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Peak Oil Matters

A fresh perspective on the concept of peak oil and the challenges we face

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Archive for May, 2011

May 25 (from a borrowed computer….)

A rather aggressive computer virus (despite lots of software protection) has essentially wiped out my hard drive, with all its research, drafts, and literally thousands of files….

Fortunately I do subscribe to off-site backup services, but none of that will do me much good until my computer is back to normal (I hope!) and I can actually transfer all of my work back onto a new hard drive  (and then take a few days thereafter to get caught up on all the work I’m going to miss while waiting for “normal” to return).

The upshot is that posts are going to be delayed for at least a full week from today, and more than likely another few days thereafter as I scramble to recreate a day or two of computer work I will have lost and then scramble some more to get back up to speed

Modern &%@$* technology!!

I’ll be back to regular postings as soon as circumstances permit

[NOTE: This post is part of an ongoing series (which started here) through the next few months whose purpose is to provide tangible examples of what our future might be like in a world where we will no longer have available to us the quality and quantity of fossil fuel energy sources as we have long been accustomed to possessing and using. Some examples will describe significant impacts beyond the most obvious one: less but more expensive gas to power our vehicles.
Other posts will describe routine aspects of daily living that will likely change when producers of goods and services no longer have inexpensive and adequate supplies of the fossil fuel resources they need. I’m certain that the questions I raise will in turn raise other concerns as well. It is only by acknowledging the consequences affecting each of us that we can begin an intelligent national process of planning and implementing new methods of providing the goods and services we’ll need or desire.]

~~~

I am now the very proud father of a college graduate (a wonderful young woman who completed her four-year curriculum in only three years—impressive!—and has now returned to the Boston area). I could not be more delighted or happier for her!

Last week, I flew to New Orleans to attend her graduation, and stayed there for five nights (had to help pack the van in which she and her friend were traveling back home). My wife, her son and a friend of his flew down separately, and stayed in New Orleans for three nights.

No great surprise, but my daughter was not the only graduate. While I do not have the exact statistics, I believe the overwhelming majority of the approximately 2300 graduates came from someplace other than the immediate New Orleans area. That’s lot of graduates now driving/flying someplace else, and a lot of family members who attended the graduation after having flown in/driven from some other location. In what may be a stunning revelation, this is not the only year a graduation was held at Tulane University … shocking I know!

Even more shocking, this happened several times recently not just in New Orleans. Rumors abound that graduations were also held in Boston, New York, and possibly someplace in California, with more expected soon.

Putting aside the affordability of college for many if our economic path does not change soon, how are families going to deal with the impact of Peak Oil on just the most basic travel options for significant family events such as this?

What kind of choices will families and students be forced to make in the years to come when travel expenses to and from colleges become prohibitively expensive for many if not most of them? The college visits most engage in during senior year of high school has become an industry unto itself, and travel expenses for that aspect of college planning are not insignificant. Our trip to New Orleans was the only college visit we made via airplane, but there was also no small amount of driving involved as my daughter and I checked out a number of colleges here in the New England area.

When gas was $2 and change it was a barely noticeable expense. But at the current $4.29 per gallon (which was $3.99 six weeks ago), families are going to start taking note. Restaurants and hotels and assorted other merchants and service providers who derive no small amount of revenue from these travels by countless hundreds of thousands of prospective college students and their families will suffer in the process.

I’ve been to New Orleans nearly a dozen times in the three years that my daughter attended Tulane. My wife has joined me on three of those trips, and my daughter traveled home on multiple occasions as well.

Each of those trips required some combination of air fare and hotels and rental cars and cab fare and parking fees and gas expenditures and/or use of our own vehicles getting to and from airports….We’re fortunate in that our other daughter attends school in New York City, making Amtrak an enjoyable option, but how many families can or will be able to rely on mass transit for these types of travels? The complete failure of too many of our leaders to recognize the need for more investment in mass transit will prove a damning regret in years to come.

My daughter attended Tulane in part because it was one of the few that offered the major she sought (and a substantial scholarship to boot). What if traveling that far had not been an option? Or if it had been, what kind of dynamics would have been involved if she had moved down there, and we didn’t see each other for nearly 3 years because travel expenses had become prohibitively expensive for us (not that it wasn’t a drain on my finances to begin with)?

What kind of lifestyle changes would this young college student have had to make, knowing that she was essentially on her own for three or four years without the intangibles of family contact? (As it is, a week after she moved to New Orleans for the first time, hurricane warnings forced an evacuation of all area colleges, and she was on a plane back home about 8 days after she and I had said good-bye!) What happens in these or similar conditions when plane fare is out of the question for most? Buying airline tickets last minute is not exactly an inexpensive proposition! And what kind of options have to be put into place when vehicular travel is not feasible, and there is no mass transit available?

“Our friend of past online debates, Randall O’Toole, is a champion of both the auto-based transportation system and mobility in general. His argument is essential that there is a correlation between mobility and prosperity, that the more mobile a society is, the more at liberty people are to follow endeavors that enhance life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Greater mobility increases job opportunities, shopping selection, service competitiveness, school choices and even the gene pool people have a chance to select from when seeking a mate. There is no question that, in a broad sense, he is correct.” [1]

Greater mobility has been a wonderful option for many years for countless millions of us. What happens in the years to come when it’s not?

Sources:

[1] http://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2011/4/4/mobilitys-diminishing-returns.html; Mobility’s Diminishing Returns by Charles Marohn – April 4, 2011

[NOTE: This post is part of an ongoing series (which started here) through the next few months whose purpose is to provide tangible examples of what our future might be like in a world where we will no longer have available to us the quality and quantity of fossil fuel energy sources as we have long been accustomed to possessing and using. Some examples will describe significant impacts beyond the most obvious one: less but more expensive gas to power our vehicles.
Other posts will describe routine aspects of daily living that will likely change when producers of goods and services no longer have inexpensive and adequate supplies of the fossil fuel resources they need. I’m certain that the questions I raise will in turn raise other concerns as well. It is only by acknowledging the consequences affecting each of us that we can begin an intelligent national process of planning and implementing new methods of providing the goods and services we’ll need or desire.]

