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Peak Oil: Another Challenge

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Without a serious revisiting of the questionable optimism that dominates any dialogue related to longer-term world oil supplies, without a harshly realistic scrub of the facts, we face unnecessarily large energy-policy risks.

Climate change [hoax or fact?], The Supreme Court's parade of idiotic rulings better-suited to the 16th century, and the ongoing duel between Democrats and the Moron Faction which now dominates Republican Party policy-making [a term used loosely], tend to clog the airwaves as we all try to muddle our way through the major challenges of the day while keeping our own private worlds afloat in an ever-deepening sea of irrational madness.

Reluctant as I am to add another Big Challenge onto the plates overflowing already, another looming problem awaits: Peak Oil. [Its significance is clouded by the steady drumbeat of the by-now-familiar tactics of those on the Right with vested interests much different than yours and mine: mislead; misrepresent; distract; deny ... the familiar list goes on.]

For those unfamiliar with the term, Peak Oil is most often explained as the point when the maximum rate of oil extraction is reached--whether due to geological, economic, or technical limitations. A ceaseless global-production decline ensues. A lot of talk about the shale boom, energy independence, "We're Number One" oil-production chatter, and the usual assortment of Happy Talk Playbook chatter tends to dominate and thus confuse.

Facts tend to disturb the empty rhetoric, however. Finite resources have this annoying characteristic of being finite. And when the finite resources in question are ones so critical to Life As We Know It as fossil fuels are, diminished supply poses a problem or two, compounded by another unpleasant reality: At this moment, we have absolutely nothing in place to replace the vast amount of energy we derive from the tens of billions of barrels of oil used annually.

I'm a firm believer in peak oil's basic premise: we have reached or will soon reach the point where we simply cannot and will not produce any more oil than we already have--recent and legitimate production increases notwithstanding. I don't think the sky is falling ... yet. But a steady decline in rate of production is ignored at our collective peril.

We cannot effectively deal with a problem if we don't understand how it will affect us, and relatively few understand the magnitude of oil's influence and presence in their everyday lives. It's not usually a topic of everyday conversation.

But almost everything that sustains or assists us has oil as a basic component: food (fertilizers and transportation), furnishings, cosmetics, plastics ... the list of oil-based products is almost endless. There are literally hundreds of thousands of them. Life as we know it does not run without oil ... and that's going to create some challenges for us.

Peak oil is NOT about running out of oil. Those who dispute the concept invariably, consistently--and inaccurately--falsely attribute that claim to peak oil proponents. (When facts are not on your side, what is one to do?) That meme is a poor attempt to discredit those who are attempting in good faith to help others understand the issues and potential consequences.

Oil will be around for decades to come. There are still hundreds of billions of barrels in the ground (although quality may be a serious factor, among other related challenges). How easily and inexpensively we get at the oil, extract it, refine it, and then utilize and distribute it to meet increasing demand are entirely different matters, however. Those are the core issues of Peak Oil.

I do not want to believe in peak oil for many reasons. I hope every proponent is wrong twice over, but I am not optimistic on that score.

I like our way of life, and am dismayed that it may soon change forever--in quite dramatic ways (not that it hasn't already). Soon doesn't necessarily mean "soon" as we are accustomed to using that term, but it's only a few short years before industry and lifestyles really change. It's important that we understand why that is.

I am definitely not the peak oil movement's poster child.

We own two very nice luxury automobiles--one an SUV. We have a terrific second home with ocean views on 3 sides and less than an hour's drive from our home in the 'burbs of Boston. It takes a several-hundred-yard walk to the nearest bus stop and the 20+ stops thereafter; two subway trips; a commuter rail trip; another bus trip at the tail end, and a several-hundred-yard walk thereafter for us to get to our beach house door-to-door via public transportation ... about 3 hours start to finish if we schedule it right. The return trip features the bonus of a brutal walk up our very long and very steep hill to our home at the top.

We don't make that trip ... yet. In the summer heat, luggage and supplies get heavy, and quickly. We drive. Often. Always. Sometimes we make two round trips in the same day. We drive to our summer home a lot between April and November.

We've traveled a fair amount, have lots of neat household toys, and in general have enjoyed a very nice lifestyle in recent years. But we won't be donating or selling any of our possessions in the near or not-so-near future.

Peak-oil idealism often clashes with financial and family realities above ground--part of my dilemma as a peak-oil advocate.

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Looking Left and Right: Inspiring Different Ideas, Envisioning Better Tomorrows I remain a firm believer in late U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone's observation that "We all do better when we all do better." That objective might be worth pursuing (more...)

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