About ten years ago I was having a conversation with a friend about climate change. (I think we called it global warming at that time). I concluded that if warming was happening by natural causes, there was nothing we could do about it. So humans would have to adapt through artificial means. If warming was man-made, there’s also nothing we can do about it because the world runs on fossil fuels. And the world’s infrastructure is set up for them and them alone. So again, humans would have to adapt through artificial means. In other words, there is no plan of attack regardless of the cause so why worry about it. Why even investigate it. It’s coming, so just deal with it. And so I never bothered to figure it out.
But then the term “Peak Oil” was brought to my attention and I was forced to realize that even if man was causing global warming and had a magic solution to stop it, we still had a bigger problem coming.
People usually think of fossil fuels in terms of energy and emissions. Our fossil fuel infrastructure is more than transportation. It’s cooking, lighting, heating, cooling, communications. It’s also plastics. Without oil, there are no plastics. Or synthetic rubber. Or asphalt. Or medicine. Or some fabrics and foods. There’s no pesticides in some cases too. No solar, wind or tidal power will replace that.
Talking just in terms of energy/fuel, it takes decades, maybe fifty-plus years for energy infrastructures to become large enough to make the switch from one energy source to another. From railroad to diesel/gasoline vehicles to the future, change is slow. So even if we had the technology in renewables that gave us the same bang for our buck as fossil fuels do, we simply have no established grid or delivery system.
But energy/fuel aside, nothing can replace what oil gives us in the non-energy/fuel items listed above. So even if we started the major social and tech commitment to change from one energy source to another, we’d still need oil for everything else. Even if we had affordable electric cars, oil still makes up the seats, dashboards and panelling, tires, lubricants, and more. Even if we had solar powered homes, our televisions, computers, radios, foods, medicine, furniture…all oil dependant.
Oil drives just about everything we do. And by all accounts, the easy to get at reserves are either gone or just about gone ∗. Even if there was no climate change or global warmingness, the looming loss of easy oil is coming and the cost of everything is going to escalate as we approach it. Harder to get at oil means more costly means to get at it and the costs get passed down. And oil is a finite resource. Unlike wind and solar, when a well drys up, it’s gone. So some day, I have no idea when, but some day, the human race will have to learn to live without oil. And considering what we’ve just covered above, that is going to be real hard.
But until then, the world will continue to burn fossil fuels as if that time isn’t approaching. The globe will continue to suffer from the pollution that comes with it and things will get more costly. There’s nothing anyone is going to do to stop it. I’m sorry to tell you this. But no government policy, programming, marching, protesting, conferences, tweeting or otherwise is going to change the world’s need and use of oil (and other fossil fuels). And even if the United States government had the magic policy, that only goes for my country. It doesn’t apply to China or India, two of the world’s fastest developers and consumers of natural resources. One country’s policies do not apply to anyone else. This is a world issue, not a country issue. Pollution of fossil fuels will continue and costs of maintaining our civilization from the wonders of oil will rise.
The only change you can make is one for yourself.
This brings me full circle to the top of this essay: Nothing is going to change about our need for oil and other fossil fuels so it’s time to adapt. Here’s some recommendations regarding adaptation.
Unless I have to drive a car, I walk where I need to go. Or I bike. In good weather, longer trips are easier. I also started gardening about ten years ago. Learning how food grows and how to prepare it is a great skill. I also fish. Teach others to do so, it’s good for them. I also spend more time reading and writing than having electronics on (although music is usually playing in some corner somewhere). And instead of the obligatory hotel on vacations, my wife and I have used camp grounds on several occasions. Nothing like learning to put up a tent, make a fire, and all that comes with it. And for god’s sake, learn to use a firearm if you can. It’s a tool, a good tool that can be used for defense as well as hunting for food. I recommend doing as much local as possible. Not only are you supporting people in your own community, you’re learning to live with what is around you.
I’m not talking about living off the grid in a cave somewhere although you’re welcome to do that. I’m simply talking about adding any and all self-reliant tools to your life-skill tool belt. I’m talking about having skills for times when modernity is not available. Practice now what your descendants will need later.
We live in a “just in time” community. That means, the grocery store shelves are stocked just in time. The gas stations are replenished, just in time. In August 2003, we got something of a test run on what would happen if we lost power on a wide scale for a lengthy time. The electrical grid went down from New York to Michigan. It lasted several days. What if it lasted several weeks? The stores and gas stations would be empty. What would you do if you had no supplies or means to travel? Having some of the skills mentioned above would come in handy.
But what if it turns out the center of the Earth is a creamy, gooey gob of infinite oil and the planet wasn’t warming? So what, you’re not wasting your time by doing anything that makes you more self-reliant. You’d at least be ready come temporary energy outages. What else are you going to do, watch more reality tv? Reality is passing by while you watch that garbage. Go out and live your own reality.
∗ The study of oil reserves and when we will start drying up (sometimes called Peak Oil) has a nice summary here.