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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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Category: Hirsch Report

As I mentioned in my last post, there are some common threads running through the mostly nonsensical camps arguing against the reality that oil is a finite resource which is now on the downside of its maximum production rates … Peak Oil.

[NOTE: If you have not yet read this terrific article by James Quinn and you have even the remotest interest in the realities of our energy future, take a few minutes to do so.]

I outlined some of the initial red flags readers should be alert to when combing through material discussing Peak Oil. If an article contains some or all of the following buzzwords, it’s a good chance that the argument offered against Peak Oil is likely going to be an at-best disingenuous collection of partial truths with all the damning facts contradicting the assertions neatly omitted; or the “facts” within are not exactly the type of facts used by people here in reality.

(1) Peak Oil proponents/doomers are constantly spreading falsehoods that we will soon be “running out of oil.” [The deniers keep saying we are making those claims, when in fact only they are! We know that is not true, but it’s also not the issue!]

(2) We still have “vast” resources [or “giant”; “immense”; “entire new planets of”, etc. … the kind of “facts” you can’t assign numbers to.]

(3) Failure to put genuine facts in any kind of truthful context. [As cited in my last post, mentioning a find of 250 million barrels of oil as yet another sign that we Peak Oil nutcases are full of it conveniently fails to point out that a find like that one will meet three days’ worth of oil demand, and thus loses a fair amount of its impressive-sounding luster.] *

(4) The newest talking point: “The now-discredited theory of Peak Oil.” [Each time that assertion is offered, any credible authority substantiating that claim never gets mentioned, curiously enough. So the “now-discredited” part is actually the writer’s own fact-free assessment. Does save research time!]

* A glaring recent example of this comes from David Holt, President of the Consumer Energy Alliance, arguing in favor of more drilling in the Arctic [my emphasis added]:

Energy exploration in Alaska’s OCS, in both the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, is expected to produce 25 billion barrels of oil over the next 40 years. This is the equivalent of 2010 imports from Iraq and Russia combined. That production will also spur nearly $200 billion in government revenue from royalties and taxes, and 55,000 new jobs per year for generations.

Two comments on this disingenuous-at-best effort to inject meaningful facts into the dialogue:

(1) Take your handy calculator and do the math to discover just how many barrels per year Mr. Holt’s assertions will add to our energy supply (assuming full production at some distant point on the time horizon, while keeping in mind what might be involved in Arctic oil production; and the inconvenient fact that we use approximately 85 million barrels of oil per day);

(2) In reading the jobs claims Peak Oil deniers tout repeatedly, it would appear that only fossil fuel production and exploration produces tax revenue and creates jobs … go figure! (The comparison to imports from Russia and Iraq is important for apparently secret reasons.)

One of the “best” examples of Test Criteria # 5 comes from the same Clifford Krauss (New York Times) I mentioned in last week’s post (and more thoroughly here). In his most recent Peak Oil-related work, Mr. Krauss offered this gem of certainty [emphasis is mine]:

The United States may now have the means to reduce its half century of dependence on the Middle East. China and India may have the means to fuel the development of their growing middle classes. Japan and much of Europe may have the chance to reduce dependence on nuclear power. And, at least theoretically, poor African countries might be able to lift themselves out of poverty.

I may have a winning lottery ticket in my shirt pocket and thus may have the means to purchase my own private island and accordingly may have the chance to reduce my dependence on anyone else to provide anything for me at all; and at least theoretically, I might be the richest man on Earth (and while we’re at it: at least theoretically, pigs might start flying tomorrow).

The tap dance required by these advocates (of an apparently limitless supply of worry-free fossil fuel resources) to make claims with such certainty about complete uncertainties is exhausting to behold. If they weren’t doing so much harm to so many who do not and cannot be expected to have knowledge on this subject, the effort would be Monty Python-esque hilarious!

This kind of physics-defying contortions to make bold claims about nothing is not limited to Mr. Krauss (who, to be fair, has also written many fine pieces for the Times).  In one of several prior posts of mine, I highlighted this CNNMoney-Fortune Hall of Fame effort [emphasis added is mine]:

“There are many oil reserves around the globe that remain untapped, and explorers continue to discover new fields deep beneath the earth’s surface. Depending on how the controversy surrounding the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge turns out, the U.S. could exploit oil reserves in the area, despite potentially grave environmental consequences.”

I then noted that: “‘Depending’; ‘could’ … along with ‘might potentially’, ‘if’, ‘could be possible’, and an array of similar, carefully-worded utterly-lacking-in-certainty phrases are the apparent stock in trade for those denying those annoying facts about declining world oil production.’” (Glossing over “potentially grave environmental consequences” is in a category all by itself.) And perhaps an explanation as to what’s involved in getting to “new fields deep beneath the earth’s surface” might be a good idea?

That article is the poster child for denier nonsense, as I took pains to detail in that February 10, 2011 post. I can only assume that the purpose or intent is to offer semi-plausible assertions to those whom the authors fully expect to accept their claims unquestioningly, thus protecting whatever their ideological, financial, or business interests might be, and all with only the most minimal of efforts at sharing the truth.

Even if they were right and we do have at least several more decades of plentiful, easily-obtained, relatively inexpensive supplies of fossil fuels (which we don’t!), by what perverse notion of long-term thinking are they content to do absolutely nothing to begin the beyond-description complex transition away from fossil fuel dependency?

Anyone looking out their window and/or taking a quick peek at all the gizmos and gadgets inside would have to be completely delusional in failing to realize that almost everything we have, own, use, depend on is in some measure large or small a product of fossil fuel.

Just how much effort, time, money, planning, trial-and-erroring, marketing, producing, implementing, and transitioning to something other than fossil fuel dependency do these deniers think might be involved in swapping out this way of living for a non-fossil fuel existence? Full-blown denial and misrepresentation is their idea of contributing to our collective well-being (and their own)? Seriously?

The Hirsch Report (see this and also my series beginning here) is among the most influential energy studies undertaken in the past decade. A major conclusion reached by the authors left little doubt as to the depth and breadth of challenges we will face (deniers included).

