Pop Quiz:

What are the scariest two words in the English Language?

A. Global Terrorism
B. AIDS Pandemic
C. Thermonuclear War
D. Global Warming
E. Peak Oil

If you answered A: Global Terrorism, then I'll bet you live in the United States, and you watch at least the amount of television required by law (i.e. four to five hours a day.) Buzz! Thanks for playing, but A is not the correct answer.

If you answered B. the AIDS Pandemic, unless you live in one of the many so-called Third World nations,say, in Africa or Asia, then you would also be wrong. Not scary enough by half. AIDS is a preventable disease, and unless you've never heard of it, you can avoid its deadly effects. Whoops, wrong again.

If you answered C. Thermonuclear War, you'd almost be right, even though most people thought we had "dodged that bullet" ten or fifteen years ago, it may yet ricochet back to us courtesy of our hero, the correct answer, but even that old nightmare doesn't hold a candle to the "next big thing" in doomsday scenarios.

So now you're saying, "well it must be D. Global Warming, because we've all read that global climate change will submerge major cities and kill millions with catastrophic changes in weather patterns, and even though the US Government seems to be turning a blind eye to this potential disaster, most reputable scientists that have expressed an opinion have said that this is the real thing," I know you're saying that because a large portion of the world has experienced some of the foreshadowing effects of this phenomenon. Ask anyone in Western Europe if things are different. But, even though global climate change is a serious matter, it is not the correct answer to the question at the top of this writeup.

So we're left with E. Peak Oil. That doesn't sound at all scary, does it? It sounds like a company name, like Sun Oil, or Standard Oil. But it's not.

Peak Oil sounds pretty harmless, until you hear the explanation of what it means. Simply stated, peak oil is the point at which crude oil production is permanently outpaced by its demand. At that point, oil becomes increasingly more expensive to produce, thus forcing an ever-increasing pressure to satisfy its demand. When this happens, oil and natural gas and all of its many by-products) will increase in cost until practically no-one except the very wealthy will be able to buy it. This will, of course, be felt at the gas pumps, but also at the grocery store, because the production and transportation of food, at least in the US, requires gasoline or diesel-powered machinery. Plastics, non-recyclable that is, are produced in part from crude oil by-products as well as fertilizer, and practically everything we have grown so accustomed to here in the good old 21st Century.

All oil production follows a bell curve, whether in an individual field or on the planet as a whole. On the upslope of the curve production costs are significantly lower than on the downslope when extra effort (expense) is required to extract oil from reservoirs that are emptying out. "Peak Oil" is the oil industry's term for the top of the bell curve.

The situation is so dire that even George W. Bush's Energy Adviser, Matthew Simmons, has acknowledged that "The situation is desperate. This is the world's biggest serious question."

According to Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham, "America faces a major energy supply crisis over the next two decades. The failure to meet this challenge will threaten our nation's economic prosperity, compromise our national security, and literally alter the way we lead our lives."

While some government estimates suggest that the year 2020 will be the peak oil year, we've all heard recently government estimates for other economic trends and statistics that have been, well, horribly optimistic. A more realistic estimate is between the years 2004 and 2010. But we won't know what the actual Peak Oil year is until 3 or 4 years after it happens.

Every industry, without exception, is dependent on cheap, readily available oil and gas. The economic meltdown that followed the stock market crash will seem like the an unpleasant day at the beach compared to the devastation that will begin once peak oil occurs.

Think of the last two "wars" that the US has been involved in. There is little to refute the position that the Middle East is in the process of being annexed because of its resources. When the US finally "owns" Iraq, which country will be next? Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia?

The significance of this Perfect Storm of crisis, opportunity and political expediency amounts to much more than paying a couple more dollars a gallon for gasoline. These circumstances will result in continued war, starvation, economic and social collapse, and massive numbers of dead human beings.

When viewed in the context of Peak Oil, the often irrational policy choices made by the Bush Administration and the British Government under Tony Blair begin to make a perverted kind of sense. The invasion of Iraq, and the tough talk against Syria and Iran afterwards belie a sense of desparation, regardless of the various official justifications offered for war.

Regardless of your political ideology, ask your congressperson, or your preferred presidential candidate what his or her policy is regarding Peak Oil, but don't be surprised if you have to do a bit of educating them on the subject.