~~~

While rising gasoline prices at our local stations are the most immediate and obvious consequences of oil supply and demand problems, Peak Oil is about much more than how big a hit our wallets can take. It’s easy to get caught up with the financial impact in our own households, which may explain why there’s usually a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth when prices at the pump increase, and a settled calm once the prices drop to more tolerable levels.

We are not likely to have the luxury of complaining and then having the most visible symptom treated so that we can then carry on in some semblance of “same old, same old” for much longer. The immediate and obvious effects of Peak Oil may certainly ride on the wings of higher prices, but the underlying causes and their potentially crippling effects across a wide swath of industry and society will prove to be more enduring and damaging in the long run. At some point, most of us are simply not going to be able to afford the next price hike, and in that regard, high prices will cease to have such a visceral impact on our daily lives.

But long before our individual budgets reach the breaking point, Peak Oil will have served notice on scores of other aspects of life-as-we-once-knew-it that change is coming. Prices have almost always been the sole concern for most of us. Early 1970’s shortages aside, we’ve never really concerned ourselves with whether or not we can get our tanks filled. How much is it going to cost? has been the entire conversation. Peak Oil is going to add a few more topics.

I recently posted about my trip to New Orleans during the Mardi Gras “festival,” and briefly noted some concerns about rising oil prices as they affect restaurants (and hotels). Certainly as delivery and product prices increase, restaurants of all kinds are feeling the pinch just a bit more each day. Given recent economic conditions across the nation, it’s safe to say that the food and beverage industry has not been immune to the Great Recession.

Most of us have in some manner curtailed our away-from-home dining plans. We’re all being a bit more cautious with our funds, and so we don’t go to the movies as often, or eat at nicer restaurants as frequently, or we cut back on travel. If we gained more confidence in our individual (and national) financial well-being, it’s probably safe to assume that most of us who have cut back on dining out will ease our way back into that usually enjoyable social activity.

But just in case the first message above didn’t catch your attention, I’ll repeat it here: Peak Oil is going to be about a lot more than just how much? As demand increases, and the cumulative effects of decreased investments over the years began to create havoc with supply (to say nothing of the fact that what is now being explored is on the decline in most parts of the world, or more difficult to extract, or suffers from more political/above-ground interference, or INSERT FACTOR HERE), our only concern will no longer be limited to how much? Soon enough (and picking the month and year when is entirely pointless), can I even buy gas today/nearby? will become a more frequent refrain.

As the size of the pie shrinks and even more hungry consumers sit at the table for their piece, even the most inept math student will quickly understand that not everyone will be served equally or even sufficiently. Some may have to do without; others will get a much smaller piece than is customary. Others may be told to come back only if another pie becomes available. It is that elementary.

