[W]e must realize that all resources are inextricably interconnected, and also require energy to produce. We can’t overlook continue reading…
[W]e must realize that all resources are inextricably interconnected, and also require energy to produce. We can’t overlook continue reading…
Oil plays an essential role in almost everything that touches our everyday lives. From the food we eat to the means by which we transport ourselves, our goods, and our services, to what we grow, build, have, own, need, and do, oil is almost always an important element. But the painful truth now and soon is that the ready supply of oil and gas that we almost always take for granted is on its way to becoming not-so-ready—recent production increases notwithstanding.
What happens when there’s not enough to meet all of our demands, to say nothing of those of every other nation—including the many countries seeking more growth and prosperity? What sacrifices will we be called upon to make? Which products will no longer be as readily available? Which services? Who decides? What will be decided? Who delivers that message to the designers and producers and shippers and end users? What’s their Plan B? And how will we respond when decisions are taken out of our hands? Where exactly will the dominoes tumble?
There is nothing on the horizon that will work as an adequate substitute for the efficiencies and low cost and ease of accessibility that oil has provided us. We simply do not have the means to make that happen—not the technological capabilities, not the personnel, not the industries, not the leadership … yet. Clearly, we do not have enough time to do it all with effortless ease and minimal disruptions.
Piecemeal approaches that address some small aspect of need for some short period of time in some limited geographical area for just a few consumers is in the end a monumental waste of limited resources, time, and effort. We can’t wait until we’re up to our eyeballs in Peak Oil’s impact to start figuring out what to do. We’re too close as it is. We’re going to have to be much better, much wiser, and much more focused. **
Here’s the latest contribution to my Peak Oil’s Impact series—observations and commentary on how Peak Oil’s influence will be felt in little, never-give-it-thought, day-to-day aspects of the conventional crude oil-based Life As We’ve Known It. Changes in all that we do, use, own, make, transport, etc., etc., are inevitable. A little food for thought….
I came across an interesting article I had saved from late 2011, discussing business strategies worth considering. The title alone: “Safeguarding Your Supply Chain Against Rising Oil Prices” suggests it would be worthwhile for corporate executives whose businesses require juggling inventory and labor costs along with issues surrounding one or more distribution center locations in their supply and distribution chain.
In an era of rising (or fluctuating) oil prices, business leaders would be wise to consider author Lorcan Sheehan’s advice:
The challenges that ensue can negatively impact your supply chain if your infrastructure is not equipped to handle quick adaptations. However, by planning ahead and reevaluating where your supply chain activities are performed, as well as your current processes, you can face these challenges head-on and lessen the impact on your operations and your bottom line.
I don’t even pretend to be an expert on business practices, but this brief read contains a range of solid advice about the need for planning in advance of escalating prices. Basic supply and demand tells us that as the demand for fossil fuels continues to grow, and the supply and/or energy efficiency of what is being supplied decreases, prices will rise. The dominoes for any one or all businesses of any size dependent at least in part on fossil fuels will then tumble quickly.
As I urge repeatedly, planning across the board is among our highest priorities, and well in advance of the more obvious and inevitable impacts Peak Oil will impose on all of us.
The scope of considerations Mr. Sheehan offers suggests that the planning and risk mitigation efforts are not something business executives can slap together in a half-day conference. Product needs; labor costs; taxes; environmental considerations; utilizing multiple routes to market; the possibility or or need to move supply chain activities; inventory maintenance; assembly locations; shipping, along with product packaging and redesign issues are all discussed in this article.
Similar considerations on both smaller and larger scales must be planned for by every business entity and government agency. Last-minute is not a strategy anyone should rely upon. Worth postponing?
~ My Photo: Good Harbor Beach, MA – 09.05.05
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** Opening paragraphs adapted from prior posts:
An observation worth noting … and pondering, from Samuel Alexander:
This point about breaking our addiction to oil deserves some brief elaboration, because it raises the spectre of what Tom Murphy (2011) has called the ‘energy trap.’ In order to break the addiction to oil, economies dependent on oil arguably need to invest huge amounts of money and energy in building new social and economic infrastructures that are not so heavily dependent on oil (e.g. efficient public transport systems to incentivise people to drive less; localise food production and critical manufacturing, etc.). But since this transition has not yet seriously begun, the necessary investment of money and energy is going to be required at a time when money and energy are scarcer than they have been in recent decades. This places us in the ‘energy trap.’ Politicians are going to have a short-term incentive not to invest extra money and energy in new infrastructure, since people will already be feeling the pinch of high oil prices. This means that there will be very little or no surplus money and energy to direct towards the necessary infrastructure projects. But while this will provide some short-term relief for people and politicians, it delays the inevitable need for that new infrastructure. But a delay only exacerbates the problem, since the necessary investment will then need to come later, at a time when energy and money are scarcer still (see also, Hirsch et al, 2005) 
A succinct and accurate assessment of a point I (and others) have made on a number of occasions. Waiting until we have less in order to then try and get more is an ass-backwards approach on its best day.
