Yesterday, I wrote this post about peak oil, about thinking about responding to our oil running out, and about the oil and gas industries' recent moves. Obviously, the oil will inevitably run out, and when it does, what will happen to all of us or to our kids and grand-kids (oil likely won't last any later than that) will differ greatly depending on how we respond to the problem now. Whether you've noticed my posts before on this subject, or are noticing it for the first time, read on.
Oil industry experts refer to the date at which all commercially worthwhile oil fields are opened up to pumping and all rigs are pumping as fast as they can to meet demand as the peak oil date. At that point, our oil supply (which is a limited supply of a resource that geological processes take millions of years to produce from organic matter, like the remains of a rain-forest, that becomes buried deeply beneath the Earth's surface) will only be running out, and it is after that date that we can expect the oil industry's ability to meet demand to begin to dwindle as each oil-well eventually dries up.
That means that, beginning in the poorest areas of the world, if people are still relying on gasoline-powered vehicles to transport food to cities at that time, people will be faced with the dilemma of getting back to living on farmland or on the coasts of fishing waters, becoming bandits, or starving; and even if everybody moves to farms and coasts, it still may be too difficult to transport food to everyone who needs it- and especially in countries that must import a lot of their food. If the world is not properly prepared, it will face imminent mass starvations along with a lot of ugliness and violence.
There is no agreement about when the peak oil date will be. Estimates range from about 50-70 years from now. Kevin Drum of the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog, who reads and thinks a lot about peak oil and about the energy industry, has in the past written on his belief in the view that a peak oil date of 50 years from now is possible. But in light of the current conditions of the world-- a rapidly modernizing and industrializing China that is eager to show itself off; a large world population that can only increase itself exponentially (thereby increasing demand for food that is shipped by planes, trains, ships, and trucks); instability in the Middle East; a United States that does not care about the environment or the energy crisis, and that cannot really work internationally to achieve energy conservation goals; an energy and technology industry that does not care about humanity and effectively ignores the development of technology to exploit alternative energy sources-- it is probably too optimistic to expect the world's remaining oil to last as much as 30 years after the peak oil date is reached. As I wrote in my diary yesterday, recent pricing moves by the energy industry and OPEC may indicate that they are concerned about the possibility that the peak oil date may occur at the closer side of the estimates (and that they therefore will lose out on potential profits if they do not begin taking advantage of aggressive pricing policies). But it is not at all necessary for them to believe peak oil will happen in 50 years or sooner, or for it actually to happen that soon, for the oil industry and OPEC to be convinced that these high prices on oil and gasoline are the best way for them to selfishly prepare for the eventual end of the oil industry.
How should we as a people respond? One thing is certain: there is no way that saving up money and resources, and holing one's self up on a farm with one's family or with other like-minded people can possibly be an adequate solution. If you try to run from the problem, you will end up being faced with the facts that you can't actually produce enough food and other things you need to be able to take care of yourself and your loved ones year-round without a surrounding society, and inevitably enough have-nots will show up at your door-step to take everything you tried to save up away from you. The only realistically safe chance anybody has to survive the end of oil as the economic and technological basis for our society is to work together as a society to prepare for the problem and to avoid it now. As usual, we cannot count on the most selfish and the most bigoted and chauvinistic portions of our society to start preparing for this and to make it work. They are very cowardly, and prefer to run from problems instead of keeping a clear head to determine the best solution. They are the unthinking people who made us vulnerable to 9/11, read "My Pet Goat" while we were being attacked, who ignore global warming and have ignored peak oil up to this point, and gave us the Katrina response and the Iraq war. If our children are to survive this, we must start working on this and stirring up interest in solving all of the problems involved ourselves.
A few things clearly will need to be done:
1. We need to put oil aside in a larger strategic reserve so that if we get into a big war after the oil runs out, we will be able to use it to run conventional military weapons and vehicles. Vehicles and weapons that run on alternative energy sources as we now know them are almost certain to be inferior to those that use petroleum based fuels and propellants in warfare, and our country will lose almost all of its military advantages if we are not able to operate our cutting-edge conventional (petroleum-using) weaponry in a war.
2. We must switch as much of our electricity-production from gasoline-using power plants to nuclear power plants as soon as possible, and sign treaties with the rest of the First World so that they will do the same. This will make the oil industry last longer so we will have more time to prepare for the end of oil.
3. We must begin having people scour our landfills for plastic that hasn't been recycled, and begin storing it all somewhere for future recycling, because when oil runs out, there will be no way to make new plastic (plastics are made from petroluem). The task will only be harder when the plastic people have been throwing out for years becomes more deeply buried under more garbage in the landfills.
4. We must create viable alternative-energy vehicles for transporting food. How much starvation results from a switch from oil and coal to nuclear power depends on how abrupt, or how well-done, the shift to the use of these new vehicles is. The one thing that is certain is that if we haven't developed a transportation system for food that is at least substantially equal to our current one by the time oil runs out, a lot of people may starve or at the very least there will be significant anarchy, even in the U.S.A.
Do not wait for anyone to lay the groundwork for you. Do not try to run from the problem by planning to hole yourself up in a remote farm or a compound with your kids and loved ones-- you cannot get away. We are all in this together and we must solve it together or our modern human civilization will be destroyed.
5. We should consider passing laws designed to scale back consumption of animal products and scale back the meat and dairy industries, because:
(1) The highly perishable nature of these food products makes them require more energy to store and transport. You can't let them sit places as long, so these products tend to require us to provide more vehicles shipping all our stuff. If we consume animal products, then there is less possibility for consolidating cargo onto a single transport since you have to get the animal product moving to its destination quicker than other foods, plus you more often need energy to refrigerate or freeze them that you don't need with vegetable products- or you need more (colder) refrigeration. (2) Animal products take more energy (electricity) and resources to produce.
Eating less animal products is therefore part of conservation of oil.
In addition to everything I wrote above-- which I meant to speak of as the initial measures to prepare for transition to a non-oil economy, rather than as measures for complete transition to a non-oil economy-- I go into more detail in speculating about what we need to do to prepare for a post-oil world in this older article of mine.
6. The government should begin a program of providing free bicycles to poor people and providing subsidies for people to buy scooters and motorcycles. Popularizing these more-fuel-efficient means of transportation will enable us to use less gasoline, even if any schemes we think up for popularizing mass-transit (like trains and buses) don't work out.
7. The three branches of government should institute more protection for abortion, and we should consider whether other population control measures (such as perhaps ending naturalization after a few years, and after we've made all the current illegal aliens citizens) to see whether they are warranted.