And when this begins to happen, we’re all going to be making more sacrifices. Dining out will surely become much more of a challenge, and one which more and more of us will eventually decide is no longer feasible. Gas prices may simply be too high to warrant trips for a need we can just as easily (and, we hope, at less cost) substitute for at home. The simple steak and baked potato sitting on my dining room table may not satisfy nearly as much as a preferred Natural Angus Bavette Steak with wild mushroom risotto and bourbon-tinge reduction sauce served with fresh-baked Parmesan crusted rolls, and there may not be soft-jazz piped in from speakers placed unobtrusively in the far corners of the room as we’re bathed in warmth from the nearby fireplace, and I may very well be dining alone or (preferably) with my lovely wife rather than with my wife and several friends whom we see not nearly as often anymore, but I won’t go to bed hungry, and my wallet won’t suffer nearly as much trauma.

It’s just as likely that many of us will stay home and make our own ham and cheese on rye sandwich rather than making a run to the Subway sub shop two miles away or the Wendy’s at the food court in the local Mall six miles down the road.

Doing without a small treat like dining out, or losing the opportunity to socialize with friends may not strike any of us as an especially egregious consequence. Most of us wouldn’t even think of that as a direct consequence of declining oil production and limited supplies, but that’s the type of change we’ll see all too often in a world where gas prices are increasingly prohibitive, and/or supplies are simply not available today or this week or in our city or town.

I would certainly hope that that scenario, if it does materialize (which it will if we continue to sit on our hands and do nothing, or wait for others to do something, or just pretend that all will be well eventually), will be many years down the road, but I would not want to bet a lot of money on that happening. I certainly don’t think we’ll be looking at that unpleasant prospect later this year, or next summer, or soon beyond that. But the truth is that it’s not the product of an over-active, morose imagination. It’s all about those damned annoying facts.

Those kinds of trade-offs will increase in the years to come. Perhaps right now it might not seem like such a big deal, or even any kind of deal. But quality-of-life is not always or often measured in dollars and cents. When the customary social activities we engage in start dropping away because we can’t even afford to get “there,” wherever there might be, we will begin to feel the squeeze. Many of us now do not engage in those familiar social activities as or as often as we once did simply because of financial concerns. Tighter budgets require different spending priorities. Unpleasant though it may be, it’s an understood “sacrifice.” The expectation has always been that at some point life will return to the once-familiar “normal”, and thus soon enough we’ll be back meeting with friends at restaurants and ballgames and a host of other options.

But Peak Oil is different. Peak Oil is not a budget matter. Peak Oil is about having the energy needed at all. If one simply cannot get gas for their car—regardless of price—because there is no gas available that day or week, or what is then available has to likewise be “budgeted”, then that kind of a social change or “sacrifice” takes on a different hue. We’re not prepared to have those kinds of options denied to us entirely. Problems which cannot be rectified by money are a different breed.

And what of the restaurants who’ve long relied on our faithful appearances every couple of months? When a not-inconsequential number of diners stop patronizing those establishments, it’s very obvious what will happen soon enough. Many are no doubt experiencing those consequences in this moment, and surely have been for several years now. And when the employees are suddenly out of a job, and the chef finds herself just as unemployed with no prospects at all nearby because every other restaurant is suffering just as much, what then? What happen to the merchants they frequent when there is no longer a salary to spend because there are too few customers to prop up the restaurant? What of their suppliers? The drivers who deliver their goods? And the merchants all of these others in turn frequent? And then their employees? Getting the picture?

There aren’t that many dots to connect … it’s not as though this a new economic problem never before encountered. Multiply that by many thousands of neighborhoods and towns and counties and cities and metro-regions and states and pretty quickly, there’s a problem.

What then?

We—you; me; neighbors; family; friends; local, state, and federal officials—need to start thinking about how life will be a few short years down the road. We’re wasting time….

More to come.

