Monday, December 14, 2009

Addicted to Oil

Today, in Australia, almost everything we own, buy, or do is brought to us by oil. Plastic is made from it, food is grown and transported with it, cars and planes run on it - the list is practically endless. There is no doubt: our civilization is addicted to oil, and our lifestyles are utterly dependent on it.

And, unfortunately for our civilization, oil is a finite resource.

In 1956, a geophysicist by the name of M. King Hubbert published the curve that he predicted world petroleum production rates would follow. Hubbert's Peak (as it's now known) looks like this:
All the evidence suggests that Mr Hubbert was basically on the money. The peak and decline of oil production that he predicted has now been observed for many oil fields and oil producing regions. For example, oil production in the continental US peaked in the early 1970s, and has been in general decline ever since.

However, while global oil extraction follows something like a bell curve, global oil consumption has been marching ever-upward, following a line that looks like this:

The term "Peak Oil" does not mean that oil is about to run out. However, when the world oil supply peaks (i.e. when we reach global Peak Oil) then it won't be too long before demand begins to outstrip supply. This will send the price of oil up until, one day, you won't be able to afford fuel for your car.

"So what?", people say. "If I can't afford fuel for my car, then I'll walk to the shops!"

But what if, when you get to the shops on foot, you discover that the farmers and the truck drivers and the food processors can no longer afford fuel, either? What if, when you get to the shops, you can't afford what little is left on the shelves? What if the shelves are empty?

If you think that this can't happen, then look at the historical precedents, of which there are many. Look, for example, at Haiti in 2008: Food riots turn deadly in Haiti

I'm doing what I can to reduce my dependency on oil. What are you doing?

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