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WHEN PEAK OIL MEETS GODZILLA

by William Thomas

 

What do you suppose will happen when faltering oil supplies and skyrocketing demand run head-on into the roaring Godzilla of Climate Change?

If you answered, “Bad juju,” go to the head of the class.

If you shouted, “I’m not listening to any more hysterical green commie pinko doom drivel!”, better make sure there’s still water coming out of your kitchen taps before checking the fuel gauge of your own personal carbon burner. That’s right, Bubba. There’s a tiger in all our tanks. And he’s ravenous enough to devour every life we’ve known.

 

Feeling peakish

Journalist Jan Fel describes Peak Oil as “the period after which global oil and natural gas demand outstrips supply, and the prices for these commodities become too volatile for modern society to function.”

News Flash: Americans import about two-thirds of all the oil we use. Yet the world is consuming all the oil it can produce. Kuwait’s Great Burgan, the Daqing of China, Cantarell of Mexico, Ghawar of Saudi Arabia, North Sea and Alaska North Slope “superfields” are all past peak and in decline.

Just as demand is surging, net world oil production is falling. As “End Of Suburbia” filmmaker James Howard Kunstler points out, “The top ten exporters are showing a net export decline rate of 7% the past year, trending toward a 50% export decline over the coming ten years.”

“Oil looks extremely tight in five years’ time,” the International Energy Agency declared this month (November 2007). Pointing to a need for doubling and tripling output from OPEC producers, the IEA must have overlooked OPEC’s recent faltering attempts to boost production by just 500,000 barrels per day – when the world actually needs an extra 5 million barrels of oil for its daily fix. That’s 3 million to make up for the post-peak decline of the older, biggest fields listed above, plus another 2 mil to meet skyrocketing demand from a population attempting to double within decades.

Though demand is set to grow to 95.8 million barrels a day by 2012, the IEA admits: “additional global refining capacity over the next five years will not match earlier expectations.”

Not by a country mile.

Iran, formerly the world’s second biggest oil producer, is looking for other sources of energy and income. Top-ranked Saudi Arabia’s oil fields are in decline. Kunstler reveals an internal Saudi Aramco document estimating total production capacity in 2011 at 10.15 million barrels a day – about their current output. But to meet expected world demand, the Department of Energy says Saudi Arabia must produce 13.6 million barrels a day by 2010 and 19.5 million barrels a day by 2020.

This improbable projection has sparked hysterical laughter in otherwise gloomy Big Oil boardrooms.

 

Running on empty

As recently as 2003, the U.S. Department of Energy figured global oil demand will grow to 111 million barrels per day by 2025 – with daily oil output conveniently rising to 123 million barrels as key oil producers like Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia doubled or tripled their oil production.

Oops! By the end of 2005, global daily oil output dropped by 12 million barrels.

“The oil producing nations of the world are currently pumping at full capacity but are struggling to produce much more than 84 million barrels per day,” Michael Klare, Professor of Peace and World Security Studies at Hampshire College and author of Blood and Oil and Resource Wars reports.

Can anyone spell s-h-o-r-t-f-a-l-l? As in cliff?

In March 2005, DOE reversed its calculus, proclaiming: “The challenge of oil peaking deserves immediate, serious attention, if risks are to be fully understood and mitigation begun on a timely basis… The world has never faced a problem like this. Without massive mitigation… the problem will be pervasive and will not be temporary. Previous energy transitions were gradual and evolutionary. Oil peaking will be abrupt and revolutionary.”

Edward Price Jr., former top Saudi Aramco and Chevron executive and leading United States government adviser, expects global oil markets to be in “short supply” by 2015.

He’s not kidding. The German Energy Watch Group forecasts oil production to decline 7% a year – plummeting to just 58 million barrels a day by 2020. By then, at least 111 million barrels will be needed to run modern societies.

Buy oil stocks now? A July 27, 2007 article in the Wall Street Journal cautions that investors are “bracing for disappointing results” as the cost of new production rises and output declines. “We’re only a headline of significance away from $100 oil,” declares a futures broker.

Michael Klare agrees. “A U.S. military strike against Iran could trigger such a price increase in the energy equivalent of a nano-second,” says this peace and security specialist.

But we’re almost there anyway. Chevron’s David O’Reilly, CEO of America’s second largest oil giant, has been taking out full-page ads in the New York Times and other newspapers declaring: “One thing is clear: the era of easy oil is over.”

“Our entire consumer economy is built on the idea that oil will be relatively inexpensive and infinitely available,” writes columnist Rod Dreher at the Dallas Morning News. “But what if it’s ending? World supply can barely keep up with demand.”

This is not good news. Not even for those demanding immediate carbon cuts.

“The main thing about Peak Oil – and this could be what everyone needs to grasp hold of – is that… oil is so important to everything that modern industrial society is based upon,” Kunstler insists. “We can see that the decline of oil will pose serious questions about how we live and the systems, structures and culture we have developed. Peak Oil is therefore a symbol of the high-watermark of the hydrocarbon human and everything associated with it.”

