The Triple Crisis of Civilization

Our Addiction to Oil

 

    What will we do as the short Oil Age runs down? Each gallon, equals the energy of three strong people working for a week yet today we use it with no regard for the inevitable shortfall and our children’s future. What will run our snow plows or power our trains, our 18-wheelers, and fuel our race cars a few years from now? How will we heat our homes next winter as the price of heating oil climbs towards $3.00 per gallon? Clearly we are confronted by a dilemma of unprecedented magnitude.

       To make matters more urgent, parts of the developing world (China and India) are scrambling to catch a piece of the fleeting Oil Age. Because of their lower labor costs, we send our dollars for their products, which allows them to outbid us in the world oil market. This imbalance of payments is exacerbated by the direct flow of dollars to oil-producing countries of which many don’t like their dependency on us as their dominant customer. Most oil-producing countries are now experiencing a decrease in annual production. They are over their peak. Should they sell now at a good profit or save diminishing reserves as prices climb even higher? The record profits recorded by shareholder and nationalized oil companies are more an indication of dwindling supply than greed. Just as with increased demand for real estate, or any finite commodity, prices soar and the owner benefits. The economists still argue that the higher price will encourage exploration. Prices will then drop assuming more is found. But, 2005 was a year of record-low discovery in spite of record-high drilling efforts. The old giant fields in Mexico, Alaska, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the North Sea are all in decline. Many smaller new fields can no longer make up the shortfall.


By 2005, the first indications of peak oil awareness (headlined by the title of this section from President Bush in his 2006 State of the Union Address), started appearing in Washington. On Dec. 8, 2005, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on energy held its first full-scale congressional hearing on peak oil. A bipartisan caucus co-chaired by Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Maryland) and Rep. Tom Udall (D-New Mexico) along with 16 other congressmen prepared resolution 507 beginning with the following paragraph:

Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the United States, in collaboration with other international allies, should establish an energy project with the magnitude, creativity, and sense of urgency that was incorporated in the ‘Man on the Moon’ project to address the inevitable challenges of ‘Peak Oil’. (See www.energycommerce.house.gov/108hearing for complete transcript.)


    On March 29, 2007, the GAO (General Accounting Office) issued an 83 page report (GAO-07-283) titled, Crude Oil, Uncertainty About Future Oil Supply Makes it Important to Develop a Strategy for Addressing a Peak and Decline in Oil Production.

    Each time the price of oil and gas ratchets a little higher, the mainstream media gives sporadic attention. Unfortunately, the public hears a blend of obfuscation and short-term excuses such as inadequate refinery capacity or terrorist activity in producer countries. (See “We Were Warned” on CNN, March 18 and 19, 2006.) As usual, media coverage is “balanced” by conflicting optimism. See section “Delusions that will not save us” for the usual delusions. Very rarely is the concept mentioned that the world just might be running out ... forever! Very few, big business, the media or most elected leaders can fathom or admit that the oil party is about to end. We’re now faced with a giant hangover.

    As with any addiction or terminal-illness prognosis, the first reaction is denial. How can this be? Our entire economy (and our personal plans) are built on never-ending growth fueled primarily by oil. As reality sets in and logic rears its ugly head, the next response will be ... depression, “gloom and doom”. Next, we obviously must begin the weaning process without substitution of hopeless quackery. Finally, a proactive search for honest answers and solutions brings back some optimism even if the best first hope is only to encourage others to join a mass movement of public awareness and action. Remember, our addiction to oil is only a visible part of the other interrelated problems of continued population growth and ecological devastation

Convenient and high-energy content oil has infiltrated into every corner of modern life. In the U.S., with one-twentieth of the world’s population, we presently consume over 20 million barrels every day, which is about one-fourth of the total world production. Of this, one-half (400 million gallons per day) is used for gasoline alone. Oil runs our whole economy. It makes and transports the food we eat. It puts our planes into the air and moves our military. It is the source for plastics, chemicals, rubber, asphalt for our roads, and thousands of other products we take for granted and have come to depend on in the last 150 years.