1/11/2006

t r u t h o u t - Thanksgiving Day 2005 - the day Peak Oil started ?

Thanksgiving Day 2005 - Kelpie Wilson

Peak oil and Thanksgiving Day are now linked. Eminent geologist Kenneth Deffeyes predicted two years ago that the peak moment of world oil production would occur on Thanksgiving Day 2005.

... given all the unknowns, it may be as good as any other prediction about the end of the oil age.

One thing that is not in doubt is that the oil age will end. Geology and physics tell us that much. But because so many governments and corporations have not shared honest information about their oil reserves, they have not presented a reliable timeframe for the depletion of the oil resource.

The official agencies, the US Energy Information Agency and the European International Energy Agency, have said that world oil production will not peak until sometime around 2030. But last year after Royal Dutch Shell got caught inflating its reserve numbers in order to keep its share prices from plunging, the world suddenly started questioning the official numbers, and new reports have emerged from every quarter showing that peak oil is much closer than 2030. Most of these reports put the peak somewhere between 2006 and 2012. Others say we have already passed it.

One thing to remember about oil supply is that its peak will not resemble the Matterhorn. Instead it will look like a long rumbling plateau, bouncing around for a period before it slopes inexorably down. This is because, as oil prices go up, it becomes economical to produce oil that was bypassed as too expensive until now. This is dirty, heavy oil, oil that comes from tar sands or oil that is difficult to reach like arctic and deep off-shore oil.

Contemplating the end of oil is frightening, even terrifying. Every bit of our economy depends on cheap oil to function properly. No viable substitute lies waiting the wings. The end of oil means a radical change in our way of life. But since it is Thanksgiving, let's take a clear-eyed look at our situation and see if there is anything that we can be thankful for.

The biggest thing to be thankful for is that there is not more oil than there is. More oil would just dig us deeper into the climate change hole. Climate change appears to be accelerating more rapidly than predicted. We can live without oil and coal. We cannot live without a habitable climate. The worst-case scenarios for climate change involve dying, acid oceans and an atmosphere full of methane. The not-so-bad scenarios could still wipe out agriculture over large regions and drown every coastal city.

We are like the addict who would have died of an overdose if he hadn't run out of smack first, so let's be thankful that our supply is being cut off.

The next thing to be thankful for is that our human population has not grown any larger than it has before we have to deal with the post-oil transition. When my parents were born, in the 1920s, world population was about 2 billion people. By the time I came of age it had more than doubled, and it is now nearing 6.5 billion.

We cannot feed these billions without diesel-powered farm machinery and fertilizer produced from oil and gas. In the future, population will contract. There will be either a higher death rate from starvation and disease or there will be a lower birth rate from conscientiously applied birth control. There may be both, and our best hope for relieving suffering will be to tilt the balance as far as possible to a lower birth rate.

If peak oil was not to be reached until 2050, say, human population would have ballooned to 9 or 10 billion. The chances of contracting to a sustainable population without massive human die-off would have been nil.

One more thing to give thanks for is our elders. As oil prices go up, we are going to do some belt-tightening and we still have grandmothers and grandfathers who remember what that is like. We still have people among us who remember how to pluck a chicken, sew a dress, build a pole barn and produce any number of things that most of us would just go buy at Wal-Mart.

When you cook your Thanksgiving meal this year, give a moment's thought to your stove. My mother recently told me a story about my grandmother. When Grandma moved off the farm back in the 1940s, she had to buy a new stove. Her choice was an all-gas cook stove or a hybrid stove with a wood firebox. "Which one did she buy?" I asked my mother.

"You remember Crystal," my mother replied, "she was such a practical woman. Of course she got the one with the wood firebox. I don't think she quite trusted that the gas would always be there."....

t r u t h o u t - Kelpie Wilson | Thanksgiving Day 2005

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