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Peak oil - July 17

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Many more articles are available through the Energy Bulletin homepage

The twilight of mechanized lumpenleisure

James Howard Kunstler,
Among the many wonders and marvels of American life in the twentieth century, especially after World War Two, when our country ruled much of the world economically, was the astounding rise in standards of living among social classes who had hardly known leisure or had a dollar to spare on the accoutrements of it from time immemorial. The subject of class itself in America has been so sore, that we can barely acknowledge its existence as a fact of life, despite the workings of whole industries devoted to exploiting the envy of the lower orders.

In a nation of outsourced blue collar jobs, shrinking incomes, vanishing medical insurance, rising fuel and heating costs, and net-zero personal savings, the anxiety level of the struggling classes has to be appeased politically, and one way to minimize the current cost of that is to charge it off to posterity and the public interest.

... Now, politically, the situation I describe [the egalitarian consumerism of the 1950s and 60s U.S.] would seem to be very desirable, perhaps ideal, considering all the unjust rotten systems that had existed before and elsewhere. The American system in those years was fairly equitable and appeared to be stable. But like all good things deriving from industrial civilization, this social leveling process had some strange diminishing returns. One was that the lower ranks of American society became so affluent by historical terms that they were able to impose their tastes on everybody else, if only because there were so many of them, with so much money to spend. They begin to occupy and modify the terrain of America in a way that lower classes never had been able to before – using the prime artifact of industrial civilization to accomplish that takeover, namely the car. They bought homes in the new subdivisions that were obliterating the rural hinterlands of the cities,

... Where does this leave us as we enter the new period of history I have several times alluded to: the post-cheap-oil world, and eventually a world altogether without recoverable fossil fuels? You could say up a cul-de-sac in a rusted GMC Denali without a fill-up. Or you could say more to the point, in a society that will have to get its thrills and satisfactions in other ways, involving fewer prosthetic projections of our will-to-power. The will-to-power itself will probably be subdued by something more elemental: a will to stay warm, clean, and well-nourished in the era of post-oil-and-gas hardship and turbulence we are entering, which I have taken to calling the Long Emergency.
(16 July 2006)
Kunstler writes: "An essay I wrote for a soon-to-be published anthology about the rape of the American landscape."

Peak experience: The Age of Oil is coming to an end
Interview with Richard Heinberg
Arnie Cooper, The Sun (U.S. magazine)
Born in 1950, Heinberg grew up in St. Joseph, Missouri. His father, a high-school physics and chemistry teacher and later a quality-control chemist, inspired Heinberg’s interest in the scientific method. Heinberg also loved music, and in college he studied the violin. Having rejected his parents’ rigid Christian fundamentalism, he looked for spiritual alternatives. For a time he lived in Colorado’s Sunrise Ranch, an intentional community that served as the headquarters for an organization called “Emissaries of the Divine Light.” It was “a sort of benign cult,” he says.

In the late eighties Heinberg started reading the works of historian Lewis Mumford, who helped him understand the history of technology from an ecological and humanistic perspective. Another inspiration was M.K. Hubbard, the late geophysicist who accurately predicted the decline of U.S. oil production in 1970. Heinberg found a mentor in Colin J. Campbell, a British Petroleum geologist and godfather of the modern peak-oil movement.

...Cooper: Some readers were disappointed that you didn’t include a chapter on global consciousness change. Why didn’t you?

Heinberg: I agree that we need to change our consciousness, but I guess I’m impatient with the idea that we can change the world just by changing our thinking. Unless we also change our behavior, it’s pretty pointless.

Anthropology has shown that cultural change tends to start at the level of our relationship with the natural world, particularly how we get our food. That’s why we classify societies as “hunter-gatherer” or “agricultural.” Cultural change can happen also at the level of politics, ideology, or religion, but the really fundamental change starts with our relationship to the natural world. Some anthropologists call this the cultural “infrastructure,” as distinct from a society’s “structure” of politics and economics and its “superstructure” of ideology and religion.

We’re on the verge of an infrastructural shift as profound as any in human history, on the scale of the Industrial Revolution. You might say we’re going to be seeing the other side of that revolution, and it will change our political system, our ideologies, and our beliefs. The most important work we can do right now is at the level of infrastructure: finding new ways to meet our basic needs — particularly for food — in a sustainable way.
(July 2006 issue)

All eyes on the last wilderness (Antarctica and energy)

Andrew Darby, Sydney Morning Herald
Australia is losing control of its Antarctic territory as an energy-hungry world prepares to move in.
THE Larsemann Hills are the last place on Earth you'd expect to be an international flashpoint. These hills are bare rock hummocks surrounded by ice on the shore of Prydz Bay in eastern Antarctica. The Larsemanns would seem to offer little to squabble about unless you were a snow petrel looking for a nest crevice.

