Posts Tagged ‘peak oil’

Chaos is scary. When faced with uncertainty and doom, our first reaction is to want to control. Imagine for a second, that we are still masters of the universe. And can, will whip our climate and other natural phenomena, into shape. Dammit!

Maybe now is the time, to stop deluding ourselves. Like the addicts that we are, shouldn’t we admit, finally, to our powerlessness. And embrace the reality that is being thrown at us. Oil, more and more elusive and out of our range. Food, no longer so abundant. Water, soon to become like gold. Bees refusing to pollinate.  Angry mobs rising all over, because life is not fair.

I imagine a future when we will be in charge of our destiny, again. Until then, let us surrender, and let go of our addiction.

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From Gary Peters, more food for thoughts:

Americans are clueless, and most politicians prefer to keep them that way.  James Kunstler put it more flamboyantly a short time ago, saying that “The fog of cluelessness that hangs over North America about the gathering global oil crisis and its ramifications seems to thicken by the hour.”  Not long ago I saw a bumper sticker that said, “Why is Our Oil under Their Soil?”  Though it cannot be found in our constitution, Americans assume that the right to cheap gasoline is one of those “unalienable rights” that they’ve read about but can’t quite remember where or when.
One question I like to ask Americans when they talk about oil is this:  When do you think oil production in the U.S. will reach a peak?  Most everyone guesses many years into the future, with five years from now being about the lowest figure that I’ve gotten in reply.  When you tell them it peaked in 1970 they are generally dumbfounded or think you are just kidding.
If you want to carry this a step farther, ask them what they think the population of the U.S. was in 1970–they probably won’t have a clue, but it allows you to point out to them that even though oil production peaked in the U.S. in 1970 and has declined ever since, we have subsequently added another 100 million people to the nation, which is one of the reasons that we so desperately need to import oil in huge quantities, no matter what.  In 2007 the U.S. consumed an average of 20,697,540 barrels of crude oil per day, but produced only 8,487,080–an average shortfall of more than 12 million barrels per day, which had to be imported.
When Senator McCain tells you that he wants the nation to be energy-independent, make sure that he can tell you how he is going to do that.  If we could double our production of crude oil, a physical impossibility no matter what stories you hear about ANWR or the California coast, we still would be far from oil independence.  Where is the straight talk?
Americans think of themselves as a fair people, but seem unbothered by the notion that though we have just under five percent of the world’s population, we consume about 25 percent of the world’s crude oil.  Even President Bush admitted that we were addicted to oil, though he never followed up on that statement or tried to cure us or at least to get us into rehab. 
When George W. Bush was sworn in as our 43rd President, on January 19, 2001, Brent crude was selling for $26.23 per barrel; this morning it was selling for $134.64.  As Robert Scheer recently noted, “No President has been more brilliant in destabilizing the politics of oil-producing countries from Venezuela to Russia and on to the key oil lakes of Iraq and Iran.
With the price of gas now above $4.00 across the U.S., people are finally beginning to feel the heat–we are not only a nation addicted to gas, we are a nation so dependent on it that we have seldom stopped to think about it.  Worse yet, it comes at a time when house prices are falling thanks to a pathetic runaway abuse of subprime mortgages and other unreal fiscal irregularities, which created first an amazing housing bubble and now a drastic removal of air from it.
With respect to the intertwined problems of global warming and our profligate use of fossil fuels, neither presidential candidate has stood up and told Americans the truth:  The lifestyle that we have today is not sustainable.  Energy expert Vaclav Smil noted recently that “Today there is no readily available non-fossil energy source that is large enough to be exploited on the requisite scale.” Richard Heinberg recently wrote that “Addressing the core of the problem means letting go of growth; in fact, it means engaging in a period  of controlled societal contraction characterized by a stable or declining population consuming at a per-capita level far lower than is currently taken for granted in the industrialized world.”  This message may be much closer to the truth than anything current politicians are saying, but we can’t remain in denial.  In 1949 Aldous Huxley wrote that “The human race is passing through a time of crisis, and that crisis exists, so to speak, on two levels–an upper level of political and economic crisis and a lower level crisis in population and world resources.”  Almost sixty years later his words still ring true, and we are still living in denial.