We might be wise to start pondering some of these common sense considerations, and we ought to be doing so fairly soon.
One major party is a strong proponent of less of pretty much everything, and it might also be wise for us to start examining who keeps benefiting from that ideology and those idiotic policies, and who suffers—now and on down the road.
Is a hint really necessary?
* My Photo: Gloucester, MA July 2008
 http://www.energybulletin.net/stories/2012-08-07/degrowth-expensive-oil-and-new-economics-energy; Degrowth, expensive oil, and the new economics of energy by Samuel Alexander – 08.07.12
An observation worth noting … and pondering, from Richard Heinberg:
Energy literacy arms us with the intellectual tools to ask the right questions: What is the energy density of these new fossil fuel resources? How much energy will have to be invested to produce each energy unit of synthetic crude oil from oil shale, or electricity from thin-film solar panels? How quickly can these energy sources be brought online, and at what rate can they realistically deliver energy to consumers? When we do ask such questions, the situation suddenly looks very different. We realize that the new fossil fuels are actually third-rate energy sources that require immense and risky investments and may never be produced at a significant scale. We find that renewable energy technologies face their own serious constraints in energy and materials needs, and that transitioning to a majority-renewable energy economy would require a phenomenal re-tooling of our energy and transportation infrastructure. 
More than two years ago, I noted this [modified slightly here]:
When you stop for a moment and consider all the highways, the aqueducts, the power and electric grid systems (poles, wires, etc.), the schools, the hospitals, the bridges, the sewers, the farms, the waste treatment facilities and all the other components of our infrastructure, the amount of fossil fuels needed to design, build, repair, maintain, and renovate all of those elements are beyond staggering! Dealing with the impending reality that the fossil fuels which served at the heart of our infrastructure will no longer be [as readily] available [and affordable]—thus requiring that the repairs, maintenance, renovations, re-design, delivery, and functioning of these complex components will necessitate something other than fossil fuels—means that the transition over to alternative energy sources or brand new design features will take years (read: decades.) We can’t wait until we’re up to our eyeballs in Peak Oil’s impact to start figuring out what to do. We’re too close as it is.
Our great dilemma then rears its head: We do not yet have the alternatives energies in place to effect an orderly and efficient transition. It’s going to take many, many years, much trial and error, and incredible amounts of research, design, production, and delivery implementation in order to achieve seamless transitions away from fossil fuels—assuming those efforts to identify efficient alternative energies prove successful! What are we supposed to do once the existing fossil fuel resources are not so plentiful ever again? 
 http://richardheinberg.com/museletter-234; What We’re For: MuseLetter #234 / November 2011 by Richard Heinberg
 http://peakoilmatters.com/2010/02/25/peak-oil-infrastructure-more-to-discuss-part-ii/; Peak Oil & Infrastructure: More To Discuss Part II
What kind of a nation do we want to be?
This will be, if not the most important question we’ll collectively ask ourselves in the months and years to come, in the top 2 or 3.
The answers we produce—“we” being our political leaders, our business leaders, the media, and perhaps most importantly: each and every one of us—will obviously determine the strategies we adopt and the successes and prosperity which (we hope) will remain available to us. In this new series, I’d like to offer my two cents’ worth and provide some talking points to help us sort things out.
If we are not standing at the most critical crossroad of our industrial and economic history, the signs on the side of the road are letting us know it is coming up soon.
We face some challenges. The headlines tell us all we need to know about employment and economic woes, the increasingly disheartening hypocrisy and gamesmanship that continue to define politics here in America, and a growing unease about the direction of our country. I begin writing this post only 24 hours after the tragic, senseless, idiotic massacre in Arizona that nearly claimed the life of a by-all-accounts well-respected Congresswoman, and did in fact kill several other just-as-innocent bystanders. (A nine-year-old girl? Really? How is that justified under even the most insane of insane defenses?)
Climate change evidence continues its daily march into reality—the inability of deniers to grasp simple truths notwithstanding. And atop and amid all of these lovely and encouraging challenges, we have some fossil fuel resource problems knocking on our door.
Let’s hope that the convergence of these issues sparks a different level and quality of public discourse. Most would be hard-pressed to think that that would not be a good thing….
As I and others have taken great pains to explain, if we have not yet reached the point where we have extracted and sent to market the highest level of oil production we’ll ever attain (I think we have, as does the International Energy Agency, among others much more in the know than me), we’re pretty damn close. And as I and those same others have taken other great pains to explain, we’re not on the verge of imminent collapse, either. The process of ever-declining oil production, and thus ever-declining amounts of oil available to us, will unfold over a fairly lengthy period of time. I have no plans for a Chicken-Little-Sky-Is-Falling party anytime soon. Despite the efforts of peak oil deniers to attribute this false claim to us, we are not running out of oil—at least not for many decades.
