Kudos to this guy for choosing to make a difference. One thing in the article I wanted to clarify. It stated that: “Peakers think we’ve already tapped about half the oil the world will ever have to offer and that production will soon begin a long, irremediable decline.” What has happened is that we’ve tapped the oil that is EASY to get to. The other half will be much more difficult to extract, due to geological and political reasons. Hence, production will slow down at the same time demand is ramping up. Hence the Chevron CEO’s comment, “The era of easy oil is over.” One thing not touched on directly in the article but I think warrants discussion is how our land use decisions weigh into this problem. We’re lucky that in Oregon, we have the climate to grow most of the food needed for human survival. That, of course requires adequate farmland. We have that now, due in no small part to our efforts to protect it. But will that remain the case given yesterday’s M37 ruling? Reply
17 responses to “Willamette Week Features Peak Oil”
Kudos to this guy for choosing to make a difference.
One thing in the article I wanted to clarify. It stated that:
“Peakers think we’ve already tapped about half the oil the world will ever have to offer and that production will soon begin a long, irremediable decline.”
What has happened is that we’ve tapped the oil that is EASY to get to. The other half will be much more difficult to extract, due to geological and political reasons. Hence, production will slow down at the same time demand is ramping up. Hence the Chevron CEO’s comment, “The era of easy oil is over.”
One thing not touched on directly in the article but I think warrants discussion is how our land use decisions weigh into this problem. We’re lucky that in Oregon, we have the climate to grow most of the food needed for human survival. That, of course requires adequate farmland. We have that now, due in no small part to our efforts to protect it. But will that remain the case given yesterday’s M37 ruling?
On the one hand, it’s great that the WW is paying attention to Peak Oil and that it highlights a real human being who is paying attention. On the other hand… the article reads in places like something out of the Onion….
” “…Man, I loved that Jetta,” he reminisces.”
The problem with “Peak Oil” as an agenda item is that it describes an inevitable future problem, but tells us nothing about what we should do now.
When the oil runs out, everything will change. We will all have to respond to price signals, alter where we live and how we live. The poor will be hurt first and hardest, those with more money later and less hard. It will be a force majore like nothing we’ve seen.
But before the oil runs out, or gets really expensive, what should we do tomorrow morning? Yes there are national policies we should pursue, but do individual actions make a difference, and in which direction?
The fact that I ride a bike and take the train, and that our family owns “only” one car… hooray for green us… only makes Peak Oil less of a problem for other people.
Every individual solution helps the oil consumers in their profligacy. I’m still going to conserve because I derive personal aesthetic pleasure from my relatively green lifestyle, but all I’m doing is helping to postpone the day of reckoning for everyone else.
If I really wanted to speed up the progress toward a post oil economy I should buy an SUV and help us burn through the oil until the price gets so high that we are forced to redesign our world on a more ecological basis.
So who is helping the world more, me slogging through the rain on my bike, or the guy in the SUV who just splattered me with mud and burned 4 gallons of gas on his way to work? Isn’t he the ecological hero? Isn’t he bringing us closer to the day when we will need a solution, and while I’m prolonging the agony of an oil based life by volunteering to ride my bike?
I’m just askin’.
(By the way, I’m busy learning about various aspects of permaculture… because I believe that is the wave of the future… and yet I do it because I enjoy the aesthetic and the meaning I find in it. I recognize my interest for the luxury consumption that it is… for the short term irrationality that it represents. I do it not because peak oil is coming but in spite of the fact that there is no (or little) current economic justification for it. I’m just saying that there are good reasons for doing stuff, but there are generally rooted in the imagined economics of a future world, not the real economics of the present world. That puts a certain slant on the issue.)
I just have trouble gettig worried about runing out of oil. Here’s why:
To believe that society will be brought to its knees by running out of oil you have to believe:
That, after 100 years of false alarms, we really will run out of oil.
AND That, contrary to widely accepted economic laws, higher prices will not reduce demand.
AND That, contrary to widely accepted economic laws, higher prices will not bring additional supplies.
AND That the experts are wrong about the amount of shale oil.
AND That the experts are wrong about the amount of tar sands oil.
AND That we cannot use hydrogen because we will run out of uranium to run the nuclear power plants necessary to make hydrogen.
AND That we cannot make gas from our huge reserves of coal like the Germans did to run their war machine in 1943.
AND That, after harnessing steam power, electric power and the atom. Placing a man on the moon and exploring other planets. Creating the telegraph, telephone, radio, television and computers. Conquering plagues, famine, polio, smallpox and dozens of other diseases and decoding the genetic code. After centuries of solving every kind of problem imaginable, mankind will suddenly lose his ability to solve problems.
The issue isn’t running out of oil, it’s an issue of sudden increases in price as demand catches up to production capacity, and skepticism that production capacity will not be able to increase fast enough to meet demand increases, so prices will stay high rather than being an intermediate phenomenon.
Of course market forces will change energy usage patters and the mix of sources. Unfortunately, many in our society are hurt by sudden shifts in markets. This is in once sense inevitable, but how we prepare for and react to those shifts is not predestined.
Some of us would like our civilization to take early, proactive steps to help insulate our citizens and our environment from the impacts of a sudden increase in oil prices and the resulting market changes due to sustained high energy costs.
Viewed purely through the lens of economics, the Great Depression was just a market adjustment. The Dust Bowl just represented a shift in regional agricultural technology due to weather.
We are human beings. We are more than just economic actors. There is a human impact to these issues. How that impact will be experienced by real human beings is important.
– Bob R.
Welcome back, Jim.
While some commenters, like Kunstler, believe that we can’t make the transition fast enough, I’m closer to where Bob is. But I think it could be extraordinarily painful to our society, and the sooner we wrap our minds around it and start adjusting policies, the less painful it will be.
Chris Smith But I think it could be extraordinarily painful to our society, and the sooner we wrap our minds around it and start adjusting policies, the less painful it will be.
JK : We can agree on the possibility of a painful transition. But we did make it through a tripling in the price of oil in the 70’s, but it was painful. So how high can oil go?
I have been looking to find an upper limit on the price and have a hint in some documents, from the 20s thru 70s, at:
They have a Conceptual Design/Economic Analysis of an coal to oil plant.
One document, epa650274072_sec03.pdf, page 62, projects a price of oil from coal at $15-22 per barrel. Apply an inflation factor from the 70s and compare with today’s price of oil.
I suspect that the Saudis are well aware of this and are using this price region as the maximum that they will allow oil to goto in fear of people building the plant shown in the report.
None of this is to say that the transition will or will not be smooth.
PS: I’ll bet some clever chemist could even figure out hot to get the carbon from CO2 instead of coal.
Jim, your assumption that the Saudis have some control over pricing requires that they have the ability to open the tap wider. If their fields are in fact at peak as some believe, they lack this control.
Add in sharply rising demand from China and India, and we better hope those alternative technologies come online FAST.
Its ironic, but a lot of the policies on the ground in Portland that Jim K. tends to oppose…expanding mass transit, building compact urban form, growing the bicycle network, etc…make Portland one of the nation’s urban areas most likely to make a graceful transition as oil prices climb.
People are not atoms, they will make lots of small adjustments to their lives which will have huge effects. I am skeptical of doomsday scenarios, and there is a ton of waste in our society which offers a kind of cushion for when the chips are down.
China & India are the wild cards in this, and then we could have a religious civil war in the Middle East…their 30 Years War…before they come to their senses. Who knows?
Keep in mind that a dramatic increase in the price of oil affects far more than the price you pay at the pump. The cost of virtually EVERYTHING will increase, due to the fact that it is either transported over long distances, or petroleum is used to manufacture that item, i.e. anything made from plastic.
So, maybe we can afford a $6 gallon of gasoline. Can we afford a $6 head of lettuce?
Dan Kaempff The cost of virtually EVERYTHING will increase, due to the fact that it is either transported over long distances, or petroleum is used to manufacture that item, i.e. anything made from plastic.
So, maybe we can afford a $6 gallon of gasoline. Can we afford a $6 head of lettuce?
JK: this happened in the 70s, so we have an example to look at. If I recall, just about everything ended going up by about the same percentage after all of the ebbs and flows died out. If that repeats, expect food to triple, but also incomes. The screwees, last time, where those that saved money. And retirement accounts.
But keep in mind that there is probably a natural price cap between here and $100/bbl due to other sources of oil becoming economically viable at those higher prices.
But in the 70’s, prices came back down again, after the swing producer shifted from being the U.S. to being the Saudis, and Saudis were co-opted into more reasonable pricing.
The part of Kunstler’s analysis that I do agree with is that even if we are able to tap oil shale, coal gasification, etc., the energy out/energy in ratio is radically different than it is for pumping oil, and we will have a permanent shift in pricing much different than the more temporary shift in the 70’s.
My take on the whole Peak Oil thing is predicated pretty much on JK’s points above.
Yes, human society & our economy can, and will, change.
However, American society – as opposed to Europe, China, Japan, etc… is so predicated upon cheap long-distance truck transportation & single-occupancy vehicle useage for mobility, that we will be even more screwed than any other country once the barrel’s value skyrockets.
Already this country has the lowest savings rate inthe world – the average american saved negative dollars last year (go google for ref). Many Americans must rely heavily upon cheaper & cheaper ‘bargain basement’ priced products & food just to survive… which fuels our own economy. Take those away… which wouldn’t be hard, since our whole eonomy right now looks like a house of cards:
heavy investment & ownership of the US economy by other countries – a great example would be the Dubai Ports seeking to acquire several US terminals. The Mid East currently has approximately $1 trillion worth of investments in our country, which is approximately 10% of our GDP. Similar to China, Japan, and Europe.