[NOTE: This post is part of an ongoing series (which started here) through the next few months whose purpose is to provide tangible examples of what our future might be like in a world where we will no longer have available to us the quality and quantity of fossil fuel energy sources as we have long been accustomed to possessing and using. Some examples will describe significant impacts beyond the most obvious one: less but more expensive gas to power our vehicles.
Other posts will describe routine aspects of daily living that will likely change when producers of goods and services no longer have inexpensive and adequate supplies of the fossil fuel resources they need. I’m certain that the questions I raise will in turn raise other concerns as well. It is only by acknowledging the consequences affecting each of us that we can begin an intelligent national process of planning and implementing new methods of providing the goods and services we’ll need or desire.]

~~~

Not too long ago, I had the good fortune of attending an outstanding concert performance by a blues/rock guitarist whose music I recently “discovered.”

The musician (Joe Bonamassa*) played in central Massachusetts, and I attended the performance with my brother, who lives at the western end of the state. While his trip was a bit shorter to the concert location, it was close to a 100 mile round trip for me from the Boston area. Several thousand other fans made the trip in to Worcester, no doubt almost all of them by private vehicle.

As for Bonamassa, I think it’s safe to assume he and his band/entourage either made the trip by bus or plane (in which case additional vehicle travel would have been necessary to wherever he was staying in the area). My recollection is that his next performance was somewhere in Pennsylvania several nights later, after having traveled to Massachusetts from his previous performance—out-of-state. I also understand that he travels almost year-round, and is in or en route to Europe now for an extended tour (after having made a stopover to play a few dates in Canada first)—all before returning to the States later in the year (including a performance in Boston, which I’ll be attending).

Why all of this in a blog about Peak Oil?

Take a look at the paragraph above once more. Mr. Bonamassa, and thousands of performers just like him, travel a lot. They don’t do so by themselves, either. Staff, road crews, family members, and assorted other necessary personnel no doubt accompany these musicians most if not all the time. Their equipment, instruments, stages, lighting, props, and assorted what-nots also have to get from one place to another. Given the amount of equipment this one musician and his three band members used while on stage, it’s probably safe to assume that they, like most of their peers, require something a wee bit larger than a cargo van to haul everything around.

Unless they are all now traveling by train (are any of them doing so?), that is a lot of fuel consumption for a lot of people and equipment for a lot of days. And unless Mr. Bonamassa et al are traveling by luxury liner across the Atlantic, I’m guessing there’s a lot of air fare being paid to an airline, and a lot more fuel consumption….

So when fuel prices have climbed above $4.00—which I now pay—(or $7? $10?) what happens to Joe Bonamassa and the thousands of other musicians who likewise tour the world; or actors who perform on stages worldwide; or comedians; or photographers and painters and sculptors who display their artistry in locales spanning the globe? Or what happens when they are advised that the locale where they are performing won’t have fuel for them to travel to their next stop until … next Friday? Or not at all because it has already been allocated to others? Or it just isn’t available for them under any circumstances because what they do is not “essential travel” in that area under who-knows-what kinds of restrictions may be the order of the day somewhere in the not-too-distant future?

What about their fans? Social activities like this offer intangibles which contribute to our and our communities’ well-being. What happens when most performances simply cannot continue? A little piece of what has made life enjoyable for millions may have to change its nature in ways we cannot envision right now—especially if no one is even thinking about it yet.

With some planning and a willingness to commit a lot more than the ninety-minute or so round trip in my SUV, I’m fairly certain I could have gotten from my home to the concert location with perhaps less than a mile’s worth of walking to and from. I could have walked from my home down the hill (which would of course have meant a very late night walk back up that monster) to an MBTA bus, and then on to an MBTA subway train to South Station in Boston, where I would have had several travel options (Amtrak, commuter rail, or bus) to make the approximate fifty-mile trip to Worcester, MA. None of it free, of course, and none of it a direct door-to-door adventure. I believe the City of Worcester offers bus service at least in the downtown area, and so I’m comfortable with the thought that I could have gotten very close to the concert’s Main Street location via local bus out there. Just a guess, but that would have to be close to a 5 hour round trip … minimum.

If I had to do that in order to see this performer, would I have done so? Probably not. CD’s and DVDs work just fine for me, also. Can’t think of any other performer I’d go to such lengths to see, come to think of it.

CD’s and DVD’s are not the same of course. Obviously I would have lost out on the chance to spend some time with my younger brother, as well as enjoying the intangibles of attending a live performance with several thousand other fans similarly enjoying the performance.

