Accompanying the planned series on discussing the opportunities we have at hand and the strategies we might start considering stemming from a decline in oil production (my last post), I’d like to pick up on a theme I had originally intended to devote more posts to when I first began Peak Oil Matters. Along the way I’ve put together a small number of posts (here, for example). The full list of links to those posts appears at the end of this piece.

The purpose is an attempt to get us thinking in more concrete, day-to-day terms of what life might be like without the same levels of similar quality, inexpensive, and readily available fossil fuels supplying us with … just about everything.

Petroleum plays a part in the creation, production, and/or transportation of literally thousands of products. Probably safe to assume that about 98% of us never give that a single thought in the course of a year. We just buy or consumer or otherwise use and use up whatever our merry little hearts desire, and we’ve known for many decades that if we want or need more, there’s a store not too far away that will get us what we want or need without too much fuss or bother. Our knowledge of petroleum-based products usually begins and ends at the local gas station. A nice life, indeed.

I’m on record from my very first post that my family has enjoyed more than its fair share of the nice things life and oil each make available. And yes, I’d be willing to wager that just about every single gadget or doohickey we own would not exist but for fossil fuels. With five drivers in our family (two away at college), we own four cars—and two homes! The foreign vehicles my wife and I drive are commonly considered to be luxury items. One of them is an SUV. Not the gas-guzzling, monstrous (but beloved) Land Rover LR-3 we owned a few years back, but a full-size SUV nonetheless, with most of the bells and whistles one would want. It goes on … in some cases, quite frankly, embarrassingly so, given my status as a fledgling, pseudo-serious expert in matters of and about Peak Oil production.

I’m also on record as stating that I really like this lifestyle! The arrangement my wife and I have is not without its challenges and turmoils, but we manage to keep afloat reasonably well. I’m no different than any other consumer in this country: I’d like to have what I want when I want it and how I want it, without much hassle, thank you very much. I don’t particularly want to sacrifice. Sure as hell I don’t want to have to be the only one, or in the small minority of those willing to step up to the plate and start giving up for the benefit of mankind or similar noble gestures.

There are, quite frankly, a lot of things I don’t want to see happen because oil production is declining, and I’m actually quite annoyed that I have to even consider the possibility. Like just about everyone else, my life has enough built-in stress and problems and all the rest. I’m not looking for more, thank you very much once again.

But now that I’ve gotten some of that out of my stem, I’m all-too-mindful of the fact that a lot is going to change in the years to come. I’m not, I’ll say again, a doomer. The sky is NOT falling next week, life as we know is not falling off the edge of the earth in the spring, and aside from higher prices, we’re probably not likely to see too many noticeable or noteworthy changes any time soon.

The problem is that changes are happening now, and one little ripple here leads to more ripples there, and if we’re not devoting time and effort to countering that, we will see some rather substantial and quite painful changes in the ways we live before too many more years have passed. Waiting until a week or two before we begin to tangibly experience the consequences of declining availability of fossil fuels is definitely not a strategy for coming up with solutions that we ought to be relying on. We depend on fossil fuels for a great deal; a great deal of effort and expense and planning and testing and marketing and transporting and revising and repairing and maintaining has come into play so that we’ve been able to at a minimum maintain our lifestyles and have at the ready the gratification of almost any desire or need we might wish for. It’s been a hell of a ride.

Adapting all of that to a world with less oil available to us, and going through the same processes as we adapt alternative energy sources to what we now have and use as well as adapting to entirely new products dependent on energy sources not yet commercially viable is no mean feat. Anyone thinking that that will all happen in a fortnight or two is seriously delusional! Years … decades, even, are more likely what we’ll need. Exactly how many more years are we supposed to wait?

Let’s not allow anyone to make the mistake of thinking that we can find anything that will replace oil and its by-products any time soon, at anywhere near the same inexpensive prices, at the same levels of ease of acquisition or availability, or with the same levels of efficiency and productivity. A lot went into the creation of all that we see, own, and use, and when we don’t have nearly enough of the basic energy source that makes all of that available, we’ve got our work cut out for us. Reflecting on the near-infinite supply of creature comforts and conveniences and products and services made possible by petroleum will be an awakening for most. Recognizing that soon enough we’re not going to have the same quantities or qualities of that same stuff will be an awakening as well. What happens then?

