Hello again, and Happy New Year!

I’ll now be posting with greater frequency, and hope that you’ll feel free to offer commentary on these posts and the ideas they generate.

So far I’ve tried to set out some of the basic considerations about Peak Oil. As I stated at the outset, I’ll leave it to others more knowledgeable than me to provide more detailed analyses and greater technical material in their own posts. To that end, I do hope you’ll consider reviewing the sites suggested in my Blog Roll.

The theories and overviews about Peak Oil are of course vitally important. We need a solid grounding on this subject in order to not just properly understand Peak Oil and its implications; so too do we need that level of understanding in order to begin addressing the challenges that will confront us in the years to come.

Overnight fixes are not an option, and a reliance on the magic of technology may prove to be a horrendous miscalculation.

I’ll continue to provide more information about Peak Oil in future posts, but today, I’d like to take the opportunity to provide some very basic considerations about the ubiquitous automobile. Most of us own at least one, and most if not all of us drive. The automobile is one of this country’s most prominent success stories (at least until this Great Recession), and the lifestyle promoted and encouraged by the great American (and European and Japanese) car is a hallmark of our society. (My family owns models from all three categories.)

Ours is a culture defined in no small part by the automobile and the images of success and freedom ownership has afforded us. It is a great American story!

Our highway systems, residence in our countless suburban locations, mall-shopping, the daily commute, and innumerable other aspects of our daily lives (most of which we barely give a first thought to, let alone a second) have been created, designed, and perpetuated on the ready availability of cheap oil and the expediency of automobile travel. Our continuing love affair with the automobile remains unabated notwithstanding our current economic downturn, (and is one I am just as guilty of embracing as anyone).

More driving has lead to more driving, which means more oil/gas consumption. The United States uses more than nine million barrels of oil per day for our cars and trucks [1], which translates into several hundred million gallons of gas each day. We cannot afford to continue our belief that the supply of cheap oil and cheap gasoline will continue indefinitely. Just today, we’re seeing signs that gas prices are starting to inch up yet again. It’s a trend we’re going to have to become accustomed to.

From our local urban planning decisions and zoning by-laws to our national transportation legislation and construction and everything in between, there are few state/city/neighborhood planning aspects that have not been predicated on automobile usage. For all the talk of public transportation and biking, we’ve built our lives as we know it on our ability to just jump in the car and drive. I doubt there are many of us who would instantly know what to do to meet daily responsibilities and needs without the beloved automobile parked just outside our doors. Few things required to sustain us in daily living (or for our enjoyment, for that matter) have been designed for access via alternative transportation. It’s almost all about the car.

(In just fifteen years, it is estimated that the U.S. will have to import seventy-five per cent of the approximate thirty million barrels per day of consumption we’re expected to require. Two-thirds of that is devoted to our transportation needs. [2] How can we sustain this?)

And therein resides a looming problem few of us are aware of, and even fewer know how to deal with … yet. More opportunities….

We’ve seen automobile mileage totals drop by nearly 100 billion miles per year during this Recession. It’s likely that trend will persist into the foreseeable future, notwithstanding occasional rises in usage. That’s wonderful from an environmental standpoint, but it comes at a price … our way of life as we’ve known it is changing. That may not necessarily be a bad thing, but it is fraught with great uncertainty.

How well we choose to prepare now will determine how effortless, or how disruptive, this transition will prove to be. It will take a great long while to unfold, but unfold it will.

Those of us hoping that gas prices will remain low (or at least low enough that we can justify traveling here and there just as we always have) may be in for a rude and unpleasant shock. My prior posts have attempted to provide the simplest overview of the problems we’ll be confronted with in the face of Peak Oil. I can only suggest that they be given due consideration.

A Goldman Sachs Group Inc. report suggests that the number of automobiles in use in China by 2050 will approach a half-billion (and even more than that in India). By 2010, China will have 36 times more cars than it had twenty years earlier! Hello! [3]

Economists at the International Monetary Fund estimate that the number of cars worldwide will more than quadruple to 2.9 billion in 2050. They expect China’s car fleet will have overtaken America’s (which itself will have increased by more than half) in just twenty more years, and by 2050 their prediction is that China will have almost as many cars as the entire world has today. India isn’t too far behind, as estimates suggest that that country will by 2050 have 45 times the number of automobiles on the road as it has today. [4]

China expects to add 120 million vehicles over the next decade, requiring 11.7 million barrels per day of new crude oil supplies. (As noted in the sourced material, that’s more than Saudi Arabia’s entire annual output—and all of that just to provide for China’s new cars!) [5]

The International Energy Agency recently estimated that the total number of motor vehicles could increase to as many as 1.2 billion by 2013, from the current 800 million.
 
Where is all the extra oil/gasoline to power those vehicles supposed to come from (to say nothing of the increasing non-transportation energy requirements)? Which nations will be required to curtail their usage and slow down the pace of their progress in order to feed this enormous appetite?

World population is not slowing down. And with the rise in population and the desire of developing nations to enhance the way of life for their citizens, more energy is a fundamental necessity to ensure the prosperity they rightfully seek. What are we to do?

All the wishing and hoping in the world won’t change the fact that we are simply not finding enough oil fast enough to meet increasing need. We may be okay right now, but it’s not going to take too much longer for the scales to tip. Then what?

A recent Business Week article touted a new project in the Netherlands that is expected to produce 120 million barrels of oil over a twenty year period, hailing it as an indication that we indeed have, as the article’s title suggests, “Endless Oil.” [6] Twenty years to produce an amount of oil that, if 100 % of it became available at breakfast this morning, would have been consumed by dinner tomorrow. This is what we rely on?

Can we afford to devote so much of ever-declining quantities of precious oil just so we can all drive around? That’s a question we’re all going to have to start pondering. Better to ask it a day too early than a day too late

Next: Some Other Things To Think About

Sources

[1]: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/07/26/AR2008072601025.html?sid=ST2008072601558&pos= This Time, It’s Different: Global Pressures Have Converged to Forge a New Oil Reality By Steven Mufson, July 27, 2008
[2]: http://world.mediamonitors.net/content/view/full/53791 – A Vision for Change: An American Energy Policy by William John Cox, August 18, 2008
[3]: http://www.peakoil.com/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=47228 (citing a 3/30/09 story published in the Miami Gerald and also referencing Daniel Sperling and Deborah Gordon’s book, “Two Billion Cars: Driving Toward Sustainability” (Oxford University Press, $24.95)
[4]: http://www.economist.com/specialreports/displaystory.cfm?story_id=12544947 “The art of the possible” – Economist magazine, Nov 13th 2008
[5]: Profit from the Peak: The End of Oil and the Greatest Investment Event of the Century – Brian Hicks and Chris Nelder, (p61). Wiley Publishing. See also  http://www.profitfromthepeak.com/
[6]: http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/10_03/b4163046952385.htm – “Endless Oil: Technology, politics, and lower demand will yield a bumper crop of crude” By Stanley Reed, January 7, 2010

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