The peaking of world oil production presents the U.S. and the world with an unprecedented risk management problem. As peaking is approached, liquid fuel prices and price volatility will increase dramatically, and, without timely mitigation, the economic, social, and political costs will be unprecedented. Viable mitigation options exist on both the supply and demand sides, but to have substantial impact, they must be initiated more than a decade in advance of peaking.
Mitigation will require an intense effort over decades. This inescapable conclusion is based on the time required to replace vast numbers of liquid fuel consuming vehicles and the time required to build a substantial number of substitute fuel production facilities.  Our scenarios analysis shows:

• Waiting until world oil production peaks before taking crash program action would leave the world with a significant liquid fuel deficit for more than two decades.

• Initiating a mitigation crash program 10 years before world oil peaking helps considerably but still leaves a liquid fuels shortfall roughly a decade after the time that oil would have peaked.

• Initiating a mitigation crash program 20 years before peaking appears to offer the possibility of avoiding a world liquid fuels shortfall for the forecast period.

The obvious conclusion from this analysis is that with adequate, timely mitigation, the economic costs to the world can be minimized. If mitigation were to be too little, too late, world supply/demand balance will be achieved through massive demand destruction (shortages), which would translate to significant economic hardship.

There will be no quick fixes. Even crash programs will require more than a decade to yield substantial relief.

Is it really in anyone’s best interests to instead rely upon a host of head-in-the-sand “mights” and “possiblys” and “may haves” and “coulds”?

Worth pondering?

More to come….

Happy Thanksgiving!

(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

(A continuation of Monday’s post.)

In this second part of my look at The Hirsch Report, I’d like to focus on the advice and conclusions Dr. Hirsch and his colleagues offered, as they now apply to current conditions.

“It is possible that peaking may not occur for several decades, but it is also possible that peaking may occur in the near future. “We are thus faced with a daunting risk management problem:
• On the one hand, mitigation initiated soon would be premature if peaking is still several decades away.
• On the other hand, if peaking is imminent, failure to initiate mitigation quickly will have significant economic and social costs to the U.S. and the world.
“The two risks are asymmetric:
Mitigation actions initiated prematurely will be costly and could result in a poor use of resources.
Late initiation of mitigation may result in severe consequences.” [p. 59-60]

Given the magnitude of the transition away from a fossil fuel-based economy to one in all likelihood requiring combinations of alternative sources of energy—depending on the region and industry—it’s fair to wonder whether any mitigation efforts can be considered “premature” at this point. With 70% of our transportation needs currently being met by fossil fuels, the effort to convert and/or implement alternative plans to satisfy that personal and commercial demand alone will require years of effort … more than a decade in all probability. At this point, absent some magical intervention by energy angels, we are simply too late into the game to prepare ourselves for an effortless shift away from fossil fuels.

That being the case, the sooner we begin the process of planning and implementing (with due regard for the testing and ramping up of new sources of energy), the fewer problems we will nonetheless have to contend with, and the lesser their severity … I hope. It makes no sense to delay for any reason at this point, as we can be certain that there will be some disruptions to our economy, industrial production, and lifestyles as the full brunt of declining oil production seeps inexorably into almost every facet of our ways of life.

There are almost no legitimate assessments which suggest we’re still decades away from Peak Oil. Any time frame shorter than that will be a problem. Let’s not add more problems on purpose because of ignorance or delusion that a rescue is just around the corner, or that we can afford to wait. We can’t.

While we still have at least a sufficient supply of fossil fuel resources, let’s begin the process of re-designing/re-creating our transportation and industrial infrastructures to accommodate alternative energies. Diverting existing resources to those efforts will cause enough hardship as it is. Let’s not make it any worse for ourselves by waiting for the resource pie to get even smaller.

The Hirsch Report offered up a series of “Wildcards” (all from p. 63) which might have the effect of either minimizing the adverse consequences of Peak Oil (“Upsides”), or making it much worse (“Downsides”). I’ll offer a comment or two on each, starting with his “Upsides” in this post. I’ll cover the “Downsides” in my next post.

“The pessimists are wrong again and peaking does not occur for many decades.”

The simple answer is that this wish and hope is extremely unlikely at this point. I’ve yet to come across a single credible report from any authoritative source suggesting anything of the kind. Given that the International Energy Agency ‘s World Energy Outlook 2010 report concluded that Peak Oil occurred five years ago, this is probably not a good bet. (See this and this.)

“Middle East oil reserves are much higher than publicly stated.”

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. Funny how that all worked out….

“A number of new super-giant oil fields are found and brought into production, well before oil peaking might otherwise have occurred.”

After decades of exploration with all the advanced technology available (and several decades of demand exceeding discoveries—see this), it would be borderline delusional to think that there might still be any such fields remaining. Most recent discoveries of “giant” oil fields turn out to be not nearly as impressive when those annoying facts are added to the discussion.

“High world oil prices over a sustained period (a decade or more) induce a higher level of structural conservation and energy efficiency.”

While energy efficiency (including higher mileage standards) are more frequently discussed, there are indications that the auto industry is already balking at raising mileage standards, and that consumers are not exactly racing to purchase the most fuel-efficient automobiles. With one of our major political parties having already taken the oh-so-mature and visionary step of returning Styrofoam packaging to the House of Representatives’ cafeteria rather than continuing to use recyclable materials (they sure showed us, right?), the education process is a long way from being complete.

“The U.S. and other nations decide to institute significantly more stringent fuel efficiency standards well before world oil peaking.”

A legitimate question to ask is: What’s the likelihood of getting any such agreement at this point? We can’t get everyone (meaning the fact-free GOP) to get on board with greenhouse gas emission standards … we can’t even get them to accept climate facts! “Drill, baby, drill” sums up their energy policy … facts about its at-best questionable value as a solution notwithstanding, of course.

“World economic and population growth slows and future demand is much less than anticipated.”

