The recent disclosures by Department of Energy officials as to their expectations about future oil supply (here), though lacking the necessary media exposure they deserve, are a significant development in the struggle to inform the public of what Peak Oil will mean to all of us. Our military is the single largest consumer of petroleum-based products, and if, as has been reported elsewhere (here, for example), the Department of Defense is undertaking a concerted effort to seek alternative forms of energy to power its equipment and personnel, we all ought to be not just paying attention, but doing the same.
(The Pentagon was recognizing back in 2007 that it would have to “fundamentally transform” its approach to and use of, fossil fuel in light of rising fuel prices and a dwindling supply—conditions even more critical three years later. See a good overview here.)
An obvious dilemma materializes almost immediately: as demand slowly but surely outstrips supply in the years to come, who gets first dibs on the oil supply in the United States? If the Pentagon does nothing about seeking alternative supplies, and as our military commitments worldwide remain at the very least consistent with today’s demands, which segments of the population are going to see their ready supply of inexpensive gasoline and heating oil curtailed so that the military can maintain its heightened state of readiness? Do your daily trips to the grocery store or to pick up your kids at school a half-mile away take priority over combat readiness?
It’s reasonably safe to assume that governments and terrorist organizations not on our “favorite people” lists won’t scale back their efforts because of any concerns that we might have to cut back on the military’s oil consumption. Keeping things “fair” is not likely to factor in to any of their plans. So what happens?
It’s probably not too much of a chore for the government and military to simply decide to and do whatever is necessary to ensure an appropriate supply of fossil fuels for military and defense purposes. Everyone else will then just have to fall in line behind the Pentagon. Is anyone willing to challenge the necessity of those decisions?
I’ll ask again: So what happens then?
Deniers can talk all they want about the gazillion barrels of oil and unconventional resources (tar sands, oil shale, etc.) still underground, or discuss “undulating plateaus” of production—all of which are nothing more than disingenuous ways of stating that we no longer have a ready supply of relatively inexpensive oil. The literary embroidery does nothing to change that fact. Oil is more difficult to locate, obtain, and produce, and that means it’s more expensive—increasingly so, in case no one is noticing. It also takes much longer to bring produced oil to market. That’s all bad math when it comes to assessing the same levels of oil and gas availability for our daily consumption.
Something has to give.
It’s all fine and well to discuss the concept or theory of Peak Oil in a once-removed, generalized manner. It’s also fine and well to discuss the military and its fossil-fuel concerns. That’s all “out there” where we’ve left it to “others” to handle all of that while we’re busy driving Mikey and Janey to school before we drive to the salon and then to 3 malls and stop at the grocery store because our spouse is stuck in traffic once again on his or her 45-minute daily commute to work, and on and on it goes.
What happens when you and me and your neighbor and my brother and your co-workers and my golf buddies and your parents can no longer just hop in the car and run whatever errands move them in the moment? What happens when determinations have been made at all levels of government and industry about oil consumption and allocation?
Ration is a dirty word, and is rarely if ever spoken of. But what happens when all of a sudden we have 8% or 11% or 14% less oil and gas available to all of us from now on? What happens then?
We need to start thinking about that—about the day-to-day impact on our individual lives—of a declining and/or more expensive supply of oil and gas to fuel all that we do.
In the next week or two, I’m going to begin a lengthy series of posts devoted to exploring just how Peak Oil is going to affect us in our daily lives. I’m not going to bore or burden any of you with charts and technological explanations. There are others eminently better qualified and more knowledgeable to cover that ground. But we need to start understanding just what it means for each of us, every day, when we no longer have an easy supply of gasoline to power our cars and SUVs and motorcycles and power boats and ATV’s … when we no longer have the luxury of just jumping into our car whenever the mood moves us to run whatever errand seems necessary in the moment, and when all of the fossil-fuel-based materials and service/transportation elements that enable our society and industry to function as they do must change.
As I have taken pains to mention all along, this is not something that’s going to befall us next week or next month, but “soon” (Two years? Five?) oil and gasoline are going to be much, much more expensive, and much more difficult to come by. We’re not going to be able to successfully transition away from fossil fuel dependency in anywhere near enough time, especially if we don’t start planning and doing now. Kicking that can down the street, as we are all-too-often inclined to do with imposing challenges, is simply going to make life that much more difficult for all of us.
The time to be responsible and to act on what we know is now.