Peak oil? Peak schmoil
By David Lawrence
We are gradually using up the world's supply of oil. Though this fact recently arrived very suddenly in the public's attention, the slow process of burning several millennia's buildup has been ongoing for centuries. We are going to "run out" of oil, but it isn't going to be sudden; there's no need for panic. Caution is prudent, awareness appropriate, but fear and panic need not apply.
It's now widely accepted that we are eventually running out of oil. There is a limited amount of it and we use it, so you'd expect that sooner or later it would all get used up. What isn't always agreed on is when we're going to run out. By many reasonable accounts it is going to be sometime this century, and the slow decline in production will certainly be a factor in our use of the resource in the coming decades. This decline starts when we reach our "peak oil production" - a term you've probably heard thrown around before. Basically we're going to start finding and digging up less and less oil each year. Experts disagree about exactly when this will happen (some say it already has) but it is certain to be soon enough.
The speed of that impending decline is an important factor. Reporting on the coming "oil crash" or "oil shock" is a popular counterculture/liberal left pastime. It has replaced "Marxian revolt" as the premiere "the sky is falling on capitalism" standby. These reports generate fear and panic by implying that the oil supply is going to suddenly dry up, leaving us helpless and unable to get to work or heat our homes. This "drying up" actually won't occur in days or years even, but over the course of decades. During this time alternative energy sources will also gradually increase in popularity and use, as they fill in the gaps that decreasing oil production leaves.
Alternatives to fossil fuels already exist. You've probably seen or heard of electric cars. Nuclear power, solar power, wind power and literally dozens of other alternatives to fossil fuels are all already in use to varying extents. The reason they aren't used as much as oil is because they are in general much more expensive than oil. The average person isn't going to pay five times as much as he could to get to work each morning because we are going to run out of oil 50 years from now.
This isn't the result of an oil-corporation/Halliburton/BushCheneyRove brain wash. It is merely normal people thinking, "Hmm, gas is $3 for 20 miles, and complicated fuel cell systems are $30." As technologies improve and new methods are engineered, the price of oil-alternatives will decrease. At the same time, the price of oil will be gradually increasing as production slows. At some point the oil alternatives will be comparable in price to oil, and lots of people will start using them and eventually, the price of oil alternatives will be much lower than the price of oil, and nearly everyone will use them. The "invisible hand" of the free market will solve the problem even before it arrives.
Major transitions in how we power our world have occurred before without significant incident. We have not used oil forever, and we won't use it forever. Modern man is innovative and tenacious, and we'll find our society gradually prepares as the problem gradually grows, so don't panic. If you are really concerned, I suggest converting the ol' Y2K shelter to an oil storage tank - you'll be well prepared when the "oil crash" hits.