Note: I found the link to this little eye-opener, as well as many others at a place called http://www.democraticunderground.com. Check it out!

Disclaimer: The above was synthesized (paraphrased, summarized, what have you) from a website known as www.lifeaftertheoilcrash.net with the exception of the administration quotes and the bit about the bell curve which was lifted from www.lifeaftertheoilcrash.net verbatim.


It's much, much worse than that.

As we approach, and pass, peak oil, the cost of oil goes up. This is worrisome, but it is only the beginning; as things now stand, the peak oil crisis is set to start off a chain of unpleasant events the likes of which the world has never... Well, judge for yourself.

As the cost of fossil fuels go up, people will find other, cheaper ways of meeting their energy needs. Currently, the primary way to fuel a car without fossil fuels is through ethanol. Ethanol comes primarily from corn, although it can be produced from other plants.

Corn, and all other plants, require land, water, and nutrients to grow. All three of these resources are limited. All three of these resources are being used at very near 'peak use' in most parts of the world. This means that every acre used to grow fuel-producing crops will require us to give up an acre used to grow food-producing crops. This means that producing fuel causes a drop in the amount of food coming to market. This means a rise in food prices.

"Converting the entire U.S. grain harvest to ethanol would satisfy only 16 percent of U.S. auto fuel needs."
-- Lester R. Brown, 2007

There isn't enough viable farmland to provide all the food and all the fuel we need; we will need to cut back on both fuel and food in order to live at anything approaching the standard of living we are used to.

Technically, land area is not the problem; nutrients and water are. Nutrients are problematic because we already depend on fertilizers derived from fossil fuels to keep our crop production up; once fuel is in short supply, we will have to change what crops we grow, and will probably have to grow less. Water is also currently in short supply in many areas. Cities usually deal with this by buying water rights from farmers. But as the value of crops go up, farmers will be much less willing to sell water rights, leading to major water shortages. If agriculture is actually ramped up to provide 50% of our energy needs, there will be no water. Anywhere. We will have exceeded all water supplies produced by all sources.

All of this also means that the richest countries in the world will have to choose between either driving to work or feeding the poorest countries in the world. America currently provides over 40% of world grain exports. We cannot export this grain and still meet even 16% of our fuel needs. Egypt and Mexico do not produce enough food to feed themselves. (Neither does Japan, putting it in a very interesting position). Countries like Ethiopia, Afghanistan, and Sudan already rely on food aid, and as the prices of food go up, they will get less and less. And even when the need for food crops is the greatest, we can only expect the supply to go down. China has been losing harvests to water shortages since its harvest peaked in 1997. China is by no means alone in this predicament, and the situation promises to get worse as aquifers continue to go dry and populations continue to increase. We can expect large portions of the world's population to starve. We can expect other portions of the world's population to try to avoid starving by taking resources from those that have them -- and take them by any means necessary.

If you think peak oil is bad, imagine peak food.



There are a surprising number of things we can do to make the future less dire. Improving the fuel efficiency of new cars, switching to electric power whenever possible (although this only helps if the electricity comes from solar, wind, and other 'unlimited' resources), improving our methods of farming, conserving water however possible... The human race will make it through this, and life will be quite tolerable after things settle down. And in the meantime, those who starve will be people we don't know and will never see.

We also have the option of being very, very proactive. We could introduce these changes on a larger scale, even before we are forced to, and even in countries too poor to do so on their own. It would require a lot of people to change their behaviors, and quickly. It would not be fun. But wouldn't it be nice....


Sources and resources:
http://www.earth-policy.org/Updates/2007/Update63.htm
http://www.earth-policy.org/Books/PB3/Contents.htm

Let's get to the root of resource scarcity: population.

Less people = less resources required to sustain them while they grow from wee little babes in arms to self-actualized adults pursuing life's glories.

Alternative energy sources? YES! We still need them. Healthy and sustainable food supply? Of course! We need that too.

But - imagine if, as a species, we were more mindful of our procreation, there would be less people to have needs, therefore making less of a strain on our resources (the ones we have and the ones we have yet to develop).

This is not an advocation of population control mandates. It is a suggestion of nurturing the social systems we live in in a way that encourages (and provides the educational tools and medical support) thought out-procreation.
My grandfather rode a camel. My father rode in a car. I fly a jet airplane. My grandson will ride a camel.

