Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Our children's future: healthcare vs. peak oil

Do you believe in peak oil? What is peak oil? Peak oil, also referred to as Hubbert's peak, is a projection, based on our historic patterns of consumption, of when the demand for oil will outstrip its supplies. The world uses about 80 million barrels of oil per day, mostly in the transportation sector. So, to keep up with this demand, at least this much oil needs to be excavated from the ground daily. In reality, even more is needed to keep some in reserves. Hubbert was a geophysicist who in the 1950s predicted that, based on the current patterns of oil consumption, we would reach peak oil sometime early in the 21st century (see graph).

How is this possible, you ask? A better question is how can it be otherwise? If you really think about it, oil is the product of the earth's development and evolution. It is an alchemy of dead organic matter and glacial and volcanic catastrophes brewed slowly over hundreds of millions of years. In this sense, oil is not a renewable resource, at least not within the human time frame. And as you can see, the curve of the production until the peak appears mostly exponential, with some stops and starts. Exponential growth, by virtue of its accelerated trajectory, is unsustainable in a closed biological system, where the production of resources cannot keep up with their consumption.

So, peak oil is not hard to imagine, given our gluttonous consumption of it. So, why is it that the international body, the International Energy Agency (IEA), responsible for forecasting our oil situation has been so reluctant to admit to the impending peak oil? Turns out, according to a report in today's Guardian, that it has been cooking its numbers because of the pressure from the US. An unnamed whistle-blower has come forth to indicate that
"...the US has played an influential role in encouraging the watchdog to underplay the rate of decline from existing oil fields while overplaying the chances of finding new reserves."
Why would the US encourage such deception? Apparently because we are worried about the implications of this revelation to the markets. So, while shouting loudly about fiscal restraint and sloganeering about the impact of universal healthcare coverage on our children's financial future, our nation, with its eyes shut tightly, has been on a collision course with a very real and close wall of peak oil. This is simply unwise.

We can make up all kinds of stories about the potential reserves. I am not sure why these stories seem more plausible to the same people that energetically deny human contribution to the climate change, except to say that we believe what is convenient for us to believe. Everything you see on the graph below beyond the real oil reserves is imaginary. But, even if it were feasible to get at these potential resources, they would be fraught with an enormous carbon footprint, not only while mining, but also when used as fuel.

And, by the way, haven't we learned our lesson about investing in imaginary assets? Is that not what our investment banks were doing with the mortgage-backed derivatives?

Come on, people, the writing is on the wall. Fossil fuels are on the brink of exhaustion. And we have more "stuff" than we can use in multiple lifetimes! Let's stop for a moment and take the toll of what we have done to the planet. Let's really consider our children's future, and their children's and theirs. In fact, perhaps we can remind ourselves of this old Iroquois philosophy:
"In every deliberation, we must consider the impact on the seventh generation... even if it requires having skin as thick as the bark of a pine."
This is our opportunity to consume less and to tell President Obama to make a real difference in Copenhagen!

No comments:

Post a Comment