Thing is, much of the planet’s easy-to-get “light, sweet crude” has already been extracted and pumped into Earth’s recirculating and interlinked atmosphere and ocean. The black goo that’s left is hard to reach and may be accompanied by bombs and gunfire on its way to aging refineries that can’t process it. Kunstler calls it, “Tough oil.” And in times of tough oil, “the odds tip toward tough luck as well.”

 

Passing gas

Natural gas – the world’s second leading source of energy and the number one source of electrical generation in the USA – is also running out. Unlike oil, which slows gradually as underground basins are tapped, exploited natural gas flows like air from a punctured tire – hssss! Followed by sudden silence.

“The natural gas situation is at least equally ominous,” warns James Howard Kunstler. ”Half the homes in America are heated with gas furnaces and about 16% of our electricity is made with it. Industry uses natural gas as the main ingredient in fertilizer, plastics, ink, glue, paint, laundry detergent, insect repellents and many other common household necessities. Synthetic rubber and man-made fibers like nylon could not be made without the chemicals derived from natural gas.”

 

Slippery slope

“The issue is not about running out – it’s about what happens when you head over the all-time production peak down the slippery slope of depletion,” Kunstler impatiently explains. “And what happens is that the complex systems we depend on for everyday life in advanced societies begin to falter, wobble, and fail – and the failures in each system will in turn weaken the others. By complex systems I mean the way we produce our food, the way we conduct manufacture and trade, the way we operate banking and finance, the way we move people and things from one place to another, and the way we inhabit the landscape.”

Kunstler is as pissed off as GW is blasé. “We’ve turned into this nation of overfed clowns, riding around in clown cars, eating clown food, watching clown shows,” he says. “The idea that when you wish upon a star, your dreams come true. It’s not a good thing for adults to wish upon a star.”

“The biggest obstacle to getting our petro-dependent society to change its wasteful ways is collective insanity,” agrees Jan Frel. “The biggest obstacle to change seems to be cultural inertia. Most of us are zooming along blissfully in exactly the wrong direction: building more freeways, more malls, more auto-dependent housing developments, increasingly grotesque and demeaning commercial enterprises sucking the meaning out of our lives and American society as a whole.”

It is our collective insanity “that makes it possible for us to drive, consume and build freeways” as though there is no tomorrow.

Because at this rate, there won’t be. At least not one that we recognize.

 

Bouncing our reality checks

In imagining “A Future Without Cars”, Kunstler describes a nation “sleepwalking into an era of unprecedented hardship and disorder – largely due to the end of reliably cheap and abundant oil. We’re still blindly following that path into a dangerous future, lost in dark raptures of infotainment, diverted by inane preoccupations with sex and celebrity, made frantic by incessant motoring.”

Virtual televised and video-gamed reality is about to run head-on into the real deal.

“The coming age of energy scarcity will change everything about how we live in this country,” Kunstler foresees. “It will alter the fundamental terms of industrial economies. It will ramify and amplify many of the problems presented by climate change. It will require us to behave differently. But we are not paying attention.”

Instead, we Norté Americanos are still locked in Kunstler’s “consensus trance” of Instant Techno Fix.

For the Australian Aboriginal, connecting with the Dreamtime is an essential reconnection with the spirits inhabiting a living Earth, revealing not only tribal right action in each moment, but the way to the next buried water hole. In sharp contrast, the American Dream is a media-abetted fantasy that has disconnected an entire nation from the consequences of our choices – whether another million dead in Iraq, or a rival wiser nation using our Wal-Mart dollars to rent our debt and buy up remaining stocks of food and oil around the globe.

How’s your Mandarin? China will briefly rule the world. Before running out of water.

 

Legal brief

LifeAfterTheOilCrash.net is Matt Savinar’s blog. This Santa Rosa, California lawyer “galvanized” a U.S. congressman when he wrote: “Dear Reader, civilization as we know it is coming to an end soon.”

Republican Representative Roscoe Bartlett has read excerpts like this one into the official US Congressional record: “It is the scientific conclusion of the best paid, most widely-respected geologists, physicists, bankers, and investors in the world. These are rational, professional, conservative individuals who are absolutely terrified by a phenomenon known as global ‘Peak Oil’,” Savinar wrote. When worldwide demand for oil outpaces worldwide production of oil by a significant margin, “the price will skyrocket, oil-dependant economies will crumble, and resource wars will explode.”

 

Oil with everything

“If you are focusing solely on the price at the pump, buying a hybrid car, or getting some of those [high EMF-emitting] energy efficient light bulbs, you aren’t seeing the bigger picture,” Michael Klare advises.