A possibility, of course. One has to wonder if slowing economic growth is what any of us should be actively rooting for, however. The truth is that it’s likely going to happen in any event. I’m advocating that we ought to actually plan ahead for that eventuality rather than just “count” on it as a possible solution to Peak Oil. I won’t go down the road of population growth except to state that it might be wise for at least some of our leaders here—and across the planet, for that matter—to at least wonder once in a while just how many resources they think this planet has left to provide for an approaching nine billion citizens.

“China and India decide to institute vehicle efficiency standards and other energy efficiency requirements, reducing the rate of growth of their oil requirements.”

Clearly this is not beyond the realm of possibility (and certainly China has taken many steps already in that direction as it is, exhibiting an understanding about the need for energy efficiency and the future which seems notably lacking here in the States—highlighted by a recent Pew Research Center report indicating that China now accounts for almost half of the world’s solar modules and wind turbines). That option alone won’t do the trick, however. But any contributions from major population and energy-consumption regions are a step in the right direction.

“Oil prices stay at a high enough level on a sustained basis so that industry begins construction of substitute fuels plants well before oil peaking.”

Two words: too late. Besides, sustained high fuel prices will curtail demand, which curtails profits, which curtails incentives for investments, which….

“Huge new reserves of natural gas are discovered, a portion of which is converted to liquid fuels.” See this recent post.

“Some kind of scientific breakthrough comes into commercial use, mitigating oil demand well before oil production peaks.”

Two words: too late. For all the astonishing technological breakthroughs mankind has introduced into the marketplace, hoping for that breakthrough here and now which will quickly replace a substantial majority of the 80+ million barrels of oil we use each and every day borders on the insane. Hoping for it to even slowly replace that oil is not much better. Certainly there is a great deal of research and innovation taking place as I write this (not nearly enough in the United States, unfortunately … tough to do when funding is reduced because the Magic Economic Fairy has decided that doing less for our future prospects is the best way to ensure more for our future), but we are many, many years away from successful invention, production, testing, implementation, and full commercialization of anything that could do the trick. Miracles do happen now and then, but if that’s our primary strategy, we are in some deep sh_t.

Crisis, or opportunity?

