As has been reported on a number of other Peak Oil-related websites, the International Energy Agency, in its World Energy Outlook 2010, has finally come around to admitting what many have been stating for some time: Peak Oil is no longer a challenge to be faced in the distant (or even not-so-distant) future. The IEA has now gone on record as stating that world conventional oil production will never match or exceed the approximately 70 million barrels per day produced back in 2006.

Uh-oh!

So while that reality hits us, let’s consider another of those damned facts about oil production and usage:

“If you sort all of the countries by per capita daily oil consumption and start from the lowest consuming countries, you need to sum up the consumption of nearly 100 countries to match the daily oil consumption in the U.S. Among these countries are China and India.
“Altogether the citizens of the U.S. consume the same amount of oil as 4.8 billion people elsewhere.” [1]

Houston, we have a problem. Notwithstanding any sense of entitlement, or the false bravado of assured technological solutions just in the nick of time, our use of oil and its innumerable by-products (forget for a moment—but only for a moment—the demand and usage of every other nation) is going to smack head-first into a wall of declining supply and/or more expensive but still-declining supply. And it’s not going to get any better.

I don’t like it; I assume readers here do not like it; and I’m fairly certain that few individual or business consumers will appreciate or enjoy learning this. There’s no place to look around for any immediate solutions because there aren’t any! Changes won’t necessarily occur tomorrow or next week or next month, but the painful and unpleasant truth is that we’re not going to have available to us the same amounts of readily-available oil supplies at the same relatively low prices we’ve enjoyed for decades. Not gonna happen. That means adaptations, adjustments, and yes, even sacrifices beginning soon enough, with no end in sight. That’s a problem we’re almost completely unprepared to deal with or correct.

We’re all in this together, and we’re going to have to put our thinking caps on and start figuring out what we’ll need to do individually and as a nation to transition away from oil. The optimist in me still thinks opportunities abound, but the clock is definitely ticking.

We’ll still have a number of decades to make a complete transition away from oil as the power source. But the problem is that we’ll be making this monumental transition away from oil at a time when the supply is diminishing, world-wide demand is increasing, costs are on the rise, production and refining become more difficult (and of course more expensive), and it’s going to take much longer to bring that fossil fuel resource to market. That’s just for starters.

We use oil for just about everything produced, transported, and consumed. We’re now going to have to start figuring out many new ways to try and maintain some semblance of a “normal” industrial economy as well as a personal lifestyle using new forms of energy to power just about everything we rely on oil to do for us now. That’s also not gonna happen … certainly not to the extent, with the ease, at the low costs, or with the same quality and quantity we’ve come to expect.

Plans are in order—lots of plans. This is no quick-fix modern day dilemma, and it is most definitely not a challenge that we can rely on the “market” to solve on its own. What remains just as doubtful is the ability of our national government to lead the way, and that’s a problem. I’m not sure right now that Congress could easily, quickly, or even by majority vote declare December 25 as Christmas Day. Certainly they couldn’t do so if President Obama offered that up. This is not encouraging, and it’s even less so when we have a more-than-insignificant number of “leaders” who cannot seem to accept anything that even remotely resembles scientific fact.

We’re going to need a national government with national leaders who can … you know, lead; people who actually understand what is at stake, have some kind of vision for what we need to do now and going forward, are willing to articulate that to the citizenry, can explain what we all have to contribute, and are willing to make the tough choices devoid of ideology. Declining oil production has absolutely nothing to do with conservative or liberal philosophies of governance.

We’ve got an entire industrial and commercial infrastructure that is going to have to be modified, re-built, or in many cases created anew to allow us to move forward with something other than oil to power it. There’s no pretending otherwise, and waiting is simply not an option any more—not that it has been. The Hirsch Report which issued several years ago was quite clear that 20 years of full-out national effort would be needed to effect an orderly and hopefully pain-free transition away from fossil fuels in order to continue to power our economy and support our lifestyles.