That does not mean we are problem-free for years or decades to come, however. We need to shine some light on that distinction while starting the very lengthy and complex process of transitioning our everything away from never-ending reliance on fossil fuels … oil, specifically.
There are still many billions of barrels of conventional oil still buried underground, and perhaps many more billions—hundreds, perhaps—of unconventional supplies buried as well. If that’s where the discussion could end, then Peak Oil would indeed be the rantings of another group of paranoid conspirators rightfully ignored as should be those who continue to think President Obama was born on Mars or wherever.
But it’s a wee bit more complicated than that.
The fact that we may have enormous quantities of unconventional reserves/resources underground isn’t the be-all and end-all of the are-we-or-aren’t-we-running-out-of-oil discussion. What must be understood more clearly is that having those presumed resources in the ground is one thing and all fine and well as a starting point. But getting unconventional resources (by fact and definition available only with considerable extra effort, time, and cost) out of the ground and into the marketplace at reasonable costs and in reasonable time frames while conventional supplies continue to decline is a very, very different thing. They are called “unconventional” for a number of reasons, after all!
If it costs more (and let’s not even discuss the environmental degradation and water resource consumption issues that are part and parcel of unconventional oil extraction and production), takes more time to get to the market, is of lesser quality, and clearly much more difficult to extract, the math doesn’t work. Unconventional resources aren’t the answer … not even close. (Tighter supplies of the conventional fossil fuels our engines are designed to burn means higher costs at your local gas station, for one thing. Anyone experiencing anything like that nowadays?)
Demand worldwide is increasing, regardless of where the charts suggest U.S. demand might be right now. As much as we like to admire our exceptionalism and burnish our lofty perch as the One and Only, we’re not alone on the planet, and what we want isn’t the beginning and the end of discussions about resource consumption and supply.
There are many billions of people on this planet who do not now enjoy and have never enjoyed the levels of growth and prosperity this nation has been blessed with, and there are very few among those billions who would not like their own chance at their own version of the American Dream—tarnished and bruised though it may be. We—they—are confronted with a pretty simple yet very powerful obstacle, however.
Finite resources are … finite. Not infinite. Not not finite. Whatever spin one may wish to employ to make the problem go away, the math is what it is. It takes some impressive contortions to suggest that the increasing demand clashing with declining supplies shouldn’t concern any of us. In one sense, those deniers are correct on the “any of us” scale … it concerns all of us.
Production is declining, however slowly that may be; unconventional resources are not making up the difference; alternative energy supplies are many, many years away from supplanting the fossil fuels we’ve depended on for the last 150 years or so, more people are asking for more of this declining resource, we don’t have an infrastructure in place to accommodate the requirements of non-fossil fuel resources, and there is no magic out there which will enable the increasing demand to be satisfied in full, at acceptable prices, quality, or timeliness. That is not going to change, and not going to get better. A month bump-up in production here and there sounds wonderful, but long term, it means next to nothing.
Facts are indeed annoying as hell. But the sooner more of us take the time to understand and appreciate what we must deal with, the sooner we can devise and then employ the strategies we’ll need, and the sooner we unleash the still-awesome capabilities of this nation and its remarkable citizenry to create a future that may just turn out okay despite our seemingly-best efforts to keep screwing it up.
I am by temperament a very optimistic person, and it is that attitude that will guide my efforts in this humble little blog to get us thinking and being and doing differently. Not easy? Check. Highly idealistic at the moment? Double check. Not enough to dissuade me? Triple check.
We need to take a look at where we are and what we are doing in a world now filled with relentless and great change, complexity on levels never before imagined, and widespread hopes for progress intersecting on the back side of a nearly-overwhelming global financial crisis. At the same time, these circumstances demand that we come to some better understandings and decisions about what we are doing to both adapt to energy and environmental concerns as well as participate in that adaptation if we continue to hold on to hope.
That’s the hyper-broad overview….
Recognition that change is taking place is the first step to then embracing it and participating in its evolution. Opportunity, or crises?
I’m no historian, but my vague recollections of American History suggest that “difficult” has never been the one insurmountable obstacle that has kept us from achievement. No reason to change that now.
I’m going with “Opportunity”, and will devote most of my posts in these next few months to exploring what that means and what we might do to seize the moments that now present themselves. Hope you’ll stay tuned.
To be continued next week….
“We are trapped in a very complex civilization that is rapidly losing the sources of energy and numerous other raw materials that built and maintained it….
“If current trends continue, somewhere in the next five years a critical mass of us will realize that new foundations for civilization, and new ways of life must be found and implemented if we are going to survive with a modicum of comfort, economic, and political stability. Until then there will be many false prophets calling for a return to a civilization which is no longer possible.” 
