Peak Oil

on Mar 30 in Uncategorized by

About six weeks ago, after driving from Philadelphia to Asheville, NC, I was sufficiently scrunched up and sore that as soon as I unloaded my car, I went looking for a chiropractic adjustment.
In the waiting room, I picked up an old issue of Fortune Magazine with a headline about some looming financial crises. As a lifelong pessimist, this kind of thing always catches my attention.

The article turned out to be a four-page spread about a billionaire investor with the unlikely name of Richard Rainwater, who made his fortune betting against markets.

The premise is simple and familiar to those of us who remember the seventies. We’re running out of oil and natural gas. Virtually all geologists and government experts agree. Over half the crude that ever existed in planet earth has already been extracted. Even if we were to slow our rate of consumption to what it currently is, which is unlikely, given the increasing demand of China and India, and every last drop was extractable (also highly unlikely), we’ll run out in thirty-five years. Rainwater, a billionaire, is hedging his bets.

After getting my adjustment, I went to Malaprops, the local independent bookstore and bought the book Rainwater based his economic predictions on, The Long Emergency, by James Howard Kunstler. The Long Emergency details using painstaking logic how not only cars and trucks, but our entire way of life — including the mass production of food, pharmaceuticals, our ability to live in unfriendly climates, suburbia, and what we now call the global economy — will end in a few years.

What we have to look forward to, according to Kunstler and three or four other authors I’ve read since then, squinting with discomfort, is hugely depressing. At best, a painful powering down, a reversal of globalization and a thinning, to be euphemistic, of the world’s population and at worst, global resource wars, pandemics, massive climate change and anarchy.

I also found myself oddly consoled.

It’s difficult to live in these times and this culture without feeling like one is being constantly bullshitted and manipulated. Reading these books, I actually felt slightly relieved, as if finally, somebody was being straight with me about something I suspected, but couldn’t prove; which is, we are squandering the resources on this planet, and over-consuming in an unsustainable way.

Much of what Kunstler covers is obvious — why oil has been cheap since the last crises, why industrious capitalists, eager to rush in and invent new forms of energy that will rescue our way of life as oil disappears will not succeed. Patiently and methodically, he considers all those alternative energy strategies we so glibly tell ourselves will come on line just went oil disappears — hydrogen, nuclear, coil, wind, solar, methane, ethynol — and explains how they are nowhere near ready. Kunstler ties in worst-case scenarios like the spread of a plague-like pandemic and profound global climate change, the evidence of which is all around us. It isn’t hard to understand why most people, facing a fact pattern like this with its implications, either ball up and die or enter a state of denial.

What is beginning to sink in for me is that the worst-case scenario regarding oil and the attendant collapse of civilization is actually the most likely scenario.

I talked to my friends about this and almost to a person, they shift in their seat a little uncomfortably and then wait for the topic to pass. My friend Bruce, who is an economist and an investment advisor, says Kunstler is like Thomas Malthus, only much smarter and difficult to argue with. The weirdest thing to me is that nobody is talking about this.

I’m still kind of in shock. Looking for someone smart who can refute these facts and propose an alternative to the world that Rainwater and Kunstler see. I have calls in to a half dozen friends and colleagues whom I respect, and I’ve ordered more books and peeked at some listservs and websites. I’m opening a topic on the forum on this subject, to see if I can tease out some thoughts and impressions and input from you folks out there. Please…weigh in.

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