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The Suburban Fantasy

James Howard Kunstler,
…Contrary to a faction of wishful thinkers, the earth does not have a creamy nougat center of oil. Oil fields do not replenish themselves. Also contrary to the prevailing wish, no combination of alternative fuels will allow us to keep running the interstate highway system, Wal-Mart, Walt Disney World and the other furnishings of what Dick Cheney called our “non-negotiable way of life.”

People who refuse to negotiate with the circumstances that the world throws at them automatically get assigned a new negotiating partner: reality. Reality then requires you to change your behavior, whether you like it or not. With global oil production peaking, we are now subject to rising oil prices, as markets are forced to contend with allocating a resource heading in the direction of scarcity. Oil prices are only likely to go higher—though there is apt to be a ratcheting effect as high oil prices depress economic activity and thus dampen demand for oil which will depress prices leading to increased consumption which will then kick prices back up, and so on. The prospects for more geopolitical friction over oil also self-evidently increase, as industrial nations desperately maneuver for supplies.

Mainly though, the danger lies in the resulting instability of the super-sized complex systems that we depend on daily.

Trouble with oil will spell huge problems with how we grow our food, how we conduct trade, how we move around and how we inhabit the terrain of North America. These systems are going to wobble and eventually fail unless some effort is made to reform their scale and their procedures. For example, Wal-Mart’s profit margins will disappear as higher diesel fuel prices hit its “warehouse-on-wheels.”

Now, in the face of this, you’d think that the national leadership in politics, business and science would prepare the public for substantial necessary changes in the way we do things. What we are seeing across the board, though, is merely a desperate wish to keep the cars running by any conceivable means, at all costs. That is the sole target of our focus. Our leaders don’t get it. We citizens have to make other arrangements.
(26 May 2006)

A retired nuclear physicist traces his discovery of peak oil theory

John Rawlins, Raise the Hammer

A Personal Peak Oil Discovery Process, Part I

I recall reading a Scientific American article in 1998 about world oil supply, titled The End of Cheap Oil. Colin Campbell and Jean Laherrère predicted that the world oil extraction rate would increase until around 2005-2010, then peak and quickly enter decline, with decline rates of a few percent per year.

That seemed interesting but not all that worrying to a 58 year old semi-retired nuclear physicist teaching astronomy and physics in a community college in northwest Washington state. I posted their graphs on my office door and occasionally discussed the topic with students, but I didn’t really get it. Just having less gasoline for transportation seemed the least of our worries.

I basically did nothing to begin getting ready for the cursed event until more recently. Now, in May 2006, world oil extraction seems to be peaking, gasoline prices are rising even before the summer driving season, the next hurricane season starts soon, geopolitical nightmares are developing in many oil-producing regions, and my wife and I feel unprepared for (and worried about) collapse.

In my previous career with Westinghouse Hanford Company in eastern Washington, I spent a few very frustrating years in the early 1990s working on US energy policy issues. In the end I was convinced that our democratic form of government is totally unable to formulate a wise, technically coherent, long-lasting national energy policy.

Fifteen years later, my worst fears are being realized, and my faith in any government “solution” is at absolute zero for this country. We consume far too much energy, and two-thirds of what we consume depends on fuels that are no longer reliable: oil and natural gas. Of these, oil is the most fundamental: almost everything that moves uses an oil derivative for fuel.
(26 May 2006)

Organizing to energize the community

Lynda King, Bolton Common and Harvard Post
…an increasing number of people believe that the world will face an “energy famine” in the next five to 10 years, and that in addition to cultivating alternative sources of energy, people will have to adapt their way of life to reduce our country’s dependence on oil. Bill and Sydney Blackwell of Willow Road, founders of Harvard Local, are two of those people.

The Blackwells had an epiphany in 2004, after viewing the film “The End of Suburbia” at Bill’s brother’s in Vermont. The documentary “explores the American way of life and its prospects as global demand for fossil fuels begins to outstrip supply.” (Synopsis from the Web site Alarmed by what they learned in the film, they sought out more information on the subject, and did a lot of reading, including the book “Power Down,” by Richard Heinberg, which looks at possible responses to a coming energy famine.

… Bill said that, after seeing the film, “We worried about it for six months, then decided ‘we’ve got to do something.'”

Sydney said they put together a mailing list of people they thought might be interested in seeing “The End of Suburbia,” and held a screening. They subsequently formed a loose-knit group of about 40 people committed to doing something about the energy problem.

Sydney said, “The intent of Harvard Local is to be a forum for anyone interested in the [oil depletion] issue and what they can do about it.” She said the group is “a collection of people with common interests, concerns and a desire to find what we can do in our everyday lives.”
(26 May 2006)

Report on the Energy Vulnerability Summit

Liz Logan, sustenance (blog)
I am inspired. The Energy Vulnerabilty Summit in Petaluma. CA [on May 19], was perhaps the first time in history when local government officials have gotten together to learn about and discuss peak oil. It was, by all accounts, very successful. Here is my diary of the day:

… first keynote speaker, Richard Heinberg, author of Powerdown and The Party’s Over and core faculty member at the New College of California.

9:15 AM: Richard leads us through a very skillful introduction to our energy vulnerability (the non-confrontational way to say “peak oil” to municipalities). You can practically see the light bulbs turning on over the participant’s heads. Much of it is probably familiar ground to most readers, but I did hear a statistic that is new to me. By 2010 we’ll need 30 Mb/day in addition to our current production globally, but we only have 16.5 Mb/day coming on line. So we can plan on being 14.5 Mb/day short in four short years.

He also pointed out the Hirsch reports use of the word “unprecedented” in their report.

Another fact that hasn’t gotten any press is about the demand destruction of natural gas. $15/1000 sq Ft costs forced companies to relocate overseas where NG is cheaper. And 100 chemical plants have shut down in the last six months, loosing 100,000 jobs.

His final message was that our primary strategy must be to reduce demand, and secondarily to find alternatives.

10:00 AM: We have a lively Q&A. One theme was the folly of investing in infrastructure for LNG or coal or even uranium because at some point, and in some cases very soon, we will run out of cheap LNG and coal and uranium.

A petroleum engineer said that the decline is not speculation–it is well known and based on thousands of wells and how they decline. She also added that we won’t find another giant–they know where the fields are, and the technology to find fields is quite mature.

Richard said that retired oil executives come up to him all the time after his talks and validate peak oil. He even met the guy who did Chevron’s “will you join us” campaign. He said that Chevron’s CEO wanted to get the word out to people without panicking them.

…second keynote speaker, Julian Darley, the founder of the Global Public Media and the Post Carbon Institute and author of High Noon for Natural Gas.
He emphasized the importance of working with local officials–how they are the ones who have the power, and are the ones who are going to be feeling the crunch. The lesson of Katrina is YOYO (you’re on your own!)

He shared a survey of what municipalities are doing around the world to deal with their energy vulnerability.
(20 May 2006)
The Energy Vulnerability Summit was held May 19 in Petaluma, California. It was a forum for North Bay elected and appointed officials to explore the local implications of rising energy costs.

According to EVS (Energy Vulnerability Summit) Planning Committee Member Matt Stevens, “The conference was by all accounts a success. We had approximately 40 elected officials in attendance, with the mix being North Bay elected and appointed officials representing cities from and counties of Marin, Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino, as well as a number of interested parties consisting of event sponsors (see list below), academics from UC Davis, a few other key peak oil organizers from WEL (Willits Economic Localization) and from other parts of the US (Oregon & Georgia); we even had a former oil well performance and reserve estimate specialist from BP in attendance.”