have no choice. and it will start to happen as soon as supply outgrows demand--not in 40 years or so when what we are using mathmatically equals what we have... how much can be produced in a given time compared to what our economy demands? when those numbers no longer match... well, we're fucked.

and the fact remains that while demand keeps going up and up, supply at this point is not physically able to match it. we have been discovering less and less new oil every year since the 70s. the amount of oil that can be pumped out of the planet earth over a given peroid of time has reached its maximum and it will NEVER increase, ever again. the 13 billion barrels recently opened for extraction in alaska? 13000/82=159 days. america itself consumes about 20 million barrels per day. that 13 billion barrels that Cheney wants to destroy the arctic for? it's even less than two years of oil for the US alone at our current rate of consumption. that seemingly HUGE amount of oil is a drop in the bucket. not to mention how much of that oil is going to be available on a daily basis? will the peak production of the new extraction make a dent in the supply vs. demand issue? not much of one...

think it's just about gasoline prices? what gets food from the farm to the store? trucks. what runs trucks? diesel. hmm... what fertilizes the crops? petrolium based fertilizers. what keeps the bugs off? petrolium based pesticides. what drives the tractor that plows the fields? petrolium... of course agricultural science has alternatives to petrolium based fuel (biodiesel) and fertilzers, but they're not widely used. anything plastic (your computer)? made from oil. where do you think natural gas comes from? it's largely a by-product of oil extraction. where do you think electricity comes from? natural gas, coal, very little nuclear, almost negligible wind/hyrdo and virtually none solar. our dependance on fossil fuels needs to stop now, or it will stop later without our consent.

the solution? EVERYONE needs to do what they can to consume less. walk/bike more, drive less. and i say this in full hypocricy because i have just received a gas guzzling toyota 4 runner as a gift (which i do plan on trading in for a prius as soon as i can afford to pick up the payments)--drive more fuel effecient cars!! we also need to start getting more involved in local economies. stop shopping at the megastores and keep your business local. especially food--go to the farmer's market and support local argiculture. megastores use huge amounts of resources and funnel money spend in local communities into the coffers of businesses not located in the communities where the money was spent. most of the local employees who work at this store earn low wages... we need to change our current system of agriculture and stop eating so much fast food. a huge majority of the amount of land currently devoted to agriculture is used for grazing land or feedstock for beef. if the same amount of land were devoted to a mixture of veggies, grains, biodiesel crops (not soybeans, they're SO innefecient for biodiesel production), and free-range meat, we'd have more than enough food to go around and our oil consumption would decrease.

the biggest change we need to make? we need to overthrow corporate america. the reason these other changes haven't started to happen is that for the time being, there are HUGE profits in oil and factory farms. there are some very selfish and shortsighted people making some very bad decisions. and fuck you if you think i'm generalizing. there are individuals who make these decisions. i would say it to their faces if i was granted an audience... "Mr or Ms. CEO of whatever random company that put profits over people: your business practices are shortsighted. you're making huge profits and your workers may even being doing well, but your profits are not sustainable and your business practices are pushing our economy and our global resources to the limits of their extent to produce more profits for you. even in the face of this knowledge, you do nothing but endeavor to increase those profits ever higher while you still can. your greed is contributing to the downfall of our civilization."

i'm just happy to see some coverage in the mainstream media. the sooner people realize that we're going to have to make some changes and compromises to avoid a complete economic collapse the better. i know some very intelligent and worldly people who simply refuse to accept the facts and trust that the system will fix itself, because humans are really smart and determined to survive. well, many of us will survive. but the fact remains--a system that requires constant growth to prosper is not sustainable in a world with finite resources.

Economics dictates that demand creates supply, but geology states otherwise and to the best of my knowledge there aren't many economists finding oil these days...

• Learn more and discuss with people more smarter than I is
• Get scared shitless by questionable facts and misunderstandings but learn the scope of the problem.
• more information than you wanted, but you'd better read all of it
• What the scholars and scientists say.


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