“Above all, and most immediately, we face the end of the cheap fossil fuel era. It is no exaggeration to state that reliable supplies of cheap oil and natural gas underlie everything we identify as a benefit of modern life. All the necessities, comforts, luxuries and miracles of our time – central heating, air conditioning, cars, airplanes, electric lighting, cheap clothing, recorded music, movies, supermarkets, power tools, hip replacement, surgery, the national defense, you name it – owe their origins or continued existence in one way or another to cheap fossil fuel.” James Howard Kunstler, The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the 21st Century
“Rebuilding local agriculture and food production, localising energy production, rethinking healthcare, rediscovering local building materials in the context of zero energy building, rethinking how we manage waste, all build resilience and offer the potential of an extraordinary renaissance – economic, cultural and spiritual.” Rob Hopkins, The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience
I have only just learnt about Peak Oil. I’ve been more interested in a parallel subject; climate change, and must have skipped over this one completely. But then I’ve also been realising that this issue really isn’t that well known in general, so I’m passing the message along!
I knew long ago what the definition of “non-renewable” was and how that fits in with fossil fuels, but I didn’t know when or what would be happening. After reading The Long Emergency and now reading The Transitions Handbook my eyes are opening a little wider.
But Peak Oil isn’t about having no more oil, this is an issue that happens before then, when we have reached the maximum amount of oil we’ll ever use in history, after which oil becomes more scarce and more difficult to extract and thus more expensive. It’s also when demand for it outweighs supply, clearly a balance that just doesn’t work.
And it’s not a case of replacing oil for other sources of energy because oil represents an energy source that has been created over a long amount of time, storing energy from the sun that arrived on he Earth long ago. It’s like we’re rereleasing all of that energy, whereas something like solar can only absorb as much solar energy as there is in the sky at one time.
There’s something called Energy Return On Energy invested (EROEI). If you’ve ever had to live with a log fire you know that energy has to be put in (chopping, purchase, transport, lighting and maintaining) to get energy out (heat and light). At one point the EROEI of oil was 100:1, which means you could invest one unit of energy or money and get 100 units back. Now it’s closer to 20:1.
Other energy sources have much lower EROEI. Here’s a website with some EROEI figures: http://www.eroei.com/eroei/evaluations/net-energy-list/
Other energy sources will replace some of what oil supplied us with, but no where near the amounts we’ve had in the last century or so. This means not only a change in infrastructure but also in the lifestyles of people.
You can see this as a crisis (long emergency) or an opportunity (transition). In truth it’ll be an uneven mix with not one or the other in different parts of the world. Places where their pre-industrial economies have remained intact may not feel the impact of this so much and also places that have prepared for a post-oil world ( such as the Transitions Movement- http://www.transitiontowns.org/ ).
One thing’s for sure, we’re going to be seeing changes which’ll effect us all for How we take that is up to us (all).