Capitalism and Peak Oil: The Perfect Storm
by Jim Lydecker
Napa Valley Register (January 18 2008)
Americans have recently become aware of converging crises that can end life as we know it, though experts have been warning us for many years.
For example, many economists have been warning for decades of the severe consequences resulting from runaway national debt and an imbalance of trade. And the current mortgage/liquidity crisis was first discussed in the early 1990s by a number of financial experts.
Global warming, a phenomenon universally accepted as fact within the past five years, was first discussed by the Swedes in the 19th century. Several papers published at Stockholm University warned of global warning with the advent of the industrial age.
For a variety of reasons, humans usually don't react to problems until they become crises. All these crises are semi-connected, where one will trigger one or more of the others. However, there are two crises marching toward us now, shoulder-to-shoulder, that will trigger every other, both large and small. At best, they will end our industrial civilization. At worst, they may depopulate most of our species. These two comrades-in-arms, overpopulation and peak oil, are of such complex magnitude, no amount of financial or scientific commitment may stop them. They are creating the perfect storm of which there may be no survival.
The ever-quickening rise in oil prices partly attributed to the ever-weakening dollar. However, oil prices would still be increasing as demand outstrips supply. The slide down peak oil is unstoppable.
Most want to believe oil is limitless. The fact of the matter is it's a finite resource, a geological gift of nature, half of which we've run through in less than 150 years. You only have to look as far as the mature, collapsing fields as the North Sea, Mexico's Cantarell, Alaska's North Slope, Russia's Caspian and various Middle Eastern countries to know we are in deep trouble. In December's OPEC meetings, it was made public that they were supplying fifteen percent less than two years ago despite pumping as fast as they can. The massive Saudi field, Ghawar - by far the world's largest - has only been able to maintain its five-million-barrel-a-day output by injecting nine million barrels of sea water daily. It's said as goes Ghawar, so goes Saudi Arabia.
No substance is more interwoven into life as oil. Most of us see it as gasoline and believe more fuel-efficient autos will save the day. This is a fallacy as cars take much oil to manufacture, so if we replace all gas guzzlers with fuel-efficient vehicles, it will make matters worse. And using grain-produced ethanol is proving to be a mistake. Agriculture is one of the most oil-intensive industries and the more we grow, the quicker we use oil up.
Oil is necessary for drugs and pharmaceuticals, energy, fertilizers and pesticides, chemical production and everything plastic. With the advent of oil came a revolution in medicine, agriculture (where two percent of the population now feeds the rest of us, while it was the opposite in
1850), transportation, information, machinery and industrial production. Never before has life changed so much and oil was directly responsible for this modernization.
If peak oil is the sharpshooter with modern industrial civilization in its crosshairs, overpopulation is the hangman with the noose around our necks.
In 1850, the world population lingered at one billion; in America it was
23 million. The world population is now closing in on seven billion while here it nears 310 million. It was oil, and its cousin natural gas, that allowed the population to grow to unprecedented proportions as quickly as it did. As oil is depleted, it's correct to assume the population will decrease proportionately.
In 1974, the government released a study (NSSM 200) that concluded the world population needed to be decreased drastically for humans to survive after peak oil without dire consequences. This was followed by the Carter administration's Global 2000 document that said an immediate goal of less than two billion worldwide is necessary. Others suggest a world of no more than 500 million is more realistic.
Knowing so much about a near future of mass migration, epidemics, famines, society collapse and die-offs of biblical proportions, one should ask: Why are we not making population and oil conservation the primary issues? I always wonder why towns are proud welcoming in the first born of the year when, in the overall scope of things, having a baby is the most selfish thing a person can do. Why encourage our species to breed ourselves toward extinction?
Energy and population are the two subjects you never hear politicians discuss. Columnists, on the left and right, have recently written how it is only OK to talk about conserving oil and decreasing population until it's too late.
Lydecker lives in Napa.)