[NOTE: This is the latest installment in a new PeakOilMatters series (which started here). It’s about finding a new and better vision to get to, through, and beyond Peak Oil and its widespread impact on what we produce, how we produce, and how we live. We won’t be falling off a cliff tomorrow, and the full brunt of Peak Oil’s effects won’t be experienced all at once, either. Gas and oil do not have to disappear entirely, nor do gas prices have to rise into the stratosphere before Peak Oil’s impact is felt.
Gradually, but inexorably, changes will be in the offing, however. We need to come to a better understanding of this, and start preparing ourselves now for the lengthy transition and just as lengthy ongoing impact of Peak Oil on all of us. Many issues must of necessity be considered, and I hope to make a contribution to the public dialogue we need to have. I hope you’ll find these objectives enjoyable as well as beneficial. We have more of a voice than we think we do. Finding that voice just might be our best hope.]

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[Greetings from lovely New Orleans. As mentioned in my last post, this will be my only entry for the week.]

So where do we go from here? The recent “mini-series” of posts on the subject of Peak Oil and how the issue is being either ignored by most or is expected—like most of our other pressing national concerns—to be readily solved in some non-arduous manner now opens the door for suggested (rational) dialogue as to what steps need to be taken by and from our government, media, corporate leaders and on down to you and me. It is this theme that I will now develop over an extended period and perhaps dozens of posts in the weeks ahead.

The dilemma … the challenges, in just preparing to face the effects of declining oil production matched against increasing demand:

“I believe the top three challenges to making progress on solutions are: 1) a lack of public and policy maker knowledge on these issues, and strong resistance to understanding and believing that such a profound threat to everything that many of us hold so dear–our big houses, automobile-centered lifestyles, frequent air travel, access to consumer goods from around the world– is close at hand; 2) very strong vested interests that will oppose changes in their industries and how they do business; and 3) our amazing lack of preparation for what we are facing, after investing in a built environment, food production system, transportation system, and overall economy that is so heavily reliant on cheap and plentiful oil. [1]

“What do you promise people who have been told they can have anything they want, who are repeatedly congratulated for living in the best of all possible circumstances? How do you tell them ‘the good times,’ as we have known them, are not coming back? Americans need a new vision that helps them deal with reality, a promising story of the future that helps them let go of the past.” [2]

“However you want to define the American dream, there is not much of it that’s left anymore….
“America will never get its act together until we recognize how much trouble we’re really in, and how much effort and shared sacrifice is needed to stop the decline. Only then will we be able to begin resuscitating the dream.” [3]

Crisis, or opportunity? I remain an optimist, and try not to get too bogged down in the doom-and-gloom prospects that surround Peak Oil. I’ll continue to believe we will come to an understanding of what faces us and then develop the strategies needed until or unless someone proves me wrong.

Which leads us to this: Someone needs to lay out some kind of an agenda for consideration so that there’s at least a framework for intelligent and meaningful contributions. The impact and consequences of Peak Oil are subjects that have still not quite fully registered with the great majority of citizens and politicians, but the facts are readily available.

What’s needed first, as I have argued in prior posts, is a nominal commitment on the part of the electorate to learn the general facts and considerations about the current and developing state of (declining) oil production. There is enough legitimate, independent information about depletion, the difficulties of today’s efforts in oil exploration, the number of producing fields and their current status, statistics galore about the static nature of oil production in recent years, and increasing demand—among other relevant considerations—for citizens to make an informed assessment that we’re not in a good place in terms of fossil fuel resources beyond a few short decades.

For instance, do 40 years’ worth of statistics showing almost consistent decline in U.S. oil production make more sense and fit better into an understanding of our looming energy challenges than pseudo-assertions like this proposition from a regular denier of peak oil (whose presumed effect and intent in making the statement seem rather uninspiring at best)?:

“Many analysts [citing exactly one finance professional – my comment] are expecting a lot of new oil supplies from multiple locations around the globe.
“Clever technologists [citing exactly one example – my comment] are finding ways to make every barrel of oil go that much further. This is true in many ways….” [4]

Why am I not finding much comfort in that? I suppose it’s possible to be even more vague, although I’m not sure how (see this post for more)!

