Confronting Our Addiction to Oil

As oil begins to grow more expensive, the potential for our society to continue commuting long distance to work or play will be the first to go.

Published: 12-Jan-2007

Modern industrial society is completely dependent upon the availability of oil. It is no exaggeration to say that modern civilization is addicted to the stuff. Over the last 150 years, the burning of oil powered an economic and population growth spurt unlike anything that has ever been experienced in human history.

But of course, oil is a finite resource. Stated bluntly -- it will run out. It is a question of when, not if.

But it is overly simplistic to merely say that oil will “run out.” Historically, the rate of oil “production” (more accurately described as extraction and refining) increases every year. In other words, more oil is produced this year than last year. And more oil will be produced this year than last year. And so on. But once the halfway point of all world-wide reserves is reached, production will begin to decline, or “peak.” Peak Oil means not exactly “running out of oil,” but “running out of cheap oil.”

There is a growing consensus amongst geologists that global oil production has either already peaked, or it will within the next few years. The most optimistic forecasts predict the peak to occur absolutely no later than 2035. Thereafter, even if industrial societies begin to switch to alternative energy sources, we will have less net energy each year to do all the work essential to the survival of complex societies. We are entering a new era, as different from the industrial era as the latter was from medieval times.

This will mean dramatic changes in the way we as individuals and as a society function. Oil provides not only fuel for our vehicles and power plants, but also plastics, pesticides, fertilizers, pharmaceuticals, etc. Hydrogen, an often-touted replacement fuel, still has a myriad of problems to overcome, including energy efficient production, transportation and storage.

As oil begins to grow more expensive, the potential for our society to continue commuting long distance to work or play will be the first to go, followed by deliveries of consumable products and then, essential products (both manufacturing and delivery of the same).

In the meantime, humanity's thirst for petroleum continues to run wild. Producing nations are pumping at maximum capacity. Yet the competing energy demands of America and rapidly industrializing China and India are already threatening to outstrip global oil output. China has displaced Japan as the No. 2 oil importer, after the United States.

Chinese oil imports are projected to double to 14 million barrels a day over the next 20 years. Many credible analysts foresee a new “energy cold war” as the U.S. and China square off over the planet's last reserves.

And U.S. soldiers are currently killing and dying in Iraq in order to satisfy the oil addiction. Even George Bush has acknowledged our relationship to oil us an addiction. (Sadly, his response was to launch a war to secure access to a supply of the stuff). The global outlook is indeed grim.

It is against this backdrop that local citizens formed the Humboldt Peak Oil Action Group (POAG).

POAG is a community group dedicated to educating Humboldt County citizens about Peak Oil and the changes this will demand on individuals and our community. They also want to inspire people to take action to localize their personal, economic and community lives.

Their concrete suggestions for immediate action are simple and straightforward:

* Walk and bike more -- it's healthy, good for you, and saves oil!

* Eat locally produced food

* Insulate your house

Ultimately, we must create the political will necessary to create and implement a transition towards a truly sustainable and localized economy.

That will mean building a stronger, more caring community. We must seek creative ways to become economic partners with each other and our environment that empower the local community while moving away from imported resources imported from long distances.

Economic localization enhances national security, and is the responsible way to organize an economy. It also takes advantage of the creativity and ingenuity of local residents, and builds a healthy thriving community.

To get involved, check out

David Cobb was the Green Party candidate for President in 2004 and currently works for Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County. He can be reached at or 269-0984.

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