Monday, May 22, 2006
End Times for Cheap Oil
James Howard Kunstler, author of "The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century," has emerged as the most dire and articulate proponent of a school of thought known as Peak Oil, the idea that the world has or will soon reach maximum oil production, after which oil becomes scarcer and more expensive to extract.
But there's nothing theoretical about it. Like global warming, Peak Oil - a bell-curve description of oil reserves first outlined by geophysicist M. King Hubbert - widely accepted by serious people. Discoveries of new oil topped out in 1964. The world consumes about 27 billion barrels of oil a year. At current pace, the world's estimated 1 trillion barrels of oil reserves will be gone within a few decades, but as a practical matter, extracting every drop from sources like Canadian oil shale would be impossible, since the effort would consume more energy than it produces.
"After peak," writes Kunstler, "all bets are off about civilization's future."
If Al Gore's documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" has a single message, it's that global warming is bad—very, very bad. Floods, droughts, famine, disease . . . a miasma of End Times calamity caused by the burning of fossil fuels.
Even at that, Gore is "a candy-assed optimist," according to Kunstler.
Whereas Gore and other prophets of climate change believe we still have the time and means to avert the worst consequences of anthropogenic global warming—hybrid cars, solar panels!—Kunstler argues with hellish persuasion that we are basically toast. Why? The entire edifice of American civilization—from our mega-scale methods of food production to our great repositories of national wealth, that is, the equity invested in our sprawling suburbs—is propped up, trembling as if balanced on matchsticks, on cheap oil. And there is no substitute for cheap oil.
End Times - Los Angeles Times
Post Carbon Books & End of Suburbia DVD