Preface to Peak Oil

I came across an interesting quote from Barack Obama today. Addressing the oil well disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, he said: “If we’re honest with ourselves, we must recognize that the days of of cheap and easily accessible oil are numbered.” This is the crux of the Peak Oil argument, something that few politicians dare mention by name.

I first stumbled on the topic last year, and it turned out to be quite electrifying, so to speak. I want to start writing about it, but before I do, I feel I should explain how I came to the subject. Otherwise, my interest could be misconstrued.

Five years ago, I received an e-mail from a man named Richard Heinberg. He’d written a review of The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill and was sending it out in his newsletter, called Museletter. He thought I’d like to read the review. I did, and I enjoyed it. It was well-written, thoughtful, and complimentary. I saw on his web site that he’s known mostly for his writings on the subject of Peak Oil. I’d heard the term before, but had never read anything about it. I assumed it was about the world eventually running out of oil and how the pressure would be on then to go nuclear. Not something I wanted to read about. About a year later, I again heard from Heinberg, who wrote to tell me that he was including the essay in a new book, Peak Everything. I never bought the book and soon forgot all about it.

Then, last June, while killing some time waiting for a ferry, I picked up a copy of the North Bay Bohemian, an alternative newspaper, and read an article about something called “transition communities.” Again, the topic was Peak Oil and how it’s going to change, or is changing now, our entire way of life. Reading the article, it all sounded quite real. The article quoted Heinberg and referenced his book The Party’s Over: Oil, War, and the Fate of Industrial Societies. It sounded fascinating, and I bought a copy of the book that very evening. But before I could start reading, Judy picked it up and got so locked in that she couldn’t let go. I had to wait for her to finish. It’s that good. Since then I’ve discovered that there are many others who have had their own mind-changing “The Party’s Over” experience. I want to start writing about Peak Oil, but before I do, I want to make sure people understand that my interest is not the result of somebody writing about my book in his book.

More soon.

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5 Responses to “Preface to Peak Oil”

  1. davemasse Says:

    the party”s over when the oil is gone and so will we.

    • markbittner Says:

      Actually, I think it will be one of the best things that’s happened to us in quite some time. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

  2. Diane Says:

    I got interested in Peak Oil in a roundabout way, too. I like to go backpacking and because I don’t like to carry a lot of heavy equipment, I make a lot of my own gear out of recycled trash. A friend of mine said it reminded him of a book he’d read about after the end of oil when everybody had to make things by hand and mined the landfills for raw materials. I read the book and that got me started learning about peak oil. I, too, think it will be a good thing, but I suspect there will be a lot of bloodshed in the meantime.

    • markbittner Says:

      I won’t, on principle, predict bloodshed. We can choose to manage this gracefully if we really want to. I won’t be surprised, though, if we pass through a very ugly spasm. People are not at all prepared for what’s coming. They don’t even know about it. Jimmy Carter tried to address it, and he was hounded out of office for doing so. One of Reagan’s first official acts was to take down the solar panels on the White House roof that Carter had had installed. That was a statement, and it was an incredibly foolish one. Before that, we had the chance to prepare for the inevitable. But the mass of people preferred to join Reagan in his fantasy world. And we will have to pay the price for making that choice.

  3. Karen Says:

    I heard Mr. Heinberg “debate” an oil guy back in 2006 on the subject of Peak Oil. The debate was sponsored by the Mt. Diablo Peace & Justice Center in Walnut Creek. Mr. Heinberg made a very convincing case for oil having already peaked, and that was four years ago.

    I suspect even now most people have never heard of the term Peak Oil, and once they do hear about it, they will probably be convinced to scoff at the idea by Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, just as they do global climate change.

    In the end, some people will be able to adapt to the new conditions and others won’t. Isn’t that how nature works?

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