Once we’re no longer worth the investment… kapow! There goes the US dollar, jobs, and the middle class. Sure it might rebound, but not before our whole shaky transport thing fails:
companies such as Wal-Mart and other big boxes, which form a huge core of our economy (importing foregin-made goods), rely upon very cheap truck transportation to keep their margins super-razor slim: almost all are located along freeways or other major highways. Once the cost of oil goes up, watch those margins vanish faster than a mime during a rock concert!
You know, in some ways, US suburban areas really resemble shanty slums in poorer countries, such as in Mexico & Central America. However, we have infrastructure, whereas theirs don’t. However, what happens when we can’t afford that infrastructure?
Moreover, does the car actually count as infrastructure? Since you actually have to buy one… because if you can’t, the road is still there, and you can bicycle, but if you live 120 miles away from a city in Orange County, California, does that really help you when you have to bike in to work?
That all being said, I don’t think we are completely screwed and are going to be living like nomads or Middle-Aged robber kings and peasants once Peak Oil ‘hits’ (it already is affecting us). Nope. Things are slowly changing, but – the good news – is that we’re all used to change by now. Invasion of video games, cable TV, iPods, 3 hour commutes – Everyone who lives in a modern society is pretty used to it. Transportation might be a bit different – but then car useage has exploded the last 20 years, watch it shrink comparatively the next 20.
It’s almost too bade, really: I’d love to see some places in the cities car-free & healthier. Guess I’ll have to take the slow (steam) powered boat to Europe or Japan for that in the future!
-just my musings; hope it wasn’t too much of a ramble
Justin: Transportation might be a bit different – but then car useage has exploded the last 20 years, watch it shrink comparatively the next 20.
JK: Don’t count on it. European car usage has been increasing as ours leveled out (market saturation?). The are only a few percentage points behind us in car usage now.
If we follow the European model for expensive gas, we will just switch to little 50 mpg cars from our current 25 mpg cars. That would cancel out a doubling in price.
Also keep in mind that gas really isn’t THAT expensive. At $2.00/gal and 30mpg, a ten mile each way commute costs around $1.33 round trip. Compare that with a Starbucks. Or with Transit fare.
As to switching to transit, I would expect some switch, but also higher transit fares as transit’s fuel bill goes up. We recently saw this. (Transit uses about the same fuel per passenger mile as small cars here in Portland, but their big expense is labor)
A couple of points on your comments…
“Also keep in mind that gas really isn’t THAT expensive. At $2.00/gal and 30mpg, a ten mile each way commute costs around $1.33 round trip. Compare that with a Starbucks. Or with Transit fare.”
This does not take into account the depreciation of the vehicle or wear-and-tear. Of course, transit fares are heavily subsidized, but the theoretical 10 mile commute is more expensive than the cost of fuel alone.
“As to switching to transit, I would expect some switch, but also higher transit fares as transit’s fuel bill goes up. We recently saw this. (Transit uses about the same fuel per passenger mile as small cars here in Portland, but their big expense is labor)”
As transit is more greatly utilized, overall cost per passenger mile is reduced. With heavier utilization, you have to add more peak-hour service, but your non-peak vehicles which may have been half empty are now full, bringing down the overall cost. This should take some of the pressure off fares, as labor costs increase at a less than 1:1 ratio with transit utilization, and fuel costs for the additional riders are incremental, as most of the fuel is consumed in moving the fixed weight of the vehicle.
This is not to say that fares won’t have to increase, but that the increase will be affordably proportional.
There is a magic point at which the utilization of a transit system exceeds the cost of operation, meaning subsidy would no longer be required. The NYC subway system, for example, takes in more in fare revenue than it has in operating/maintenance costs, and this profit is used to subsidize the bus system.
Portland has nowhere near the population density of NYC (and it won’t likely ever), so that magic point is probably out of reach for us, but if high fuel costs do cause a heavy shift from SOVs to transit, the overall proportion of public subsidy could be reduced.
– Bob R.
you mean like trashing the public school system so that folks relocate farther and farther out? squashing working class developments so that affordable housing (and the jobs that go with them) are all in vancouver and wilsonville?
In my earlier comment by “Portland”, I intended the greater Portland/Vancouver area. The transportation and housing policies that have been so successful in Portland are being followed by Vancouver and Wilsonville and elsewhere, as they are the only policies that make economic sense, transportation options and higher density.
But John, you can rest assured that we Portlanders will do everything we can to save our schools from the last 15 years of dis-investment.
And you should visit New Columbia in N. Portland to check out the affordable houses being built as I write. And jobs?, in North Portland, Gunderson, Freightliner, UPS, adidas are going full bore adding jobs hand over fist…if they can just find the people with the skills they need. The sky is not falling in Portland.
Check out today’s “O” Business section for an interview with Ken Deffeyes who argues that oil peaked on December 16, 2005. The guy appears to have real creds; I feel withdrawal symptons coming on already!