Saturday, June 26, 2010
The End of the World As We Know It
I apologize for being so quiet the last month or so, but as the events in the Gulf of Mexico have unfolded I have found myself not only broken hearted but speechless as well. As the amount of oil that scientists estimate is spilling into the Gulf continues to grow larger, and the time it will take BP to stop it grows longer, the gut wrenching pictures of seabirds and turtles covered in oil have made me feel that perhaps everything we have been trying to do on our journey across America has been for naught.
With today’s revised estimate of the spillage now up to 60,000 barrels a day, it is possible that well over 100 million gallons of oil have already poured into the Gulf and the end is nowhere in sight. BP has said that they will soon be able to capture up to 28,000 barrels of oil per day, that is still less than half of the current estimate, but over 5 times as much oil as BP has admitted is destroying these precious waters. Barring some kind of miracle, or perhaps the use of nuclear weapons, oil will continue to flow until at least late August, and at the current rate at least 300, maybe 400 million gallons or more will soon be mixed with the clear blue waters in the Gulf and things there will never, ever be the same.
Whether you believe in Peak Oil (for more info click here) or not, there is virtually no one on this planet that doesn’t understand that sooner or later we will begin to run out of oil, and long before that day we will begin to run short of oil. While very few seem willing to admit it to themselves or say it out loud, the fact that we are drilling for oil over a mile beneath the sea, and over three miles below that to reach the oil, and stripping the forests of Canada bare to expose the oil sands so that we may continue our unsustainable and unjustifiable use of this finite resource shows just how desperate we already are.
The oil we squeeze from the sands requires more energy to produce than it generates. This is like putting $1.00 into your bank account and getting $.75 back. Not only would that be foolish, sooner or later you would run out of money. Many of the offshore wells like Deepwater Horizon will eventually produce oil that is much more expensive than the current price of oil will support. The oil companies know this, but they also know that sooner or later, the price of oil will rise to meet the dynamics of supply and demand and they are simply hedging their bets by drilling these wells in advance with the profits from some of the easy money wells around the world.
The worst part of all this is that our entire way of life, and all of our economies the world over, have since the first commercial oil well was drilled in 1859, become completely dependant on oil. Nearly everything we use as a modern society, from the obvious like the cars we drive and the gas and electricity that heats and lights our homes, to the less obvious like clothing, paints, medicines, cosmetics (for an astounding and more complete list click here ) is made from oil. More importantly nearly our entire food supply is dependent on the use of petrochemicals in every phase of its production from seed to market. In fact, the overpopulation of our planet today, is a direct result of the availability of cheap oil and resulting abundance of food that can then be transported over large distances. Just think about it, in 1859 a mere 150 years ago, virtually nothing on this planet was made from petroleum based oil. There was a large industry in whale oil, but the number of products made from that oil was relatively small, and by 1859, the world’s whale population was already declining from the uncontrolled slaughter of these magnificent creatures for commercial use. “Peak Whale” was reached in the mid-19th century, and just like Peak Oil, it eventually spelled the end of the industry. But we are talking about a time when the worldwide population was fairly stable at about 750 million souls. With the advent of chemical fertilizers and other dramatic changes made possible by the discovery of petroleum, the world’s population has skyrocketed to over 6.5 Billion in that same 150 years,
Can we sustain our current population without petroleum? The answer is a resounding NO and the evidence suggests that with the end of cheap oil, the population of this planet will again need to be reduced to the more sustainable number of 750 million or less (for more info click here). That means that unless we do something to change it, in the not too distant future whether through famine, war, or other manmade and natural disasters, about 6 billion of us will eventually be weeded out. This will be nature’s way of resetting the clock and dealing with an unsustainable population caused by the unsustainable availability of cheap oil. I believe it can happen to humans, it happens to other animal species all the time when they become overpopulated. The only thing that has both saved and doomed us so far is the readily available supply of oil.
While every prophet, cult or religion that has ever predicted the “end of the world” have so far been wrong, I believe with certainty that what we are seeing now, and what we will be experiencing in the decades to come truly is “the end of the world as we know it”. That it would seem is not that hard to predict. Drilling deeper and deeper and turning the sands beneath our forests into garbage bags and lipstick will only prolong the agony. Unless we develop, and develop rather quickly new ways or rediscover old ways to do almost everything we do, we will eventually run out of both oil and time. The “tipping point” is coming. The prospect of the Gulf oil spill affecting not only the Gulf, but the global food chain and weather patterns is very real and we won’t know what has happened until the damage is done and it is already too late. This is the wake up call that we cannot afford to ignore, and yet I fear that most of us will simply roll over and hit the snooze button.