- Saudi Saying

Err, how do I say this… It’s much, much, much, much worse than all this. It is an apocalypse, it is inevitable, and it is very, very soon.

Bloom, overshoot, die-off. It’s a rule that all organisms obey. The concept is this: when an organism discovers a new source of energy (commonly a food source), the first thing they do is begin to breed and consume the resource as quickly as possible. This is followed by overshoot, when the population of the organism is much too high for the energy source to support, since the energy source has been severely depleted, hence the coming die-off. This is the essence of the most catastrophic problem of Peak Oil. We are currently in overshoot. According to Richard Heinberg, author of Party’s Over and Peak Everything, the human carrying capacity of Earth without fossil fuels is two billion. Our current population is six billion and climbing. Ponder that for a moment.

Peak Oil is not, like many apocalyptic situations, a possible consequence. It is not even a very probable situation. No: it is absolutely, inarguably going to happen at some point. It is a matter of time. If you have a fixed supply of something (and oil undoubtedly is) and you are using more than 72 million barrels of it a day1, eventually you will run out of it. Unfortunately, we don’t have to worry about running out of oil, because chances are we are never going to suck the last drop of oil out of the Earth. We have to worry about when we reach the half-way point: when we run out of cheap, quality, easily-accessible oil. Estimates range on this point (the Peak Oil point), but the majority fall somewhere between 2005 and 2015, but we will not know we have hit peak until 4 or 5 years after. A Shell oil executive sent an email to his employees warning “Shell estimates that after 2015 supplies of easy-to-access oil and gas will no longer keep up with demand.”2

Okay, 2/3 of the population being killed off is ominous. But pushing that aside, let me lead you through what Peak Oil will herald.

1) Resource Wars

First thing, when Peak Oil becomes more apparent, will be massive resource wars. Relax; this is the tamest stage. Some Peak Oil buffs have argued that the only way to explain the invasion of Iraq and the general involvement in the Middle East is that the US government is aware of Peak Oil, and is trying to get its hands on the last of the supplies. This is a doomed attempt. Resource wars will be futile, and probably quite short, for a couple reasons. One is that wars oversea require shipping people and equipment oversea, and this consumes a lot of oil. Two is that war is expensive, and although money will probably be no object, when supplies of oil get low, people will be hesitant about pouring it into producing weapons towards a doomed attempt at acquiring the dregs. So, in my opinion, oversea warfare will be short, though most likely disastrous, as governments and populations get panicky and are willing to obtain oil at any cost. Resource wars between neighbouring countries, however, will probably continue for some time, which is why it will be wise to get thyself away from the border when the Peak Oil effects begin to kick in.

2) Trouble in paradise

When people hear Peak Oil, their first thought tends to be SUVs. Yes, you’re right, people won’t be driving around their SUVs. And yes, at first, you will see higher prices at the pumps, and longer lines. But very quickly, driving will not be an option at all. Do you think dwindling oil reserves are going to go to your minivan? Ha! No, they’ll be siphoned off into military ventures, and into producing food, and into shipping and manufacturing. Civilian transportation is waaaay down the priority list. If I may make one suggestion to prepare for Peak Oil, other than planting a garden, it is get a bike. It will serve you very, very well. But as I said, civilian transportation will be the first to crumble. If you commute, say goodbye to your job.

One of the next things to collapse, or perhaps it will be sooner, is big-box stores. I will be experiencing some serious schadenfreude when Walmart crumbles. Big-box stores typically get their products from overseas, which means fuel to ship these products across the world. These items are sent to warehouses, and from there a fleet of trucks take them to individual superstores, to which people usually drive, because they are rarely within walking distance. To get an idea of the scale of Peak Oil, imagine never again buying anything from China. In fact, imagine only being able to buy things that were grown and processed inside your own country. How about within your state/province? What about in your own town? What are you left with? This will be the beginning.