As Savinar explains, “Petrochemicals are key components to much more than just the gas in your car… Every step of modern food production is fossil fuel and petrochemical powered… Approximately 10 calories of fossil fuels are required to produce every 1 calorie of food eaten in the USA [not counting transportation and cooking]. In the US, the average piece of food is transported almost 1,500 miles before it gets to your plate. In Canada, the average piece of food is transported 5,000 miles from where it is produced to where it is consumed!

“Production of one pair of regular cotton jeans takes three-quarters of a pound of (oil-derived) fertilizers and pesticides. Modern medicine, water distribution, and national defense are each entirely powered by oil and petroleum derived chemicals. Mass quantities of oil are required for all plastics, all computers and all high-tech devices. All electrical devices make use of silver, copper, and/or platinum, each of which is discovered, extracted, transported, and fashioned using oil-powered machinery. To produce a ton of copper requires 17.8 barrels of oil. The energy cost component of aluminum is twenty-times higher.

Meanwhile, here in the Land of Nod, “As the American public continues sleepwalking into a future of energy scarcity, climate change, and geopolitical turmoil,” Kunstler writes, “Americans dream how to keep all our cars running by some other means than gasoline.”

Given the psychology behind our total investment in oil and “just-in-time” techno fixes, our wishful fantasizing is perhaps understandable, Kunstler continues.

“But the truth is that no combination of alternative fuels or systems for using them will allow us to continue running America the way we have been, or even a substantial fraction of it. We are not going to run Wal Mart, Walt Disney World, Monsanto, and the interstate highway system on any combination of solar or wind energy, hydrogen, nuclear, ethanol, tar sands, oil shale, methane hydrates, thermal depolymerization, zero-point energy, used french-fry oil, or anything else you can name. We will desperately use many of these things in many ways, but we are likely to be disappointed by what they can actually do for us, particularly in terms of scale – apart from the fact that most or all of them are probably net energy losers in economic terms.”

News Bulletin: Production of biofuels is set to reach 1.75 million barrels per day by 2012 – starving entire nations to feed our cars, while contributing just 2% of global supplies at a cost of more carbon in planting, pesticiding, harvesting, refining and transporting the resulting grain alcohol than we get back in our tanks.

Better just to drink the stuff as we read the IEA’s eyebrow-raising July ‘07 report: “The potential effects of a combination of low Opec spare capacity and slow non-Opec production growth are of significant concern – all the more so when considered alongside tightness in other hydrocarbons, particularly the natural gas market.”

 

Shale game

G. Dubya is putting his faith in the Apocalyptic return of a vengeful god – and Colorado oil shale.

“I’m not critical of oil shale,” says the retiring head of the Colorado Community Office for Resource Efficiency, Randy Udall. “I’m skeptical, which is appropriate since it provides just 1/10,000 of global energy, and global production has fallen by half since 1990. 20,000 pounds of oil shale contains only as much energy as 6,000 pounds of firewood or 3,000 pounds of coal. The difference is that once you have burned the oil shale, you have 15,000 pounds of ash to deal with… household hazardous waste. To date, Shell has spent $200 million to produce 2,000 barrels. That’s about $100,000 per barrel, a bit above the market price.

What about all those sunny breezes?

“Solar and wind are the world’s fastest growing energy sources, but still tiny in the grand scheme of things,” Udall comments after spurring Colorado’s nation-leading efforts in erecting giant windfarms. “Both resources are enormous, but these are energy fluxes not fuels, and too few people understand the difference. (Sunlight through your window is a flux, a chunk of oak is a fuel.) Wind provides about 10 of every 1,000 kilowatt-hours consumed in the U.S.; solar about 1. But both provide far more energy than oil shale!”

The Biggie in all our fuel fantasies is this: “So called ‘alternatives’ to oil are actually ‘derivatives’ of oil,” Savinar suggests. “Without an abundant and reliable supply of oil, we have no way of scaling these alternatives to the degree necessary to power the modern world.”

And one more thing: Loans made by our internationally-linked banking system are entirely dependent on ever-increasing amounts of cheap oil and natural gas. “The decline of oil, the principal driver of economic growth, undermines the validity of that collateral which in turn erodes the valuation of most entities quoted on Stock Exchanges,” Savinar summarizes.

Peak Oil is the ultimate Y2K.

Except this systems crash is for real.

 

Bush knows

“Is the Bush administration aware of this? Of course they are,” Michael Klare writes. As Dick Cheney stated back in 1999, “By some estimates, there will be an average of two-percent annual growth in global oil demand over the years ahead, along with, conservatively, a three-percent natural decline in production from existing reserves.”

In April 2001, a report commissioned by this former head of oil-services giant Halliburton stated: “Today, shortfalls appear to be endemic. Among the most extraordinary of these losses of spare capacity is in the oil arena.”

The following month, ex-Harken Oil boss George Bush stated, “What people need to hear loud and clear is that we’re running out of energy in America.” In private, explained a 2003 BBC documentary, the Bush administration sees the war in Iraq as “a fight for survival.”