To be continued….

~~~

As I have been consistently urging in most of my posts in recent months, planning for what happens in the wake of Peak Oil’s arrival must become a national priority—and not just one for Congress. This is an all-hands-on-deck necessity, and every day we choose not to begin the complex, lengthy process of figuring out how to adjust to a world where the basic energy source for almost everything that we’ve produced in the last 100+ years will no longer be available as we’ve come to expect and demand is another day of almost certain difficulty for all of us. That’s not a good formula for growth and prosperity in the years to come.

Given what is at stake, I thought it might help readers new to the Peak Oil discussion to review the observations and suggestions of one of the seminal works of the past decade (see a prior discussion here). Back in 2005, energy advisor Robert L. Hirsch and his colleagues, on behalf of the federal government, issued a report entitled “The Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation & Risk Management”—commonly cited as the Hirsch Report—sponsored by the National Energy Technology Laboratory of the Department of Energy (PDF here). The Hirsch Report offered an informative assessment of the then-current state of oil/fossil fuel production in the early part of the 21st Century. Of greater importance, it presented a clear warning about the potential consequences if we all fail to plan for the day when oil production has begun its inevitable slide down the slope from its peak.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), peak oil production occurred about a year after the Hirsch Report was released. Not good.

The Hirsch Report begins with a stark advisory:

“The peaking of world oil production presents the U.S. and the world with an unprecedented risk management problem. As peaking is approached, liquid fuel prices and price volatility will increase dramatically, and, without timely mitigation, the economic, social, and political costs will be unprecedented. Viable mitigation options exist on both the supply and demand sides, but to have substantial impact, they must be initiated more than a decade in advance of peaking.
“Dealing with world oil production peaking will be extremely complex, involve literally trillions of dollars and require many years of intense effort.” [p. 4]

Among its key recommendations, the Report suggested that a “crash-course” of mitigation efforts would need to be undertaken at least a full decade before Peak Oil’s arrival in order to avoid many if not all of the drastic challenges and consequences brought about by declining oil production and the availability of fossil fuels to meet our (increasing) needs. If the IEA assessment is correct—and there’s no reason to believe it is not substantially accurate as is—then we are already five years behind in preparing ourselves. Not good.

“Intervention by governments will be required, because the economic and social implications of oil peaking would otherwise be chaotic.” [p. 5]

“Prudent risk management requires the planning and implementation of mitigation well before peaking. Early mitigation will almost certainly be less expensive than delayed mitigation.” [p. 6]

That’s just for starters. “Less expensive” seems to be out as an option for us now. What kind of “intervention” by governments might be needed has by all indications not yet been considered—at least publicly, as I discussed in my last post. That should be cause for concern.

A quick acknowledgement about how much of our nation’s transportation depends on a ready supply of inexpensive gas and oil suggests even to the entirely uninformed that adapting to the post-Peak Oil world is at a minimum going to be a monumental undertaking of almost-indescribable complexity … in other words, a big challenge! The transportation aspect is not just about dependence on our personal vehicles, either. A significant percentage of our produced goods are transported via trucked freight, and there’s a fair amount of air travel to keep in mind as well. This sobering observation offers plenty of motivation:

“We cannot conceive of any affordable government-sponsored “crash program” to accelerate normal replacement schedules so as to incorporate higher energy efficiency technologies into the privately-owned transportation sector; significant improvements in energy efficiency will thus be inherently time-consuming (of the order of a decade or more).” [p. 24]

So what’s the Plan? Business as usual and a whole lotta hope ought to be off the table already. Denial and ignoring it in the hopes it will just go away aren’t of much help, either. Three questions posed to readers [p. 10] when the report was issued have even greater relevance today. Do we have answers yet?

“What are the risks of heavy reliance on optimistic world oil production peaking projections?
“Must we wait for the onset of oil shortages before actions are taken?
“What can be done to ensure that prudent mitigation is initiated on a timely basis?”

Optimism is fine and well … up to a point. Believing that we’re doomed is not the best starting point, so a recognition that with great, concerted effort we may still be able to count on our nation’s great intellectual and cultural resources to lead the way is certainly advisable. But that notion alone, without planning and then implementation, is not much more than an empty platitude. Obviously waiting until we’re up to our eyeballs in Peak Oil’s impact and consequences is not the preferred approach, but time’s a-wastin’. We’re damn close to that point now.

“[D]oing the research required to bring new technologies to commercial readiness takes time under the best of
circumstances. Thereafter, more than a decade of intense implementation will be required for world scale impact, because of the inherently large scale of world oil consumption.” [p. 7]

Ensuring prudent mitigation is one of the key topics I’ll be devoting scores of posts to in the coming weeks and months. Suffice it to say, leaving it all up to our nearly-useless Congress without a great deal more involvement on our parts is a sure strategy for not-so-pleasant consequences which I don’t want to give even a first thought to. We need to start having difficult, painful, but honest public conversations about what happens in the years to come when the oil and gas we rely on every day is simply no longer as available as it has been for decades. There’s no getting around that fact.

“Waiting until world oil production peaks before taking crash program action leaves the world with a significant liquid fuel deficit for more than two decades.” [p. 59]

That outcome ought to be scaring the bejesus out of us right about now—to least enough for us and our leadership to get off our asses and start having those conversations and putting plans into place starting today. That phase alone is going to take many months of thoughtful consideration and an examination and understanding of what makes our industries productive and successful, and in turn affords us the myriad options and opportunities we’ve enjoyed for decades. Plan B for all of that is not going to be the end result of a couple of chats at someone’s weekend retreat.

The concluding advisory is not comforting given how inadequate our preparation has been to date:

“In summary, the problem of the peaking of world conventional oil production is unlike any yet faced by modern industrial society. The challenges and uncertainties need to be much better understood. Technologies exist to mitigate the problem. Timely, aggressive risk management will be essential.” [p. 7]

We’ve past the point where “aggressive” is called for. Whatever comes after aggressive is where we need to be, and soon.

I don’t like the thought of crash-program anything, but with oil production having at a minimum plateaued half a decade ago, the signs are not good for a return to business as usual. A minor bump-up in production from oil shale is not a reason for concluding that the Peak Oil problem can again be put to bed. We need to have the courage and wisdom to recognize that, and then begin the process of putting our magnificent talents and the ethics and creativity of our peers to work as we lead the way into the post-Peak Oil world.

Crisis, or opportunity?

To be continued….

[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 recently had the good fortune to visit my daughter at the university she attends in New Orleans. Scheduled many months ago, the trip was designed to coincide with the spectacular Mardi Gras festival which serves as a grand and delightful marker for a city too often associated instead with the ravages of Hurricane Katrina. Although the weather was not as cooperative as we would have liked during the four days of my trip (tornado warnings on the night of Mardi Gras dampened at least my enthusiasm to wander around the French Quarter), I nonetheless caught my fair share of beads during one of the amazing parades that wind their way down St. Charles Avenue, while taking in many other sights and sounds of the celebrations.

It’s an incredible event, wildly entertaining and just plain wilder than one can imagine. Reports indicated that it drew upwards of a million revelers to this unique city—the most since Katrina struck in 2005.

Being as involved with the subject of Peak Oil as I am these days, I soon enough found myself wondering what happens to this spectacle once we are fully engulfed by the effects of ever-declining oil production.

Last summer, I took an initial look at air travel. Among others, I posed the following question: “What decisions are the various transportation industries—freight and aviation in particular—going to be faced with when the worldwide supply of oil cannot ever match demand again? Who decides which of those two will have priority? It’s unlikely that only one industry will have all of its demand met, so that means both industries will suffer reductions in what is available to them. Then what?”

What does happen a few short years down the road when we have nowhere near the same amounts of fossil fuels at our disposal (and/or at prices even remotely affordable) to travel to New Orleans, and when those who design and operate the hundreds of floats and tractors and emergency vehicles that are part and parcel of the Mardi Gras festivities are now at the mercy of fuel prices that have doubled? Tripled? Quadrupled? Hundreds of gas-sucking vehicles crawling along a 5 or 7 mile parade route run up a serious gas/diesel tab in today’s economy.

Then what indeed? A reasonable several hundred dollar round trip air fare from Boston to New Orleans during this celebration is likely going to be a lot more expensive in years to come, and most likely prohibitively expensive for the vast majority of visitors. Granted, many thousands may still find ways to get there, but you can be certain that if air fares have spiked through the roof in a few years, gas prices for our automobiles won’t be far behind. Are citizens who live even just a few hundred miles away going to want to pay $6.00, $8.00, $11.00 for a gallon of gas to go to a festival? Is something like Mardi Gras going to be any kind of priority for most?

Given the dazzling levels of shortsightedness on display by those who balk at investing in mass transit and/or high-speed rail, what options might be available in a half-dozen or so years from now (not that mass transit will be in place in so short a period of time)? Anyone thinking that we’ll just rev’ up design, production, and construction in a week or two is even more delusional than imaginable. Those are investments (among others) which must begin now.

A determined segment of leaders are hell-bent on cutting funding for alternative energy research and transportation—among many other categories vital to our future well-being—and are doing so contrary to what most polls state that Americans want. What’s going on? If they succeed in their efforts, what then? Can we all just rely on whatever magical technology these officials seem to believe will come flying to the rescue in years ahead? Are there some special alternatives that are going to be envisioned, designed, produced, and implemented successfully, commercially, and nationally overnight? Is that the plan for those so determined to cut spending so as to preserve tax benefits for the oil companies and multi-millionaires among us? Is that what we’re about?

The Mardi Gras pumps hundreds of millions of dollars into the New Orleans economy. Not too difficult to imagine that city more so than most, and its industry leaders, count on that revenue more than just a little. What’s the ripple effect to New Orleans and its businesses when hundreds of millions of dollars are not-so-suddenly reduced by half, or more, simply because most attendees can no longer (or choose to no longer) afford the travel and lodging costs? What city services will be placed on the chopping block? How many more will suffer?

What of the restaurants and hotels that likewise depend on Mardi Gras? It was almost impossible to find lodging in the few months leading up to Mardi Gras unless you were willing to pay some seriously jacked-up prices and travel a long way into New Orleans each day. Many, many fewer patrons represent a tremendous hit to the bottom lines of those in the lodging and food service industries.

Many if not most of those retailers depend on tractor-trailers to deliver or transport supplies. Can you say diesel fuel price hikes? It’s hard to imagine that either the transportation industry or the lodging and restaurant industries are each going to absorb on their own the increased fuel prices (another domino effect which comes into play when supply no longer satisfies demand). As freight delivery charges increase and are passed on to end-users such as hotels and restaurants, and food costs themselves increase because the fossil fuels needed to provide fertilizers and a host of other “ingredients” of food production have likewise climbed into new territory (while the quantity of the fossil fuels themselves are on the decline), the unpleasant outcome is fairly obvious.

What happens to the taxi drivers who escort all these new patrons who descend on their city? (Based on my conversations with several of them however, the drivers have decidedly mixed feelings about Mardi Gras, given the logistical nightmares they must deal with every time a parade route or street-cleaning crew cuts off their travel options.)

I usually rent a car when I travel to New Orleans to visit my daughter. She cautioned me against doing so during Mardi Gras. Heeding her advice, I made do with buses, the partially-available street car lines, or a good pair of sneakers to get me around during my stay. I had the choice of taking a cab or the airport shuttle to get me to/from the city. I opted for the latter. The 55-minute or so trip from pick-up on campus to a half-dozen or so hotel stops en route to the airport when I left was by contrast a two and a half hour “adventure” when I first arrived.

Getting dropped off at my daughter’s school was the last of 8 stops the shuttle made in New Orleans after we left the airport. It seemed that almost every street was closed off that Saturday afternoon either by police barricades, an actual parade, or the random hoards of street cleaning crews which materialized seemingly out of thin air on multiple occasions as we wound our way through the city proper. At one point, although we were only four cars from a Canal Street intersection, those crews held up the shuttle van through four consecutive light cycles! That is a lot of wasted fuel….No doubt the very reasonable $40.00 or so round trip shuttle fare is going to also be a lot more expensive in years to come—assuming they (and the taxi drivers) have access to the fuel they need as and when needed. No guarantees….

Hundreds if not thousands of merchants, from street vendors on up to retail stores in and around the French Quarter, also no doubt depend on Mardi Gras revenue to bolster their bottom line. Whatever merchandise they offer is also most likely trucked in from somewhere else. Those suppliers won’t be immune to increased fuel prices and/or limitations on availability, and that means at least one entity somewhere along the supply chain is going to wind up paying, and then passing the costs along.

And the employees of the countless industries who depend on events like the Mardi Gras for a substantial portion of their annual income (keeping in mind that Peak Oil is not limited to impacting just the Mardi Gras festival while other lesser events and conventions escape unscathed)? When all of these increased prices are absorbed and then passed on to the ultimate end-users, more than a substantial percentage of those businesses are not going to be able to endure the increases or supply restrictions or lack of buyers because consumers no longer want to pay the higher prices. And that then means that more than a fair amount of employees and business owners are going to find themselves looking for work elsewhere. A lot of dominoes tumble when people are out of work … no need to elaborate.

“Just do something to lower fuel prices and none of this will be a problem” is a wonderful strategy and solution … if you don’t mind living in some alternate reality. Here on earth, however, these declining oil production consequences all inevitable, logical, and unavoidable—despite heavy doses of political grandstanding.