The information gathered should make it clear even to a non-expert that a few hundred billion barrels of reserves locked away underground doesn’t mean all that much, especially when one realizes almost immediately that extracting those remaining reserves are now so much more difficult and costly an undertaking. A few decades worth of remaining oil reserves is not a solution, and affords us no opportunity to just sit on our hands and tuck this issue away for another decade or two.

Making their own assessments based on the veracity and logic of the information presented will then prove more meaningful and offer more of an impetus to become involved. There’s a lot to be said and much to be gained in contributing to both defining the near-infinite variety of challenges we’ll face and implementing the many strategies needed to create a future no longer dependent on fossil fuels. Nothing easy, simple, or inexpensive about that process, however….

So how do we do this? How do we impress upon the information-distributors (business and political leaders, as well as the media) to start acting with some intelligence and integrity? The dizzying array of misstatements, disingenuous half-truths, omissions, misrepresentations, and outright lies leave most of completely baffled as to what really is the truth. As with almost every other aspect of the peak in oil production subject, simple and quick are unavailable.

I’ll do my part via the other series I’m now running to give others a sense of how many ways declining oil production will affect us all (the first one is here), but so too must those of us who prefer dealing with reality make some effort to get the word out. It could be as simple as mentioning this topic in casual discussion, sending along relevant articles or blog posts to friends and colleagues, or to local newspapers and media outlets, or writing letters to the editor, or engaging in dialogue on the internet in the form of comments to blog posts or similar pursuits. The more citizens we encourage to begin the process of engaging in meaningful dialogue about the facts (no particular expertise required), the better our chances of reaching the ears of those whom we’ve entrusted to act on our behalf.

The key is that the conversation must begin … how is of limited importance right now except insofar as it must be truthful. No one is helped by half-truths, misrepresentation, or worse. As information is shared, understanding and awareness will take on lives of their own, as is usually the case with matters that affect large segments of the population. Surging prices at the gas pumps provide a needed opening, as does the current turmoil in the Middle East. It can thus only be more difficult to keep hiding facts.

Leaders will respond to pressure on this subject just as they do to others, and we’ll be making a huge mistake in judgment if we wait for them to pick up the banner of declining oil production. Not much good news there….

Armed with more information, however, we can begin the slow but necessary process of accepting and then dealing with the changes Peak Oil is going to impose on all of us. We have to start sometime and somewhere—now and here seems as good a place as any.

The proposals and observations I’ll be advancing are by no means exhaustive, and I have no doubt that there are many legitimate (and certainly many nonsensical) challenges to what I’ll offer. Others much more knowledgeable than I should feel free to chime in. But the dialogue and planning has to begin somewhere, and someone has to be the first to attempt to corral the scores of issues and ideas, and so here we are.

This is the reality: we’re NOT running out of oil, and we won’t for several more decades. But that is not the point and never is when discussing peak oil. Peak oil is about the rate of production, the quality of oil, the ease of access, refinement, availability, and affordability. Each of these production elements are now more challenging to meet, and is now happening when worldwide demand is ratcheting up. Finding fewer and smaller fields that consistently fail to keep up with depletion rates, producing less oil, often inferior in quality, more slowly, at greater expense, with much more effort required to satisfy increasing demand (just for starters) is not a recipe for success, profitability, and availability. And it’s not going to get any better. The steady march down the back slope of oil production is soon upon us, and very little that we produce, use, or depend on will remain unaffected by that truth.

Time to get busy.

To be continued….

Sources:

[1] http://countercurrents.org/cardoni230110.htm; Dealing With Peak Oil By Salvatore Cardoni & Dr. Brian Schwartz – January 23, 2010
[2] http://www.thenation.com/doc/20090525/greider?rel=hp_picks; The Future of the American Dream By William Greider – May 6, 2009 [Excerpted from Mr. Greider’s book, Come Home, America.]
[3]http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/20/opinion/20herbert.html?_r=1&adxnnl=1&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss&adxnnlx=1290258063-Iir1a5KQqz38a/ueTYMJBA; Hiding From Reality By BOB HERBERT – November 20, 2010
[4] http://oilprice.com/Energy/Crude-Oil/Is-Peak-Oil-Slipping-Backwards-to-the-Year-2060-and-Beyond.html; Is Peak Oil Slipping Backwards to the Year 2060 and Beyond? by Al Fin – February 2, 2011