A stubborn insistence that we’re just going to ignore the facts about global warming and the arrival of a peak in worldwide oil production—paying no attention to a rather large body of quite convincing evidence in the process—and instead plow ahead with public investments and plans that will in due course prove to be nothing more than monumental wastes of time (and incredibly short-sighted to boot), ought to be revisited.
We cannot afford to continue to design and then implement plans based only on what seems feasible now, or much worse, because it’s what we’ve always done, or it’s what an uninformed electorate would prefer. The first task, as I’ve mentioned in my recent posts, is that we all need to make a commitment to learning more and understanding the facts. In doing so, we need to find and rely upon the resources where the truth is the only option.
Allowing current business and political leaders to decide what will need to be done based on what has been done before is not the solution. There is no clearer indication of that than the continued resistance to spending money and investing in alternative forms of transportation.
“[N]ewly elected Republicans soon to enter gubernatorial offices have promised to shut down their local federally funded intercity rail corridors that they fear will overwhelm them with future operating expenses. Of course, those complaints are patently absurd when put in context of each state’s respective overall transportation budget. Wisconsin, for instance, spends more than a billion dollars on roadway construction annually and would have been asked to contribute a mere $7.5 million to train operations. Is such a small contribution really such a huge price to pay for a transportation alternative?” 
A worthwhile question that demands a much better response than what we’re seeing.
To be fair, there’s no question that making these kinds of investment decisions and committing even more funds from a limited supply is under no one’s definition an easy, simple or—at first—an obvious solution. There are indeed many legitimate arguments against such a commitment. I’m firmly in the camp that believes high speed rail is a necessity, but I’m just as clear that we need to think through the strategies more than we have to date. High-speed rail aside, I’m more convinced by the day that a great deal more reliance on public transportation will be mandatory.
A fear of deficits and increased public spending are going to have to give way to a longer term vision for the kind of nation we choose to be and the levels of growth and prosperity we at least hope to attain in a world no longer able to rely on fossil fuels. That vision and the corresponding plans of necessity must include a greater commitment to public transit. The choice to devote our limited transportation capital funds on the more familiar roadwork projects makes perfectly good sense in a vacuum where growth is expected to return to “normal” soon enough. The harsh truth is that it will not because it cannot. There will be new definitions of “normal” in the years to come.
I don’t like it any more than anyone else, but we create only more difficulties for ourselves by denying the facts and delaying our efforts to create an industrial economy that no longer depends on fossil fuels. It’s a monumental undertaking to be sure, and is not one we should expect to complete for at least a couple of decades. But oil supplies have reached their peak and it is soon enough all downhill from there, so we’re confronted with the dual challenge of re-creating the way our economy functions while utilizing declining supplies of oil in the process, and simultaneously trying to keep our heads above water under current conditions, dependent on that exact same declining supply. All the creativity and spin in the world cannot make that math come out in our favor. Change is a-comin’.
The bottom line is that for all the arguments favoring more expenditures on road construction at the expense of public transportation, the same end result would be arrived at with far less effort if we simply burn piles of money on the steps of Capitol Hill. Appreciating the challenges and implications of having now arrived at the peak of oil production does lead to the obvious conclusion (political ideologies in opposition notwithstanding) that we are going to have to move away from an automobile-centric society.
In the years to come, we simply will not have enough oil/gasoline to power the number of automobiles we own in this country under similar or growing levels of usage when we add to that astounding number the many millions more new automobiles that will be added to the roadways of other nations. We could meet that demand, of course. We’d simply have to do away with a great many other necessities and products (see my last post for a brief list) dependent on oil, since there won’t be enough fossil fuels to go around to meet all the demand everywhere all the time for everyone. That’s Peak Oil!
As I’ve taken great pains to emphasize, we’re not running out of oil any time soon. But depletion and an inexorable decline in production which no alternative or unconventional resources can make up for means there’s going to be less available for everyone and everything. Those dominoes will continue to tumble until one day, likely several decades into the future, it will no longer be feasible to continue extracting oil or using. Too much effort and too much expense for too little reward is what we face. Start planning now is the smart choice, because once we’ve solicited all the input available—no easy or quick task in itself—we’re going to have a lot of work ahead of us putting those plans into action, with the myriad modifications and adaptations that will surely be needed.
We’ll need to be smarter about the new choices we make, too. Reliance on (or hope that) the electric vehicle is the answer to the transportation aspect of Peak Oil’s impact is all fine and well in the abstract. But as has been pointed out by others (here and here), if we’re just expecting that fancy new electric Mercedes and BMWs and Ford pick-up trucks and Honda SUVs and Chevy Volts will just simply replace the ones we drive now, we’re in for another rude awakening. An enormous conversion of infrastructure will be required, for one thing. And for another (topics for upcoming posts here), if the strategies we design to cope with fossil fuel depletion do not also include plans for where and how we live, we’re just digging another deep hole for ourselves.
