Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Don't Let the Peak Oil Crisis Get You Down

The burney smell comes off onto my fingers as I wipe the grill down. I lit it, and now I have to wait 10 minutes for the grill to heat up. Last weekend my parents came, and my dad showed me how to cook on my apartment complex’s grill. I always considered grilling to be a masculine activity, but it is also a fire activity, and I love fire.

It is peaceful out here. I type that and smile because I have eight air conditioners running in front of me and endless cars driving on the street behind me. Still, it is peaceful. When I am not looking at them, the cars almost sound like ocean waves.

I got to talk to my dad last weekend about oil prices. Lately, one of the reasons I have been feeling depressed is that it seemed like the world was going down-hill. Maybe this is totally my perception, but in 1999 I was sixteen and I got my first job as a hostess at a pasta restaurant. It was a great time to be working because we had a lot of business. I remember quoting people 2 hour wait times and they would stay. That is because there were 2 hour wait times everywhere. Everyone was eating out and spending money. The economy was good. I could fill up at the pumps for a whopping ten dollars.

The first scary thing was 9/11, not because I was afraid of terrorists, but because I was afraid that there would be a draft. I didn’t want all of the boys I loved in high school shipped off and killed. And I loved all of the boys in high school. Not sexually loved them: just loved them in the young happy I-love-humanity sort of way.

We find out: No Draft. There is a sigh of relief in my subconscious. Still, how classist of me to not bat an eye at all of the blue collar boys being shipped off to war.

Then the American dollar becomes worth less. There are no longer 2 hour wait times at every restaurant in the city. The economy is shitty. The price of gas is up. This depresses me. My dad was a geologist for a major oil company in the eighties. My uncle retired from his job of predicting gas prices. But these men have the obsessiveness that I have. They still spend all of their time on the oil gossip: finding it, pricing it, producing it. So I asked my dad about oil now: Do we have the reserves in the ground? Will the price continue to go up forever until we run out? What about those people who think we are going to run out of oil and are starting to live on self-sufficient farms?

We have lots of oil left in the ground. The price will go up to about $300 a barrel and it will stay there for a bit, and then it will come down. The faster it gets up to $300 a barrel the faster it will come down. The high-school economic principles of supply and demand have more to do with the gas prices than the amount of oil we have in the ground.

He told me this all happened in the eighties. We were rich in the eighties because he worked for a big oil company and the price of oil was up. And they predicted that it would continue to go up and we would run out and everyone would have to live on homesteads. And look what happened: THE NINETIES are what happened. The price of oil dropped, I turned sixteen, and there were 2 hour wait times at restaurants.

But there are crazy people stockpiling food and learning how to farm now, did that happen then? He asked me if I remembered his friend Jackson P., I remembered him. He told me how Jackson P. had bought a farm in upstate New York and built a house with a wood burning stove, and sent my dad a letter saying: You are welcome to join our homestead, but we will have to meet your wife and determine if she is the type of person suitable for our cause. My mom didn’t like Jackson P. after that. This all happened in the eighties, and it is happening again.

There is something attractive to people about doomsday, about trying to survive. Why else would there be so many fundamentalists believing in the rapture and homesteaders learning how to farm? I understand the attractiveness of THE END. I used to fantasize that the world would end during the night before I had a large assignment due. It never happened. The truth is that it could happen, but the probability is sooo very low that I feel 100% safe.

Things are looking up.


caroline said...

hi, i'm a fan of this blog and feel the need to weigh in on this topic.

peak oil doesn't mean that we run out of oil. it means that the oil becomes more difficult and, thusly expensive to extract from the ground, to the point that the cost far outweights the economic advantage of selling it. so this isn't a cut and dry supply and demand issue.

now of course there are survivalist extremists out there hoarding food and, well, whatever else survivalists hoard. but there are also sensible people who realize that the time of cheap and easy fossil fuels is coming to a close. (the operative words being 'cheap' and 'easy.') this will involve, among other things, relocalizing food sources. farming doesnt really sound all that crazy when you consider how expensive commercial produce is going to get once the oil prices shoot up and those apples you want shipped in from an orchard across the country rely onthat oil to make it to your local wholefoods.

it's not "the end," really. humans are incredibly adaptable creatures. we'll just have to completely rethink our dialy lives, and i'd rather anticipate that and be prepared for it than be taken completely off guard.

Fermi said...

Caroline, thank you for commenting!

I guess I was trying to say is that the cost won't outweigh the economic advantage of selling oil in our lifetime or in our children's lifetime because of the amount of oil we have in the ground. No one knows 100% for sure how much we have in the earth, but if you ask an expert on the subject (like someone who looks at sizemic and RF data on rock formations to find the oil) they will say that there is plenty of it.

As long as we have plenty oil to find and produce it is a cut and dry supply and demand issue. The supply is controlled by how many wells we drill, and the demand is controlled by how many people need plastics and gas.

Still, I doubt that we will need to relocalize food sources. Technology is still advancing and we haven't even begun to tap the power we could get from nuclear power plants. That power would be directed at shipping before farms relocalize.

The point is that gas prices are up because George W is in the white house and he comes from (and thus scratches the back of) Texas Oil People, not because we are running low on oil.