Peak Oil News: Peak expectations

Friday, February 03, 2006

Peak expectations

Ancaster News

By Kevin Werner

Decades ago the "peak oil" argument had the same cachet as a John F. Kennedy assassination paranoia theory propagated by the granola crowd.

Fueled by the Iraqi War, and high energy prices, a quick scan of any of the more vituperative websites and you'd believe U.S. President George Bush, V.P. Dick Cheney, and the American industrial complex are in league with the devil to destroy mankind.

These apocalyptic premonitions of a Mad Max-like world worked in favour of the environmentalists. Scare enough pants off suburban residents about losing their precious cheap energy, and it would mean improved fuel conservation, better waste management, and more sustainable transportation through public transit.

A documentary called "The End of Suburbia: Oil Depletion and the Collapse of the America Dream" that had been making the rounds had activists clucking. The grassroots planning group Hamilton for Progressive Development will be showing it this month.

The real fear, though, is that Mad Max fantasy may be more real than first imagined.

Over the last few years the peak oil theory has gained traction within the U.S. government, and mainstream publications.

"Oil and gas are limited. My personal feeling is that we have a concern in the next couple of decades," U.S. geologist Thomas Ahlbrandt, who co-authored a study on peak oil.

The theory states that oil has a limited lifespan. Since the 1960s, oil companies have found fewer oil fields, and the ones that are in production are steadily being drained. The Association for the Study of Peak Oil believe in the next few years humans will have extracted half the earth's oil.

When peak oil occurs remains a debating point. Some of the extremists believe it will happen in 2008, others 2016, while some U.S. government analysts say global oil production will peak in 2037.

Critics dismiss this end-of-the-world scenario believing that technology will keep oil production at bay and will lead to alternative fuel development.

The Peak Oil theory has more in common with another doomsday scenario. Thomas Malthus, in his 1798 essay, proposed the Earth could only sustain a limited amount of people. If left unchecked the human populations would grow until it became too large to be supported by the food grown on available agriculture land. Over 200 years later, the theory isn't wrong, but the issue has become more complicated because of improve technology, cultural impacts, and global transportation. The same result could happen to the peak oil situation.

So what does this have to do with Hamilton?

Hamilton councillors Brian McHattie and Dave Braden pushed the city to conduct a report on how peak oil will impact the aerotropolis plan. That happened last June. For the last six months the report has been in administrative limbo, prompting a belief that city staff didn't want the report's information made public because of its negative consequences about the aereotropolis.

"I don't believe in that," said Mr. McHattie.

He said it was more of a "disconnect" between what council wanted and what the author, Richard Gilbert, a director of the Toronto-based Centre for Sustainable Transportation, produced. Mr. McHattie hopes a revised report will be ready for council by the end of February.

But beyond the administrative miscues, Mr.McHattie wants Hamilton to seriously look at how peak oil will impact on one of the most important development ideas to affect Hamilton since the Red Hill Creek Expressway.

The original report on the aereotropolis was nothing more than a "cheerleading" document, he says. It provided no options for councillors to consider, no "triple bottom-line" analysis.

"This is critical," he said. "It will mean we are not spending money elsewhere. It will also be irreversible."

Mr. McHattie says Hamilton should look at other municipalities such as Calgary, which establishes 100-year planning cycles, and has already adopted alternative energy programs to safeguard their community.

Hamilton instead should focus on rail and shipping as more vital transportation systems rather than the energy-sucking airport, he says.

"There is a tendency for humans to believe nothing will change," said Mr. McHattie. "There are examples where people didn't notice (the change) until it was too late. But the cities that wake up and understand the issues will be the successful cities."


At 10:10 AM, February 05, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Throughout history, without exception, the great majority of people live out their lives, "in quiet desperation." For a thousand years, scholars have assessed this phenomenon in various ways with various leanings. The reason is not complex. People are forced to set priority amongst the things that bear upon them at any time - today it's getting that new Corvete and tomorow it's selling it because the doctor says a baby is coming. We are forced to recognize we can only do so much and so we have to hope that the many vocal experts in any area of focus - energy for instance - are actually doing something and that as a whole they will be honest, self-serving will equal social-serving (market economics) and all that.

So we are destined to drift along until a shared problem of some kind forces the majority to puch a certain issue to the forefront together and at the same time. War does this. We expect that an epidemic would do it.

Some crisis has the opposite effect, where group action poses personal threat. When many are at risk of drowning there is a tendency to think, "Once I'm on board, let's pull up the rope."

The subject of hydrocarbon energy supply/demand is getting close to bringing out the best and worst in people.

As always those who love to hear themselves talk and who are their own greatest admirers (holders of many degrees, impressive positions or connections, claims to publication or popularity of any kind) are attracted to the flame that is attracting a crowd. "I must follow them for I am their leader," they say as they prepare to spout meaningless truisms or climb on board the panic bandwagon. Micheal Moore is a good example of this - and a disgusting one at the same time. We see more and more rock stars who can't spell the words that define the issues, associating themselves with momentus matters and in that way, trivializing them (Bono of UK rock fame for example).

The weird element in all of this today is that for the first time in human history we have sufficient facts readily available to clarify the matter and focus us on the issues that matter.

What "matters" is that which is a threat or opportunity to the things we care about which, in turn, we can do something about. In the 1960's a philosopher stated, "All human reasoning must be based on the assumption that life is worth living and that by our thought and action we can improve upon it." If you agree with this, we can examine some of the facts that identify life-improving opportunities to do something for our betterment.

If you love big cars, own one but for commuting you can drive any of a hundred alternatives that will cut your consumption of energy as well as you risk of congestion, collision and a range of social diseases related to traffic. They cost less and last longer.

Buy a sweater and turn your thermostat down to 63 degrees F. Keep your doors and windows closed, turn off your bathroom and kitchen fans when they are finished their work. Fix your taps and toilet controls. Reduce or eliminate heat/cold to the garage and out-buildings. Support re-cycling.

Vote, using your intelligence and information rather than your glands and biases under social pressure from religious or other group-think clumps. Be informed. For example, whereas "Peak Oil" worriers are helping large energy interests get your support to drill in wildlife protection areas, they usually portray themselves and think of themselves as the social conscience. They are dupes and want you to be the same.

Support organic and concience-grown food suppliers. The hydrocarbons being dumped as fertilizers and pesticides by diesel-burning machinery in fields to over-produce tainted food
for your tables are major sources of energy waste and greenhouse gasses.

Think win-win. What can you lose by doing the foregoing things?! Also, grow a garden, protect the urban forests, use stuff in moderation, drive responsibly (one stalled vehicle in rush hour costs more than a lifetime of heavy fuel consumption by a family), use your imagination is harmony with your conscience.

Stop lying to yourself - listen attentively to your conscience and stop arguing with it or rationalizing away your own best judgement.

You know as well as anyone on earth that if only half of the population of the industrialized world were to do only these things, we would permanently postpone a hydrocarbon shortage and allow ourselves the luxury of thinking about something else. We are collectively worrying about a sinking boat while madly going about drilling our own personal holes in its hull.


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