For those joining this site recently–I’ve been writing about Peak Oil and NTHE for seven years. But not intersectionally. If you know about Peak Oil, you can probably skip this.
Peak Oil was first defined in 1956 by one M. King Hubbert, a respected geologist and researcher. He shocked the world by saying that oil prospects for nations and oil from a given oil field ‘play’ both had a predictable bell curve of discovery, maximum output, and then decline. That part was understood. But– Based on new discoveries, the US Oil production would peak in 1970 or thereabouts and go into irreversible decline, with the world to soon follow. US oil production did in fact follow this prediction–we started to consume more oil than we produced in the early 1970’s, which is when the US was hit with the oil sanctions of OPEC and a spike in prices that left the US economy in a state of ‘stagflation’–inflation (due to oil price spikes rumbling through the economy) and lowered rates of economic growth. These conditions didn’t change until oil production from non-OPEC sources came online in the mid 1980’s. Hubbert had also predicted worldwide peak in the 1990’s, and the only reason it didn’t occur then was that the price spikes of the 70’s and later had put a crimp on use. The world was thought to have crossed the Peak of oil production around 2005, but new technologies have put off that day of reckoning. Eventually, the technical schemes propping up industrial civilization will run down as well. Our extraction of shale and tar sands oil is all dependent on cheap natural gas, and natural gas will not stay cheap forever–especially when communities decide they’d rather have potable drinking water than fracking sites.
It was not long after 9/11 when I started reading up on the idea of Peak Oil. I’d been a fan of Michael C. Ruppert going back to the days when he was one of the few people willing to write about CIA complicity in the drug trade. After the attack on the Twin Towers, Ruppert had started researching what the government thought about the future of oil. I could tell the whole story, but it is enough to say that the feds were concerned. But not so much now that we’ve found a temporary fix in the form of shale and tar sands. Mention ‘Peak Oil’ in a crowd now, and people will laugh at you, even though all our current ‘solutions’ simply kick the fossil fuel depletion problem down the road.
What can’t be kicked down the road is global warming, which is the unfortunate byproduct of the use of fossil fuels since the Industrial Revolution. I’ve written about the virtual inevitability of mass extinction brought on by loss of habitat due to warming past the point where humans and many other creatures can survive. It’s useful to note that scientists who were aware of peak oil thought that it would be the salvation of the human race if we had to change our lifestyles as a result of diminishing oil. If we had to end ‘business as usual’ due to lack of fossil fuel, that was probably easier than attempting to legislate against things like retail therapy, vacation trips and ‘happy motoring’ (as called out by writer James Howard Kunstler His book THE LONG EMERGENCY was widely read and discussed in the Bush years, when oil prices briefly hit $147 a barrel.
In looking over the seven-plus years I’ve been doing this blog, I was suddenly reminded of a video about peak oil that really applies to the solutions being put forward by groups like Sunrise movement and Extinction Rebellion. There isn’t a climate activist group to my knowledge that isn’t talking about the key to escaping the Sixth Mass Extinction being the end of fossil fuel use. I’ve tried to explain that there’s a problem called Global Dimming aka the aerosol effect, which means that a diminution of even 30% of all fossil fuel use would cause temperatures to spike. This is the ‘McPherson Paradox‘. and I’ve explained it before. Long story short, the particulate by product of burning fossil fuels reflects sunlight back out into space. Stop burning a significant portion of fossil fuels, and the resulting increase in solar radiation will drive up surface temperatures well past the 2 C guardrail we were warned about in Paris COP 21.
But let’s say we figure out a workaround for global dimming. What would a quick end to fossil fuels mean to the economy and ecology?
Welcome to the world of THE END OF SUBURBIA, a 2004 CBC documentary about what loss of fossil fuels would mean socially and politically. A cessation of use of fossil fuels would be disastrous if there’s not a replacement in place and already scaled. All our renewables together don’t cover 10% of world energy use. Pulling the plug on fossil fuels would be a horrific dislocation of society in the Global North.
Watch the documentary here for free. the reason I’m sharing this is that many of the people coming to the problem of global warming who didn’t get the whole ‘Peak Oil’ briefing 15 years ago don’t understand just how interconnected the world is on fossil fuels. And in many ways, peak oil would be easier to go through than AGW and voluntary abandonment of fossil fuels. No politician wants to be the bearer of bad news. Ask Tony Blair–whether we’re talking about AGW or Peak Oil, there’s no good news.
As Dr. McPherson frequently says, “damned if you do, Damned if you don’t”