As objectionable as this will be to many, “smart growth” and “sustainable living” practices are going to warrant much greater levels of attention than they have to date. If ideological principles cause one to blanche at the thought of our federal government “dictating” how and where people live by controlling urban sprawl, the message is a simple one: Get used to it. This is not about a desire of the government to impose its will or make choices for others. It will instead be another courageous recognition that great changes will and must take place, and that there must be a national mechanism for guiding the choices and actions of local governments and private industry to address those looming realities.
Given that certain segments of the media (and the political and social groups that align themselves with that media’s particular ideology) seem convinced that President Obama does not believe we’re an “exceptional” nation (the convenient omission of facts and context debunking that meme are neatly summed up here and here), here’s our chance to prove him “wrong.” Let’s do so by leading the charge into the 21st century with a new vision about how prosperous and successful nations adjust to the new realities about energy supply and usage. It will take one hell of a village to make this happen in any event.
Why not us?
 http://www.fcnp.com/commentary/national/7980-the-peak-oil-crisis-the-future-of-government.html; The Peak Oil Crisis: The Future of Government By Tom Whipple
 http://www.thetransportpolitic.com/2010/12/01/growing-conservative-strength-puts-transit-improvements-in-doubt/; Growing Conservative Strength Puts Transit Improvements in Doubt by Yonah Freemark
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.” 
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.” 
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.” 
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?
 http://www.energybulletin.net/stories/2010-11-25/how-sustainable-renewable-energy; How sustainable is renewable energy? by Roger Adair
 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
 http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/archives/individual/2010_11/026813.php; THE GLOBAL-COMPETITION ARGUMENT by Steve Benen
As has been reported on a number of other Peak Oil-related websites, the International Energy Agency, in its World Energy Outlook 2010, has finally come around to admitting what many have been stating for some time: Peak Oil is no longer a challenge to be faced in the distant (or even not-so-distant) future. The IEA has now gone on record as stating that world conventional oil production will never match or exceed the approximately 70 million barrels per day produced back in 2006.
So while that reality hits us, let’s consider another of those damned facts about oil production and usage:
“If you sort all of the countries by per capita daily oil consumption and start from the lowest consuming countries, you need to sum up the consumption of nearly 100 countries to match the daily oil consumption in the U.S. Among these countries are China and India.
“Altogether the citizens of the U.S. consume the same amount of oil as 4.8 billion people elsewhere.” 
Houston, we have a problem. Notwithstanding any sense of entitlement, or the false bravado of assured technological solutions just in the nick of time, our use of oil and its innumerable by-products (forget for a moment—but only for a moment—the demand and usage of every other nation) is going to smack head-first into a wall of declining supply and/or more expensive but still-declining supply. And it’s not going to get any better.
I don’t like it; I assume readers here do not like it; and I’m fairly certain that few individual or business consumers will appreciate or enjoy learning this. There’s no place to look around for any immediate solutions because there aren’t any! Changes won’t necessarily occur tomorrow or next week or next month, but the painful and unpleasant truth is that we’re not going to have available to us the same amounts of readily-available oil supplies at the same relatively low prices we’ve enjoyed for decades. Not gonna happen. That means adaptations, adjustments, and yes, even sacrifices beginning soon enough, with no end in sight. That’s a problem we’re almost completely unprepared to deal with or correct.
We’re all in this together, and we’re going to have to put our thinking caps on and start figuring out what we’ll need to do individually and as a nation to transition away from oil. The optimist in me still thinks opportunities abound, but the clock is definitely ticking.
We’ll still have a number of decades to make a complete transition away from oil as the power source. But the problem is that we’ll be making this monumental transition away from oil at a time when the supply is diminishing, world-wide demand is increasing, costs are on the rise, production and refining become more difficult (and of course more expensive), and it’s going to take much longer to bring that fossil fuel resource to market. That’s just for starters.
We use oil for just about everything produced, transported, and consumed. We’re now going to have to start figuring out many new ways to try and maintain some semblance of a “normal” industrial economy as well as a personal lifestyle using new forms of energy to power just about everything we rely on oil to do for us now. That’s also not gonna happen … certainly not to the extent, with the ease, at the low costs, or with the same quality and quantity we’ve come to expect.
Plans are in order—lots of plans. This is no quick-fix modern day dilemma, and it is most definitely not a challenge that we can rely on the “market” to solve on its own. What remains just as doubtful is the ability of our national government to lead the way, and that’s a problem. I’m not sure right now that Congress could easily, quickly, or even by majority vote declare December 25 as Christmas Day. Certainly they couldn’t do so if President Obama offered that up. This is not encouraging, and it’s even less so when we have a more-than-insignificant number of “leaders” who cannot seem to accept anything that even remotely resembles scientific fact.