Multi-billionaire investor Richard Rainwater is a close friend of George Bush. Rainwater reads LifeAfterTheOilCrash.net regularly. Another Bush energy advisor is energy investment banker Matthew Simmons. “The experts and politicians have no Plan B to fall back on,” Simmons warns. “If energy peaks , it will be a tremendous jolt to our economic well-being and to our health-greater than anyone could ever imagine.”

As Klare puts it, “The reason our leaders are acting like desperados is because we have a desperate situation on our hands. If you’ve been wondering why the Bush administration has been spending money, cutting social programs, and starting wars like there’s no tomorrow, now you have your answer: as far as they are concerned, there is no tomorrow.”

But Dubya is covered.

“Bush’s Crawford ranch is completely off-the-grid and equipped with the latest in energy saving and renewable power systems. It has been described as an ‘environmentalist’s dream home.’ The fact a man as steeped in the petroleum industry as Bush would own such a home should tell you something,” Michael Klare continues.

“Dick Cheney’s personal investments indicate he (or more accurately, whoever handles his money) is expecting economic collapse. Neither Bush or Cheney (or really, any administration) can be honest with the American people about the severity of what is unfolding. If they were honest with the country, half the nation would refuse to believe them while the other half would likely panic.”

“The peak-oilers are not wild-eyed pessimists,” Rod Dreher writes from the center of America’s shrinking oil patch. “Their number includes men like T. Boone Pickens, the Dallas oil tycoon, and Houston’s Matt Simmons, who founded the world’s largest energy investment banking company. They point to hard data indicating that the world is quite simply running out of oil and doing so quickly… If they’re right, peak oil poses a far more critical challenge to our civilization than global warming. The modern industrial world cannot function in any recognizable form without cheap and plentiful oil.”

“Peak oil will soon dwarf global warming as public concern,” agrees journalist Scott Condon.

And at the peak-oil conference held in Houston this fall, James Howard Kunstler heard oil investment banker Matt Simmons insist that global warming “won’t be a serious crisis for the planet until many decades into the future. If peak-oil fears prove out, the crisis could be upon us in very short order – and indeed may already have begun.”

Think again, boys.

 

Weather or not

Oxfam now reports that an average of 120 annual weather disasters in the early 1980s have now jumped to 500 every year. That’s more than one climate change-related emergency onboard our sun-orbiting space colony every day!

“This year we have seen floods in South Asia, across the breadth of Africa and Mexico that have affected more than 250 million people,” says Oxfam’s director Barbara Stocking. “This is no freak year. It follows a pattern of more frequent, more erratic, more unpredictable and more extreme weather events that are affecting more people.”

The trend is not encouraging. As carbon monitoring project leader Thomas Stocker reports from the University of Bern, Switzerland, “We find that CO2 is about 30% higher than at any time, and methane 130% higher than at any time.”

Methane from melting tundra, deap ocean clathrates and billions of cow farts traps 26-times more heat than carbon dioxide. “And the rates of increase are absolutely exceptional: for CO2,” Stocker adds: “200-times faster than at any time in the last 650,000 years.”

The reason is laid out in Aussie scientist Tim Flannery’s book. The Weather Makers: How Man Is Changing the Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth is currently making best-seller lists worldwide. According to this climate change expert, runaway worldwide economic growth has accelerated the level of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere to a critically dangerous threshold scientists had not expected for another decade.

“The amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is already above the threshold that can potentially cause dangerous climate change,” a freaked out Flannery warns. “We are already at great risk of dangerous climate change, that’s what these figures say. It’s not next year or next decade. It’s now.”

Actually, yesterday. The IPCC has said that to limit the average increase in global temperatures to the most optimistic 4.3°F, the concentration of greenhouse gases would have to stabilize at 450 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. But carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions reached 455 parts per million two years ago.

We thought had a decade, Flannery says.

We don’t.

“It’s a worldwide issue,” continues this top-selling climate change author. “We’ve had growing economies everywhere, we’re still basing that economic activity on fossil fuels. The metabolism of that economy is now on a collision course clearly with the metabolism of our planet.”

 

Meet Godzilla

Yet emissions of greenhouse gases are expected to rise 57% above current levels by 2030. If they do, we will variously cook, starve or drown. Climatologists fear that if the concentration in greenhouse gases continues to increase, warming will exceed 2 degrees Celsius, the threshold above which an uncontrollable breakdown of the climate system is likely.

Here’s the catch: 11 of the last 12 years rank among the dozen warmest years in global surface temperature records. Current levels of the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere are higher now than at any time in the last 650,000 years. Sea levels are rising twice as fast as in recent centuries and are set to leap meters – not centimeters – within most of our lifetimes.

Yet this string of record temperatures, melting ice sheets, wild storms, catastrophic floods and the relentless drought gripping much of Australia, Europe and the USA have followed a less than a 1°F temperature rise over the last century.

