If you search my blog, you will see more than a few posts on the subject of Peak Oil. In some cases, the Peak Oil discussion is tangential (but crucial) to something else I’m blogging about. For much of the past eight years, I’ve been reading the work of people like James Howard Kunstler, Richard Heinberg, the late Matt Simmons and (most important) Colin Campbell, the geologist who founded ASPO, the Association for the Study of Peak Oil. I usually don’t do this much research unless I’m working on something.
The ‘something’ is finished, more or less. It’s a new monologue piece I’ve just completed called THE HUBBERT SLOPE. It’s about oil. It’s about what we do to get oil. It’s about why it’s crazy to keep using oil the way we’re using it–and why we won’t have a choice but to get off oil. And when I say oil, I also mean the other fossil fuels we’re ripping the planet apart to get to. It’s oil, it’s natural gas, it’s coal. And it’s also uranium (not a fossil fuel, but the extraction is at least as environmentally nasty as anything done in the Bakken shale or the tar sands. And we’re at Peak Uranium, a subject for another post) .
We meet our narrator Bertram in an empty pub in an Irish fishing village. Bertram (or ‘Doctor Bert’ as villagers sometimes call him), an elderly retiree, starts talking about his career in oil as a lead geologist for the major companies. He’s laying out the story of our addiction to oil and how it affects everything we do. He also talks about US oil reserves as being the factor in our becoming the pre-eminent military and political power in the world. And he talks about King Hubbert, the man who called the warning signs on our oil dependence and the end of oil almost 60 years ago and was vilified for it. If you accept the idea that we have reached the peak production of oil (known as Hubbert’s Peak), then you should understand that the ride down Hubbert’s slope is going to be extremely bumpy.
I know this sounds dull and dry. But there is no other country in the world that has made itself as dependent on oil as the US. Nearly all our built environment is suburban sprawl, which requires people to have (and regularly use) private cars and requires municipalities to dump big money into road maintenance and expansion. As James Howard Kunstler has put it, the creation of huge swaths of housing and shopping that are completely dependent on cheap energy will eventually be understood to have been “the greatest misallocation of resources in world history“. And with oil being such a huge part of our lives, upward twitches in the price of gas and heating oil cause major economic turmoil. All but one of the recessions we’ve had since the 1970’s were driven all or in part by spikes in oil prices. And unlike other economic turndowns, our current meltdown (the one that started in late 2008, when oil prices briefly went to $147 dollars a barrel) did not cause prices to moderate all that much. When the world economy crashed back in the 1930’s, a barrel of Texas crude was going for TEN CENTS at one point, because there were no takers. High prices are the only thing that make fracking, shale oil and oil from tar sands viable–all three need lots of energy to coax the oil and gas out and the oil and gas we get from these processes is the most expensive energy we’ve ever produced.
(By the way, there’s a compelling argument that oil prices ALONE were enough to drive the 2008 meltdown into a major crash. When oil went to $147 a barrel in July of 2008, it not only removed lots of discretionary cash from the economy–it also made much of the housing built during the real estate bubble worthless. It made sense in 2005 to buy a cheap new house made of hot glue and plywood that involved a 40-mile commute to work each way. Once gas crossed the $4 a gallon threshold in August, the house–in fact, all the new houses in the neighborhood–were worthless).
And to Bert’s credit, he understands that he is a bore and works hard to compensate. But he lets his guard down as he tries to take us through much of the known (and unknown) history of our love affair with cheap oil. He has a frightening story to tell, and he saves the most frightening aspect for the end.
I’m hoping to perform the play in April as part of an overall protest against both Fracking and the KXL pipeline. In the meantime, I am the simple artist–I sing, I dance, I perform the simple monologue. I can bring this play to your locale. I can talk about how fracking and shale oil are dead ends–that we need to stop burning dead dinosaurs and figure out a plan B for the day when the oil is more expensive to get out of the ground than it’s worth.
In the meantime, if you’re interested in this topic, you should check out the Post Carbon Institute, where the people who know the most about this subject are writing about it.