top
Environment
Environment
Indybay
Indybay
Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz
Indybay
Regions
Indybay Regions North Coast Central Valley North Bay East Bay South Bay San Francisco Peninsula Santa Cruz IMC - Independent Media Center for the Monterey Bay Area North Coast Central Valley North Bay East Bay South Bay San Francisco Peninsula Santa Cruz IMC - Independent Media Center for the Monterey Bay Area California United States International Americas Haiti Iraq Palestine Afghanistan
Topics
Newswire
Calendar
Features
From the Open-Publishing Calendar
From the Open-Publishing Newswire
Indybay Feature
Related Categories: Environment & Forest Defense
postcarbon.org Peak Oil
by Ashan
Wednesday Jan 18th, 2006 7:09 PM
postcarbon.org
Ashan-File #207
Interview - David Room (1/2)

The following is an edited transcript of an interview that I conducted
in late November 2005 with Policy Director of the Post Carbon Institute
David Room, at his new home in West Oakland, California. In part one of
the interview, David defined the concept of Peak Oil, and explained its
implications for the project of human civilization, in terms of the
energy required to heat our homes, produce and transport goods that we
require to live. See
http://www.postcarbon.org for more.

DAVID ROOM:

Peak Oil, in the simplest terms, means that about half the oil has been
used up. When I say half the oil, I mean half the oil that's
economically viable has been used up. That's the simplest way of
thinking about it. What it actually means, if we want to be technically
correct, is that the rate of production, or extraction, of that oil,
will reach a plateau, or peak. It will reach its maximum level, and
from that point on, it will decline, inexorably.

So what we're saying here is that, oil being a finite substance, will
come to some point where it actually hits a maximum level, then it goes
into a decline. And at that point where it starts to go into decline,
we're going to have to figure out how to make do with less. We don't
know how to do that at this point, because our recent history has always
been, making do with much, much more oil. So each year, we're using
several percent more oil.

Now what happens when we come to a point when we no longer can do that?
That's what gets the folks that are looking at the Peak Oil phenomenon
excited, because they're realizing we're coming into a point where the
game needs to be changed, where things need to be done differently,
because we're not going to have all this cheap and abundant energy
available.

* * *

Let's also mention that there is a significant problem with natural gas,
as well. And many people who've looked at the natural gas issue believe
we're headed into a period, at least in North America, and perhaps a
little bit later in the world, we're headed into a period where natural
gas is going to be much more scarce than it is now.

There are people that believe, and there seems to be ample evidence that
natural gas has peaked already in North America. And because natural
gas is much more difficult to transport, we need to think about regional
supply, as opposed to world supply, at least until a whole set of new
infrastructure is built. A lot of people don't believe there is enough
natural gas to justify the building of a natural gas infrastructure,
which would cost billions of dollars.

So, both natural gas and oil are used to heat people's homes. In the
East Coast of the United States, people use a distilled product called
heating oil to heat their homes in the winter, and it's actually quite
crucial there, because of the temperatures. There are also, in the East
Coast, and also throughout the rest of the country, there are a number
of folks that use natural gas to heat their homes, and who actually need
that natural gas to provide a habitable situation. We've seen a
situation come up in the last several months with the hurricanes, and
specifically [Hurricane] Rita, although it was downplayed in the media.
it took out about 110 drilling rigs, as well as some other key
infrastructure, specifically to get natural gas back to the shore.

So, we're gong to be coming into a period when the prices of natural
gas, and, most likely, as well, heating oil are going to be going up
quite a bit. So it's not necessarily just thinking about oil, but also
these other products that are used and are important for heating
people's homes.

* * *

So, what does that mean for the average person? Well, it means there's
going to be higher prices and less availability. We already are seeing
major problems for people on the margins of the system. We can think
about it internationally, or globally. Throughout Latin America and
Africa, there are many issues with high oil prices. If we want to look
in the U.S., there are a lot of people who won't be able to afford their
heating oil, or their natural gas, this winter. Folks are feeling the
energy pinch right now.

Now, as we move along on time, and prices go higher, and the
availability of energy and oil is lessened, we don't know how that's
actually going to shake out. But one thing we can say is that, with a
market-based system, the energy's going to go to the people that can pay
for it. So, I can imagine a scenario where the folks that have access
to energy and are able to continue their lifestyles are the ones who are
very well off now, that people who are on the margins or maybe even the
middle class are going to have to really downscale or power-down their
situations, such that they're much less dependent on energy.

* * *

Now, energy runs our economy. Energy makes the world go round. It also
makes things go round the world! Really, if you want to take a look at
transport. 90-odd % of transport is dependent on oil. So we've got a
situation where we've created a global economic system that requires us
to ship things from distant places all over the world to where we are,
and this arrangement requires a large amount of oil to be consumed.
Now, we're not prepared for a new arrangement which requires much less
transport.

Right now we're relying on goods that are being shipped 6000 miles away.
Our food in the United States, travels, on average, 1500 miles. A lot
of our goods come from East Asia. And I believe, as we move towards a
time when energy's going to be more scarce, we won't be able to rely on
these 6000-mile supply chains.

There's a number of different reasons:

1) Are we sure, in the energy-scarce future that the folks that are
making the goods now will still have the resources and the inputs that
they need for the production? 2) Will they have the energy that they
need to produce? 3) Will they be producing more than they need
locally? Or, essentially, will they have excess that they'll want to
sell? 4) If they do have excess, will it make sense, will it be
economically viable to transport it to us? Because in the
energy-constrained future, it's going to be a lot more expensive to
transport things. And 5) Will they want our currency? I'm not sure, I
don't know if that last one's going to actually play out, but there are
a lot of folks that are very concerned about our currency, without even
thinking about energy.

So if we can't rely upon these 6000-mile supply chains, what are we
going to do? It makes sense to start local production for local
consumption, for us to start moving towards becoming much more
self-reliant.

* * *

The magnitude of the situation is huge, it's tremendous. Oil is almost
ubiquitous in our daily lives. In our normal life, we use products made
out of oil, or transported by oil, almost every minute of our day. And
when you get up in the morning, you brush your teeth, what's that made
out of? It's made out of plastic, plastic is made from oil. The little
hairs on your toothbrush, those are nylon, and those are made out of
oil, as well. Nylon is just another example of a manufactured fabric --
I am wearing one, as well, this shirt happens to be made out of oil.
Virtually everything that we do, we're touching some aspect of oil,
whether it's the transport, or oil being a key input to the product.

So, another example: shoes. Take a look at the bottom of your shoes.
If they're a tennis shoe, more likely than not, then they have some
artificial rubber. Artificial rubber is made from oil, as are our
tires. At one point, tires were made from rubber. They're now made
from
artificial rubber, which is made from oil, as well. It would be
difficult, it would be almost impossible for someone living in the
western world to go through their day without having any impact from
oil. I mean, it's pervasive.

It's something that we completely depend on for our normal lives, and
there's a lot of different reasons that our normal lives are things that
we need to look at and change. For example, our normal life is
ecologically unsustainable. I mean, we are destroying the life-support
systems of the planet. Our normal life also creates huge disparities in
health and wealth. These are both really important issues, yet I tend
to believe they're no t anything that's going to cause us to change
society, or change the structure of the system.

Now, this whole normal life being underwritten by cheap and abundant
fossil fuels, this concept right here, that could lead to change.
Because we've got oil peaking, which means that oil is going to be less
available, and there's going to be higher prices, this has a chance to
actually impact how we do things. And the way I like to think about it
is that we need to reinvent our normal lives. We need to take a look at
all our notions of what health, wealth, success, mobility, shelter -- we
need to reinvent these things, so that they are not only ecological
sustainable, and not only socially just, but we need to make them much,
much less dependent on fossil fuels, and specifically, oil.


See
http://www.postcarbon.org for more.
We are 100% volunteer and depend on your participation to sustain our efforts!

Donate

donate now

$ 777.00 donated
in the past month

Get Involved

If you'd like to help with maintaining or developing the website, contact us.

Publish

Publish your stories and upcoming events on Indybay.

IMC Network