... [Current conflicts about Antarctica] might be something to worry about some generations hence if not for one thing: oil. Little is known about Antarctica's energy riches, but the offshore sediments are recognised as possible prospective ground. The technical challenge of drilling for hydrocarbons through ice and stormy waters thousands of metres deep is already being accomplished elsewhere.

The Iranian commentator Dr Ali Samsam Bakhtiari was invited to address an international science meeting in Hobart earlier this month on the topic of "peak oil". He told the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research that the peak of oil supply from known global reserves was reached this year.

"There is only one frontier left, and that is Antarctica," Bakhtiari commented. "This is the big, and the last, question on the globe for the oil industry. It's not for tomorrow. It's for the future, and we have to think about it."

Oil cost $US27 ($36) a barrel two years ago. Last week it went as high as $US78. At $US150 or $US200 a barrel it would make economic sense to exploit even Antarctic energy.

Minerals exploration was banned indefinitely under the Antarctic Treaty's 1993 Madrid protocol. It declares Antarctica to be "a natural reserve, devoted to peace and science". But at US insistence, a review clause was inserted allowing for the ban to be revisited after 2048.

Since the protocol was agreed, Russian and South Korean government agencies have at times talked up the prospects of Antarctic mining, only to cool down when questioned about it by other treaty nations. "The day they decide, they will go in," Bakhtiari said of energy companies. "They are very powerful, because crude oil makes the world turn around."

Speaking for the environmentalists of the Antarctic and Southern Oceans Coalition, Hemmings says Bakhtiari's comments were authoritative, and alarming. "Drilling for oil in Antarctica would represent our last desperate attempt to get a fix for our oil habit."
(17 July 2006)
Also posted at The Age.

Peak Oil mentioned in G8 report
The G8 Research Group has released a report on G8 priorities at the 2006 St. Petersburg Summit.

Peak Oil is mentioned on pages 45-46.


Peak Oil Theory
In 1956, the geophysicist Marion King Hubbert correctly predicted that American oil production would peak sometime between 1966 and 1972. He made his bold prediction by analyzing the quantity of oil in existing reserves, the number and size of new discoveries, and knowledge of production profiles of producing oil wells.

Conducting similar analyses on the world oil supply, individuals such as investment banker and presidential adviser Matthew Simmons predicted that the global “Hubbert’s Peak” would occur in 2005, followed by a precipitous fall.285 By 2025, global oil production is expected to have declined 43% to 48 million bpd. This projected shortfall of almost 70 million bpd prompted several analysts, including Goldman Sachs researcher Arjun Murti and CIBC Chief Economist Jeff Rubin, to predict a “super spike” in oil prices of up to $100-$120 per barrel in the next few years.

According to Eric Sprott of Sprott Asset Management, “demand for oil is so inelastic that its rising price has done nothing to slow demand in the last two years. There are simply no alternatives to energy.”

It should be noted, however, that there are many who disagree with the Peak Oil Theory, pointing to the untapped energy sources on the east and west coasts of North America, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeast Alaska and the Canadian oil sands. Much of the uncertainty exists due to the opaque and unreliable information on oil production and supplies in Saudi Arabia and other OPEC countries. The G8 has identified this problem in the past and encourages increased market transparency and standardized reporting between oil producers, oil consumers and oil companies.

(17 July 2006)

Thinking The Unthinkable

Norman Church, Counter Currents
"Down one road lies disaster, down the other utter catastrophe.Let us hope we have the wisdom to choose wisely." - Woody Allen


Oil depletion is just the first of a series of resource crisis humanity is about to face because there are just too many of us! This century we will face peak resources, period.

There are many fascinating and exciting renewable energy developments. Wind turbines, solar energy, geothermal, biomass, wave and tidal power schemes which are all important energy sources for the future - and could at least help keep the electricity grid going to some degree!

The popular assumption is that these renewable energy sources, perhaps also including uranium, plutonium and just possibly nuclear, which seems to be coming back on the agenda, will smoothly replace fossil fuels as these become scarce, thanks to our inherited technological expertise. However, although these all produce electricity they are not liquid fuels.

Unfortunately, these popular assumptions could hardly be more wrong.
(17 July 2006)
Peak oil, die-off and the rapid end of civilisation. A vision which I still find to some extent sadly compelling, and doubly saddened in that it could prove a self-fulfilling prophecy for lack of a better vision. -AF

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