Friday, December 28, 2007

The bigger threat: global warming or peak oil?

The US government, media, and public in general appear to believe global warming is the main impetus for a transition to alternative sources of energy. However, the politicization of global warming by the Bush administration and the "oil men" who currently "lead" our country has not only hindered the push to alternative energy, but also has obscurred the more imminent threat to the US economy, our way of life, and worldwide civilization: peak oil. Let me explain.

While I certainly agree that global warming is a big problem and needs to be addressed (I would argue that mercury pollution of out water table is a bigger near-term threat to health), it does not have the ability to cripple civilization for at least a few decades. Peak oil, on the other hand, has the potential to bring the world economy to a screaching halt within the next 5-10 years. Therefore, the most pressing problem to address is peak oil, not global warming. That said, addressing peak oil DOES address global warming as well. So, why am I so picky about which is the priority? Well, it is a question of urgency: while the debate and politicization of global warming continues, the more imminent threat of peak oil is not even on the radar screen. To address the issues of peak oil, we need to begin a massive buildout of alternative energy sources (wind, solar, and yes, nuclear) along with the infrastructure needed to build and power non-gasoline powered automobiles. If this doesn't happen in the next 5-10 years, it won't matter what the longterm consequences of global warming will be, as our economy and civilization will have, in the meantime, slipped into a state best described as chaotic.

So, what is "peak oil" and why do I believe it is a bigger threat to civilization than global warming? Here is a decent description:

In a nut shell, "peak oil" is the fact that production from an oil reservoir, once reaching its peak, falls off very rapidly. It was this observation that lead Hubbert to accurately predict (in 1956) that oil production in the continental US would peak in 1970, which it did. The same theory of peak oil also accurately predicted the peaking of oil reservoirs in the north sea and Alaska. In fact, all but a handful of countries left in the world have reached peak oil production and are now in decline - most notably the US and Mexico. Even Saudi Arabia's oil production may have peaked in 2005 despite a massive drilling campaign. That said, Saudi oil reserves and production numbers are particularly hard to determine due to the closely held data. Bottom line: world oil production will not be able to keep up with world oil demand. Remember, we have billions of Chinese and Indians wanting to join the world middle class - complete with gasoline powered automobiles.

Oil prices have zoomed to $100/barrels while the talking heads on CNBC and most of the financial media continue to predict a "correction" to take us back to the days of $40/barrel oil. This is a pipe-dream which they are perpetuating to keep from scaring people out of the stock market since most stocks will decline (some dramatically) were the truth about oil supply/demand become well publicized and understood.

Consider for a moment what life would be like in the US for the vast majority of its citizens if gas were $10/gallon....then $20/gallon...then gas not available at any price. We'd have chaos, right? Well, that is exactly where we are heading if the government, media, and public at large don't get their hands around reality and continue to ignore the biggest threat to America: not terrorism, not off-shore jobs, and not even global warming. The biggest threat to America is peak oil, and being unprepared for its consequences.

No comments: