Wednesday, August 23, 2006

when will the peak perk?

The following was previously published by me over at Groovy Green. Also, I've reworked my comprehensive composting guide and put it up over on the front page of GG for those of you who missed it here at powering down early this year. Check it out if you're interested in making soil. Now for the main feature...

when will the peak perk?
by aaron newton

Jeffery Brown throws out a challenge to the main stream media.

“Who among you is going to have the courage to step forward and “break” the story that the lifeblood of the world economy–net oil export capacity–is now declining?”

Mr. Brown says, “I estimate that oil exports from the top 10 net oil exporters are probably now falling at a double digit annual rate.”

He’s an independent petroleum geologist from Dallas by the way; not one of them economists that thinks you can put dollar bills in your gas tank and drive to work. I once told two smart friends of mine, an engineer and a medical student, that physics trumps economics and they said I didn’t understand how the world works. I don’t. But I do think that as oil is physically less available “laws” of economics are going to spin on their heads. Just a little prediction for you this afternoon. Here’s one more. It will be obvious that we’ve peaked in oil production by the end of 2006. It’ll take a few more years, two maybe, for the most optimistic of oil cheerleaders to admit so (read up on the history of the peak in production in the U.S. - 1971). Then, suddenly everyone will be saying, “Yeah, of course we’ve peaked. That’s what oil fields do- Duh!” But by then the scurry to find the next source of fuel for our mobile lifestyles and our transportation dependent economy will be on in full force. My favorite are the news headlines that read, “How Will We Fuel The Cars of Tomorrow?”, or, “Is Ethanol The Answer?” No ethanol isn’t the answer. It’s only suggested as a part of the solution because Iowa is the first stop on the road to the White House. It seems very few people are stopping to consider ways of living that require less driving. Supply-side solutions will not solve the problem of the declining rate of petroleum production. In fact I’ll predict that they will cause more damage in the form of pollution and green house gasses and postpone the day when demand-side solutions will be seriously considered. The rush to liquefy coal, harvest oil shale and tar sands, and build new-cue-lar facilities will all be a very real part of our energy descent. But unless we are visited by aliens from outer space (and some think we will be) our politicians will remain tethered to the very industries that rely on a fossil fuel based economy. They will do more of the same; fight in the Middle East for the largest remaining oil deposits, refuse to address the idea of a shift in our economic paradigm and a change in our lifestyle, and continue to subsidize foolish supply “solutions” that will dirty our air, pollute our water and offer only a false hope that we can continue on our merry way. I wish I were cheerier about it but I’m not.

How then should those of us concerned about our dependency on dirty fossil fuels respond? Recently a friend wrote to me in an email, “I am repeatedly finding that there are lots of folks who would like to talk about the “environmental” movement but don’t want to actually take an aggressive stance in this area.”

My response was that there are two problems that I face in trying to affect change in the area of environment and energy. The first problem is the need to recognize that nothing I do to shape the minds of other people will be as effective as what I do to shape my own mind. And the second problem is to understand that there are plenty of well-meaning people who will do little to change the state of our world because they don’t understand the first problem. Without meaning to, they are spinning their wheels and they’ll spin mine too if I let them.

There are other people out there doing it, making real change. They serve me as both a source of inspiration and information. In the absence of physical neighbors who understand our environmental pickle we must, at this point, begin to build the lighthouses that will serve to illuminate a darkening world. We must have the foresight and resolve to do that which is unconventional. Frontyard gardens might be a source of neighborhood gossip now but the knowledge gained in growing them will turn into a valuable skill for the future. We must be willing to step forward in a new direction long before there are others to lead or even hands to hold. This is what I’ve come to believe.

I learned about peak oil a little more than two years ago. What followed was a life-changing rollercoaster ride during which my world view was refocused. Since then I’ve walked a path that meant learning about some of the incredibly foolish actions we’ve taken as a species in the recent past. My first instinct was to shout out to others so that they too might learn of our follies and help me steer the ship away from the rocks. I learned no one likes to be shouted at. Next I knocked at the door of those traditionally associate with championing the environment. But a mixture of politics, bureaucracy and/or an attitude of self-congratulatory smugness seemed to render many of them too ineffectual for me. Lastly I recognized what I said before, that I must change myself and be ready to help those others that wake up.

So here I am. Laying trails of bread crumbs and working diligently to better my model before it is needed by my community. I feel a sense of urgency but I’m no longer in a hurry. That would only lead to mistakes (and I make enough already). What will come will come. Maybe someone will accept the challenge Mr. Brown gave at the beginning of this posting. Perhaps tomorrow will be the dawning of a new age of awareness as the population at large learns of our predicament from the main stream media. Or more likely there are a few years ahead of us with relative calm as the problems of energy and environment compound. Then one day average Joe, his government representative and the National Association for the Societies of Environmental Activist Coalitions Against Global Pollution Efforts (NASEACAGPE) will be ready to understand.

When will it be time for a real change? Will I be ready?

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