NEW INTERNATIONALIST, October 31, 2003
Title: “Running on empty; Oil is disappearing fast”
Author: Adam Porter
GUARDIAN UNLIMITED, December 2, 2003
Title: “Bottom of the Barrel”
Author: George Monbiot
Faculty Evaluator: Rick Luttmann Ph.D.
Student Researchers: Philip Rynning, Julie Mayeda, Anna Miranda
If the former industry executives, geologists, and statisticians in the Association for the Study of Peak Oil (ASPO) are correct, oil may have already reached its highest levels of production potential. But U.S. leaders, and the mainstream media, refuse to acknowledge that we are headed for an inevitable oil crisis with extreme consequences sure to impact every aspect of our lives. As the peak is reached, oil prices will start to rise (as they have every year since 2000). As the oil decline accelerates, prices will rise even faster.
The problem is that our lives have become hard-wired to the oil economy. Oil powers the machinery of modern society and lubricates its engines. Materials need to be transported and companies need working people to make them. Workers in turn need to run a car, pay for electricity to heat their house, buy food (that is packaged in plastic). High transportation prices mean high food prices. Oil is the main ingredient in plastics and polyester: the clothes we wear, the carpets we walk on, frames for our computers, seats to sit on, bottles to drink from, and band-aids to salve our wounds. What will replace them, and who will be able to afford them, as the price of oil starts to rise? This story isn’t about the ‘end of oil’ as it is often portrayed; it is the beginning of the end of oil. But this still means a paradigmatic shift at a level not seen since the Industrial Revolution.
Our government has yet to begin diversifying our energy. Head of the energy investment bank Simmons & Co. International, Matthew Simmons said, “I am an advisor to the Bush Administration. Although, I’m not sure they are listening. What I basically told them is that we had some looming energy problems: that we were barreling into a really nasty energy crisis. We need a new energy.” But a viable alternative has yet to be developed. These economic problems will be exacerbated by the direct connection between the price of oil and the rate of unemployment. The last five recessions in the US were all preceded by a rise in the oil price.
Alternative energy, such as hydrogen, which President Bush mentioned in his State of the Union speech in January of 2004, has its own complexities and system requirements. Hydrogen, natural gas, bio-diesel, and nuclear energy sources are all considered alternative fuels. Wind and solar power are considered renewable energy resources. The viability of these options depends directly on how we plan to implement them.
The only rational response to both the impending end of the oil age and the menace of global warming is to redesign our cities, our farming, and our lives. But this will not happen without massive political pressure, and our problem is that no one ever rioted for austerity. People tend to take to the streets because they want to consume more, not less.
Author Adam Porter offers these tips: Eliminate non-essential energy use, and encourage others to do the same. Move towards renewable sources. Drive only when necessary. Buy local to defray the strain from transportation consumption. Get involved locally to plan within the community. Write your local paper as well as your representatives. The greater the demand for public discourse, the sooner the U.S. government will supply a solution. In 1976, President Jimmy Carter said, “We must face the prospect of changing our basic ways of living. This change will either be made on our own initiative in a planned way, or forced on us with chaos and suffering by the inexorable laws of nature.”
UPDATE BY ADAM PORTER: The story that global oil output is peaking, that the demand will continue to outstrip production, is simply the biggest story of the age. Bar none. It connects to everything else. It is a building block for all other stories; be it Iraq, corporate greed, Chinese growth or basic political power. You want to travel to Mars with no oil? You want to watch the Superbowl half time with no electricity? You want Michael Jackson to moonwalk on his limo outside court when even he can’t afford to drive there anymore? Think again. It’s all about oil.
Since publication of the story in New Internationalist magazine the price of oil has risen to $41 a barrel from about $30, oil workers are being killed in Saudi, pipelines and platforms are being destroyed in Iraq, Shell mislaid 23% of its reserves (whoops) and of course, oil companies are making record profits.
Mainstream response to my story was zero, nada. Some outlets are now looking at the subject in more detail. But then again they can hardly miss it. It would be a bit like not covering the Iraq war. Most of the coverage is ignorant of basic facts; all quoted reserves are lies, and parrots oil company and government policy. At least it’s consistent.
If one would like more information on the subject simply go to the internet and Google for oil production, there are enormous amounts. Other than that, go to www.peakoil.net, that is a good place to start. In Spanish, go to: www.crisisenergetica.org.
UPDATE BY GEORGE MONBIOT: Since my story was published, both Shell and BP have been forced to downgrade the size of their reserves. The oil price has continued to climb: at the time of writing it stands at over $40. The mainstream media is at last waking up to the idea that this non-renewable resource won’t last forever. The New York Times, the London Times and CBS have all followed up on the story I wrote. Perhaps, just perhaps, humanity will, almost for the first time in history, do something before it’s too late.