Thursday, May 10, 2007

Peak Oil is not About Running Out of Oil!!!!

I'm getting tired of hearing it. Some economist or financial analyst or some talking head in the employ of one of the oil majors gets in front of a camera and declares something to the effect that, "The peak oil theory is dead wrong. We are not running out of oil!" The only people who ever connect peak oil and running out of oil are those who do not understand the peak oil theory, those who have a vested interest in creating confusion about peak oil because there's far too much profit to be made in people not knowing, and those attempting to discredit the peak oil theory. No one in the peak oil movement, unless they too are new to the movement and do not yet understand, ever says, or ever would say, that peak oil means the end of oil, means we are running out of oil. Most in the peak oil camp, in fact, believe we will never consume all of the oil there is, for a wide variety of reasons. In general only about thirty percent of the oil in a reserve is recoverable so there is always going to be oil left over in a field after the last well has been shut down.

Peak oil is about a global society and global economy that have become hopelessly dependent on an ever-increasing supply of cheap, high-grade oil, increasingly dependent also on natural gas and coal, the other main fossil fuels. It is about the impact on that global society and global economy when the supply of oil can no longer be increased, when the demand for oil exceeds what the world's oil fields can produce, when the primary sources of oil remaining contain only low-grade, high sulfur crudes, when we have to increasingly rely on expensive, low-output sources like tar sands and deep water wells, when the majority of the oil reserves left are in areas of high political volatility or under the control of governments increasingly intent on preserving their resources for their own future use, when there is no longer a supply buffer available to absorb market disruptions, when we have to increasingly rely on synthetic crudes produced from coal, natural gas, bio-mass, tar sands and oil shales, when all sources can no longer produce enough energy to support a growth economy and the perpetual-growth global economy begins to go into irreversible contraction.

Peak oil is not about the oil! It is about what we do with it. It is not about motor fuel. There are over 300,000 other products in everyday use around the globe made from oil or oil derivatives. Peak oil is about the gradual disappearance of one after another of those 300,000 products because their producers can no longer afford or obtain the raw materials. Most importantly, peak oil is about the ubiquitous agrochemicals that our modern agriculture has become critically dependent on, about our ability to feed ourselves. We have so denuded our commercial agricultural soils of their natural fertility that, without petrochemical inputs, many experts suggest those soils will, at least temporarily, only be able to produce one tenth to one fifth the crop yields that are being produced through the artificial fertility achieved with petrochemical inputs.

Quite literally, the lives of billions of people will be affected by peak oil and the ensuing decline in oil and the other fossil fuels. We can't produce enough food now to feed our 6.6 billion population. Every day 20-40,000 people around the world are dying of starvation and other nutrition-related diseases and illness. If the agrochemicals modern agriculture needs have to compete for raw materials with other, high-profit uses of oil, under the normal functioning of the market the high-profit uses will get the oil because they can afford to absorb higher costs than pesticides and fertilizers. If we leave it to the markets to transition us through peak oil into the long slope of oil decline we can expect those ever-dwindling reserves of oil to follow the money and go where the profits are.

With these stakes I would strongly suggest that we cannot tolerate any person, corporation, organization or government intentionally creating confusion about the state of the world's oil supply, about when we will hit peak (if, indeed, we have not already hit it which we very much appear we might have), about how the use of the remaining oil reserves will be prioritized for social need rather than corporate profits. Sooner, rather than later, those nations sitting on significant remaining oil reserves are going to decide that those reserves are far more important as a future resource for their own nation and people than they are as a means of enriching a few of the world's most profitable corporations. Sooner or later energy sovereignty is going to trump corporate globalization. Sooner or later producers are going to be unwilling to part with their precious remaining oil reserves at any price. When we reach that point, those nations which are net oil importers are going to be the first and hardest hit on the downslope. The only question then remaining is whether the people of those importing nations are going to insist or even accept their nation fighting resource wars around the planet in order to maintain their lifestyle.


Tom Wayburn said...

Hello Richard,

I just wanted you to know that I visited your blog. Thanks for all you do.

Tom Wayburn, Houston, Texas

Andrew said...

Dear Richard,

I am in the health field as a doctor.

I really enjoyed your blogs on post-hydrocarbon medicine. Sorry about your ED/triage/investigation experiences!

Some thoughts on the medical experience..
The multiple investigations / going for the last 2% of diagnostic certainty to exclude certain conditions etc is a folly that has arisen from the scientific model of medicine combined with two things - the capacity to 'do stuff' [tests, therapies, machines used in hospitals], and the subsequent expectations from patients that they will receive the benefit of all the 'stuff'. Litigation drives the level of tests being ordered, as well as our desire to refine the diagnosis to enable therapy to be appropriate.

The main problem with the modern medical model is that it arises from a disconnection with our spirituality. Death is feared, life is seen as a one-off scramble, and self-destructive lifestyles that go along with materialism don't help very much at all.

This is interesting, but not relevant to the changes coming in health as result of global climate change and peak oil consequences.

A health worker / healer working with no electricity or drugs can still deliver kindness and care, and the level of diagnostic testing available does not detract from the ability to be a healer. The physical results of course do vary according to the level of technology and drug support available.

Post-oil time is coming, and I see hospitals and 'mainstream' health care systems, as we know them, ceasing to exist. The energy and resource hunger of our health industry is not sustainable. It will be messy and dying will be a common and confronting reality. Global warming will introduce disease spectra commonly regarded as third world problems to temperate, so-called first world countries eg malaria, dengue [ see Stern Review et al].

Amidst all this, I see the need for healers who practice low-technology healing to link together soon. Basic first aid skills, midwifery skills, local traditional knowledge of healing plants [unique to each area of surviving communities], energy healing, spiritual healing, reiki, acupuncture - these will form part of the new healing matrix that will be what we have, post-oil.

I also believe that there will a profound new direction for healing based on a real understanding of energy and spirituality, but this is a foggy vision still, for me at least.

All the comments about how we need to re-engage our indigenous people in this process are correct. The traditional land owners across the world [in my context, the Australian Aborigines] know the local plants and healing herbs..we will need this knowledge.

Strangely, losing all the machines, all the multinationally manufactured drugs, and most of the surgery [ we will really miss some of the smart medical things we now can do]does not faze me.
It will be different, but much more connected to the earth and to other people.

The basic healing modalities are all about people, whereas 'modern' medicine is less personal, and more based on the scientific model.

The thing that matters, in the end, is only kindness. Our physical bodies may live a little less in time, over the coming centuries, and we may depart this earth with the febrile diseases that our mediaeval forebears did, but we can still be kind, perhaps more so, to each other. We can re-discover quiet times, meditation, prayer, nature and community. We will be focussed on growing food and moving away from the 'dominator culture' that Thom Hartmann writes of so well in 'The Last Hours of ancient Sunlight'. We will have less stress.

And as more people think like this, the hundredth monkey phenomenon will emerge, and I believe a stunning new world view will transform us. I don't know if I will be on earth to see this. I do know that to educate my family about this is the most important thing that I can do.

Enough for now, and thankyou for the opportunity to say all this.