3) Gridcrash

I intend to address the reason why alternative fuel sources won’t save us in another node, but here’s why the electric car won’t save us: even without considering that every part of an electric car takes a huge amount of petroleum to produce, and that upkeep and repairs will also require oil, the fact is that electricity, though it will not fall at the exact time of Peak Oil, will eventually topple as a result. Natural gas, which is approaching its own peak, does provide a sizeable amount of electricity, but even if that weren’t true, electricity is indirectly dependent upon oil. The majority of electricity generated today is generated by coal. Mining, processing, and shipping coal all requires oil. Plus, coal will not be around forever. In fact, some people (like Richard Heinberg) suggest coal will peak a lot sooner than expected. Nuclear energy is heading for its own doom as peak uranium approaches. Nuclear power also requires a huge amount of fresh water, which is peaking itself (the Peak Everything title is sounding pretty reasonable now, eh?). Wind power and solar power, which provide much less than 1% of energy at the moment, would take a huge amount of energy to set up, and besides, the plastics used in these are synthesized from oil. Producing the turbines and solar panels requires oil. Even the upkeep of power lines requires a large amount of energy.

4) Die-off

Imagine living in a world where you cannot heat or air-condition your home, ever. Where food cannot be shipped to you. Cities like New York, Las Vegas, Tokyo, etc will collapse quickly. The suburbs will become the slums of the future. I cannot overemphasize how catastrophic the change will be for people living in oil-dependent countries. Third world countries, who have never been allocated much oil, will remain mostly the same, I suppose. Actually, I don’t know how 1/3 of us will manage to survive. Everything we are accustomed to will change. Acquisition and purification of water will be up to the individual, as well as food. The most fitting description I have read said that it will not be like the Middle Ages, it will be worse, because we have squandered the natural resources that were heavily relied on then. To top it off, Peak Oil will be experienced at the same time as global warming. We will face the greatest environmental challenge we have ever seen at the same time that we will deal with our greatest energy crisis. Oh, and did I mention a global depression? Our economy is based on infinite growth. Peak Oil will provide the check that was never supposed to happen, but is inevitable on a finite planet.

Peak Oil is a ridiculously depressing subject if you take it seriously (as you should). Of course, it will have its upsides. We will be forced to learn to create a sustainable way of life. Community ties will be strengthened. In times of great crisis, there is great innovation. There will be pockets of communities that will prepare and flourish. There will be a greater bond with the natural as we seek our food sources. Families will reconnect. Perhaps, on the whole, it will be an improvement to the artificial and unsustainable lifestyle we are currently promoting.

Bloom, overshoot, die-off. At the moment, the human race is behaving exactly as any organism would. Very soon, we will face the greatest challenge humanity has ever known. It will be up to us to earn the praise we have always heaped upon ourselves, to see if human beings are really so different from other organisms. Will we band together, make drastic and unpopular decisions and steer the ship toward solid ground, or will we stubbornly refuse to notice and continue on the doomed voyage?

(I don’t know about you, but I’m building me a lifeboat.)


A correction: I don't mean to imply that we will suddenly wake up one day and be without oil and electricity, and that day 2/3 of the population will die off. No; Peak Oil will be slow, gradual, and painful process. As for the 2/3 of the population, well, assuming this estimate of the Earth's carrying capacity is true, it still doesn't mean that the population will suddenly need to plummet to that level. Hopefully the majority of it will be absorbed by a population self-check: people not having children they cannot support.

I also don't mean that cities will be a thing of the past. Likely in the future, the most common system will be small cities surrounded by farms, instead of bloated cities surrounded by sprawling suburbs.



1 Total world consumption of crude oil in 1996.
2 Jeroen van der Veer, reported January, 2008.

A Surviving Peak Oil node is to follow, as soon as I determine whether this is possible.

Not to mention tons and tons of websites, including one charming comic.

The above articles present peak oil as a unique problem with inescapable and dire consequences for humanity. The dangers described are real, but disappointingly, the cause is unanimously misattributed to a convenient scapegoat - the oil itself - as if it were unusually significant among other scarce resources. Peak oil is an inescapable geologic fact - but the predicted dire consequences are far from inevitable.

The root cause of any of the disasters predicted above is in every case the institution of state socialism, which operates by forcibly separating cost from consumption. When actors cannot accurately assess cost, waste is the inevitable result.

Thankfully, state socialism is an institution that thinking humans absolutely have the power to abolish. Thus we should recognize peak oil - an unavoidable reality about which we can do nothing - as utterly insignificant in the grand scheme of human survival, and instead turn our constructive energies to neutralizing the true threat: pervasive state socialism.

The insignificance of oil

As any resource becomes scarce - petroleum, in this case - it becomes increasingly more valued by interested consumers, providing a natural impetus toward conservation and the development of alternative technologies.

