It's Back.

May. 5th, 2018 10:10 pm
ecosophia: JMG in lecture mode (Default)
peak oil signI don't know how many of my readers have been keeping track of the price of oil, but -- ahem -- it's rising again. West Texas Intermediate (WTI), one of the two standard benchmark grades of crude oil, ended the day a little below $70 a barrel; Brent -- the other standard benchmark -- was just below $75 a barrel. Just a few years ago they bottomed out in the low $40s. Now some thoughtful observers are starting to warn of an imminent oil shock

It's hard to tell at this point whether the price of oil will keep going up until it cracks $100 a barrel and once again starts drawing blood from the world's economy, or whether we'll see another downward lurch before the next oil price spike. My guess is that we're nearing the next spike. The gimmicks that kept petroleum prices under control for a while -- frantic extraction of shale oil and tar sands, on the one hand, and economic policies that suppressed demand by forcing a growing fraction of people in the industrial world into poverty, on the other -- were never more than temporary kluges; they postponed the problem while doing nothing to fix it and, inevitably, made the final consequences worse. 

The predicament we're in isn't hard to understand. The Earth is a sphere, and therefore contains a finite amount of fossil fuels; we're drawing down that stock of fossil fuels at a breakneck pace; most of the good stuff -- light sweet crude, anthracite coal, and so on -- was extracted and burned a long time ago; and now we're trying to keep the global industrial system running on low-grade fuels that are increasingly costly to extract and yield less and less energy. Renewable resources can't meet more than a small fraction of the demand -- despite whopping government subsidies in many nations, renewables account for only 9% of energy production worldwide, and 7% of that consists of hydroelectric; wind, solar, and all the other renewable resources produce a fraction of one per cent each. 

The solution isn't hard to understand, either.  We have to reduce our consumption of energy, and the products of energy, to levels that can be supported indefinitely by renewable resources -- let's say, 10% of current energy consumption. "We," furthermore, means you, personally, and me, and everyone else. The only choice we have is  whether we do this deliberately, or whether shortages, soaring prices, and economic dysfunction do it for us. 

You've heard this before, dear reader. I've talked about it at length since the early days of my old blog, The Archdruid Report.  The only thing that's changed since then is that billions more barrels of oil from our planet's dwindling supplies have been extracted and burnt. There may be another round of short-term fixes that will push off the day of reckoning a little further...or there may not. What will you do? 
ecosophia: JMG in lecture mode (Default)
About a year ago, I was beginning to sketch out the plot for the sixth Weird of Hali novel, which involves a voyage to Greenland on a tall ship. I've never been to Greenland, or anywhere in the Arctic, so I did what writers generally do and went looking for books on the subject by people who know what they're talking about. That and a large used book store was how I ended up with a battered paperback copy of Barry Lopez' Arctic Dreams: Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape.

It turned out to be much more than a bit of convenient research for an epic fantasy with tentacles. It's brilliantly written; here's a bit from the fifth chapter --

"Those days on Ilingnorak Ridge, where I saw tundra grizzly tearing up the earth looking for ground squirrels, and watched wolves hunting, and horned lark sitting so resolutely on her nest, and caribou crossing the river and shaking off the spray like diamonds before the evening sun, I was satisfied only to watch. This was the great drift and pause of life. These were the arrangements that made the land ring with integrity. Somewhere downriver, I remembered, a scientist named Edward Sable had paused on a trek in 1946 to stare at a Folsom spear point, a perfectly fluted object of black chert resting on a sandstone ledge. People, moving over the land."

-- but it's also a meditation on humanity's relationship to nature, one that avoids the usual platitudes and presuppositions and goes very deep. I've sat up late I don't know how many nights with a glass of halfway decent bourbon and my copy of Arctic Dreams, partly reveling in the use of language, partly staring at space and following out Lopez' ideas to an assortment of unexpected places. When this copy goes to pieces, I'll be looking for a hardback for the shelf of nature books I keep ready to hand.
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