Monday, May 18, 2009

Peak Oil

It's a pretty scene with Oregon's Mount Hood looming in the background, but it's not the only looming peak that we should be thinking about. Peak oil will consume us in the very near future, if not today. So why are so few people talking about it. More importantly, why are our elected officials ignoring what may well be the most devastating crisis the modern world will ever face.

What is peak oil?

From Wikipedia, here's the most simplistic definition..."Peak oil is the point in time when the maximum rate of global petroleum extraction is reached, after which the rate of production enters terminal decline."

The million dollar question is when will peak oil be reached...or has it all ready been reached? The trillion dollar question is how will it affect our way of living? The experts can't seem to agree on a date, but it is likely close at hand. Global consumption of oil is growing, yet stocks are finite and, at some point, will decline. Life, as we know it, will change drastically as oil becomes truly scarce. For the moment, we're treating it like bath water.

When I look around my house, I can't see a single thing that oil hasn't touched. I can't take a shower without oil. Oil was needed to make my computer, quite a lot in fact. The window I look through needed oil to be made, and then oil was burned to ship it to my home for installation. My jeans wouldn't have been made without oil. My glasses, upon which I depend to read what I write, are made using oil. The pine boards upon which my feet rest were cut by chainsaws, hauled by skidders, transported to a mill, dried by an oil fired kiln, cut my machinery and then trucked to my house. Every single thing in my house has been touched by oil. Everything!

So what happens when oil becomes scarce? It's far more serious than having to trade in your Hummer H3 for a Smart Car. Or a bicycle. Or sneakers. They all use oil.

Will life carry on as we know it using alternative energy sources? If you do your homework, like my son has, you'll discover that the 'alternative' energy sources we currently have are ridiculously inefficient and intensively oil dependent. Don't kid yourself that wind turbines and bio-fuel are the answer. They are band-aids at best. Many of us think 'oh, someone will discover something that will solve the pending crisis', but no one has so far and the clock is ticking. You can't feed yourself or heat your home with wishful thinking.

Peak oil is not a fun idea. Discussing it won't make you popular, hence one possible reason that our politicians aren't addressing it. It can't be denied that our oil-dependent society, in fact our entire global economy, is lubricated by oil. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, but what wheels will turn when the grease is scarce?

I'm not suggesting that we sharpen our harpoons and light out homes with whale oil. That's not sustainable. Neither is the way we're currently living. Things are going to change.

Will we change in anticipation of peak oil, or react to it after the fact? Don't assume that we'll be smart about it, our track record as humans is less than stellar. One hundred years from now, if not sooner, future generations will look back at pictures of our huge SUVs and they'll shake their heads in disbelief. I'm not picking on SUV owners specifically, I'm a gross consumer in my own right. Future generations will be virtually unable to comprehend our short-sighted greed. It's unlikely they'll spend a lot of time lamenting the folly of their predecessors as they'll be more concerned with feeding themselves.

The golden delicious apple that I'm eating this morning, which was grown in the orchards of Oregon, is worth contemplating. How much oil was used getting it to New Brunswick? Why am I not eating apples grown in Gagetown (20 km from my home)?

Have you heard of the Hundred Mile Diet? It's the concept of eating food grown locally, within a hundred miles of where we live. My family is going to try it for the month of July. It's going to be painful, I just know it.

So why bother?

I suppose it's better to embrace the future rather than ignore it.


  1. Bill Clinton on peak oil:

  2. Thanks anonymous...I read the Clinton article and learned even more.

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