Take a wild guess on what might happen when average temperatures spike 6°F.

Then imagine a projected 11°F rise by the end of this Last Chance Century.

 

NOx-ious

Now we learn that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, whose latest worldwide scientific consensus is causing so much alarm in every capitol except Washington DC, has not yet factored in nitrogen. Menlo Park ecologist Stuart Weiss calls this little-discussed compound, “The biggest global change that nobody has ever heard of.”

Turns out that we busy humans are releasing 125 million metric tons of nitrogen from our agricultural and fossil fuel frenzies every year. This surge of NOx is not only disrupting plant ecologies by super-fueling invasive weeds, triggering algae blooms that result in vast oceanic “dead zones” and harming human health. The megatons of nitrogen oxide pouring from our tailpipes and armadas of high-flying jetliners – along with the nitrogen fertilizers used in huge and ever-increasing amounts to coax crops out of nutrient-leached farmlands – also linger in the atmosphere for a century. And NOx 300-times as potent a heat-trapping gas as CO2!

As Elizabeth Holland, a senior scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado puts it, “The changes to the nitrogen cycle are larger in magnitude and more profound than the changes to the carbon cycle.”

“Nitrogen should be on the radar,” echoes Margaret Torn, head of Climate Change and Carbon Management program at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. “Unless we control that problem, we won’t solve climate change.”

Weiss simply says, “Those of us who are studying it are pretty scared.”

He’s not alone. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also finds the quickening pace of global warming “very frightening.”

This is not just about warmer weather, environmental degradation and a looming refugee crisis, emphasizes veteran environmental journalist and author Fred Pearce. This is “about our survival as a species, as homo sapiens.”

A three-foot sealevel rise is considered catastrophic. If our petroleum-powered trance pushes the fast-melting Greenland icesheet into the ocean, sea levels worldwide will jump nearly 30 feet in a perpetual slow-motion tsunami will submerge coastal cities, entire island nations and vast areas of low-lying countries like Vietnam and Bangladesh. And it will not recede.

California and the grain-producing Midwest will dry out as snows in the Rockies decrease, depriving these areas of summer water. The Great Barrier Reef will die. Species loss will occur by 2020 as corals fail to adapt to warmer waters. On land, drought will reduce harvests. As less snow falls in the Alps and other mountains; up to three-fifths of wildlife dies out. African harvests could be cut by up to half in some countries by 2020, greatly increasing the threat of famine.

“Past climate change has been more violent and extreme than we have been led to believe,” Pearce adds. “When climate does change it does so suddenly and violently.”

Just like Peak Oil.

 

Out of sight, out of mind

Sailors know that the biggest changes to this mostly watery world are happening out of sight of land. In the most profound change to ocean chemistry for 20 million years, the ocean comprising seven-tenths of this planet’s surface is turning acidic, disrupting the entire oceanic web of life – and accelerating climate shift by no longer absorbing half of our carbon emissions.

News Bulletin: Emissions of carbon dioxide have already increased the acidity of ocean surface water by 30% – and threaten a catastrophic 300% increase by the end of this Last Chance Century to wake up from our consumer and teevee trance, and get it right.

In absorbing some 500 billion tons of our carbon exhaust since the coal-fired Industrial Age took off, the ocean’s resulting build-up of carbonic acid is mopping up the calcium carbonate used by coral polyps to build the reefs that are nurseries to fish life, while denying the protective shells many marine creatures need to survive. These include many of the plankton that form the base of the food chain on which all lives – including our own – depends.

The seas are turning most acid near the surface, where most of marine life is concentrated.

The IPCC warns that resulting impacts could be “abrupt” and “irreversible” – including the expected extinction of 40% to 70% of all species.

But the IPCC also says that drastically curtailing our carbon emissions now could forestall the most dire predictions, buying us not only precious time – but survival.

As the UN Secretary-General puts it, the effects of climate change are already “so severe and so sweeping” he said “that only urgent, global action will do. There is no time to waste.”

The European Union is already moving quickly to slash its dependence on fossil fuels, while reducing Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions 20% by 2020. “Europeans recognize the importance of global warming and peak oil,” Kunstler observes. “Europe has positioned itself intelligently for the 21st century. America still clings to the 20th, and we’re about to pay for that.”

How much?

Oil at $200 puts gas at $8 to $12. Oil at $300 per barrel will jack gas at the pump to $12 a gallon.

 

Later maybe

Lacking political will in Washington, it looks like we will wait to run out of affordable oil before starting to build trillion dollar dikes around Florida, Manhattan and LA – while somehow finding the funds to take care of an aging population requiring high-tech medical care, and helping retrofit our space colony’s $45 trillion dollar oil infrastructure to run on yet-to-be fully implemented alternative sources.

That’s after paying for Cheney’s $2 trillion armed grab of Iraq’s rickety oil rigs, of course.