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I was so proud, I had to share my triumph with the clerk at Whole Foods. “Today is the first time I bike to the grocery store. Boy, am I good! Re-usable bags, donation to the homeless, biking . . . I deserve a place in green heaven.” And then the ride home, with Pervenche. Sheer pleasure of warm, almost summer breeze, whiffs of flowers along the path, I was feeling high from my satisfied green conscience and awakened senses. Trying hard to not get too carried away, and to pay attention to the road. 

This, folks is what a peak oil world can feel like, with the right infrastructure, as in bike path without cars.

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Courtesy, Kyle at Green With a Gun, here is another sexy peak oil video, this time from KrisCan:

Maybe not as popular as Cassandra‘s, or at least not yet, but a lot better in my opinion. Kris shows us that humor and sex can go a long way towards engaging regular folks on otherwise serious issues, such as peak oil and global warming. It certainly worked with me. I watched every single one of Kris‘s videos.

In the same category of smart, sexy, playful green shorts, I need to mention Isabella‘s Green Porno series. It is no coincidence, and another validation of the power of sex to sell, that the top post on this blog is the one with ‘Green Porno‘ in its title. 10,457 views in three months, not bad.

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If you are as interested as I am, in planning for our global future, I suggest you pay a visit to permaculture guru, David Holmgren‘s new website. Future Scenarios is impressive by the depth of its thinking regarding the long term  implications of peak oil and climate change. Most importantly, “Scenario planning allows us to use stories about the future as a reference point for imagining how particular strategies and structures might thrive, fail or be transformed.” – David Holmgren

David Holmgren anticipates four possible energy scenarios:

Techno-explosion depends on new, large and concentrated energy sources that will allow the continual growth in material wealth and human power over environmental constraints as well as population growth generally associated with space travel to colonise other planets.

Techno-stability depends on a seamless conversion from material growth based on depleting energy to a steady state in consumption of resources and population (if not economic activity) all based on novel use of renewable energies and technologies that can maintain if not improve the quality of services available from current systems. While this clearly involves massive change in almost all aspects of society, the implication is that once sustainable systems are set in place, a steady state sustainable society with much less change will prevail. Photovoltaic technology directly capturing solar energy is a suitable icon or symbol of this scenario.

Energy descent involves a reduction of economic activity and complexity and population in some way as fossil fuels are depleted. The increasing reliance on renewable resources of lower energy density will, over time, change the structure of society to reflect many of the basic design rules if not details of preindustrial societies. This suggests a ruralisation of settlement and economy with slower and less turnover of energy and resources and a progressive decline in human populations. Biological resources and their sustainable management will become progressively more important as fossil fuels of technological power declines. In many regions, forests will regain their traditional status as symbols of wealth. Thus the tree is a suitable icon of this scenario. Energy Descent, (like Techno Explosion) it a scenario dominated by change but that change might not be continuous or gradual. Instead it could be characterised by a series of steady states punctuated by crises (or mini collapses) that destroy some aspects of Industrial culture.

Collapse suggests a failure of the whole range of interlocked systems that maintain and support industrial society as high quality fossil fuels are depleted and/or climate change radically damages the ecological support systems. This collapse would be fast and more or less continuous without the restabilisations possible in Energy Descent. It would inevitably involve a major “die-off” of human population and a loss of the knowledge and infrastructure necessary for industrial civilization if not more severe scenarios including human extinction along with much of the planet’s biodiversity.

I wonder about the timeframe used. Most recent climate studies I have read seem to indicate an even closer tipping point, when we and our children will start to be seriously affected. Thinking in great-grandchildren terms may be overly optimistic.

David Holmgren is betting on the Energy Descent scenario. How about you? 

Thanks to Gary Peters for leading me to the Energy Bulletin article that introduced me to Future Scenarios

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In my earlier post on ‘The Seven Sins, I looked at the seven sins from a personal standpoint, as a Green Girl Wannabe. This time, I want to revisit the infamous list, and explore its merits in regards to marketing strategy for the climate cause.

I find it interesting that my most viewed post is not one about deep strategic considerations, but a rather shallow one featuring Isabella Rossellini’s Green Porno videos about bugs’ sex . . . Similarly the Cassandra Peak Oil video collected over 20,000 views in less than three months on YouTube. There are also the ecosexuals, and the French ‘Velibataires‘. That should be enough to sell you on lust as a major driver for the climate fight!

Next is greed. Green is the new gold, as evident from the rush of capital into green startups, and corporations’ attempts to instill some green-ness into their products. Greed may be what is going to save us in the end.

Sloth means you’ve got to give people sustainable solutions that are going to make their life easier, not more complicated. The less work, the better.

Envy is at work when I’ve got a new green product that is so much cooler than its brown alternative. The Prius comes close, but at a price.

Pride as in ‘green pride’ is not operating quite yet, but there may come a time when green will become an integral part of good citizen ethics. ‘Green Pride’ T-shirts anyone?

I have left out vengeance and gluttony out of the list, as I can’t quite see how to work these into ‘the cause’. What do you think?

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Not as sexy as Cassandra‘s video, but just as, if not even more informative, is the new documentary; ‘Peak Oil – Sprawling From Grace; Driven To Madness‘. The trailer just came out:

According to EMotionPictures,

‘This feature length documentary explores the ravages of American suburban sprawl, what America has lost as a result, and the perils we face if we don’t change the way in which we build our cities. Americans have been lulled into a false sense of security by cheap energy that has allowed us to spread endlessly into our landscape. We are trapped behind the wheels of our automobiles. With the demand for oil outpacing the Earth’s ability to supply it, this suburban living arrangement will fail. America’s love affair with the automobile is unsustainable and, like Nero, we are fiddling away, confident that tomorrow will be as promising as today. The wake up call is coming.’

It seems as if everyone‘s got an opinion on how to handle the American suburban sprawl . . . What I think: we are not going to raze our suburbs, let’s get real. Instead, we have to live with what we have, adapt, conserve and retrofit, using a combination of new policies, new technologies, and new behaviors.

Now, what do YOU think?


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I want to discuss the ‘peak oil‘ video, referred to by Kyle in his comment yesterday. ‘Cassandra Peak Oil’ was released in December 2007 and was viewed 19,814 times. Not bad for ‘peak oil’ . . .

Kyle thinks this is a great example of the smart use of sex to sell green stuff. Is it? While there is no denying that the sex part gets people’s attention, I had my doubts. After all, what is the relevance of sex to peak oil? I put Prad to the test and asked him.

Is she trying to distract me?’ was his first reaction. His overall assessment: ‘Most guys who watch it are hoping she will take it all off, so they keep on watching. It was effective. Guys especially would not turn it off. But it’s a bit gimmicky, and too sensationalist.’

I did a quick analysis of the comments on YouTube. Reactions to the video, were mostly positive, two to one versus negative comments. Most people felt Cassandra did an excellent at calling people’s attention, and that she was a ‘smart, hot chick‘. As one commenter put it, ‘SEVEN DEADLY SINS, right on!’ Now ex-governor Spitzer should know . . .

Green Porno‘ with Isabella Rossellini, then ‘Cassandra Peak Oil‘, what’s next?

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Yesterday, in response to my article on ‘Taking the Global Warming Paradox With a Grain of Salt‘, Mary, one of the readers of this blog suggested that I take a look at a 2007 joint survey on global warming, from the Nathan Cummings Foundation and the Breakthrough Institute. While discouraging, the results have the benefit of sounding more realistic than other studies, and of providing clear insights into the kind of communication and policy strategies most likely to succeed.

