The winds of Katrina blew storm surge up, over and into the city of New Orleans and surrounding gulf region and the jazz trumpets were silenced. Did the storm trumpet in a national recognition of the over-dependency of this nation on oil, a finite resource? Or will the focus be on the storm itself and only the devastation and cleanup? To be sure Katrina cause terrible and regrettable loss of life and horrible destruction to the communities in her path. The immediate actions taken should be those of search and rescue, followed by care for the affected. But as the catastrophe moves from our collective windshield to our collective rear view mirror, will we have merely reacted or planned a response to the larger issue?
In our current culture, information and entertainment are available in unprecedented formats. Cell phones make most individuals available at any hour in any location. The internet makes products and services accessible at the click of a button. You can even pause live television to ensure your bathroom break doesn’t mean you miss the winning touchdown. One downside of this availability though is an evloving dependency on this on-demand technology. Another drawback is the shortening of American attention spans. Now more than ever we ask, “What have you done for me lately”. The difference is though that now we mean last minute not last week. We have become accustom to filling our heads with sound bites, failing on a regular basis to digest and examine in depth the interconnectedness of our society and its strengths and weaknesses.
Why did a single hurricane cause such a problem in the energy infrastructure of America? Our country uses 21 million barrels of oil a day. The storm reduced the amount available by 1.5 MBD. That’s only a 7% reduction. The result however was an overnight rise in gasoline prices of more than 40% in some markets. There are also refineries responsible for transforming the oil into gas which have been knocked off line. But I none the less was shocked to here reports from friends who witnessed fist fights and rammed cars at gas stations in Charlotte, NC. What would happen if the bread trucks had been unable to fill up and deliver?
On March 16, 2005, OPEC announced that it could no longer handle the indefinite increase in world demand for oil. The announcement was largely unreported by the sound biters and refuted by Saudi Arabia some time later. I’m sure a stern phone call or two from various parties prompted the about face. The second announcement was that, "The world is more likely to run out of uses for oil than Saudi Arabia is going to run out of oil". In other words, it was fantasy.
Then United States was, for quite a while, the leading producer of oil in the world. Oil production in this country peaked in 1970. Since that year our production of oil has decreased each year. There was a brief up tick in production when we tapped Alaska, but we quickly returned to a downward trend in production. Isn’t naïve to think that other nations will not also peak in production? Should we expect these countries to be truthful about the when their peaks will arrive? Because of our constantly declining source of domestic oil, we import more each year. Currently we get roughly 60% of our oil from abroad. As was evident this past week at gas stations in the Southeast, when the supply of energy is limited what’s left will be fought for. Globally perhaps we are already positioning ourselves for a larger battle. I just wonder if the violence and hardship can be blamed solely on the shortages of oil. Or whether we must blame ourselves for not taking the time to examine the events of the present and understand their root cause and respond in appropriate ways.
Katrina was a monumental tragedy as well as a prophetic event. Will it generate only reactionary attention? Will we quickly turn our attetion to the next issue provided for us on our blackberries? Or will it spawn truly responsive action as well to the coming crisis?