We can either duck for cover, or start appreciating the tasks at hand and get busy adding our voices and offering productive input into the almost-inconceivably complex planning and implementing Peak Oil will mandate—regardless of political ideology.

It is, as mentioned repeatedly, time to get busy.

More to come….

In a number of prior posts, including my post from earlier this week, I have tried to impress upon readers of this blog the urgent need for planning. In a future world that was once created, maintained, and enhanced by fossil fuel resources at every step, we’re going to have to devise means and methods to achieve many of the same functions without oil to sustain the efforts. That is no easy task.

Certainly we will help the cause by paying attention to our energy usage and by finding ways to conserve, starting right now. Every measure will help. If we don’t have the basic energy resource (oil) available to us to power our industrial economy in all its facets, then obviously “alternative” energy resources will have to step in as substitutes.

There’s one serious problem: we don’t have alternative energy resources anywhere near the quality, quantity, or scale to serve as an appropriate substitute. That’s Gigantic Hurdle Number One, and we’re not going to clear that bar any time soon absent a legitimately miraculous discovery in the near term; or a massive, nation-wide commitment to make the transition away from our oil-powered economy—with all the research, design, testing, implementation, and sacrifice that entails. The latter is very likely the one we’ll have to depend on, sooner or later. Sooner is the better option.

As mentioned in my last post, as have others, the Hirsch Report was quite clear that mitigation efforts designed to transition away from oil as the foundation of economic growth and industrial production required an all-hands-on-deck twenty year process. With Peak Oil now, apparently, a few years past already, we’ve got a calendar problem. Those mitigation efforts would have had to begin about a quarter of a century ago. Turning back the clock has never been an option, and it’s not available now, either.

“Achieving any really significant percentage of renewable energy contribution to current consumption levels appears to be next to impossible. Current efforts to try and achieve this impossible target require ever more massive and complex machinery and higher and higher inputs of, increasingly scarcer materials and fossil energy to achieve.
“The point is very simply that an enormous amount of fossil energy is required to manufacture, install and operate all forms of renewable energy systems. Without the input of fossil fuel the existing renewable energy projects could never have been built and could not be maintained in operation.” [1]

Worldwide discovery of oil peaked more than three decades ago. Every year since, we have been using a lot more oil than we’re finding. Spin that any way you’d like, it’s still bad math. Approximately two-thirds of the countries producing oil (including the U.S.) have now—or long ago—reached peak production. That math doesn’t work any better.

As the remaining major oil producers continue to expand their own economies and serve their citizenry, the amount of oil they will have left over to only then export to countries like our own will decline. Whatever sense of entitlement we might insist upon won’t be worth much when that reality intrudes. That’s a grand social psychology problem we’re not close to recognizing. We’ve always gotten whatever we need … sometimes just because we wanted “it.” There will be a lot of whining and complaining in the years to come when the realization dawns on us that “just because” is no longer good enough. The citizens of the world have every reason to expect or desire growth and prosperity for themselves. And I don’t foresee the peoples of developing nations deciding en masse to forestall progress so that Americans can continue to gorge themselves at the world’s expense. That may not be a happy message to receive, but it’s an honest one.

And let’s not forget that finding and producing the same quality and quantities of oil that has sustained us to this point is only going to be more difficult; which of course also means more expensive. Oil producers won’t be absorbing those higher costs out of the goodness of their hearts, either. We’ll be paying for that.

But so far we have no strategies to address these real-life consequences of peak oil production. The ones we are employing (because we have no alternatives), make less sense as time passes.

“What is crazy and wasteful is that the U.S. and other countries are still building car assembly plants, roads, highways, parking lots, suburban housing developments, and airplanes as though cheap oil will last forever (Brown 2009). We continue to make investments in an infrastructure that will be superfluous shortly after we build it. This is an example of a market that is failing because it does not anticipate even short-term changes.” [2]

What’s a better approach, as we continue to seek ways to pull ourselves out from the depths and burdens of this ongoing Great Recession (and no, tax cuts for the wealthiest few hundred among us really is not the solution)? Perhaps our national leaders might consider the opportunities to redress the myriad infrastructure repair and maintenance issues with an intense focus on adapting that infrastructure to a world where fossil fuels are no longer available to power or sustain it—and us. Relying on the normal resources is painfully short-sighted now. Certainly a reliance on hands-off government for an undertaking this complex is pointless to argue or consider. An unfettered corporate world cannot begin to handle the myriad aspects of this nearly-incomprehensible conversion.

More planning might be a good idea right about now, before we throw money and fossil fuel resources at problems that desperately require our attention.

Other nations, notably China, seem much more capable and willing to prepare themselves for a new energy culture than we are. That’s a problem now, and it’s going to become an even greater and more pervasive problem for us down the road unless we start getting our national act together. But no one wants to take that first giant step to explain to Americans that we’ve got a brewing challenge ahead, one that will too quickly morph into a crisis unless we start doing things differently … now.

“‘China right now is preparing to roll out electric cars, lithium ion batteries, solar cells, cellulosic ethanol. This is where the future of energy is. We’ve a finite resource in oil, just like we had a finite resource in whale oil, and we made a transition,’ said [Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.)]. ‘And we have to really focus our national energies in a bipartisan way, I would hope, on finding our way to compete with China to really build new energy sources of the future.’”

“President Obama has made a similar case repeatedly in recent years, stressing the fact that countries like China and India ‘aren’t playing for second place.’ There’s a gut-level appeal to messages like these, at least there might be, targeting a certain nationalistic impulse — advancing America’s interests isn’t just about a debate over the size of government, it’s also about positioning the United States as a world leader in a competitive landscape.” [3]

The opportunities are still there, daunting though they may be. But unless and until we come to some national recognition about what the real world is going to be like for all us—Republicans, Democrats, You-Name-Its—we cannot hope to prepare ourselves for the massive changes that will confront us in the years ahead. Can we still lead? Will we?

The song remains the same: crisis, or opportunity?

Sources:

[1] http://www.energybulletin.net/stories/2010-11-25/how-sustainable-renewable-energy; How sustainable is renewable energy? by Roger Adair
[2] http://sustainability-ayersj.blogspot.com/2010/11/peak-oil-3-national-and-global.html; Peak Oil 3: National and Global Production Peaks of Oil and Other Resources by John Ayers
[3] http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/archives/individual/2010_11/026813.php; THE GLOBAL-COMPETITION ARGUMENT by Steve Benen

“The world has never confronted a problem like this, and the failure to act on a timely basis could have debilitating impacts on the world economy. Risk minimization requires the implementation of mitigation measures well prior to peaking. Since it is uncertain when peaking will occur, the challenge is indeed significant.” – The Hirsch Report [PDF here], 2005