In a world of abundance, where energy literally rains from the sky, viable alternatives to petroleum consumption already exist and continue to improve, and are certainly within reach of any free-acting individual, at any economic level, in any part of the world, seeking to avoid the economic pain of rising oil prices.

Peak oil only presents a danger to those societies which forcibly restrict their members to the oil dependent lifestyles they would not otherwise choose.

The role of state socialism

Tax-funded anything represents an economic cost to consumers which cannot be avoided. Resources confiscated by taxation cannot be conserved even if the taxpayer wants to - precious resources (not least of which is human life) are thrown away at the stroke of a bureaucrat's pen for state warfare and 'public works'. Thus, even the best intentions of the billions of humans who respect and seek to conserve the beauty of our earthly eden are rendered impotent.

Most insidious of all taxes is the property tax. Most other taxes can be effectively avoided through lifestyle choices, but the effects of this inescapable rent on land ultimately compel every actor to seek a monetary income far beyond peaceful subsistence, vastly increasing every actor's consumption footprint. Additionally, property taxes based on assessed market value penalize urbanization, thus encouraging suburban sprawl - leading to expensive road building and increased daily travel (both energy hungry), and a host of other inefficiencies and social costs. Abolishing the property tax would permit a widespread return to agrarian values as a response to dwindling oil, and encourage migration back toward efficient ubran communities.

Public road building is a subsidy of personal vehicle travel. Every actor has already paid for the existence of the road, whether they support its existence or not, so the only remaining decision becomes whether or not to drive on that road - a privilege usually granted free to everyone. Predictably, overconsumption is the result, in the form of gridlock and nonsensical daily commutes. Privately funded toll roads would discourage the wasteful use and expansion of the road system and encourage use of mass transit alternatives, thus alleviating traffic congestion and its associated pollution and energy consumption, and further discouraging inefficient suburban sprawl. Finally, allowing the true cost of transportation to be reflected in the purchase price of (avoidable, substitutable) consumption goods, rather than buried in (unavoidable) taxes, will yield a host of other benefits: relocalization of the food supply, for example.

State subsidy of energy costs is perhaps the most uncomplicated example of harmful state interference. The state taxes its people to pay for a portion of their gas and electricity consumption (plus bureaucratic overhead). Far more efficient would be to let people keep those taxes, but feel the true cost of their consumption. This would have the expected effect of investment in energy efficient housing and other sustainable living options. After all, why pay up-front for an efficient (but expensive) geothermal heat exchanger or solar array, when the state keeps on-grid gas and electricity prices artificially competitive?

Tax-funded warfare consumes enormous resources. This includes traditional military warfare, social warfare such as the war on drugs, and other social spending which forcibly separates consumer from cost. Warfare is unproductive, period. Warfare in all cases is a throwing away - an utterly wasteful squandering - of precious resources. The limited resources we do have would be far better used by market actors to develop or support sustainable technologies - rather than for killing each other.

Depreciation of state-issued money through monopoly, inflation, tax-backed easy credit, and market regulation reduces saving and encourages short-term consumption - a combination of "spend it while it's still worth something" and "when this runs out I'll just get another handout" attitudes.

Under the influence of these incentives, society becomes accustomed to ignoring future consequences in favor of instant gratification. It's not because people are inherently stupid and shortsighted - they've just been instructed repeatedly by their well-armed governments, "this is how it's gonna be - obey us and we'll take care of your future... unless we decide to kill you first." It's hard to say whether people raised in fear are more motivated by the blatantly unfounded promise of security (which we see failing every day) - or by the very real threat of harm (which we see made good every day) - but the result is the same: we all live increasingly in the present, with no regard for the uncertain future.

The list of examples goes on forever, with the same pattern repeating: conservation is a fool's errand when resources are confiscated to provide for someone else's costless consumption. This argument applies to all resources, of which oil is merely a somewhat important one at this moment in history.

Summary

The 'inevitable' disasters predicted by the above articles are not inherent consequences of peak oil. The inevitability of disaster arises purely from state socialist practices, which separate cost from consumption by threat of force - a universal phenomenon in no way limited to oil, or any other particular resource.

From this, we can take hope. Our demise is inevitable only to the extent that we cling to the failed promise of state socialism. Don't worry about oil. It is going to run out - but that was never the problem.

