Filmmaker says rude awakening about oil is coming
By John E. Mitchell
Canadian filmmaker Greg Greene has oil depletion on his mind and has made it his mission to spread the news of something that he and others think may be the biggest and most under-reported story around.
Greene's film, "The End of Suburbia," will be showing at the Images Cinema in Williamstown on March 8 at 7 p.m. Writer James Howard Kunstler, who is featured in the film, will field questions following the screening.
Greene had to talk to industry insiders and scientists at to find out the basic issue of oil depletion.
"I read the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star almost everyday," said Greene, "and I hadn't heard a thing about this, so I was very skeptical. It was really hard for me to continue to be skeptical after talking to geologists working within OPEC at this conference."
The world consumes seven times more oil than it did 50 years, largely due to a population increase and transportation needs, as well as ever-expanding industry. Those concerned about oil depletion claim that half the available oil in the world has been used, which means oil drilling is at the peak. In other words, there is nowhere to go but down.
Will run out
"Everyone relates to energy and oil like they relate to the gas in their car," said Greene, "once you get to empty you've got to get some more gas, but you can carry on steadily until then. Oil production doesn't work that way. About halfway through a field or a region or a country or the planet, when you hit that half-way point, you start running out, it's the law of diminishing returns, it takes more energy to get the oil out of the ground. Oil in the Earth is not like gas in the car, it's a curve and we're on top of that curve."
This principle is called the Hubbert Curve, which was devised in 1950 by Dr. M. King Hubbert as a way to describe oil as a resource. His principle states that production starts at zero, then rises to a peak that cannot be surpassed -- soon after, production declines. According to Greene, the information released by the United States Geological Survey, which is used to predict oil reserves, is being misread.
What many scientists are claiming is that the government and media report projections based on the 50th percentile, despite the fact that all the data in the last 10 years is consistent with the 95th percent projections. In other words, there is a 95 percent probability that we have used up a trillion barrels of oil, with only two trillion left -- and a good portion of that amount will not be recoverable.
Things are at their best
"We're at the best of times right now," said Greene. "Oil prices are not going to go down. We're not going to find some sort of free energy in the next few years that will save our bacon. We have to face this as responsible adults."
The thought of oil depletion paints a dire future -- oil is responsible for 40 percent of the world's energy, and is even the driving force behind food production sustainability. As Greene sees it, American suburbanites have the most to lose in the scenario.
"The people who have invested the most in a high energy lifestyle are the most vulnerable to this coming crisis and they need to be warned," said Greene.
Part of the problem is the struggle to get past the resistance of some of the very people he is trying to warn.
"No oil people and no scientists have disagreed with us, none," said Greene. "We've got some folks living in suburbia who disagree with us."
Greene posits that suburbia is the ultimate culmination of the American disconnect in regard to the myth of infinite resources. As a country built on the idea of expansion, limitation is one notion that is not always welcome in political discourse -- in fact, consuming, whether it involves American Indian territory or SUVs, might be the thread that binds Americans. After all, following the attacks of Sept. 11, the government urged citizens to send the terrorists a message by spending money on goods and travel.
"The mythology of a limitlessness is at the basis of a suburban way of life," said Greene.
Those within the movement believe that there will be no easy answers as we seek an alternative to oil and, most probably, there will be a number of ways that energy will be produced.
The road to that time, Greene fears, will be a hard one and the challenge for Americans is to turn away from scapegoats and rise to the occasion by accepting responsibility and curbing consumption as best they can. This may mean turning back on the American birthright of consumption, but it also means embracing the American tradition of apocalyptic thinking, just retooling it to the right end of the world.
"Everyone's so fixated on apocalypse," said Greene, "but everyone's unaware of the causes that are going to bring it straight to their front doorstep very soon."
Greene believes that humans in general and Americans in particular are an ingenious lot and sustainable forms of energy will be found. In the meantime, he and others worry that short term thinking might ruin the bright promise of tomorrow.
"If we don't manage this crisis, what will be left to power?" said Greene.
"How many people have to suffer? How many people in the third world have to die? How many middle class people in the developed world have to lose their homes? Lose their jobs? Offer a darker future to their children simply because we have not managed this transitional crisis properly?"