Archive | Peak Oil

Bookshelf: The Long Emergency

//ref=nosim/”> Link to book at

Link to book at Powell’s
Link to book at Multnomah County Library

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With all the discussion of Peak Oil this week, it seems very appropriate to add this to the bookshelf this week.

Kunstler convincingly makes the case for our proximity to peak production, then goes on the make a very depressing case for the impact this will have on world society and economy. I think (hope) his scenarios are overly pessimistic, but this book keeps me up at night.

One interesting note is that Kunstler lists nuclear as one of the few energy technologies that could readily fill the energy gap left by exhausted fossil fuels. I wonder how the environmental community is going to react to what could become an uncomfortable reality?

The countervailing view of course is that human ingenuity will work out alternative energy sources. But will it happen fast enough to prevent significant disruption?

The Breaking Point for the Supply of Oil?

A recent story in the New York Times provides a fascinating and fairly balanced look at worldwide oil supply and demand. In brief, the story is that we don’t know for sure, but the long-term prospects are cause for concern. The issue is whether new reserves can be discovered and exploited fast enough to keep up with growing demand, in particular, as China becomes more industrialized and more dependent on oil.

There are those who go around talking about “peak oil,” apparently suggesting that soon all of us will be riding bicycles.

I am not one of those people.

Cars and trucks are currently the dominate forms of transportation in the United States, and will likely continue to be for the foreseeable future. Even if oil supplies dry up, it is likely that motor vehicle technology will gradually shift to other sources of energy, thus perhaps making oil and gasoline obsolete but not motor vehicles and roads.

But the cost of gasoline will likely rise significantly over time, if not overnight. We are already seeing that with the current high gasoline prices. Of course, we have seen gasoline prices go up before and they eventually came down. Gasoline prices will probably fall somewhat after summer ends. But the long-term trend is upward.

As the price of gas rises, people won’t suddenly stop driving cars and trucks. But failing to plan is planning to fail. And those communities, states or nations that plan for a diversified transportation system that provides multiple practical transportation choices for both people and freight will have an economic advantage over those who don’t.

In particular, Oregon and especially the Portland metro area should strive to provide of a diversified transportation system, for economic and security reasons as well as for environmental reasons. We can and must do better in planning for a strong economic future for Oregon, in part, built on a well-diversified transportation system. To do otherwise would be to bury our heads in the (Saudi Arabian) sand.

More on Peak Oil

The New York Times Business Section had a long and interesting article a few weeks ago on oil consumption in the US. The Oil Uproar That Isn’t

A few interesting quotes:

The most visible element of this new equation is that relative to demand, oil is no longer in plentiful supply. The time when we could count on cheap oil and even cheaper natural gas is clearly ending. — David J. O’Reilly, CEO of Chevron.

Furthermore, Mr O’Reilly stated that it took 125 years to consume a trillion barrels of oil; the next trillion is likely to be consumed in the just 35 years.

On our dependence on foreign sources (who may not always behave according to the laws of economics…):

Crude oil imports have doubled over the last three decades and now account for nearly two-thirds of the oil Americans burn… In the same three decade period, oil demand in the US has grown by 18 percent while domestic production has continued on a slow and probably irrevocable path of decline.

The basic approach to energy policy in this country, according to the nation’s first Energy Secretary, James Schlesinger, is “only two modes–complacency and panic.”

Another Metro Councilor Lays Out a Vision

What do global warming, the end of “cheap oil” and the Legislature’s refusal to raise gas taxes the 12th session in a row have in common? Together they are creating the perfect storm for transportation as we know it.

Storms sink most boats but they also give rise to great surfing for those who anticipate and are prepared to ride out the waves instead of fighting them. Every community in the US is facing the same storm in one form or another. No place has enough money to build its way out of congestion, and Portland is no exception (compare congestion numbers at the Texas Transportation Institute’s website).

No place except maybe Texas has oil to meet its local needs (US production peaked in 1970’s and the world production peak is fast approaching) and burning all this fuel to accomplish errands we could do on foot, by bike or on transit is having major impacts on the survivability of our species.

How do we keep commerce flowing if the roads are clogged with commuters? When gas goes to $5 a gallon what will people living in north Clark County (where they can still buy a 1 acre lot in sprawlurbia) and commuting to Hillsboro do? Can bikes really save the world? If everyone wants to live in the city, where will they live? And just as fundamental to our sustainability, where will people of lesser means live if the well-to-do continue to bid them out of their conveniently located homes?

These are themes that I will be exploring in future contributions to this blog. Stay tuned!