What if 90% of the performer’s audience members had to make the same decisions about how much they wanted to spend for gas and/or figure out some convoluted means of getting to the concert hall via sporadic and to-date insufficient levels of mass transit? What if, as I suspect, a substantial majority of them did not have readily-available public transportation options? Then what?

The dominoes start to tumble quickly. No fans = no revenue for the artist = no performance = no revenue for the entourage traveling with him = no revenue to the host city and the theater/concert hall/art center = no revenue for the restaurants and bars and hotels and retail stores who rely on the additional traffic into their community = no work for the many employees =….

Not a pretty picture.

Perhaps some plans might be a good idea? And while we’re at it, perhaps we might get some of our wise leadership to consider that now might be an excellent time to give just a bit more thought to the need for a lot more public transportation (a subject I’ll have a lot more to say about in the weeks to come). I don’t see anyone slapping together efficient alternative transportation options in just a few weeks … or months … or years. That calls for some long-term planning….

Ken Orski writes about transportation matters, and I’ll readily admit he is far more knowledgeable about those issues than I will ever be. Offering legitimate and well-reasoned arguments against the Obama Administration’s pursuit of a national high-speed rail program, Mr. Orski offered this:

“The President’s proposal came at a most inopportune time, when the nation is recovering from a serious recession and desperately trying to reduce the federal budget deficit and a mountain of debt. In time, however, the recession will end, the economy will start growing again, and the deficit will hopefully come under control. At that distant moment in time, perhaps toward the end of this decade, the nation might be able to resume its tradition of ‘bold endeavors’ — launching ambitious programs of public infrastructure renewal.
“That could be an appropriate time to revive the idea of a high-speed rail network, at least in the densely populated Northeast Corridor where road and air traffic congestion will soon be reaching levels that threaten its continued growth and productivity. For now, however, prudence, good sense and the common welfare dictate that we, as a nation, learn to live within our means.” [1]

For all his expertise and the wisdom offered as to why high-speed rail as Obama has set forth makes little sense (I don’t disagree entirely), the “vision”, or more accurately, the lack thereof, is precisely what we cannot afford. What problem-free, simple, inexpensive, unanimously-agreed upon set of criteria will determine when the proper “distant moment in time” is upon us? Can we thus safely assume that there will be no intervening issues of any significance that might postpone that “distant moment in time” until a better “distant moment in time” (assuming, of course, that there will then be no intervening issues of any significance that might postpone that following “distant moment in time” until an even better and later “distant moment in time”)?

Hard to imagine, but someone might—just might—come up with his or her own laundry list of why that eventual “distant moment in time” ought to be postponed for just a bit longer … you know, until there’s a much better “distant moment in time.” At what point do our experts and leaders figure out that we actually ought to be thinking beyond next week?

It’s all fine and well to decry wasteful spending, but keep in mind that short-sighted and narrow-minded ideologies and policies carry long term consequences, too.

Now might be a good time to get the ball rolling instead. Of course, if the future doesn’t matter, then I’m fine with how things are right now. You?

A lot of us (performers, too) may find ourselves elated by our demonstration of wisdom way back when in good ‘ole 2011 in having decided that Now was the right time after all….

* Anyone interested in blues/rock music should check out Bonamassa, who by all indications has already garnered a great reputation as one of that genre’s best musicians … he is an outstanding guitarist! (No better endorsement than Eric Clapton having joined him on stage….)

[NOTE TO MY READERS: I leave tomorrow morning for a trip to New Orleans once again. This time, I’m traveling—along with my wife, her son and a friend of his—to celebrate my daughter’s college graduation later in the week. This will be my only post of the week, and I don’t expect to post again until later next week after my return on the 16th, following several days of catching up thereafter. Thanks]

Sources:

[1] http://www.newgeography.com/content/002163-the-end-line-ambitious-high-speed-rail-program-hits-buffer-fiscal-reality?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Newgeography+%28Newgeography.com+-+Economic%2C+demographic%2C+and+political+commentary+about+places%29; The End of the Line: Ambitious High-speed Rail Program Hits the Buffer of Fiscal Reality by Ken Orski – 04/01/2011

[NOTE: This series spins off from a recent series of posts in which I’ve discussed the need for all of us to move in a new direction as we anticipate the challenges to be confronted as a result of declining oil production in the years to come. The impact will be felt by all of us in one degree or another (a separate series, which began here and was re-established more recently here, addresses some of the day-to-day impacts.) It’s time to turn our attention to what the New Direction might be….]