To the question, “Compared to other problems facing our country, tell me if that issue is one of the most important?”, here is where global warming came out:

  1. War in Iraq 57%
  2. Rising cost of health care 51%
  3. Education 51%
  4. Terrorism 50%
  5. Covering people who don’t have health insurance 44%
  6. Moral values 44%
  7. Social security and Medicare 44%
  8. American dependence on foreign oil 37%
  9. Illegal immigration 34%
  10. Cost of gasoline and electricity 33%
  11. Job creation and economic growth 31%
  12. Federal budget deficit 31%
  13. Quality of the environment 30%
  14. Crime and violence 30%
  15. Global warming 28%
  16. Taxes 25%

To be contrasted with the fact that 70% agree that there is solid evidence of global warming, that it is a big problem, and that government should take immediate action. However they are only willing to support governmental action that does not create any discomfort whatsoever their lives, particularly in regards to their pocket book:

Policies that would gather highest support:

  1. Making clean energy sources cost less 68%
  2. Funding massive federal research and development to develop cleantech 56%
  3. Requiring American industries to reduce their carbon emissions 51%

Policies that would gather lowest support:

  1. Auctioning off the right to emit carbon pay for the right to pollute 9%
  2. Abolishing payroll tax and replacing it with a tax on carbon emissions 11%
  3. Establishing a carbon tax on electricity, gasoline and other products 13%
  4. Making energy sources that pollute – gasoline, home heating oil, coal – cost more 18%
  5. Requiring American consumers to reduce their carbon emissions 37%
  6. Making businesses that emit pay for the right to pollute 38%

More findings from the Nathan Cummings research:

The poll also divided the sample to observe the effects of various psychological primes on global warming public opinion, including using specific consequences of global warming expressed by the environmental community such as the movie An Inconvenient Truth. Telling voters about these consequences did not increase their desire to take action on global warming . . . scaring people is not the way to get them to act.

Finally, the poll tested public support for a variety of global warming policy prescriptions. Voters expressed initial support for a variety of potential government actions, with support for an Apollo-type investment strategy scoring highest. However, when told of the potential costs of those programs, support dropped precipitously, with only the Apollo-type investment proposal retaining support from a majority of voters.

The investment-centered New Apollo program received more support than either Cap-and-Trade or Sky Trust proposals. Additionally, when voters were told of the negative consequences of each program (cost of energy for Cap-and-Trade and Sky Trust; tax and deficit implications of Apollo type investments), Apollo was the only program to maintain majority support of the electorate (54%). Support for a Cap-and-Trade program fell from 62% to 46% when voters were told of the potential impact on energy prices.

Global warming proposals that can be framed as increasing the cost of gasoline and electricity will likely trigger tremendous backlash from an anxious electorate. The key to passing substantive limits on carbon emissions is to couple those limits with specific policies to make clean energy cheaper.

This research leads to some rather chilling conclusions:

People know about global warming and what it means in terms of global consequences. Still they do not consider it as a personal or policy priority. They see it as a problem to be dealt with by government, and only in policies that will not result in them having to make any personal sacrifices, particularly of a financial nature. They seem to think that the problem will take care of itself, in the form of technology, and smart, no pain – all gain, energy policies.

I look at these conclusions, and I ponder other world’s grim facts such as India’s Tata Nano future, China’s threat of ‘no longer just one child policy‘, and China’s support of always more coal plants. And I get depressed, and very, very concerned about the future of our species. Mostly, I am mad at my fellow Americans for being so short-sighted. Don’t they realize that the world is looking up to them to lead the way. How can we keep going with our oil and gas orgy, and expect other countries to show self-restraint. As mean as that may seem, I do hope for a recession, and peak oil to slap my fellow Americans at the gas tank and in their wallets. If not by morality and reason, maybe they will be led by necessity?

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