Friday, March 03, 2006

It's Heeeeeere

Mark your calendars. History is here. According to the New York Times and the blog, The Oil Drum, we human beings have probably passed or may be passing the point of Peak Oil right about now. [Update: The Times editorial only appeared in the online version, not in the printed version of The Times. Chickenshits.]

Don't know what Peak Oil is? Well, for starters, you can read about it in some detail here (be sure to click on the links at the bottom of the page.) An even more alarming tutorial can be found here. Or you can let me give you the condensed version.

For the past 50+ years, it has been noted by oilmen that any oil well produces lots of oil for a while, depending on the size of the oil well, until production reaches a peak before beginning an inevitable and even predictable decline. When production is charted over time, the production curves of oil wells look something like bell curves. When the combined oil production for a given country, say the U.S.A., is charted, you get the same bell curve, with maximum production having already been reached in December 1970. One oilman in the 1950's predicted that this would happen, even giving the date, though at the time he was scoffed at and ignored. Until it actually happened exactly as predicted. (Recall Gandhi's famous quote: "
First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.") That's when some bright people went back to read more about what this oilman, M. King Hubbert, had to say on the subject. When they applied his methodology to world oil production, a variety of dates have been predicted for maximum world oil production -- or Peak Oil -- anywhere from the early 1980's to 2020. Hubbert himself predicted world Peak Oil to occur between 1995 and 2000, though oil conservation efforts of the 1970's hadn't begun yet, plus the North Sea oil fields and the extent of Russian oil had not yet been discovered. These three events bought us more time.

The most important issue to be aware of is that there are two peaks we need to be concerned with:
1) when worldwide oil production peaks, and,
2) when worldwide demand for oil threatens to exceed maximum supply production capabilities. This can happen regardless of whether Peak Oil has come and gone.

For the past couple of years, supply and demand have been in such a tenuous dance that any modest disruption in world supply has threatened to send prices skyward. When this happens, prices rise worldwide to mitigate demand through conservation efforts. But when 1) happens, all bets will be off as supply worldwide will begin to decline by up to or exceeding 6% per year -- a drop-off much more catastrophic than can be mitigated by simple conservation efforts.

European governments such as Great Britain have already designed emergency rationing systems to be implemented in this eventuality. However, in the U.S.A., policy was set in concrete by Dick Cheney, when he said, "the American way of life is not negotiable." Think about that for a moment. Since Iraq has the second largest oil reserves in the world after Saudi Arabia, doesn't it kinda make you all warm inside to know that we currently occupy Iraq and have started building those massive and permanent military bases? Just don't go blabbing to all your friends and family that we invaded Iraq for its oil. That's still a national security secret, plus it's a non-starter in political arguments. I know. I've tried.

So... closer to home, what are the implications for Life in These United States during the next, say, 40 years? Not so good. For example, the opening sentence in the alarming website I linked to above reads, "Civilization as we know it is coming to an end soon." Yikes? Oh yes. Also, people like James Howard Kunstler and Richard Heinberg have already written extensively on the subject. I recommend you also read Kunstler's blog to get a free weekly taste of his alarmist crankiness.

Speaking as an architect, what would I say will be the implications on our individual lives, on architectural design, and on city planning? One great resource of articles can be found here. Some day soon, I'll be posting my own thoughts on those interesting subjects. Lotta changes on the horizon, lotta changes.

From the lyrics of Neil Young's latest CD, Prairie Wind:
An old man walks along the sidewalk
with sunglasses and an old Stetson hat,
fall winds blow the back of his overcoat away
as he stops with a policeman to chat,
and a train rolls out of the station,
that was really somethin' in its day,
pickin' up speed on the straight prairie rails
as it carries its passengers away.
It's gone
It's only a dream
and it's fading now
fading away
It's a dream
It's only a dream
just a memory
without anywhere to stay.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Implication for architects: Howard can't build that low-income housing out of plastic, a petrochemical product, like he wanted. so sorry Howard.

2:59 PM, March 03, 2006  
Blogger HRlaughed said...

That's okay -- I still have straw, sticks, and bricks. I'll get by. Unless, of course, there's a chance a wolf might come along. Then it'll have to be bricks.

3:56 PM, March 03, 2006  

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