Every time has had it “doomsdayers”, those who predict that the end of life as we know it is just around the corner. In the 60’s we built bomb shelters, in the 70’s it was the coming Ice Age, in the 80’s it was the coming economic collapse, in the 90’s it was Y2K and now that we are in the new century it is “Global Warming” and “Peak Oil”.
The way Darwin believed we descended from monkeys and Joan of Arc that she was on a mission from God, White and his buddies think the age of affordable energy is rapidly nearing its end. Even voices from the other side of the petroleum divide are starting to back them up: Last year, Chevron CEO David O’Reilly announced, “The era of easy oil is over.”
So what is White doing about it? He’s transformed his own life while carrying the Peak Oil message to the masses. Along the way, his obsession has drawn skepticism from friends and loving tolerance from his conservative family. In fact, depending on how cynical you are, he’s either a walking example of the futility of individual action or a model of the kind of behavior that should make the rest of us a wee bit ashamed.
Ashamed? Me? Not a bit. You’ll pardon me if I fail to get excited. Tin foil hat wearers may run in my family, but I’m not there yet. This appears to me to be just the latest in doomsday prophecies.
The End of Suburbia is a documentary that wows not with production values but with serious (and seriously researched) interviews with some of the biggest names currently sounding the Peak Oil alarm: James Howard Kunstler, Michael Klare, Richard Heinberg, Matthew Simmons and Michael C. Ruppert.
Together they trace America’s increasing dependence on oil and present the case that the peak is real and will dramatically reshape America as we know it. Kunstler goes so far as to suggest the suburbs will become the new slums when most people will no longer be able to afford to live 50 miles from where they work.
Uh-Huh. Then why do so many of the true believers seem to live on spacious country estates far from the high density urban areas that they are sure will be the only places that will be inhabitable? If everyone is going to have to live close to their workplaces, and the workplaces are going to be in urban areas, you would think they would be busily buying up the real estate, wouldn’t you? I don’t see that happening.
As the price of oil increased more sources of oil that were previously uneconomical to use will become profitable and will come on line. As methods of using this oil improve, the price will come down. Other energy sources will be developed because it will be profitable to do so.
I am reminded of a problem we had in the 1960’s with electrical equipment. I think someone wrote a a story of computer that was so complex that even operating at the speed of light it would take thousands of years to answer a question. That’s kind of what we were facing. Increasingly complex electronic equipment was requiring more and more power to operate and as it did, it generated more and more heat.
I used to be Maintenance Chief at an AUTOVON switch.. This was one of the first electronic switches. It was developed in the 1960s because Lyndon Johnson couldn’t pick up the phone and talk to his Generals in Vietnam. He wanted to be able to do that, so a special telephone system was developed. The switch I was at was in Okinawa. It was a 500 line switch that was contained in its own large building with AC for heat dissipation, drew huge amounts of power and required on-site maintenance 24/7. It was expensive to operate, cumbersome and unreliable. It operated in micro seconds, which sounds fast but is actually very, very slow.
Now we throw switches with that many lines into closets and forget about them. Why? Because someone invented the microchip. It solved the problems with power and heat and size and speed, and they have been getting cheaper, smaller and more reliable ever since.
We’ll do the same thing with energy. Not because we all got together and started organic gardens or started riding bicycles in the rain. It will happen because it will be profitable.
Or at least it will unless some fool manages to take the profit out of it. If that happens we probably will be living in caves cursing the darkness.