Mad Max Meets American Gothic  

Posted by Big Gav

Bill McKibben takes a look at which crisis will hit first - peak oil or global warming (via Synearth). He notes something I like to point out occasionally - the solutions to both problems are the same - so why not get started now instead of debating when and how bad the effects of either will be if we don't do anything now.

Can you feel the mood shifting? I can. A year of spiking speculation about peak oil and the death of suburbia has rattled lots of Americans. Plenty of people suddenly feel that real, civilization-shaking change might be around the next corner. And plenty of them also feel frozen in the headlights, unsure what, if anything, to do about it. Other than wait.

It reminds me a little of the very early days in the fight over global warming. Appalled at the forecasts of global destruction, some of us demanded immediate and strong action—high taxes on carbon emissions, for instance, and never mind the pain. Others—more moderate or more politically realistic—advocated a suite of what they called "no regrets" policies. They suggested, say, gradual rises in gas mileage, higher efficiency standards for appliances. Even if climate change proved to be overblown hooey, they pointed out, such rational and easy measures would still save us money, reduce conventional pollution, and so on. These steps were like taking out a modest amount of insurance; whatever happened we'd have no regrets about having adopted them. In actual fact, of course, we took neither the urgent nor the more relaxed steps. Instead we bought Ford Explorers.

Now everything that was frozen is melting and soon we will have . . . regrets. Who knows if we're actually going to see oil production peak sometime soon? Not me. I've read persuasive arguments that we will from writers like Michael Klare and James Howard Kunstler and Paul Roberts. I've also read confident counterarguments from people who've been right in the past, like Daniel Yergin of Cambridge Energy Research Associates. Oil depletion is not a straightforward physical law, like the fact that the molecular structure of carbon dioxide traps heat that would otherwise radiate back out to space. Instead it's a detective story that turns on questions like, are the Saudis lying about how fast oil is being depleted in their giant field at Ghawar?

My suspicion had always been that we'd run out of sinks before sources — that is, run out of atmosphere before oil wells — but it's beginning to look like the race will be tight.

In any event, the real question is what to do in the face of uncertainty. In policy terms, the answer is easy, since cushioning the end of oil would require precisely the same steps as slowing down climate change: raising gas mileage, converting to hybrid cars, building trains, imposing carbon taxes, giving tax breaks for insulation.


Thanks. I don't see enough of this kind of writing.

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