Worry, first and always, about the wasteful state.


Based on some comments I've recieved, perhaps a clarification is in order. Above I argue simply that the dangers of peak oil are symptoms of a deeper (but curable) disease. As this seems unconvincing on the surface, the nature of the disease needs greater explanation.

The state does two things only: it confiscates certain means, and it forbids certain ends. It does this as any thug or villian would: it secures your fearful cooperation by threatening to hurt you in various ways.

The more ends and means which are taken away, the more difficult it is for anyone to achieve anything of value. By way of metaphor: it's much more difficult to cross through a barbed-wired, landmined, cratered battlefield with bullets flying and chains around your ankles, than it is to stroll across a flowering meadow in the sunshine. Chances are, you'll cross the former face-down with your belly in the mud, advancing by inches, with little or no concern to spare for your neighhbor's desperate plight - and everywhere the bodies of the fallen serve as signposts that you probably won't make it.

In other words - life is harder when you are subjected to omnipresent threats and encumberances, holding you to a narrow and unpleasant path.

People live diverse lives, pursuing diverse values in a diverse world, and interact in complicated ways. Consequently the state's interference is refracted throughout society into a kaleidoscope of effects which defy comprehension - neither mine, nor yours, nor the comprehension of today's flavor of bureaucrat who pretends the ability to control it all. Sometimes the effects are just a pain in your ass, like having to go renew your license plate sticker (why this nonsensical ritual?) - but other times it's life and death, like the enslavement of children to fight and die in faraway lands, or the wholesale destruction of our planetary habitat. Between the extremes of the trivial and fatal, we witness the impoverishment of every imaginable value, material and ephemeral both.

The state is never a benevolent protector and savior - cannot be - because its means are rooted always in the threat of harm. The state gives nothing which was not first plundered from someone else. The longer and stronger the state operates, the further we spiral down into poverty and suffering. The state is a disease, a condition of weakness and delirium where every goal moves further and further beyond reach, until survival itself is in question - and as the predictions of peak oil show, it threatens to kill us all.

Versus the comparative state of sickness, the alternative - market anarchism - is defined not by what it is, but by what it is not: it is the absence of threats, compulsion, and perverse incentives; it is a condition of health from which a society is empowered to secure ever-increasing health and happiness. Market anarchism offers no false promises. It does not guarantee any particular outcome, unlike the decieving state. But it does offer the best possible chance of each person getting what each person wants - by allowing them to try, to keep and build upon the fruits of their efforts. If the people desire conservation of our world, for themselves and their children (as most genuinely do), then market anarchism is the best bet to provide it.

What prosperity and hope we have, we find in the freedom that remains to us - and thankfully, freedom is a powerful tool. The liberal west prospers, not because of its democracies and their wars, but despite them. The liberal west prospers, because its people have enjoyed an unprecedented personal freedom - a freedom latter-day witch doctors demand (with ever more shrill voices) be cast into the volcano god's mouth.

Shall we continue on the path back into darkness and superstition, allowing ourselves to be ruled against common sense and what we know to be right - or will we empower ourselves and others to heal in freedom the damage we've done in slavery?

In 1956 Dr. Marion King Hubbert predicted that in the near future, production of crude oil would peak- i.e. that oil production, being as it is finite, follows a gradual bell curve that inclines, eventually peaks and begins to go into a decline. He accurately predicted the peaking of oil production in the US in the mid-1970s1 and we can see now in hindsight that he was right. He also put the peak of world production between 1995 and 2000 and clearly he was wrong, but predicting the peaking of US oil production with such accuracy was no fluke and according to Professor Ken Deffeyes of Princeton University, the world peak has already happened- it happened in 20052. The upward trends of oil production before 2005 have begun to change direction and move downwards. This may be a pessimistic view based on a statistical anomaly but the fact we can observe today is that since 2005, global oil production has been decreasing by the day. The downward trend in oil production coupled with our exponential rise in population means that by 2030, oil production will be at the same level as in 1980, but the global population will be double. Demand for oil will have at least doubled the rate of supply and this is peak oil, the Hubbert Peak Theory- Hubbert’s own definition was when demand for oil surpassed its supply; or, to put it another way, when oil consumption exceeds the amount of oil discovered in a year, that is peak oil.

