Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Peak Oil- It's Happening!
Peak Oil- It's Happening! It's not just a bunch of environmentalists or geologists anymore, this story appeared on CNBC yesterday basically talking about how the EIA is cutting its oil output forecast for 2010.
The fact that the world is running out of oil is pretty scary. Add to the fact that world demand for oil and energy is growing and it's really scary. Oil is used in everything. It has been responsible for the ridiculous population boom over the past century. Without oil there would a much lower world population. It is used extensively in food production (~10 calories of energy are used for every calorie of food produced on average), transportation, chemicals, heating, lubrications, energy, pharmaceuticals, everywhere. If the world ran out of oil today, or even in 20 years, we would all be f*cked big time. I am pessimistic that there will be any type of technology fix that will save the day or be able to match the energy output of oil. What about renewable clean energy? You need oil (or other hydrocarbons) to manufacture wind turbines. You need oil to manufacture solar panels. Hydrogen economy? Don't think so. Hydrogen is actually not a form of energy, it is merely an energy storage method, and an efficient one. Most hydrogen produced now is from natural gas, which is also running out big time. There are some crazy alternative energy ideas out there but a lot of them sound a bit unbelievable and the energy inputs to them often don't match the energy you get back.
Why is this on this blog? Why am I being so negative? That's not the theme of this blog! Well, there are many ways the common person can conserve energy and deal with this coming energy shortage that are related to this blog. Some easy ways to conserve energy and at least delay us running out of gas and oil are to lose weight, exercise in low energy ways (why drive to a gym to walk on a treadmill when you can just walk outside, or even better, walk to the store?), skip the elevator and take the stairs, eat more seasonally and locally and less meat (especially red meat). Buy organic food when possible. Not only are those healthier ways to eat, but they are less reliant on cheap energy. As energy gets more expensive and rarer in the future, more people will eat local seasonal food as transporting food that relied on lots of chemical fertilizers that was shipped from far away out of season will become prohibitively expensive.
For an interesting example of this, read about what happened to Cuba after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. This period of Cuba's history is called the Special Period. Basically, imports of gas and oil to Cuba essentially stopped after the USSR collapse. As Wikipedia states, "the period radically transformed Cuban society and the economy, as it necessitated the successful introduction of sustainable agriculture, decreased use of automobiles, and overhauled industry, health, and diet countrywide." People actually became healthier there as they had to walk or bike a lot more than before.
They lost weight and got in shape. People started eating mostly organic vegetarian diets and eating locally produced food free of chemical fertilizers. Preventative medicine was stressed as there was little money for treating illnesses and buying expensive equipment. There is a documentary movie about this I'd like to see that is called The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil.
It's a brave new world out there. Although it often seems (to me at least) like one person, or a bunch of people, cannot do anything about the coming scary future, we can make small steps now that not only will make us healthier but will save energy and ease the transition in the future to less consumption, more human powered transport and work, and local organic food systems.