We’re going to need a national government with national leaders who can … you know, lead; people who actually understand what is at stake, have some kind of vision for what we need to do now and going forward, are willing to articulate that to the citizenry, can explain what we all have to contribute, and are willing to make the tough choices devoid of ideology. Declining oil production has absolutely nothing to do with conservative or liberal philosophies of governance.
We’ve got an entire industrial and commercial infrastructure that is going to have to be modified, re-built, or in many cases created anew to allow us to move forward with something other than oil to power it. There’s no pretending otherwise, and waiting is simply not an option any more—not that it has been. The Hirsch Report which issued several years ago was quite clear that 20 years of full-out national effort would be needed to effect an orderly and hopefully pain-free transition away from fossil fuels in order to continue to power our economy and support our lifestyles.
If the IEA is finally admitting that peak conventional production happened four year ago, simple math tells us we’re a wee bit late on maximizing opportunities from that 20-year window. Uh-oh, again!
Just to keep things interesting, the transition from an oil-based industrial economy to Whatever-Plan-B-Will-Be will have to be achieved using that same declining measure of supply to design and construct and transport and put into place the infrastructure we’ll need to support and maintain this as yet unidentified and not-planned- for-yet Plan B. We’re talking about using a lot of declining energy supplies that’s a lot more expensive, over the course of a lot of years to put into operation a lot of new industrial and economic and civic foundations to (we hope) enable us to maintain some semblance of growth and prosperity—all while using new energy resources that simply will not be as efficient or inexpensive or dependable as oil has been.
And who does without or with less in order to achieve all of this? “Someone else, of course” is not the answer. We’re all “someone else” now. (As a bonus, extracting this now-more-difficult-to-come-by resource will create even more environmental and other resource-supply difficulties.)
So far, this is not encouraging. Where are the plans? Do our leaders have any courage at all to start dealing with the difficult truths all of us are now going to have to contend with? “Drill, baby, drill” was a poor solution when it was first suggested. Now, it’s just a fantasy. We’re going to need something a bit more intelligent as a solution.
The IEA’s 2010 Outlook states that more than three-quarters of the 2035 production amounts are going to originate from either oil fields that so far have not been developed (including the more costly, less efficient, and less reliable unconventional resources such as the Canadian tar sands), or from fields that haven’t even been discovered yet! Hello! There are a lot of unspoken hopes and wishes and finger-crossings being counted upon. And another bonus: all of this is going to be even more expensive.
What’s even more startling is that the IEA is projecting that by 2035, the conventional oil production we’ve relied on for decades will have decreased from the 2006 peak of 70 million barrels per day to less than 20 million barrels per day. According to my calculations, 20 million is a lot less than 70 million. That is not good math.
These are just some of the facts we have no choice but to deal with. This is not an ideal set of circumstances for us to confront in the midst of our continuing economic woes. But we play the hand we’re dealt, or we fold. Our choice.
First, we need to come to terms with these facts, and that means at a minimum the partisan, fact-free or manufactured-out-of-thin-air political nonsense must end immediately.
From there, we move toward plans and actions. None of the options will be simple, fast, or cheap. Are we willing to bet on human ingenuity and human capital? It won’t be the first time, and there’s no rule that even suggests that change won’t be better for all of us. I’m not willing to relinquish my hold on optimism (though I find myself having to grip a bit harder these days).
The game is different now, the rules are different, and if there is to be any “winning”, it’s going to have to come about with different strategies and lot more playing partners than some would like. But that’s the reality.
“Peak oil and the events associated with it will be an unprecedented discontinuity in human and geologic history. Peak oil crises will soon confront societies with the opportunity to recreate themselves based on their respective needs, culture, resources, and governance responses. Peak oil will require a change of economic and social systems, and will result in a new world order. The sooner people prepare for peak oil and a post-peak oil life, the more they will be able to influence the direction of their opportunities. Nevertheless, there are probably no solutions that do not involve at the very least some major changes in lifestyles. Consequently, peak oil will probably result in some catastrophic upheavals. Peak oil will also present opportunities to address many underlying societal, economic, and environmental problems.” 
I’ve ended more than one post to date with this question, and it’s just as vital today as it always has been:
Crisis, or opportunity?
 http://seekingalpha.com/article/231957-the-end-of-oil-s-golden-age; King Oil – posted Oct 25, 2010
 http://www.energybulletin.net/stories/2010-11-21/collapse-nov-21 and http://www.global.ucsb.edu/climateproject/papers/index.html; Peak Energy, Climate Change, and the Collapse of Global Civilization: The Current Peak Oil Crisis by Tariel Mórrígan; Global Climate Change, Human Security & Democracy, Orfalea Center for Global & International Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara
“I don’t think people quite understand how fundamental transportation is to the economy and their standard of living.” 