This is not to be taken lightly or worse, dismissed as the mere unfounded theory of a doomsayer. As a species we cannot afford to risk the possibility that the theory could be wrong. It could very well be wrong and if it is, much time and effort would have been wasted by all in preparing for life in the new stone age. But if it turned out to be right, and we put no effort into softening the blow peak oil will deliver, we would be devastated. Nobody doubts that oil will eventually peak, some day. But nobody seems to be worried about when it will happen. From a purely economic point of view when the decline begins the price of fuel will rise rapidly and steadily. There is a 20th century simile to what the situation for us might be. In 1973, OAPEC (the Organisation of Arab and Petroleum Exporting Countries, an amalgam of OPEC (the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, an 11-, formerly 12- country group originally formed to give the countries who sell the oil to the large oil companies an economic edge in the oil market), Egypt and Syria) withheld oil from all countries that supported Israel. This happened after Egypt and Syria went to war with Israel, and altho it was only a 5% drop in oil, in the US alone the price of oil rose by almost 400%. We should expect to see a similar price rise for oil products in the near future.3

The cause of such a steep price rise in oil was that our entire world as concerns our species is based on oil. We are heavily reliant upon it for everything in our lives. Since the age of industry began oil’s presence was hardly felt until the early 20th century but its rapid spread in popularity ensured our subsequent dependence upon it. Currently a major world industry deals with the extraction of crude oil and its distillation into its constituent hydrocarbons. These processes themselves are powered by oil. All industry is run by machinery, which is powered by oil. The computer I am currently sat at would have required, in its production alone, over ten times its own weight in oil products that powered the machines that put it together.

The production of a single car uses 20 barrels of oil. This is before we even begin to look at how much fuel the car itself will burn over its life. EarthTrends calculated that in 2003 global fuel consumption per capita was 174.4 gallons. The US consumes approximately 861,000,000 gallons every day- that is, 2.84 gallons per capita per day4.

There have been proposed solutions to the world’s dependence on oil products as fuel, for example, biofuels. The advantages cited have been along the lines of, carbon emissions will be greatly reduced, and it will be a workable alternative to the fuels we are already using. However, biofuels create more problems than they solve. Professor David Pimentel of Cornell and Professor Tad W. Patzek of Berkley University conducted studies on the EROEI (energy return on energy invested) of biofuel crops and found that it simply was not worth it5. They found that in every crop they studied (they did not include sugar related crops or products in their study, which have been found to be relatively economical in terms of energy if not in economic terms) - corn, switchblade grass, wood biomass, soy beans and sunflowers, the EROEI was between 0 and 1. An EROEI value below or equal to 1 is indicative of an inefficient production process, where the energy used in the production equals or is greater than the energy in the product. An EROEI value between 1 and 100 but not including 1 is indicative of an efficient production process, where the yield exceeds the energy input.

The reason for this is that all large-scale agriculture needs oil products along every stage between planting and consuming. Aside from the amounts of fuel needed to run the tractors, fossil fuels are needed for the hydrogen in ammonia-based fertilisers necessary to growing on such a large scale. Pesticides are also made from oil products. Pimentel calculates that the equivalent of 271 gallons of petrol is used for every hectare of corn grown 6. Only a small part of this is used as fuel for tractors and transportation. The process of reacting natural gas with nitrogen in the air to produce ammonia requires fuel. And once the corn has grown it must then be delivered by truck to the ethanol plant, where the corn is fermented in water. The resulting liquid, at 8% ethanol, is then driven to a distillation plant where 99.5% of the water is removed by a series of distillations7. According to Pimentel, this process uses more energy even than the growing process. So ethanol is not even a supplementary fuel to oil products (with our current technology it’s certainly not an alternative or replacement) but actually makes the situation worse and drains the earth of oil faster.

Agriculture in general needs oil products to keep it efficient and keep the demand for food satisfied. The same processes apply as with crop ethanol production and this is the other quite obvious problem with crop ethanol- farm land and resources are relatively scarce, especially when the scarcity of oil products are taken into account. Compared with the mass of corn that goes into making ethanol, the mass of the final product is very small. In fact, to produce 25 gallons of ethanol fuel needs an equivalent amount of corn that could feed an individual for an entire year8. It is a hugely wasteful process. But even if agriculture was able to go on, the trucks that delivered food from farms to supermarkets couldn’t run. Large-scale agriculture would be utterly useless- unless the trucks ran on alternative fuel, like electricity or hydrogen (or maybe even ethanol, once we have the technology).