The number of reports and opinions suggesting that we are near or have already passed Peak Oil continues to grow. (See this most recent one, for example.) The International Energy Agency’s chief economist, Fatih Birol, has been dropping more than his fair share of hints in the past couple of years, including this comment:

“[W]e have to leave oil before it leaves us, and we have to prepare ourselves for that day. The earlier we start the better….”

Several weeks ago, The Australia Institute published a report urging that nations begin serious preparation for a transition away from fossil fuels, an implicit recognition that Peak Oil is indeed a fact and not a theory subject to rational disagreement.

“This paper argues that the time for the world to worry about peak oil is now, while there is a window of opportunity to do something about it. It does not make economic or social sense to delay action until prices are already rising sharply.”

And you can be sure that once prices begin rising “sharply,” it’s a likely indicator that the ready supply of cheap oil is now being curtailed once and for all, and that we have reached peak oil production (which we probably already have). The efforts needed in transitioning from a fossil-fuel based industrialized society to one dependent instead on whatever alternatives are eventually determined to be the most appropriate (but likely inferior) energy sources will undoubtedly cost trillions, and will take years and years to be fully developed and implemented. Too many of us don’t have a clue as to what’s involved. Attempting all of this on the downside of oil production will make the challenges infinitely more difficult. The fact that we haven’t begun to address this with anywhere near the measures of urgency required isn’t helpful.

The post-peak oil world is not one we’ll enter easily, quietly, inexpensively, or quickly.

Those who advocate letting the market dictate how this will all come to fruition conveniently neglect to explain these factors. Expecting that an increase in fuel prices will simply lead to more exploration or the development of alternative sources of energy is not exactly that simple. Alternatives won’t appear out of thin air, fully tested and ready for full public and industrial consumption a few weeks down the road. Those processes likewise take years. Coupled with the fact that investments in energy production has been significantly curtailed during this economic downturn, much more “catching up” is needed just to keep pace, let alone try and get ahead of the curve.

The Hirsch report was quite clear that a 20 year head start before the onset of Peak Oil was the best option for achieving a non-disruptive transition away from a fossil fuel economy. An all-hands-on-deck ten year effort was the next best option, but clearly not one without significant impact on our ways of life and production. Anyone who rationally thinks that we still have enough “time” to effect a seamless conversion from a fossil-fuel based industrialized society to its replacement is delusional; but that’s not to argue in favor of now doing nothing and just hoping for the best.

We’ll need the tools and resources we have now in order to develop, produce, and put into place all that must be revised/created in order for us to properly and successfully adapt to an industrialized world that uses something other than fossil fuel as its primary source of energy and production. And that means we’ll need a lot of existing fossil fuel resources to undertake that process—an additional burden on demand that needs to be taken into account.

We’re past the point of waiting until some better set of circumstances.

Dr. Hirsch’s asked his readers to consider three key issues:

“• What are the risks of heavy reliance on optimistic world oil production peaking projections?
“• Must we wait for the onset of oil shortages before actions are taken?
“• What can be done to ensure that prudent mitigation is initiated on a timely basis?”

His replies were almost self-evident, (and Sharon Astyk highlighted this simple truth for us in her wonderful post last week):

“The obvious conclusion from this analysis is that with adequate, timely mitigation, the economic costs to the world can be minimized. If mitigation were to be too little, too late, world supply/demand balance will be achieved through massive demand destruction (shortages), which would translate to significant economic hardship.
“There will be no quick fixes. Even crash programs will require more than a decade [my emphasis] to yield substantial relief.”

The Australia report is just as emphatic in stressing the obvious benefits of undertaking the massive transition now:

“As with climate change, the most cost-effective response to the inevitable but uncertain timing of peak oil is to invest in early adaptation. It will be impossible to redesign cities, switch the vehicle fleet to new forms of fuel and transform the location decisions of producers in a timely manner after the oil supply has peaked. Early investment in adaptation measures will pay high dividends in the future, whether in response to peak oil, climate change or simply better city design and reduced congestion on roads.”

The choices are clear: start the almost unimaginably complex, multi-year, incredibly expensive transition away from an economy built on easily available and usually inexpensive fossil fuels to one that we have not invested nearly enough time, thought, or resources to develop as it is; or wait and be overwhelmed by the enormity of those undertakings when we are even more poorly prepared than we are now. The tendency to seek relief for immediate needs in the face of calamity is exactly the wrong thing for us to do with the onset of Peak Oil production. The only way we can provide some assurances of continuing “prosperity” is to plan for the long term quickly, and then start the process of transition immediately. Local efforts or market solutions are not the way to go. We need more leaders who understand this.

And let’s not forget this fly in the ointment (the nonsense of and from right-wing deniers notwithstanding):

“[P]eak oil will make solving climate change much more difficult, because all the solutions to climate change require that we build new infrastructures, new power plants, new solar technologies, new transportation systems, and new buildings that will all be more difficult and more expensive to accomplish after we pass peak. Furthermore, if we tried to address the energy challenges of peak oil by using more coal, oil sands, or oil shale, this could rapidly accelerate climate change. It is critical that we address our coming energy challenges in a way that does not make climate change worse.” [1]

Quite the set of challenges! Time to get started … so what is it going to take?

Source:

[1] http://www.energybulletin.net/node/47670 – Q&A: Peak Oil and Public Health by Tim Parsons (interviewer) with Brian Schwartz, MD

Worth noting:

As a follow-up to last week’s post about Robert Hirsch and Charles Maxwell, two related interviews with Robert Hirsch found their way into the blogosphere and are well worth reading.

http://petrole.blog.lemonde.fr/2010/09/16/interview-with-robert-l-hirsch-12/

http://petrole.blog.lemonde.fr/2010/09/16/interview-with-robert-l-hirsch-22/

“What is not yet widely appreciated is that rehabilitation from our oil addiction will take 50 years. That is how long past transitions to new energy sources took because that’s how long it takes to replace the infrastructure that produces and consumes energy.” [1]

Several years ago, in a seminal, well-regarded, and oft-cited project (“The Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation & Risk Management”—commonly cited as the Hirsch Report) sponsored by the National Energy Technology Laboratory of the Department of Energy (PDF here), energy advisor Robert L. Hirsch and his colleagues issued a challenge of sorts, after setting forth a fundamental but daunting truth at the outset:

“The peaking of world oil production presents the U.S. and the world with an unprecedented risk management problem. As peaking is approached, liquid fuel prices and price volatility will increase dramatically, and, without timely mitigation, the economic, social, and political costs will be unprecedented. Viable mitigation options exist on both the supply and demand sides, but to have substantial impact, they must be initiated more than a decade in advance of peaking.”

“Mitigation will require an intense effort over decades. This inescapable conclusion is based on the time required to replace vast numbers of liquid fuel consuming vehicles and the time required to build a substantial number of substitute fuel production facilities. Our scenarios analysis shows:

• Waiting until world oil production peaks before taking crash program action would leave the world with a significant liquid fuel deficit for more than two decades.

• Initiating a mitigation crash program 10 years before world oil peaking helps considerably but still leaves a liquid fuels shortfall roughly a decade after the time that oil would have peaked.

• Initiating a mitigation crash program 20 years before peaking appears to offer the possibility of avoiding a world liquid fuels shortfall for the forecast period.”

“The obvious conclusion from this analysis is that with adequate, timely mitigation, the economic costs to the world can be minimized. If mitigation were to be too little, too late, world supply/demand balance will be achieved through massive demand destruction (shortages), which would translate to significant economic hardship.
“There will be no quick fixes. Even crash programs will require more than a decade to yield substantial relief.”

Not exactly filled with a lot of happy talk, but matters of that (ongoing) critical importance to so many demand nothing less.

In a recent interview, Hirsch expounded on his current views of the imminence of Peak Oil, and is of the considered opinion that we’re just a handful of years away from that point. Coming on the heels of another terrific interview, this time with Charles Maxwell, a well-respected energy analyst (who at best appears only slightly more optimistic than Mr. Hirsch), it seems we have even more reason to be concerned about the onset of peak oil production and its implications. A consensus among legitimate analysts and experts suggest that we’re already at peak, or, like Maxwell and Hirsch, believe it’s only a matter of a few years at most before we simply cannot produce enough oil to meet demand, and will then never be able to do so again. Peak Oil is knocking at the door, and it’s not going away.

A more recent report, this time from the Australia Institute (link to PDF here), echoed a similar theme to that of the Hirsch report:

“As with climate change, the most cost-effective response to the inevitable but uncertain timing of peak oil is to invest in early adaptation. It will be impossible to redesign cities, switch the vehicle fleet to new forms of fuel and transform the location decisions of  producers in a timely manner after the oil supply has peaked. Early investment in adaptation measures will pay high dividends in the future, whether in response to peak oil, climate change or simply better city design and reduced congestion on roads.”

Certainly, we’re well past the 10 or 20 year timeline advisory recommended by the Hirsch Report. That’s a problem—a much bigger one than we can possibly imagine, especially if, like me, you continue to bank on the hope that we’ll find a reasonable group of at least marginally-adequate substitutes in the not-too-distant future.

Throwing a cold blanket on that notion is a report issued last year by the Post Carbon Institute, wherein the following conclusion was offered:

“Can any combination of known energy sources successfully supply society’s energy needs at least up to the year 2100?  In the end, we are left with the disturbing conclusion that all known energy sources are subject to strict limits of one kind or another.

“Conventional energy sources such as oil, gas, coal, and nuclear are either at or nearing the limits of their ability to grow in annual supply, and will dwindle as the decades proceed—but in any case they are unacceptably hazardous to the environment.

“And contrary to the hopes of many, there is no clear practical scenario by which we can replace the energy from today’s conventional sources with sufficient energy from alternative  sources to sustain industrial society at its present scale of operations. To achieve such a transition would require (1) a vast financial investment beyond society’s practical abilities, (2) a very long time—too long in practical terms—for build-out, and (3) significant sacrifices in terms of energy quality and reliability.”

In other words, “uh-oh!”

I’ve been a strong advocate throughout that we all need to come to terms with the fact that our industrial and personal lifestyles, dominated as they are by the abundant need for fossil fuels, simply cannot continue indefinitely as is. It’s been a hell of a ride, but it’s coming to an end soon. How involved more of us become and how committed we are to finding acceptable means of adaptation will determine how successful our societies will be, and what kind of prosperity we pass on to future generations. Waiting for someone else to fix this isn’t even in the ballpark of decent options available to us.

Our infrastructure, our ways of manufacturing and transporting goods and services, the manner in which we conduct our everyday lives, and indeed almost every facet of living each day in any manner is made possible only because of the ease with which we’ve been able to make use of a so-far always available supply of oil and gas.

Those days are numbered. When that exact point in time might be when we reach Peak Oil (if not already) is irrelevant. If it did not happen in the past few years as many far more knowledgeable than me suggest, then it’s just a few more years down the road at most. The year that happens—2012, 2017, 2020—isn’t nearly as important as the fact that we’re already “too late” by the measures set forth in the Hirsch Report.

And every day that we ignore the problem, or listen to hope-filled invocations from those who insist that the magic of the marketplace and technology will come to the rescue (or worse, the claims of real oddballs who cannot seem to grasp the simple truth that oil is indeed a finite resource) is another day that we lose in our efforts to achieve some semblance of minimally disruptive transitions away from our incredibly expensive and damaging reliance on fossil fuel. That we may technically have several more decades of proven reserves of the stuff isn’t enough of a solution, not when we start considering how truly dependent we are for fossil fuels in every facet of our live. Individuals, neighborhoods, communities, cities and towns, state and national governments, small businesses, big businesses, international businesses—every single one of them is dependent in no small measure on having oil at the ready to function and grow.

Seems to me we have some big problems … and very little in the way of solutions; certainly none that will come to the fore in any semblance of reasonable time. We have too many leaders with their heads buried deep in the sands who fail to understand what is at stake and what types of investments will be needed (Great Recession notwithstanding); we have others who lack the courage (understandable, quite frankly) to explain to us what energy problems we’re about to face, and too few others willing to speak unvarnished truths about the challenges of Peak Oil. That’s not helpful.

I hate doom and gloom! Those who know me best will assure you that I am by and large an extremely optimistic person, and remain so (not without struggle) as I delve into the peak oil challenge more and more.

But there is no getting around the fact that we face monumental challenges in the years to come, challenges that no measure of denial, or pretending otherwise, or issuing pronouncements of dubious validity and reason, or ignorance can overcome. Facts are facts, and the fact is that we’re not producing any longer nearly enough oil to keep pace with what we’ll continue to need in the future, and what the hundreds of millions worldwide desire in order to improve their own lives. At some point in time, wishful thinking and denying the truth won’t prevent the pool from being drained, and our pool of readily available fossil fuel supplies is soon enough going to reach that point as well. There simply won’t be enough at acceptable prices in acceptable production periods with acceptable efforts and in acceptable supply to meet all our needs all the time.

What happens then?

And if any sentient being is expecting that we’ll just simply move on to the next source of energy in a week or two once that moment arrives, then they are in the grips of delusions far too deep for me to appreciate.

We’re either in this together—leading the search for and determining the changes needed—or we’ll be the unfortunate victims of changes imposed.

We need to start having serious discussions about obvious truths. Peak Oil is about as obvious as it gets.

Sources:

[1] BEWILDERED BY PEAK OIL ECONOMICS By W. Jackson Davis; Denver Post OpEd, 10/16/2008