Peak Oil: These Words Must Be Spoken

(This article was submitted as a freelance op-ed piece on June 4, 2008 to the eleven major, English-language dailies in The Maritimes. On June 6th, the price of crude spiked $11.00 to $138.00 a barrel. As at June 7th, none have published. Go figure.)

The price of oil is destined to hit $200 a barrel by year’s end. This opinion is offered not by some wild-eyed survivalist, but by the prestigious investment bank, Goldman Sachs. Within several years the price may well be at $300 or $400 a barrel. Life as we have known it is about to end.

Industrial civilization has arrived at Peak Oil, yet these two words do not escape the lips of our mainstream politicians nor are they to be seen or heard via our mainstream print and electronic media. Holding the public in a state of “barefoot and pregnant” ignorance is, at the very least, morally incomprehensible and irresponsible.

The intent to limit social panic, a run on the banks, and a collapse of the financial system is well understood. However, to limit the latter does not exclude their inevitability. These social and financial crises are latent bullets that cannot be dodged. To proclaim otherwise is merely to engage in the fruitless rearranging of deck chairs on the Titanic.

Peak Oil signals a transition for industrial societies than cannot be averted. Quite simply, it is the historic transition from an era of plentiful and cheap energy supply to one of scarce and expensive.

Of the planet’s geological supply of roughly two trillion barrels of oil, we have consumed half. The first trillion barrels of oil were consumed over a period of 100 years giving rise to unprecedented industrial and technological feats.

Not the least of these feats were the advances made in agriculture. We have gone from being able to feed two billion people in 1900 to the current 6.5 billion, all directly attributable to a cheap supply of oil and gas, i.e. mechanization, pesticides, fertilizer, shipping, refrigeration, packaging. That is all about to change. The spike in global food prices reflects this in a harsh and real manner. Food prices have risen 40 per cent worldwide over the last year and 83 per cent in the last three years. Food riots have erupted in several developing countries.

It is estimated that the remaining one trillion barrels of oil will be depleted in 30-35 years while, concurrently, global population rises to 10 billion, most of it in the developing world. No significant new oil discoveries have been made since the North Sea fields in 1969. Demand is simply outstripping supply. Much of the new demand comes from the two non-Kyoto-signatories, India and China, Chindia as those two nations are now called.

The geopolitical dash to control the remaining oil and gas reserves is well underway, having been introduced with the cataclysmic events, and ongoing political and militaristic initiatives, of 9/11. Those Maritimers who believe that their loved ones are fighting in Afghanistan to bring democracy, schools and a liberated womankind to that beleaguered country are more than welcome to entertain such naïve fantasies.

The optimistic global depletion rate of oil is expected to occur at an annual rate of 2-4 percent. In other words, we are now using more oil than we are producing. This is a debt owed to nature, and nature has come to collect. All of modern life is directly oil dependent and with each passing year there will be that much less of life as we have become conditioned to know it.

Our industrial infrastructure, Pavlovian ideology of consumerism, and the global financial system that oversees it all, are all dependent on ever-increasing growth. The collateral that has backed up this growth and debt-creation for the last 100 years has been the plentiful and cheap supply of energy. That vain luxury is about to end. The “good times” are over, and they’re not coming back. It is not a matter of tightening our belts and simply riding out a recession, nor even a depression. Once oil, the lifeblood of our civilization is gone, it’s gone.

Double-digit inflation and unemployment linger on the economic horizon. Ninety percent of a barrel of oil goes towards global shipping costs, be it ground, sea or air. At $200 a barrel, global industry begins to grind to a halt due to cost restrictions. An immediate impact for the Maritimes will be the total collapse of the tourism industry. The Atlantic Gateway will be exposed as a multi-billion dollar Bricklin of the age. On the upside, the trend of economic globalization will collapse due to prohibitive cost factors, but to what avail? The North American industrial infrastructure has been gutted and there is no cheap energy supply with which to rebuild.

Relative to the cheap availability and quantity of oil, alternative energy supplies dwindle in comparison and are not energy cost-effective to produce, the Alberta tar sands inclusive. The championing of the so-called Green economy is limited in vision, cornucopian and politically opportunistic. The governmental tax grab of carbon taxes and cap-and-trade schemes are merely ploys to offset lost tax revenues from a severe business downturn, staggering unemployment and decreased demand at the pumps. While the common people will suffer, the notion of cutting overhead for an entrenched aristocracy consisting of politicians, mandarins, civil servants and bureaucrats is an oxymoron.

A decline into the uncharted and fractured social, economic and political territory of post-Peak Oil is a given. To this end has an initiative been undertaken to launch a new political party in the Maritimes to address the regional political challenges that are only a historic eye-blink away. The Draft Constitution with guidelines for involvement of the proposed Novacadia Independence Party is available to view at www.novacadia.org.