~~~

“Clearly, we are entering into a prolonged period of profound change, an era of “unintended consequences.” The changes that are coming our way will profoundly alter not only how we live, but even how we conceive of ourselves, how we think about the world, and how we see the future. And not only will we have to learn to cope with severe disruption to our conception of ourselves and the world, but we will also need to forge a new vision of the world that we can live by. Where will that vision come from?” [1]

Well, at the risk of excessive and perhaps even off-the-chart arrogance, I’m thinking that someone has to start the broader discussion, so why not me, now? Before we can provide answers and solutions, we must first understand what is at stake and at least begin the dialogue. Since someone has to take the first step, I’m volunteering.

To that end, I thought it might make sense to provide a template for where I envision going with this discussion about Peak Oil and our future. I won’t pretend that every answer is the solution, but we have to begin somewhere….

“[I]n the tradition of Albert Einstein amongst others … it frequently is not the answer but the question that poses the deepest insight.” [2]

So here are my table-setters:

What kind of a nation do we want to be?

What do you want for yourself, now and in the days to come?

What kind of life are you looking forward to living, whether you are a recent graduate about to enter the workforce, an established professional, or are now in your later years?

What kind of community do you want to live in?

What kind of environment do you truly believe is most conducive to a life of opportunity and hoped-for prosperity?

Will you choose to fear change, or welcome it as an opportunity for you to play a greater part in using it for your own benefit as well as for others—in whatever manner offers the most meaning for you?

Do you want to feel as though you have a voice in what your life can and will be, or is being entirely at the mercy of others a better way to live?

Do you still harbor at least a bit of hope for better days to come?

What do you want for your children and grandchildren?

What answers will we provide for them in years to come when they are mired in the difficulties and challenges brought about by an ever- declining supply of fossil fuels and are wondering why we were so short-sighted and narrow-minded when we had so many opportunities to do more?

Choices….Opportunities….

I hope to provide some answers or at least some ideas for consideration, opening the door to the dialogue we must engage in soon. Others are more than welcome to join in. The lengthy, complex, and at times contentious discussions must begin.

The problems will not solve themselves. The scope and breadth of the impact which declining oil production will have on all of us necessitates that as many of us as possible become involved in whatever manner we feel most comfortable. We each have a voice and a contribution to offer. There is little doubt that achieving some semblance of national consensus on where we go, how we get there, and what we each and all must do is highly idealistic and in the moment, seemingly impossible to achieve and attain, but it is where we must eventually be.

Educating ourselves is step one, as I’ve previously noted (here).

“You’re either part of the solution or you’re part of the problem”
— attributed to Eldridge Cleaver, among others

“The standard response is that people are busy, and I get that. But as Isaac Chotiner persuasively argued a while back, ‘[W]hen you live in a democracy, there are very few good excuses for not having minimal knowledge about what is going on in the world….Voters can choose to be ignorant or disinterested, but that choice is fundamentally their own.’” [3]

“If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem, but the perpetual human predicament is that the answer soon poses its own problems.” (Sydney J. Harris)

It’s easy to see that both variations of the theme apply. There are no clear-cut solutions to challenges of this magnitude that will not create a not-always-beneficial domino effect across the industrial and political landscapes. But ignoring it all is no solution at all. Corny as it may be, we are the change, but spouting the slogan and doing nothing about it avails us little.

More importantly, we must move beyond just an awareness of key facts and considerations on these crucial topics and take it all one step further by understanding the philosophy behind the issues and proposals. Just as essential, we must then understand the (sound-bite free) consequences—the real ones … the ones based on facts, the ones that will affect you and your significant other and your children and your family and neighbors and community. As this series evolves, I’ll soon discuss ideas about exactly how we can become more involved and develop the skills we need to participate.

We can either choose to make our contribution—whatever it may be (no rules about that)—or we instead accept that others are going to make decisions for us—decisions they may or may not be qualified to make; decisions which they may or may not make with our best interests at heart. There’s a lot of that going around these days….

But as I have noted, that part of the process will only carry us so far if our leaders don’t meet us on that path by being honest with us, and there are too many indications that that is not the case. To that end, I then discussed in a 4-part series (first one here) the importance of sound, ethical, honest leadership … a likelihood which seems to recede from possibility a bit more each day.

The recent near-shutdown of our government highlights the intense and acrimonious partisanship which sadly dominates our public and political discourse. Can anyone confess to being happy with this? Are we—should we—be content to let the loudest (and too often, the most narrow-minded partisans) speak for us and thus dictate public policy which impacts the great majority of us far more than it does the Warren Buffetts and the Bill Gates and the Koch brothers of this world? Have we indeed become completely powerless in the face of the moneyed interests which too often and in too many ways dictate how “our” elected officials act? Is nonsense like Senator Jon Kyl’s recent, intentional lying about Planned Parenthood’s involvement in abortion practice so as to bolster (?!) his position what we must now meekly accept? Have “leaders” become that arrogant and uncaring about us? Is there any integrity left?

Isn’t there still a place for your viewpoint? Do you still want that opportunity?

