Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Checking Under the Hood

Combining two of my favorite activities - commenting on commercials and worrying about our energy future - I was quite amazed to see a commercial last night in which Chevron acknowledged the reality of "peak oil." It portrayed two workers setting up a temporary workplace in the middle of a desert (telling, that), one losing "Odds-Evens" and descending into a manhole in the sand, the other waiting, apparently for days, until the other worker emerged with a giant dipstick. The dipstick showed that the world was only half filled with oil. Funny! That's what "peak oil" is - a theory we've used half the stuff up, and by far the easiest and most cheaply accessed stuff. A narrator intoned that "some people believe that the world will have used half the available supply of oil by the year 2020" (I wonder who these "people" are: peak oil pessimists think we've already passed that point, while the "optimists" - e.g., Cambridge Associates - have suggested that we won't arrive at that point until 2030. Perhaps Chevron just split the difference). He then calls for an emphasis on conservation and the creation of new alternatives.

What he doesn't acknowledge is that, if true, peak oil will be a more profound challenge than any of the techno-optimists acknowledge. Our "lifestyle" - declared by Dick Cheney to be "non-negotiable" - will necessarily have to change. There will be enormous costs to be borne, and wealth that will be made by some and lost by many others. We are facing a transformation in our civilization. The era of "growth" in all likelihood is nearly over. Few people have considered the massive implications of this fact. Expectations about the future will have to be radically revised, and many will be unpleasantly surprised to discover a much harder future awaits.

Nonetheless, in the long term we may be blessed by the need to re-order our lives in ways that strengthen community, in which we live with less, and acknowledge limits. These are behaviors we've worked hard to extirpate in the past 50 years, so the jury is decidedly out on whether the transition will be orderly or chaotic.

P.S.: For those looking for more investment advice on surviving our "peak oil" future - assuming markets will continue to function in recognizable ways - check out one of the recent posts on "Motley Fool": more tremors...

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