So don’t hold your breath as the cash and oxygen run out. Assuming the Fed’s private money printing presses can be cranked up to Mach 3 or so…

“Once we do begin aggressively pursuing these alternatives, there will be a 25-to-50 year lag time between the initial heavy-duty research into these alternatives and their wide-scale industrial implementation,” Klare calculates. “However, in order to finance an aggressive implementation of alternative energies, we need a tremendous amount of investment capital – in addition to affordable energy and raw materials – that we absolutely will not have once oil prices are permanently lodged in the $200-$300 per barrel neighborhood.”

But…

“We may only get 25 to 50 days once oil production peaks,” Klare continues. “Once this occurs, traders on Wall Street will quickly bid the price up to, and possibly over, the $200 per barrel range as they realize the world is now in an era of permanent oil scarcity.”

Unless we act now to put in place emergency systems that do not depend on “Disaster Capitalism” predators like Blackwater to provide elite services for astronomical fees, when gas prices hit just $10 per gallon, trucking and transportation networks will convulse – along with distribution of food, medicine, and consumer goods will grind to a halt.

This could interrupt normal network programming. As the producer of the Lundberg Survey – “the bible of the oil industry” – Jan Lundberg laments: “That market-based panic will, within a few days, drive prices up skyward. And as supplies can no longer slake daily world demand of over 80 million barrels a day, the market will become paralyzed at prices too high for the wheels of commerce and even daily living in ‘advanced’ societies.

 

T-bone

We don’t want to go there.

But every time we turn an ignition key, light our woodstoves, or launch a squadron of gas-guzzling bombers to bomb someone’s neighborhood into rubble – we are. At the October ‘07 Peak Oil conference in Houston, Texas geologist Jeffrey Brown predicted that within five years, export rates from oil-selling countries will decline much more sharply than their actual production as they cut back on foreign oil shipments to supply their own populations.

After 13 years at the helm of the Colorado Community Office for Resource Efficiency, a retiring Randy Udall told the Aspen Times, “Peak oil is going to T-bone climate change.”

Udall thinks this will make dealing with our Climax Carbon Civilization “much easier than we currently imagine.”

So does Stephen Tindale of Greenpeace, who also wishes fervently that the End of Cheap Oil comes fast enough to save the planet from heat stroke. “Let’s hope that the oil does run out, and that the world has to develop alternatives to oil seriously quickly,” he told climate change journalist David Strahan. “From a climate point of view that would be an excellent outcome.”

Not quite.

In The Last Oil Shock, David Strahan suggests it may crash our spaceship.

Oil may be the biggest single source of energy-related greenhouse gases. But hundreds of years of burnable coal is bigger still. If we become panicky instead of careful, the anticipated growth in global coal-fired carbon emissions will dwarf any reduction in the use of increasingly expensive oil.

“Even if oil production peaks in 2010 and immediately starts to fall at 3% a year, total emissions would still rise by 25%, reaching 32 billion tonnes in 2030,” Strahan writes. “Yet by that time, we need to be well on the way to at least a 60% cut in emissions.”

Why? Because oil prices currently hovering around $94 a barrel could make carbon emissions worse, “if it drives us to exploit the wrong kinds of fuel.”

Kunstler also feels that wishfully thinking Peak Oil awareness “will increase support of renewable, decentralised energy is na•ve when the likely situation is that there will be a stronger turn to environmentally damaging, dirtier fossil fuels.”

Take just one contemporary example, Strahan invites. “Burning rainforest and peatlands to create palm oil plantations for biofuels releases vast amounts of CO2, and has already made Indonesia… the world’s third biggest emitter after the US and China. Synthetic transport fuels made from natural gas… emit even more carbon on a well-to-wheels basis than conventional crude; and when the feedstock is coal, the emissions double.”

Even so, this author and documentary filmmaker adds, “None of these alternatives are likely to fill the gap left by conventional crude – at least, not in time. It is quite easy to conjure scenarios in which we still suffer fuel shortages while emitting even more CO2 than in the current business-as-usual forecast – the worst of all possible worlds.”

But not for long. Not if rapid oil depletion “has the capacity both to worsen emissions and destroy the wealth needed to fight global warming.”

How will we build all the needed dikes, windmills and solar panels when massive oil production shortfalls cripple economies, sending the world into a depression “deeper than that of the 1930s, and collapsing stock markets cripple our ability to finance the expensive clean energy infrastructure we need?” Strahan asks. “As the unemployment lines grow, the political will to tackle climate change may be sapped by the need to keep the lights burning as cheaply as possible.”

Rock-bottom line: Oil depletion-aggravated climate shift “has the power to destroy our civilisation.”

 

What we can do

“The fiasco of suburbia,” charges James Howard Kunstler, “is a living arrangement with no future. Because it was designed to run on cheap oil and gas, and in just a few years we won’t have those things anymore. Having poured so much of our late-20th century wealth into this living arrangement – this Happy Motoring utopia – we can’t imagine letting go of it, or substantially reforming it.

