"It never gets any easier. You just go faster." ---Greg Lemond
"Don't buy upgrades. Ride up grades." --- Eddy Merckx
"You drive like shit." ---The Car Whisperer

2.5.11

Looking down

Today on my ride to work I saw $4.90 for gasoline at the intersection of Clark and Berteau on Chicago's north side.

We are seeing record prices in the city now. There are those of us, such as myself, that cluck our tongues with a "told-you-so" tsk, and go about our daily lives, fuel free for the most part. Small apartments in efficient buildings shield us from extravagant energy costs, our walkable neighborhoods entitle us to a standard of living that must be experienced to see the real value...so far.

But all of us will be feeling the pinch - if not now - sooner or later at the grocery store. For sure, one way to alleviate a lot of the pain is having that room in your budget instead of losing it to direct fuel costs. But soon formerly well-fed people will be going visibly hungry, and along with the news of high fuel prices, will be the news of growing starvation among the first world.

Prices will not go down until demand does first. Supply is in fact static or even falling, and relative bump in the ratio is out of the question. This is because the trailing bell curve of production has finally caught up with discovery.

Since 1960 the population of Earth has been discovering one barrel for every four we consume. Some call it "Peak Oil Theory."

Actually, according to the International Energy Agency, and now the International Monetary Fund, it's reality.

A reality that now dictates a painful, convulsive, death spiral for our oil-addicted civilization as demand dips and rises, dips and rises, each time a little less than before, as the airlines once again become the exclusive dominion of billionaires and our standard weekend of multiple trips to Costco and Walmart are no longer affordable; until the final freefall at the end, when the big lumbering jets disappear completely from the sky and we'll walk and ride past abandoned cars and trucks rusting in the deteriorating streets.

When will we start noticing the fewer planes in the sky? The abandoned cars and trucks rusting in the streets? In ten years, who will be able to afford them? Each day, the dollar buys less and less, fuel becomes more and more expensive, because there is less and less net energy to fuel production of the goods and services that fuel our economy.

Any return to growth as pined for in the mass media is a self-delusional lie. We are headed into a new, heretofore unexperienced historical epoch of contraction. All of our economic growth was ultimately driven by the annual increases of available net energy...increases in energy production. But those increases in net energy are gone, never to return.

Says Jim Kunstler (who has been sounding the alarm on oil-dependency since the late 80s) of Clusterfuck Nation:
The "drill drill drill" gang is under the impression that North America has vast unexplored regions where oil is just begging to be discovered. This is not true. The New York Times reported after Obama's speech - in a disgracefully dumb story by Clifford Krauss - that the eastern Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Coast contain 3.8 billion barrels of oil. Really? Hello! The US uses over 7 billion barrels of oil every year. Does the Arctic National Wildlife refuge contain between 4 and 11 billion barrels (US gov estimate)? Great, that averages out to about a year or so of US supply. And I'm not even against drilling there, only against the idea that it represents a meaningful "solution" to our problem.

Meanwhile, the old standby Alaskan oil fields at Prudhoe Bay are depleting so remorselessly that there may not be enough flow in a year or so to move the oil through the famous pipeline.

How about Canada's tar sands? Well, first of all, they belong to Canada, not us, unless we want to change that - and that could be politically messy. The tar sands will never produce more than 3 million barrels a day. The operations are already too huge, costly, and damaging to the northern watershed. Canada is our number one source of imported oil, but China would also like to buy Canadian oil. Are we planning to invoke the Monroe Doctrine to prevent Canada from selling its oil to parties outside the Western Hemisphere? That could be messy, too.

It's only when looking at the situation in the Middle East through the lens of Peak Oil does it make any sense. We are not there to "steal" oil but rather rather to ensure we keep our share when there is no longer enough to go around for all and we no longer can afford a bidding war. One can only hope the Earth's global powers retreat into isolation and accept inevitible contraction rather than continue the bidding with nuclear warheads.

Don't be the proverbial Grasshopper. Instead learn from the Ant. This doesn't mean, move to a Montana militia camp and hoard supplies; it means adopt a simpler, more self-sufficient and self-sustaining lifestyle. Replace your car with a sturdy bike. Live close to transit. Grow as much of your own food as possible, and get the rest locally.

Of course this means sacrifice!

Just because it's not what you want to hear - a new magical way to fuel all the cars and continue living in a fantasy land of limitless, nearly-free energy - doesn't mean it's not the right answer. Those who play the Grasshopper however, and hope for the slight of hand for society will discover that painfully enough.

Just ask the former residents of the once-palatial suburbs-cum-slums in Detroit, Cleveland, and a growing number of other dying American towns.

4 comments:

Bill said...

I saw you crossing Montrose and clark looking determined with your yellow fenders tonight. Now I know what you were so focused on.

brianfmorrissey said...

Nice pants! Are they made out of OIL, you fucking FASCIST?!

Bill said...

hey, in 1996 when that photo was taken, gas was 2 bucks a gallon ;)

Matt said...

"Making a Sacrifice" is the thing that is just too tough for a lot of people. What about all the whining already at the current gas prices that the government/obama/oil companies should do something to fix the prices, including sacrificing the money that doesn't even cover maintaining the road system. When the most difficult sacrifice most people make is guying the blue SUV instead of the green one they wanted or expensive local produce vs. cheap produce shipped from half the planet away, it strikes me that a lot of people are going to be in for a world of hurt trying to make ends meet and figure out how they're going to live.

Frankly, I'm looking forward to the day when the only people who can buy gas are the rich, or when its rationed out to only economically vital activities, though that will be an interesting lobbying party too.