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Peak Oil: Can We Begin? Pt 1

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One day we will run out of oil, it is not today or tomorrow, but one day we will run out of oil and we have to leave oil before oil leaves us, and we have to prepare ourselves for that day. The earlier we start, the better, because all of our economic and social system is based on oil, so to change from that will take a lot of time and a lot of money and we should take this issue very seriously. [quoting Dr Fatih Birol, at that time the chief economist and now Executive Director at the International Energy Agency (IEA)]

That "one day" is in all likelihood one neither our generation nor those several to follow will see, if that observation is to be taken literally. Peak-oil deniers like to use that "running out of oil" meme for their own misleading purposes. Given the hundreds of billions of barrels of oil buried underground worldwide, making that simplistic point and no other is an easy win for them--today.

It also highlights a certain entrenched unwillingness to consider the broader view--the one with facts and implications. The public is rarely treated to that part of Dr. Birol's concerns.

The issue, much as deniers would like to simplify it to the "Not-Running-Out-Of-Oil" position, is not that at all. It's a useful distraction [for them], but does nothing to address the real challenges we'll be facing in the years ahead. That of course is their objective. One more day of misleading and confusing the public is one more day the interests of the few are preserved and protected at our expense.

Relying on a citizenry already overburdened with their own concerns, layering on our future energy supply issue given its wide-ranging importance today and challenges tomorrow [much like climate change] is simply not a consideration for those who know [or should know] better. Finite resources are still finite, and the more difficult they are to locate, extract, and provide, the more expensive they are.

Good for them! For the rest of us, not so much. Nice to be able to get away with it, isn't it?

The important issue easily overlooked as we bog ourselves down with statistics and important but extraneous facts is precisely what Dr. Birol pointed out:

"The earlier we start, the better, because all of our economic and social system is based on oil, so to change from that will take a lot of time and a lot of money."

That is the unfortunate destination we'll arrive at somewhere in the too-near future. Arguing when is another questionable distraction. The point is that just about every facet of modern society has developed to the extent it has because of our good fortune in having an [at that time] always-available-and-affordable vital resource. Peak oil tells us that will no longer be the case, and that's due entirely to the realities of fossil-fuel production past, present, and future. That it is not an imminent catastrophe does not diminish the inevitable impact resulting from a declining supply of a readily available and affordable resource.

It's not enough to assert that we have a gazillion [or two] barrels of oil underground or under the sea. We'll take the opponents' position on that at face value if it means we can move beyond that factoid. Focusing on that is nit-picking and an ultimately useless debate point.

What will it take to get to and actually extract and then refine those gazillion barrels?
What will it cost?
Are the technologies in place to locate what are certainly more challenging conditions and locations?
If technologies, personnel, and testing are not yet ready or even available in the preliminary stages, how soon can we expect they will be?
What will be the cost for those efforts?
What assurances can be relied upon?
How comparable will the efficiencies be for what will surely be unconventional sources lacking the full range of efficiencies and benefits of conventional crude oil [the resource whose production peaked a decade ago, oh by the way]?

Magical thinking and an other-worldly level of optimism regarding "just in time" answers to these and many other questions is fine and well if it helps deniers sleep at night, but Happy Talk devoid of legitimate considerations as to what happens to finite resources used as extensively as crude oil has been offers society absolutely nothing of enduring benefit. We will all pay the price for that.

Should we be content with that outcome because it's more pleasing to the ears?

Adapted from a blog post of mine

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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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