A lot of what we see and use and buy and rely on in our immediate environment and “out there” depends on readily available supplies of not-too-pricey oil. When the not-too-pricey stuff starts getting to the “Damn, that’s gotten expensive!” stage, changes will occur. We’ll either make the painful adaptations ourselves, or some person out there in Marketplace-Land is going to be telling us:  “We’re sorry, but we’re just not making as much of that stuff and sending it to your neighborhood store as we used to. And before you ask:  Nope, we won’t ever be making more than we are now … pretty sure, actually, there’s gonna be less. More expensive too – costs a lot more to get the stuff we need to make the stuff you need.”

A while back, in one of my posts, I offered this list as a very small sampling of products made from, used with, or transported by a derivative of petroleum.

Solvents       Diesel fuel       Motor Oil       Bearing Grease       Ink       Floor Wax       Ballpoint Pens        Football Cleats       Upholstery Sweaters       Boats       Insecticides       Bicycle Tires       Sports Car Bodies       Nail Polish       Fishing lures       Dresses       Tires       Golf Bags       Perfumes       Cassettes       Dishwasher parts       Tool Boxes       Shoe Polish       Motorcycle Helmet       Caulking       Petroleum Jelly       Transparent       Tape       CD Player       Faucet Washers       Antiseptics        Clothesline       Curtains       Food Preservatives Basketballs       Soap       Vitamin Capsules       Antihistamines        Purses       Shoes       Dashboards       Cortisone       Deodorant       Footballs       Putty       Dyes       Panty Hose       Refrigerant       Percolators       Life Jackets       Rubbing Alcohol       Linings       Skis       TV Cabinets       Shag Rugs       Electrician’s Tape       Tool Racks       Car Battery Cases       Epoxy       Paint       Mops       Slacks       Insect Repellent       Oil Filters       Umbrellas       Yarn       Fertilizers       Hair Coloring       Roofing       Toilet Seats       Fishing Rods       Lipstick      Denture       Adhesive       Linoleum       Ice Cube Trays       Synthetic Rubber       Speakers      Electric Blankets       Glycerin      Tennis Rackets       Rubber Cement       Fishing Boots       Dice       Nylon Rope       Candles       Trash Bags       House Paint       Water Pipes       Hand Lotion       Roller Skates       Surf Boards       Shampoo       Wheels       Paint Rollers       Shower Curtains       Guitar Strings       Luggage       Aspirin       Safety Glasses       Antifreeze       Football Helmets       Awnings       Eyeglasses       Clothes       Toothbrushes       Ice Chests       Footballs       Combs       CD’s & DVD’s       Paint Brushes       Detergents       Vaporizers       Balloons       Sun Glasses       Tents       Heart Valves       Crayons       Parachutes       Telephones       Enamel       Pillows       Dishes       Cameras       Anesthetics   Artificial Turf       Artificial limbs       Bandages       Dentures       Model Cars       Folding Doors       Hair Curlers       Cold cream       Movie film       Soft Contact lenses       Drinking Cups       Fan Belts       Car Enamel       Shaving Cream       Ammonia       Refrigerators       Golf Balls       Toothpaste       Gasoline

There are a lot more of those lists, and as I’ve indicated, the other regular series I’m planning to run for at least the next few months will center around what we need to do in the absence of all this stuff we use or rely on. It’s all fine and well to discuss the costs of unconventional resource extraction in far Western Canada, or oil drilling techniques in deep waters off the coast of Brazil. It hits a bit closer to home when all of a sudden the simple pocket combs you’ve been buying and using for years are suddenly harder to find, and when they are located, more expensive too … like just about everything else. When it starts hitting closer to home, Peak Oil will move from the nebulous “out there” kind of problem to the “Oh, jeez, now what?” stage in your own home.

It might make sense to do some preparing in advance. More information is always a good thing. A lot of the surprises that Peak Oil will bestow are not likely to be the kinds of surprises we all typically enjoy.

So that’s the hyper-broad overview for this series.

I’ll be back next week to begin my discussion….Stay tuned!


Links to my 2010 series on Peak Oil’s impact: