Peak Oil News: Powering down

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Powering down

The Willits News

The end of oil-based civilization; Author Richard Heinberg draws a bleak picture of an oil-starved age and offers hints on how to prepare for it

By Brian Corzilius

Dr. Richard Heinberg's February 17 presentation, "Power Down, the Post-Oil Economy," at the Willits Community Center drew a crowd of more than 200 people. And while some residents wished Heinberg had concentrated more on what to do to prepare the north county for the decline of oil, everyone appeared captivated as the author presented slides and talked about how much energy Americans are consuming and how much is left in the world.

Through the 1950s, Heinberg said, the United States was a net producer and exporter of oil as well as of manufactured products and tools. By 2005, this trend had reversed, including off-shoring jobs.

U.S. oil production peaked in 1970, Heinberg said, and worldwide production is expected to peak between 2006 and 2007. Peak oil is defined as the point where half the world's known reserves have been consumed. After that, the cost extracting the remaining oil from the ground begins to rise, both in terms of cost and the reduced quality of the oil. Natural gas, long a waste-product of the industry, has already peaked and more than 50 percent of California's electricity is currently produced using it.

Every U.S. citizen consumes the equivalent of 8,000 pounds of oil, 5,150 pounds of coal, 4,700 pounds of natural gas and 1/10-pound of uranium each year, he said. And while the current U.S. energy mix includes 6 percent renewables, only 3 percent of that (0.0018 percent of total) is wind and solar, while almost 50 percent is wood stoves (3 percent of total). And, Heinberg added, the United States is starting at zero to build a renewable base of wind and solar energy .

Global oil resources have been overstated for "political reasons," Heinberg believes, and U.S. policy has been to purchase non-OPEC oil first. The ramifications of that policy, he said, have become obvious with increasing U.S. involvement in the Middle East.

In the future, Brazil, Russia, India and China will become critical players in the race to grab a share of remaining world energy resources, Heinberg said. China recently became the world's number-2 oil importer, after the United States, surpassing Japan in its consumption, he noted.

Heinberg believes the global oil peak will have profound ramifications on the world's economies (the cost to change to another energy source), transportation systems (both public and private), food and agricuture, and political stability, as nations commence the inevitable jockeying for control of remaining resources.

What can Amerricans do to soften the blow here? Heinberg recommends:

Use less (remember, oil is used in many everyday products).

* Talk about "peak oil" with others.
* Ensure local food security.
* Ensure local water security.
* Reduce transportation needs.
* Support the local economy.
* Foster local manufacturing of essential goods.
* Resist war and oppression.
* Support media alternatives.

Globalization, Heinberg charged, has been all about destroying local economies. If we are to survive, we must focus our efforts there.

During a question-and-answer period following Heinberg's presentation, a Native American speaker noted, "We have always done with less. The successful model is not always to pursue more. Look around, then at yourselfAsk what do I need to live successfully?"

Heinberg felt the comment was a perfect way to end the evening.

For more information: www.museletter.com. Additional refernces: www.postcarbon.org and www.energybulletin.net.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Brian Corzilius is a Willits resident.


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