Tuesday, December 9, 2008

On Peak Oil and Global Warming: In the Rear View Mirror

I remember talking to someone in APES (I will not say who) about Peak Oil. Their response was something along the lines of, "But we have 40 years..." I disagree with this statement (and I will explain my sources shortly) but the subtext is that we will "fix" Peak Oil later. Similarly, global warming deniers will say that we "need more study" or we should "wait and see" what the consequences will be.

I find it funny that we believe that we can click the snooze button on the alarm that some are sounding about these issues. Peak Oil, like global warming, needs to be dealt with before it is a problem just like ANY OTHER PROBLEM.

Our counter-terrorism strategy was to wait until it was a problem. It became a problem on 9/11.
Our strategy on debt was to wait until it was a problem. It became a problem when our overextended economy began to implode.

Similarly, if we wait until Peak Oil "becomes a problem" in order to deal with it, we will be dealing with a world of economic and political consequences that will put our current economic crisis to shame. If we wait for global warming to "become a problem" in an obvious way (until there are no doubts), we will leave this planet an inhospitable place for billions of people.

How much time should we wait before dealing with ecological problems? Until we discover the problem? Until there is NO disagrement? Until damage has already begun to happen? Until cost-effective solutions are independiently developed? How does the precautionary principle fit into all of this?


A Little Stone said...

No matter how much we doubt that peak oil is a problem, the solutions to peak oil are essential to dealing many other global environmental issues. Increasing the share of installed generating capacity of alternative fuels and temporarily nuclear and natural gas will be essential to combat global warming, to reduce air pollution, and to prevent the environmental devastation of coal mining.

My main point is that we should be avoiding peak oil without necessarily even believing that it's coming. There are enough reasons not to plan an unlimited fossil fuel future that we need to start taking action now. A reason that might be a bit more convincing to peak oil deniers is that even if we don't believe that it's imminent, the middle eastern nations currently have control over much of our energy and if they decide to slow or halt the stream of oil that they're sending us, than we're basically screwed. Energy independence is essential to our national security. That leads us to the issue of peak coal and the problems inherent in coal production. Hopefully, as we transition away from petroleum, we can be smart about it.

K_Weber (Goat) said...

Your point is well-taken, but I wouldn't use the words "energy independence" to describe it. Some level of trade is obviously good from an economic standpoint, so it doesn't make sense to produce ALL of our own energy. What bothers us is the fact that a temporary or permanent reduction in energy imports would essentially destroy society as we know it. For this reason, I would use the term "energy resiliency" to describe America's proper goal.

Speaking of peak coal:
There is actually a paradox with scarcity: we only prepare for running out when an object is being depleted (thus preventing it from being depleted) and we don't prepare when it is plentiful (putting it at risk of being depleted).
Read the comments though; they are very depressing.