“Some might also wonder why a shortage of oil should automatically trigger a collapse. It turns out that, in an industrialized economy, a drop in oil consumption precipitates a proportional drop in overall economic activity. Oil is the feedstock used to make the vast majority of transportation fuels—which are used to move products and deliver services throughout the economy. In the US in particular, there is a very strong correlation between GDP and motor vehicle miles traveled. Thus, the US economy can be said to run on oil, in a rather direct and immediate way: less oil implies a smaller economy. At what point does the economy shrink so much that it can no longer meet its own maintenance requirements? In order to continue functioning, all sorts of infrastructure, plant and equipment must be maintained and replaced in a timely manner, or it stops functioning. Once that point is reached, economic activity becomes constrained not just by the availability of transportation fuels, but also by the availability of serviceable equipment.” 
“The United States is saddled with a rapidly decaying and woefully underfunded transportation system that will undermine its status in the global economy unless Congress and the public embrace innovative reforms, a bipartisan panel of experts concludes in a report released [several weeks ago].
“U.S. investment in preservation and development of transportation infrastructure lags so far behind that of China, Russia and European nations that it will lead to ‘a steady erosion of the social and economic foundations for American prosperity in the long run.” 
This is real life; this is what happens when you put on blinders and decide that a political ideology already proven not to work will nonetheless work magic this time. If they do what they’ve always done, we’ll get more of what we’ve already gotten … hello!
Spending the kinds of money being tossed about for transportation infrastructure modernization is mind-boggling. As one recent report suggests, an additional $134 billion to $262 billion must be spent per year through 2035 to rebuild and improve roads, rail and air transportation systems.  Coupled with even larger investments needed to modernize our entire infrastructure, and it becomes terrifying. Talk about bad options or bad options! There are few short-term upsides to the choices we’re confronted with, but that’s the key issue: this is not about what’s best for us only right now. Difficult decisions or difficult decisions are the choices on the table.
But what is the option? Where do we wind up ten, twenty, fifty years down the road? Do we leave our children and grandchildren with potentially burdensome debt but in an economic environment that meets their needs and gives them hope and chance for an even better future, or do we send them into the world relatively debt-free but confronted with decay and decline and little hope as far as the eye can see?
“The United States can’t compete successfully in the 21st century with a 20th century transportation infrastructure—especially when its chief trading partners, including not only the advanced economies of Western Europe and Southeast Asia but also rapidly developing countries like China, are making significant investments in cutting-edge transportation technologies and systems. Transportation efficiency has a direct impact on Americans’ standard of living and on the cost of goods and services delivered by U.S. firms and businesses.” 
The knee-jerk reaction to raising any fees, notably the 18.4 cent (per gallon) federal gas tax, which has not been raised since 1993, hamstrings any efforts to legitimately address these challenges. A sense of entitlement—that we shouldn’t have to pay for public services—is rapidly becoming not just an enormous impediment to resolving our difficulties. We also run the risk that our fears of national decline will become a self-fulfilling prophecy, and with no one to blame but ourselves.
“We would also note that while other nations are effectively rebuilding and improving transportation infrastructure (think China, France, India and other competitors), we are consumed with debates about the proper role of our national government, all the while avoiding the tough decisions that would give us the resources to do the same. 
You don’t have to be a math whiz to understand that inflation and increased fuel mileage over the years (and thus less spending at the pump) have dramatically reduced the sufficiency of the gas tax as a source for highway construction and maintenance funds. The sad truth is that Americans don’t want to pay for much, and that’s a sure recipe for all kinds of disasters, but our attention span is short and our memories about other consequences are just as short.
One proposal repeatedly floated about only to be instantly shot down is a one or two cent (cent, as in penny!) increase in that per gallon gas tax. Two or three cents would be fabulous, but we can’t get Congressional leaders to even consider a one freaking penny increase to help pay for road maintenance and repair … one penny per gallon! Let’s take a look at how this breaks down in the real world of facts:
Estimated miles traveled per year by the average driver is 15,000
Average miles per gallon is 15 – 20 miles per gallon. Let’s lowball and say it’s only 15 mpg
15,000 miles per year divided by 52 weeks = 290 miles; let’s say 300 miles per week
300 miles per week divided by 15 miles per gallon = 20 gallons of gas used per week, or about $60.00 per week at current prices, or about $3000.00 per year
20 gallons of gas per week with a one freaking cent gas tax increase = 20 cents per week, times 52 weeks means that the average driver paying $10.40 more per year to help alleviate an urgent need … ten freaking dollars per year!
And we have leaders and organizations and media personalities telling us that raising this tax is as calamitous as anything we’ve ever seen. This begs the obvious and unfortunate question:
How irresponsible, clueless, and short-sighted is this?
“The fact is that failure to adequately maintain and invest in our transportation systems means not only gridlocked roads and deteriorating bridges in the near term, but a steady erosion of the social and economic foundations for American prosperity in the long run. Avoiding this outcome means government, and ultimately taxpayers, need to be willing to invest more in transportation, not just for one year or a few, but on a sustained basis over time….Policymakers and the public will need to understand that investments in transportation infrastructure—provided these investments are wisely chosen and effectively implemented—will have long-term benefits that more than justify their near-term costs.” 