Let’s give leaders our best so that their efforts merit the highest levels of respect and cooperation. While we’re at it, let’s be clearer about which values really matter the most. Can we be more inclusive than we now demonstrate? The more of us working together for the same purposes, sharing the same objectives and values, with same ends and purposes and aspirations to guide our efforts, the better off we’ll all be! Smaller groups sharing more limited and narrow-minded perspectives and values are creating only more strife. Given the challenges we’ll soon be facing, that’s not our highest and best strategy. (The more intent one is on preserving one’s perspective and viewpoint against all contrary opinions, no matter how valid they may be, the more likely that conflict is the only outcome. Is that really the best strategy?)

Are we so unwilling and insecure and frightened by what we are now dealing with that we simply cannot bring ourselves to admit that others may have better ideas and more knowledge and truth and facts? Are we instead willing to risk perpetual discord no matter what harm that causes us and others? Are we willing to decline the needed efforts and expertise of others because their personal lifestyle choices or nationalities or private religious beliefs or reasoned but contradictory political philosophies may not mesh neatly with our own? Seriously? At what point do we come to realize that narrow-minded ignorance is not the best face for us to put forth on the world stage?

What kind of a nation do we want to be?

We need a better vision to guide us. And for those looking for reasons why a smaller role for government is what’s called for, I’ll save you the time and tell you this is not the place to be. As the main theme of this series expands in the months to come, I’ll discuss in greater detail why the libertarian/conservative-inspired vision of small government is completely inappropriate a strategy to pursue in light of the challenges we face. (How a bigger role for a better government with honest leadership takes shape will determine whether this ideology is valuable and a necessary pursuit.) Let’s begin with all that needs to be done, and then decide what role the various players will be required to fulfill.

Once I resume this series*, I’ll be discussing a variety of issues pertinent to the Peak Oil challenges we’ll soon be facing. The basic premise as I move forward from that point will be a simple one: local/regional efforts, production, and governance will become critically important—both necessitating and providing opportunities for greater involvement on our parts—but federal guidelines, contribution, and vision must provide the framework for those efforts.

The policies and guidelines supporting those objectives will require a focus on such policies and principles as smart growth, more transportation options, and more research and implementation of alternative energy strategies—while educating ourselves and others of the great changes that will and must take place across all levels of industry, production, commerce, and lifestyles. To that end, there will be a great deal of discussion on greater citizen involvement, energy and industrial policies, the political/partisan elements which too often hinder and harm much more than they assist, and a more detailed role for local governments.

I hope you’ll find the offerings and discussions meaningful, if not provocative and helpful as a starting point for what we all need to do.

We’re so much better than what we’re demonstrating. We need to show it, because we are going to need to be better in the years to come.

“The point is that the way we live together now, the way we govern ourselves, the way we arrange our physical spaces and our commerce, the way we do economics and measure prosperity—all these have to be changed in creative ways if we want to achieve the goal of sustainable prosperity. All these changes require … wait for it … innovation. Innovations in the way we think, interact, and structure our lives require just as much imagination, intelligence, persistence, and funding as innovations in technology.” [4]

Crisis, or opportunity?

* I expect the next post in this series will be published on May 26. Meanwhile, enjoy the intervening posts, as part of my accompanying series about the impact of Peak Oil. I’ll continue to offer similar posts every now and then in the months to come. (I’m taking this detour because I will be away most of next week—along with my wife and others—attending and celebrating my lovely daughter’s college graduation in New Orleans.)

Sources:

[1] http://www.energybulletin.net/stories/2010-11-26/evolution-transition-us; The evolution of Transition in the U.S. Published by Transition Times on Fri, 11/26/2010 [Original article: http://transition-times.com/blog/2010/11/26/the-evolution-of-transition-in-the-u-s/ by Michael Brownlee]
[2] http://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2011/4/4/mobilitys-diminishing-returns.html; Mobility’s Diminishing Returns by Charles Marohn – April 4, 2011
[3] http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/archives/individual/2011_03/028551.php; PONDERING THE ‘HOW DUMB ARE WE?’ QUESTION by Steve Benen – March 21, 2011 [original quote, here: http://www.tnr.com/blog/jonathan-chait/76367/notes-the-average-voter]
[4] http://www.energybulletin.net/node/51627; Why Bill Gates is wrong by Grist – 02/17/2010

(A continuation of my two posts from last week)

In this third and final part of my look at The Hirsch Report, a series of “Wildcards” (all from p. 63) were offered which the authors believed might have the effect of either minimizing the adverse consequences of Peak Oil (“Upsides,” which were covered in my last post), or making it much worse (“Downsides”). I’ll offer a comment or two on the “Downsides” today, as they apply to current conditions.

“World oil production peaking is occurring now or will happen soon.”

Two words: Already there.

