Kevin Drum just wrapped up an excellent five-part series on peak oil and its portents. If your eyes aren’t already glazed over, take a read.
Wow! I just skipped to part five, and plan on perusing the others, but it alone was very informative and admirably pragmatic and cagey about the whole business.
Yeah — without professing any kind of special knowledge or expertise about oil production, this series was terrific.
The key clarification, at least for me, is that what we’re facing isn’t an extinction/wholesale depletion of the world’s oil supply, but a decrease in the rate of oil production, especially of high-qualiry, easy-to-get oil: soon, we won’t be able to pump enough oil fast enough to keep up with demand.
On the minus side, as KDrum points out, this means that our system is in an extremely precarious balance — it doesn’t take much of a shock to send the oil markets reeling.
On the plus side, this means that an overall reduction in demand isn’t just a prolongation of the inevitable: it just might give the industry enough breathing room to develop better technologies both to get to the tougher-to-reach oil and to ease the transition to alternative fuels.
One point of contention: I know it’s not wholly in his purview, but Drum glides over the problem of electricity generation to move to his main focus, oil used in transportation. We shouldn’t confuse oil policy with energy policy, he writes.
But it may be short-sighted to ignore, however strategically, one aspect of the looming energy crisis in favor of another, however nearer the danger. When I was a kid, I remember lots of hubbub about chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, wiping out the ozone layer. Industry and ordinary Americans mobilized against CFCs, getting rid of old refrigerators and aerosol spray bottles. But we ignored the problem of carbon-dioxide emissions — which is why we’re still having debates about global warming. Most people don’t know that their electric lawnmowers burn coal. They don’t see it. Energy may have to return to a tangible phenomenon, rather than a transparent one, to make people change their habits.
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