If the IEA is finally admitting that peak conventional production happened four year ago, simple math tells us we’re a wee bit late on maximizing opportunities from that 20-year window. Uh-oh, again!

Just to keep things interesting, the transition from an oil-based industrial economy to Whatever-Plan-B-Will-Be will have to be achieved using that same declining measure of supply to design and construct and transport and put into place the infrastructure we’ll need to support and maintain this as yet unidentified and not-planned- for-yet Plan B. We’re talking about using a lot of declining energy supplies that’s a lot more expensive, over the course of a lot of years to put into operation a lot of new industrial and economic and civic foundations to (we hope) enable us to maintain some semblance of growth and prosperity—all while using new energy resources that simply will not be as efficient or inexpensive or dependable as oil has been.

And who does without or with less in order to achieve all of this? “Someone else, of course” is not the answer. We’re all “someone else” now. (As a bonus, extracting this now-more-difficult-to-come-by resource will create even more environmental and other resource-supply difficulties.)

So far, this is not encouraging. Where are the plans? Do our leaders have any courage at all to start dealing with the difficult truths all of us are now going to have to contend with? “Drill, baby, drill” was a poor solution when it was first suggested. Now, it’s just a fantasy. We’re going to need something a bit more intelligent as a solution.

The IEA’s 2010 Outlook states that more than three-quarters of the 2035 production amounts are going to originate from either oil fields that so far have not been developed (including the more costly, less efficient, and less reliable unconventional resources such as the Canadian tar sands), or from fields that haven’t even been discovered yet! Hello! There are a lot of unspoken hopes and wishes and finger-crossings being counted upon. And another bonus: all of this is going to be even more expensive.

What’s even more startling is that the IEA is projecting that by 2035, the conventional oil production we’ve relied on for decades will have decreased from the 2006 peak of 70 million barrels per day to less than 20 million barrels per day. According to my calculations, 20 million is a lot less than 70 million. That is not good math.

These are just some of the facts we have no choice but to deal with. This is not an ideal set of circumstances for us to confront in the midst of our continuing economic woes. But we play the hand we’re dealt, or we fold. Our choice.

First, we need to come to terms with these facts, and that means at a minimum the partisan, fact-free or manufactured-out-of-thin-air political nonsense must end immediately.

From there, we move toward plans and actions. None of the options will be simple, fast, or cheap. Are we willing to bet on human ingenuity and human capital? It won’t be the first time, and there’s no rule that even suggests that change won’t be better for all of us. I’m not willing to relinquish my hold on optimism (though I find myself having to grip a bit harder these days).

The game is different now, the rules are different, and if there is to be any “winning”, it’s going to have to come about with different strategies and lot more playing partners than some would like. But that’s the reality.

“Peak oil and the events associated with it will be an unprecedented discontinuity in human and geologic history. Peak oil crises will soon confront societies with the opportunity to recreate themselves based on their respective needs, culture, resources, and governance responses. Peak oil will require a change of economic and social systems, and will result in a new world order. The sooner people prepare for peak oil and a post-peak oil life, the more they will be able to influence the direction of their opportunities. Nevertheless, there are probably no solutions that do not involve at the very least some major changes in lifestyles. Consequently, peak oil will probably result in some catastrophic upheavals. Peak oil will also present opportunities to address many underlying societal, economic, and environmental problems.” [2]

I’ve ended more than one post to date with this question, and it’s just as vital today as it always has been:

Crisis, or opportunity?

Sources:

[1] http://seekingalpha.com/article/231957-the-end-of-oil-s-golden-age; King Oil – posted Oct 25, 2010
[2] http://www.energybulletin.net/stories/2010-11-21/collapse-nov-21 and http://www.global.ucsb.edu/climateproject/papers/index.html; Peak Energy, Climate Change, and the Collapse of Global Civilization: The Current Peak Oil Crisis by Tariel Mórrígan; Global Climate Change, Human Security & Democracy, Orfalea Center for Global & International Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara