It's time to face reality of finite oil supply
By Bill Boyne
What will happen when the Age of Oil ends?
If you want to understand the ultimate effects, just visualize a crowded interstate highway with four lanes of traffic speeding in each direction. Then imagine what would happen if all the cars and trucks suddenly stopped -- not only on that highway but on roads all over the nation and all over the world.
Everything would stop -- trucks carrying oil and farm products, commuters going to work, travelers heading for vacation, state police cars, Greyhound buses -- everything.
Of course, in the real world that would not happen all at once. But when the Oil Peak arrives, that could be the ultimate result as gasoline and diesel oil became more and more scarce. The damage could be reduced if the world begins to recognize the problem and makes a transition to renewable fuels and plug-in electric cars, but as of now not enough people or public officials take the issue seriously.
The Oil Peak and its consequences were among the topics discussed by Norm Erickson in the first of a series of lectures at the University Center Rochester last Thursday. Erickson, an IBM employee for 32 years, has delved deeply into the Oil Peak, energy issues, and global warming. He is convinced that oil production throughout the world is already declining or will begin to do so in a short time.
It is not a new idea. The volume of oil produced in the United States peaked in 1970 and has declined ever since. That peak was predicted in 1956 by M. King Hubbert, an oil industry expert. Since there is a finite volume oil in the world and the world's consumption of oil has continued to increase, a worldwide shortage at some point is inevitable.
In his first lecture, Erickson quoted extensively from Matthew Simmons and Dr. Colin Campbell, international experts on the oil industry. Both are convinced that -- in a very short time -- the world supply of oil will begin to decline. Erickson said that the first step should be to do everything possible to conserve energy, including driving fewer miles and requiring auto manufacturers to increase the gas mileage in their products.
As the shortage becomes more apparent, the price of gasoline will rise to unaffordable heights with drastic effects on the economy.
Erickson will cover other aspects of the world energy crisis in his next two lectures, including global warming, the need to abandon fossil fuels and to build energy-saving houses and buildings.
His next lecture will be 6 p.m. Thursday in Room CF202 in the Coffman Building at the University Center. It will cover the consequences of worldwide energy shortages and what happened after Peak Oil hit Cuba after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Since the Soviets had supplied Cuba with oil and gasoline, fertilizers for farming, and farm equipment, the island nation had to take immediate action to respond to the crisis without outside help. That action might serve as a model for what would happen in the world after the Oil Peak takes effect.
In his third lecture 6 p.m. Thursday, April 19, at the same site, Erickson will discuss what we can all do in our own communities to reduce energy use, adopt conservation methods, use solar heating and other strategies.
Information of this kind is badly needed. The city of Rochester is planning major construction projects including a new bioscience building, expansion of the Mayo Civic Center, a downtown residence for university students and other structures.
City officials could set an example for all of us by adopting "green" building practices in each case. The initial cost might be slightly higher, but this requirement could save millions of dollars in operating expenses in the next 50 years. This is especially true because, as Erickson predicts, extreme price increases for natural gas are inevitable in the next few years.
And, of course, all of these steps to conserve energy and avoid using fossil fuels will also help to combat global warming.
Everyone interested in these issues should try to attend Erickson's next two lectures. There is no charge and no reservation is required.
Bill Boyne is a former publisher and editor of the Post-Bulletin who writes a weekly column.