“These days, the only aspect of these issues that we are willing to talk about at all is how we might keep all our cars running by other means. We have to get beyond this obsession with running the cars by other means. The future is not just about motoring. We have to make other arrangements comprehensively for all the major activities of daily life in this nation.”

This means that we’d better start finding other ways to get around. And start enjoying growing our food organically and locally – perhaps as close as our own rooftops and backyards.

Otherwise, Richard Heinberg – a leading expert on oil reserves who also speaks in “End Of Suburbia” – warns that billions of human lives are threatened by a food crisis precipitated by our dependence on dwindling supplies of oil and natural gas. Unaffordable oil prices, rapid loss of farmland to biofuel crops, ongoing severe weather events and related climate change emergencies are combining with burgeoning populations to create global food shortages.

“The only way to avoid a world food crisis is a planned and rapid reduction of fossil fuel use – oil, coal and gas – and a switch to more organic methods in the growing and delivery of food,” Heinberg hazards.

But the author and former advisor to the National Petroleum Council warns that growing shortages of drinking water trump all other considerations. The UN estimates that one third of the world’s population live in areas with water shortages, and more than 1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water – right now.

And this critical “lifeboat Earth” situation is worsening dramatically immediately.

“All of this constitutes a gargantuan task, but the alternatives – doing nothing or attempting to solve our food-production problems simply by applying mere techno-fixes – will almost certainly lead to dire consequences,” Heinberg also cautions.

Geologist and Peak Oil pundit Jeffrey Brown advises us to abandon the outlying suburbs and move closer to city centers. “The smart money has been moving in,” he says. “The closer you are to job centers, the more stable the property values have been. That will continue.”

We can also start installing community windmills and microgeneration from running streams. The price of solar panels is also coming down as fast as efficiencies are increasing. “On a personal level, living with solar power is a treat,” Udall advises. “Try it. Get your house out of intensive care.”

On a national scale, our political employees must also move quickly to restore the U.S. passenger railroad system to current European, Japanese and Malaysian maglev standards. “No other project we could do right away would have such a positive impact on our oil consumption,” Kunstler states. “This project would put scores of thousands of people to work at meaningful jobs.”

Although “fixing the US passenger rail system doesn’t require any great technological leaps into the unknown… The fact that from end-to-end of the political spectrum there is no public discussion about fixing the US passenger rail system shows how un-serious we are” about awakening in time from our collective doze.

When this alarm goes off, we’re going to awaken with Pooh in a very Different Place.

 

Package deal

Addressing world oil supplies this winter, the London Telegraph reports, “The balance between supply and demand for energy is uncomfortably tight.” Colder-than-usual winters coupled with current supply shortages could lead to “real difficulties.”

Plan on it. The Gulf Stream (satellite-pictured above in hot infrared) that warms the UK, western Europe and the U.S. eastern seaboard like a gigantic radiator has already slowed more than 30% as meltwater from rapidly thawing Greenland and Arctic ice sheets continues to diminish its salt-and-heat-driven flow. Dr. Matt Nolan of the Water and Environmental Research Center at the University of Alaska calls it, “Grand Theft, Ice.”

What if the good ol’ Gulf Stream stops, just as oil hits $150 a barrel?

“If the Gulf Stream does switch off as a result of Global Warming, the gap between what is needed and what will be available will get wider,” Kunstler suggests.

But droughts and flooding associated with accelerating climate change are already hitting crops like wheat – “at a time when declining oil and gas supplies make the agriculture business more expensive,” this “End of Oil” Paul Revere points out. “Warming sea temperatures are pushing fish stocks further afield, out of traditional (and already over-fished) fishing waters. Fishermen, so dependent on oil for their boats, will have to pay more for their fuel to go after these already dwindling and increasingly distant fish stocks.”

Hurricane Katrina, as well as more recent flooding in Germany and the densely populated plains of central Europe, have shown that cleaning up and repairing Climate Shift-related damage “costs money and requires energy. The economic climate, post peak, is going to be less able to deal with it,” Kunstler continues. “At the other extreme, Italy’s coming crisis is drought, and there is a need there to improve irrigation to improve agriculture. Once again, money and energy are needed, and both will be harder to come by.”

Above all, we must end our habit of regarding the holes in our spaceship as separate and unrealted. “Peak Oil and Climate Change are a bigger threat together than either are alone,” Kunstler insists. “Peak Oil and Climate Change must be fused as issues – an approach is needed to deal with them as a package.”

 

Now see this

As global villagers on a foundering planet, our first and most important act is vision.