“[O]ur transportation infrastructure also is the foundation upon which virtually every major industry sector depends. Many industries could not exist without the wise infrastructure investments our nation has made in the past. These industries include tourism, manufacturing, transportation and warehousing, agriculture and forestry, mining, retailing, wholesaling and many others that are essential to our economic vitality and quality of life. Dependent industries provide more than 78.6 million American jobs with a total payroll in excess of $2.8 trillion, illustrating just how much we have at stake when we underfund our transportation efforts.” 
As my favorite political blogger, Steve Benen, so dryly noted: “We are, by the way, talking about projects that create jobs, spur economic development, relieve traffic congestion, and help the environment, all while offering the promise of transforming American transportation in the 21st century.” 
Not that that matters….
Whether or not we manage to restore some semblance of prosperity in the near (or even not-so-near) future will depend in no small part on the courage and wisdom we ask our leaders to demonstrate—with our support—in making wise investment decisions with an eye to the future, difficult as those choices may be. Not making those decisions has the potential to be catastrophic.
We have to encourage and even insist on a vision for our future that takes into account legitimate concerns on both sides of these investment issues but also moves beyond them in recognition of the fact that in a near-future powered by less fossil fuel resources, changes will have to be made in how we address these challenges. Throwing more money at public roads is not the sole option, nor can it be.
“Name one attribute America’s most successful cities have in common. The ‘it’ factor often overlooked – but necessary for success – is transit. Successful cities all across the nation have made the choice to make public transit a priority – and that decision pays off.
“According to the American Public Transit Association, for every $1 cities invest in public transportation, they generate $4 in economic returns. Economically viable cities make funding transit a priority because they can generate multiple, positive economic outcomes with a single investment:
“Developers are attracted to transit areas. If a city wants to revitalize a blighted area or dictate where high-density growth and expansion occur, one of the smartest things it can do is invest in transit.” 
For all the (many of which are legitimate) arguments against investing in high speed rail, the reality that almost none of those opponents bother to consider is that in a world with ever-declining oil production, increasing world-wide demand, and more complex geopolitical and geological challenges, our insistence on remaining an automobile-based nation evidencing our greatness and independence is at best extremely foolish. We are simply not going to have same level of fossil fuels we now depend on for transportation. That’s just the reality, and we ignore it or stubbornly insist otherwise at our peril. Alternative forms of transit—expensive or not—are going to play a critical role for us in the future, both personally and commercially. Stomping our feet and demanding otherwise is nice, but not going to get you much.
“In the United States, high-speed rail remains roadkill for Republicans who, in playing to anti-big-government voters, reflexively say states cannot afford it rather than reflect on how mass transit and speedy corridor trains will wean us off oil and improve quality of life for generations to come.” 
We, and our leaders, need to be wiser and far less shortsighted than we tend to be.
 http://www.infrastructurist.com/2010/10/22/new-report-shows-states-want-to-cut-infrastructure-spending/; New Report Shows States Want to Cut Infrastructure Spending by Eric Jaffe (quoting Byron Schlomach, director of the Center for Economic Prosperity at the Goldwater Institute in Arizona)
 http://cluborlov.blogspot.com/2010/11/peak-oil-is-history.html; Peak Oil is History
http://millercenter.org/policy/transportation [link to PDF]; Report from the Miller Center of Public Affairs, University of Virgina: Well Within Reach – America’s New Transportation Agenda – David R. Goode National Transportation Policy Conference (Norman Y. Mineta and Samuel K. Skinner, Conference Co-Chairs, Jeffrey N. Shane, Conference Director) issued October, 2010
 http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/10/04/AR2010100402269.html; Failing U.S. transportation system will imperil prosperity, report finds By Ashley Halsey III
 Miller Center Report (above) p.26
 http://www.amconmag.com/cpt/2010/10/19/how-to-finance-the-next-six-year-transportation-authorization-a-taxing-issue/; How to Finance the Next Six-Year Transportation Authorization: A Taxing Issue – October 19, 2010 by Glen Bottoms
 Miller Center Report (above) p. 27
 http://www.hntb.com/point-of-view/think5-investing-in-our-economic-future; Investing in our economic future
 http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/archives/individual/2010_11/026518.php; SO MUCH FOR HIGH-SPEED RAIL…..
 http://transportation.nationaljournal.com/2010/10/talkin-about-a-railvolution.php; Talkin’ About A Rail-Volution? By Fawn Johnson; (Response by Tom Madigan: The ‘It’ Factor Of Successful Cities)
 http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2010/10/30/us_needs_to_get_on_track_for_high_speed_rail/; US needs to get on track for high-speed rail By Derrick Z. Jackson