But that is the biggest problem when considering alternative energy and fuel sources. These alternative fuels are highly impractical as long as we have our current technology.

For example there is always mention of hydrogen as fuel. Not only is it cheap and readily available, being as it is the most abundant element in the universe, it also does not burn, therefore leaving no waste products except for water. The process is very recyclable and very clean.

The problem is however, that while these claims are not lies, they do not give the entire truth about hydrogen fuel. It is tru that hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe. But it is not so on our planet. Hydrogen, on Earth, is not very commonly found in its element form. Hydrocarbons and water all contain hydrogen, but to remove the hydrogen requires lots of energy, the sources of which are the problem to begin with. The production of hydrogen as a replacement to oil-derived fuels would not help. Then there is the problem of storage. Hydrogen, being as its molecules are so light and small, is very difficult to store and transport. It cannot be converted to liquid form and any storage container for it would have to be absolutely airtight and the pressure inside must be regulated as accurately as possible.9

The fuel cells that are being developed as a means to power cars with hydrogen fuel work electromagnetically. Hydrogen is ionised by a platinum catalyst and loses its electrons, which flow as an electric current. The positive hydrogen ions and the electrons are then sent to be combined with oxygen, to become water, the fuel cell’s only waste product.

However, to produce enough fuel cells to power every car on the road today (700 million) would require vast amounts of energy and capital, and, of course, platinum. Our problem is diminishing supplies of power sources.

Similar problems are encountered with the electricity ‘solution’. Dr. Walter Youngquist, in a lecture at Oregon in 2000, said that ‘fifteen gallons of gasoline petrol in a car's tank are the energy equal of 15 tons of storage batteries’10. It would be near impossible, given our current technology, to produce cars that ran for any distance greater than, say, weekly grocery shopping. International, cross-continent and cross-country transportation would be out of the question. A car that ran entirely on electricity would need its battery recharged- unlike hydrogen fuel cells, which do not store electricity but produce their own electricity as long as they have hydrogen flowing thru them. And the electricity they are filled with must come from a source on a national scale, and maintaining a supply of electricity of this scale requires oil products.

Actually, not necessarily. There has been much research conducted into alternative energy sources too: wind, solar, nuclear, tidal, coal, for example, have all been thoroughly researched into. And this question is the crux of the entire peak oil problem. When we find a way to power our world on an industrial scale using a method that does not rely on oil products, we will have beaten the problem. Because without oil, or equivalent power, the industrial age will end, abruptly and arguably prematurely. We would have to revert to traditional farming methods, traditional methods of production, We would have to start the agrarian age over again and build our way up back to the new industrial age. Marx may have well made a correct prediction in his conclusion (altho not so much in his interpretation of Hegel’s dialectics) when he said that the communist age was soon to follow our current capitalist era.

Because losing the entire source of the power that drove the industrial/capitalist age would devastate our species unless we followed one of two paths: fight against the reversion and discover revolutionary new technology that will keep our industrial age going in a progressive direction, or embrace the anarchic reversion and simply accept the dialectic flow for what it is. Our entire global economy may be wiped out because large-scale industry and agriculture, global transport and global communications would be rendered impossible without oil products- unless we discover new technology. But whatever we decide to do, the following century should see immense changes in our world’s infrastructure, beginning with vicious wars that are almost certainly to be fought as oil reserves dry up.


1. Professor Ken Deffeyes, ‘Beyond Oil’, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2005 2. Ibid. 3. Michael C. Ruppert, ‘Crossing the Rubicon’, New Society, 2004 4. earthtrends.wri.org 5. http://petroleum.berkeley.edu/papers/Biofuels/NRRethanol.2005.pdf (from Natural Resources Research, March 2005) 6. Ibid. 7. www.theviewfromthepeak.net- articles by David J. Johnson 8. money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/fortune_archive/2006/08/21/8383659/index.htm- Lester Brown, Fortune magazine, August 16, 2006. 9. Dr. Walter Youngquist, Eugene, Oregon, October 2000- http://www.hubbertpeak.com/youngquist/altenergy.htm 10. Ibid.

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