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Peak oil: two words to worry about

The Gazette
Albert Nerenberg

As if you don’t have enough to worry about, add two more words to your list: peak oil.

Forget climate change – peak oil is the biggest problem on the human horizon according to some. Bullcrap, say others.

The idea is actually hard to explain, which may be why many have never heard of it. But if the peak oil theory is true, it will affect us all drastically, so it’s worth a shot.

Technically, there is lots of oil left in the world. We’re often told the supply could last 40 or 50 years. But peak oil is the exact point at which oil production peaks. The idea is you don’t need to run out of oil to get into trouble. You just have to reach the “peak,” the point where you’ve passed maximum output and start to run out. At that point, oil becomes finite and something big happens – the price surges. That jump would be so violent and unavoidable, say some, that the global economy would simply run out of affordable gas and, in a worst-case scenario, would collapse. The crisis would be so severe, we wouldn’t be able to run tractors, heat our homes or, naturally, drive our cars. Soon we’d be living like 17thcentury pioneers in the shell of our former gas-driven civilization.

The peak may be imminent. Some predict it will happen when the global economic machine revs up in this recovery. Take it from Matt Savinar, author of doom site Life After The Oil Crash. “Civilization as we know it is coming to an end soon,” he writes. “This is not the wacky proclamation of a doomsday cult. ... Rather, it is the scientific conclusion of the best paid, most widely respected geologists, physicists, bankers and investors in the world.”

Critics of the peak oil theory say it is the wacky proclamation of a doomsday cult. It’s also hugely exaggerated. Peak oil has been predicted for years and it hasn’t happened. Peak oil predictors say that’s because the recent recession caused a major drop in oil demand. It’s true that a surprising number of heavyweight financial types have joined the cause.

You may have seen former CIBC chief economist Jeff Rubin’s book Why Your World Is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller. In it he writes: “We are getting closer to the bottom of the barrel,” explaining that one of the signs of peak oil is extreme forms of oil extraction – take the Alberta tarsands or the recent madness in the Gulf of Mexico. U.S. peak oil hero Matt Simmons, a former investment banker to the oil industry, died recently in Maine. Once energy adviser to George W. Bush, he told Forbes in 2008: “I find it ironic that we have the biggest industry on Earth, and I’m one of the few people to figure out that we have a major problem.”

Both Rubin and Simmons were scared enough to get drastic. Rubin quit his job atop the CIBC to campaign against climate change. Simmons founded the Ocean Energy Institute, an organization dedicated to developing alternative energies.

So why weren’t we concerned? Peak oil is abstract. We may have natural instincts to avoid fire or bears, but most of us don’t have a gut fear of dangerous commodity trends. Why haven’t the oil companies said anything? Possibly because they stand to profit obscenely from the crisis. And the BP oil disaster has demonstrated that you can’t trust oil executives as far as you can throw them. Nor can you count on them in a pinch.

Surprisingly, the popularization of the issue began in Canada. A few years ago, The End of Suburbia, a Canadian cult documentary, made the case that in the event of peak oil, the suburban lifestyle is toast. In 2004, Rob Hopkins, an environmentalist, showed the film to some students at the Kinsale Further Education College in Ireland. Those students decided on the spot to do something. They created the Transition Town movement, where concerned citizens confront the twin issues of climate change and peak oil in practical ways in their communities.

There are now more than 300 Transition Towns, and the movement is growing rapidly. Here in Quebec, Boucherville, Coaticook, Mégantic and Sutton are involved. Part of the idea of Transition Towns is we need to get off oil no matter what, so that instead of suffering a catastrophic crash people can work toward a healthier, more sustainable world.

Torontonian Greg Greene, who directed End of Suburbia, is working on a sequel titled Resilience. “When we were working on the first film, we were scared s--tless,” he said. “Now I see that it doesn’t have to be that way. Something pretty amazing is happening.” I’ve often marvelled at this: Problems seem so much larger and more frightening when you’re not doing something about them.

El contenido de las noticias que se presentan en esta sección es responsabilidad directa de las agencias emisoras de noticias y no necesariamente reflejan la posición del Gobierno de México en este u otros temas relacionados.


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