“The confluence of Peak Oil and Climate Change means that it is now time to ask ourselves, as a species, the biggest questions we can,” Kunstler continues. “So let’s ask those questions now. What do we want to achieve with our remaining oil (and gas) resources? What do we want our legacy to be? What are we aiming towards as a species and does that meet what we want to achieve as individuals? How do we want to achieve this? Do we want to make the transition as easy as possible? Do we eschew personal responsibility and have blind faith that ‘the markets’ or ‘technology’ will solve everything, thus putting off doing anything? It simply does not make sense to expand the use of energy resources that will increase Climate Change if our ability to deal with those magnified consequences will be even more depleted further down the road.”

Make that a railorad.

As psychologist and Aussie author Steve Biddulph points out, “The issue of the future, coming down on us now like a steam train, is of course the environment, the double hammer blows of climate change and peak oil. Energy, weather and human misery are the factors that will define our lives for decades to come. You can cancel your newspaper, those are the only four words you need to know.

“Linked to this, but compounding it in frightening ways, is the imminent demise of the United States economy… For two years now the best predictions have been that the subprime meltdown would act as merely the detonator of a much larger explosive charge created long ago by U.S. consumer debt, concealed by Chinese and Arab investment in keeping that great hungry maw that is America sucking in what it could not begin to pay for. The avalanche-like fall of US house prices will be closely followed by the same in linked economies worldwide, and presage a harsh and very different world than the one we have lived in. In short, the party is over. We are a civilisation in collapse.

“So what will be the new polarity in future elections? It’s the ecology, stupid. By the 2010 election, 20% will vote Green, simply because peak oil and climate catastrophe will have proven them right, and thinking people will see the need for austerity now for our children’s tomorrow. By 2014… the issue will be simply how green, how to balance the need for a much simpler and more communal kind of life, with the need to give people comfort and amenity now. This issue will continue to define life for the rest of this century.”

We can’t wait for rigged elections and corporate-sponsored sound bites to determine the future for as many as 70% of all species the IPCC are about to go extinct. Individually, nationally and globally we must act now to reshape our personal priorities – and save our shared ship.

“The sole way out of this trap is to bite the bullet and adopt heroic measures to curb our fossil-fuel consumption while embarking upon a massive program to develop alternative energy systems,” Klare advises. Can we afford it?

Easily. Once we rearrange the priorities set for us by interlocking government-corporate interests locked into old paradigm, profits-at-all-costs computer programs.

“All funds now slated for highway construction should instead be devoted to public transit and high-speed inter-city rail lines and all new cars sold in America after 2010 should have minimum average fuel efficiencies of 50 MPG or higher,” Klare suggests. “This will prove costly and disruptive – but what other choice is there if we want to have some hope of exiting the permanent global energy crisis before the global economy collapses or the planet becomes uninhabitable by humans?”

In making the “transition to sustainability” a matter of survival, Representative Bartlett has proposed “a Manhattan-type project focusing on renewables.” As he recently told Congress, “The real challenge now is to use conservation and efficiency to reduce our demand for oil so that we have enough oil left to make the investments on alternatives and renewables [that] can take the place of oil.”

Kunstler chimes in: “Last year we spent $455 billion on our military, more than the rest of the world combined. The U.S. can try to remain the military superpower (it will fail), leaving the rest of our society in shambles; or the U.S. can spend $200-300 billion of that money on rail to retain its coherence as a society.”

 

Welcome to the solar age

Can we do this?

What’s to choose between innovative exuberance shared by a networked world tribe – or extinction? As Richard Heinberg concludes, “The transition to a fossil-fuel-free food system does not constitute a distant utopian proposal. It is an unavoidable, immediate, and immense challenge that will call for unprecedented levels of creativity at all levels of society. But what we do now will determine how many will be eating, what state of health will be enjoyed by those future generations, and whether they will live in a ruined cinder of a world, or one that is in the process of being renewed and replenished.”

We’d better get on it. On a planet that would be better named, “Oceania, we’d better start developing a lifeboat mentality. Not just because me must. But while making the voluntary switch to simpler, saner, more harmoniously creative lives is still fun.

 


Sources:

Independent July 10/07; Nov 26/07; Nov 18/07; BBC Feb/06; Mar 29/07; Le Monde Oct 12/07; AP Oct 9/07; Inside Bay Area Aug 12/07; CNN July 18/07; Nation Nov 12/07; powerswitch.org.uk; AlterNet.org May 10/06; Apr 4/07; TomDispatch.com Feb 9/06; Peak Oil News; Energy Bulletin Oct 22/07; New York Times Feb 24/04; Wall Street Journal July 27/07; Dallas Morning News Nov 25/07; Aspen Times Nov 26/07; Telegraph Nov 22/07; 60 Minutes Oct 2/06; TomDispatch.com Aug 16/07; Sydney Morning Herald Nov 29/07; International Herald Tribune Nov 28/07; lifeaftertheoilcrash.net; truthout Nov 29/07

Top energy websites:

theoildrum.com
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Taken from http://www.willthomasonline.net/willthomasonline/When_Peak_Oil_Meets_Godzilla.html