Watching the national news this evening, the lead story was about gasoline prices and the price of oil. The price of oil closed at over $105 a barrel today, which is up about $15 a barrel in the past 30 days. Apparently President Obama is considering releasing oil from the national oil reserve to ease the fuel price increases. The problem is, at the rate this country uses oil, the national reserve is estimated to have enough oil to supply our demand for only 36 days. What happens to our society when we no longer have an unlimited supply of oil? Am I the only one who believes this use of oil is madness??
Take a look around your house. I can guarantee that, with rare exception, everything you look at is there because of crude oil. The plastics in your house were made from crude oil. Anything that was transported to your house was brought there using crude oil, whether it’s you bringing it home from the store, or the trucking company bringing it to the store. Crops were harvested using crude oil. Items that are imported from another continent were brought here using crude oil. What is going to happen to our civilization when fuel made from crude oil is no longer affordable?
There are some who believe that oil is an infinite resource, that the Earth continues to replenish the supply of oil through some unknown process. Others believe that there is a finite amount of oil in the ground and that we reached the peak production amount more than 2 decades ago. I find myself in the camp of the latter. Even if the Earth was replenishing oil, it is apparent that it cannot replenish fast enough to meet the ever-increasing demand. If there was plenty of oil in the Earth, we would not find ourselves in the situation we do now, with fuel prices continuing to rise.
Consider, for a moment, that you are one of the oil executives responsible for controlling the price of oil. If you had an unlimited supply of oil available to sell, wouldn’t you price it in a way that provided you a decent profit, but would also ensure you had that continuing income for decades to come? On the other hand, if you find yourself in a position that oil is more and more in short supply and the situation will never get better, how do you maximize you profits? You raise the price slowly, getting as much money as you can, while you can. At some point it is going to collapse. There is one thing the oil cartels have probably not considered. When civilization collapses because oil has become too expensive, what good is the billions upon billions of dollars they have amassed. At the point that our society fails, it won’t matter how much money you have. Our society will fail. And when it does, money won’t help you.
There is a way to avoid this calamity. Given our current state of technology, we could change our society to use far less crude oil than we do today. There are parts of our society that cannot be easily changed from dependence on oil, such as making plastics or flying jet airplanes. But the vehicles we drive on the ground could be redesigned to run on a fuel that does not come from crude oil. Taking crude oil out of the equation for our ground transportation system would greatly reduce the amount of crude oil we need. With the time we have left beyond that point, we would need to find alternatives for the other uses of crude oil.
Unfortunately, I am a pessimist concerning our energy usage. Nobody likes paying more for gasoline, but paying more for gasoline is certain. What about paying more for an alternative fuel? No one seems to be willing to pay $4.50 per gallon for an alternative fuel. What happens when gasoline is $5.00 per gallon, or $7, or more? The problem is, when gasoline goes over $5.00 per gallon (and we’re not far from that now) we will be beyond the point of no return. You can’t wait until the transportation system of the society collapses before you find another fuel source. The change has to happen before the current fuel source gets critical.
I have mentally prepared myself for the worst. There is little that one person can do to change the course we are on. Our society is headed over a cliff and most everyone seems happy to make sure we keep our speed up. What a waste. All for oil.