“Middle East reserves are much less than stated.”

As I wrote in Part 2 of this series on The Hirsch Report: “After decades of already-questionable representations and a complete inability for outside sources to verify those stated reserves, we shouldn’t be counting on more magical discoveries or even a half-rational explanation as to how Middle East reserves magically increased by substantial amounts when OPEC production quotas were changed in the 1980s to tie in with stated reserves: higher reserves = more oil allowed to be sold = more revenue.” What’s the more likely and logical answer? Seems pretty obvious to me….

“Terrorism stays at current levels or increases and concentrates on damaging oil production, transportation, refining and distribution.”

Terrorism is of course always an issue, sad to say. Given the current political turmoil throughout the Middle East, it may be a more pronounced consideration than it has been in recent years. More likely, however, the general discord in that region is cause enough for concerns about oil production and related issues. Recent price spikes are but one indication of how fragile our supply sources have become.

“Political instability in major oil producing countries results in unexpected, sustained world-scale oil shortages.”

Hello! As of this writing, significant sustained shortages are not an immediate concern, but there’s no doubt that if the upheavals in the Middle East spread into Saudi Arabia in particular, we may very well be dealing with that kind of a crisis very quickly.

“Market signals and terrorism delay the realization of peaking, delaying the initiation of mitigation.”

The same considerations stated above would apply here as well, although evidence that we’ve reached peak seems clear enough. Whether our leaders and the majority of citizens realize (or at least acknowledge) it is a different issue. Initiating mitigation is not a concern because we haven’t even gotten there, yet, and that is a problem having nothing to do with market signals or terrorists.

“Large-scale, sustained Middle East political instability hinders oil production.”

I’m thinking there isn’t a need for me to say much about this….

“Consumers demand even larger, less fuel-efficient cars and SUVs.”

There are indications that this is exactly what is happening now. I don’t think we’re prepared yet to underestimate the sense of entitlement which governs much of our behavior—notwithstanding a solid body of evidence about climate change and the ongoing challenges we face in providing adequate energy resources for increasing demand.

“Expansion of energy production is hindered by increasing environmental challenges, creating shortages beyond just liquid fuels.”

This is certainly within the realm of possibility. Increases in oil shale production here in the U.S., along with increased production from the tar sands of Canada notwithstanding, the amounts available now and for a number of years to come is not going to meet demand. Oil depletion from existing fields marches on, and just maintaining current levels of supply is challenging enough.

I won’t bother reiterating too many of the points I and others have raised in recent months about current oil supplies and future prospects. Suffice it to say, demand has exceeded discovery for several decades now; “giant” oil fields discovered in recent years aren’t even close to matching the giant oil finds of forty, fifty, and even seventy years ago. The fact that we continue to rely on those giants many, many decades after their discovery ought to raise at least one obvious question: How much longer can they produce at current/past rates? (See this good summary.)

I wrote this more than a year ago, and it’s safe to assume the situation is not any better today: “Cantarell in Mexico has long been considered of the supergiant oil fields on the planet. As recently as 2004 it was producing about 2.5 million barrels a day of oil, and about half of that was shipped here. Production has fallen off a cliff since then, and in 2 – 3 years, it’s expected that production will have declined by close to 80%. Aside from the enormous financial, political, and social problems that will create for our neighbor south of the border (Cantarell was the major source of income to the Mexican government), this also poses a dilemma for us. Where and how do we make up that shortfall?”

“According to the report [the International Energy Agency’s World Outlook 2010], by 2035 three quarters of currently operating oil fields won’t be producing anymore. In fact, current fields are only expected to account for less than one fifth of that year’s production.
“That leaves over 80 per cent of the IEA’s 2035 production projection coming from new oil fields, ones that either haven’t yet been developed or haven’t even been discovered. And the contribution from that undiscovered category alone is still far greater than the one from currently producing fields. That’s a tall order for new field discovery.
“Undeveloped or undiscovered oil fields, growth in tar sands production and increased reliance on natural gas liquids account for all the expected growth in world oil production over the next two and a half decades.” [1]

‘Nuff said.

Spin is good only for so much and for so long. The sooner we recognize the challenges we’ll be dealing with in the not-too-distant future, the sooner we can start having an intelligent, meaningful, and productive national dialogue about what we need to do. Now is as good a time as any, because later won’t be a better alternative.

Sources:

[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jeffrey-rubin/even-the-international-en_b_787450.html; Even the International Energy Agency Forecasts Peak Oil by Jeffrey Rubin – November 23, 2010