Re: peak oil
From: Buzz Harris (
Date: Sun, 30 Oct 2005 10:24:15 -0800 (PST)
Hi folks.

Articles like this really bother me, though perhaps not for the reasons that they bother others. I have worked with and around reporters for a long time, and I know very well that there is nothing that many of them love more than a topic that allows them to write a sensationalistic story which will get a lot of attention. The accuracy of the story, more often than not, is a secondary or tertiary consideration. This is not true, thankfully, of all journalists, but it is an accurate assessment of more of them than I would like. I definitely think that the 'Oregonian' is guilty, though, in the case of the story that Patricia pointed out, below.

I have read a lot about predicted shortages of oil, mostly because I have heard people within and outside of cohousing communities who are very, very concerned about it. Some are almost at a level of panic, and begin talking about the need to revert to some or many aspects of a 19th century agrarian economy. I know that they are sincere, but I think that they are concerned about the wrong things.

Is oil getting scarcer? If one reads widely the answer comes out to a likely 'yes' in a couple of ways. First, it would appear that less new oil is being searched for and found. Second, the world's capacity to pump oil out of existing fields does not seem likely to keep up with increasing demand from the U.S., Europe, India, China, etc. Let me expand on that second one a bit. Say, for purposes of illustration, that we have a heck of a lot of oil in known reserves - enough to last 50 years, give or take a decade (again, this may or may not be accurate - I am just illustrating something). We are able to extract a daily total of, say, 10.5 million barrels, deliver it to refineries, and get it into the economy. Worldwide demand for oil is currently pretty close (10 - 10.5 billion barrels needed per day) to our ability to get the oil out of the ground, and it seems not unlikely that demand will exceed - not supply - but our ability to deliver enough of the supply to meet the daily/weekly/monthly demand. That will *certainly* cause the price of oil to rise. That much I agree with. It could even rise *a heck of a lot* - enough to have a noticeable impact on the economy.

Here, though, is where I think that people concerned about running short of or out of oil start to worry about the wrong things.

We are not going to run out of fossil fuels in my lifetime (I am 38) and perhaps not even in my children's or grandchildren's lifetimes. There is a lot of fossil fuel out there that the world economy can use, and it will do so rather than starve itself of energy and go into some massive, catastrophic recession. There are huge amounts of oil in the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, and massive amounts of oil in oil shale beds in the northern midwest in the U.S. There are also huge reserves of coal all over the world, which can be burned and used in the way that we all know, or converted (in a costly process) into oil. Germany did this in World War II when its oil supplies were squeezed by the Allies, and South Africa did it in more recent times in response to sanctions placed on them due to the former government's violent, racist policies.

Now, these reserves of fossil fuels, while abundant, have two drawbacks. Coal, while cheap to acquire and burn, is dirty, dirty, dirty! Horrible for the environment. Oil from tar sands, oil shale, coal conversion, etc. is much more expensive to get than oil from existing fields, and the process of making it is also - I understand, though I know less about this one - not an environmentally happy thing.

I said earlier that those worried about oil/fossil fuel scarcity are worried about the wrong things. Here is what I mean - we will not run out of fossil fuels for a long time yet. There will be no huge economic collapse because there is no gasoline, heating oil, etc., etc. that will drive us all back to quasi-survivalist agrianism. As my Southern grandmother used to say - Ain't gonna happen.

What *will* happen, though, is that energy will get more expensive, and this will have a significant, though not catastrophic, effect on our economy and standards of living. Gas will get expensive, heating and cooling bills will go up. This will have the greatest negative impact on the poor, of whom our unfairly structured economic system continues to create more and more.

The other thing that will happen is that pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, strip mining, etc. will skyrocket as demand to maintain our energy supply puts ever more pressure on any sort of green/environmentally positive public policy. Global warming will get worse, faster. The impact on the poor and the impact on the environment are the things that people SHOULD be worrying about, not where to take classes in how to become a blacksmith, glassblower, wheelwright, hunter/gatherer, etc.

There will be catastrophic impacts from high energy costs, barring some unforeseen technological fix (which we should not bet the farm on), but they are NOT the ones generally put forward by the people worrying about the issue most. Do we have to find another way of supporting our society besides fossil fuels and/or fission power. YES! It is urgent that we pressure our public officials and the rich who hold corporate power to solve that issue with all possible speed! Renewable energies will be part of that solution (solar, wind, biomass, geothermal, etc.), as will conservation and simplifying our lifestyles. I do not know, though, what the full solution or basketful of solutions will look like. I just know that the most important thing that cohousers and others can do in response to this very real issue is to make our own lives more environmentally sound and to pressure those in power to find a way out of the fossil fuel trap that we are in.

Yes, I know that it is a trap. Our current fossil fuel economy is devastating the Earth, and beyond some point that we cannot know exactly, there could be devastating environmental collapse. That is what we need to worry about and lobby about. We should not, though, waste that personal and community energy in a neo-survivalist, social collapse, agrarian-reversion analysis which will not meaningfully address the real problems. We have to find a way to shift to sustainable, clean(er) energy sources - it is now and will become ever more imperative.


Buzz Harris
Common Hearth Cohousing
Eastern Massachusetts

At 03:23 PM 10/27/2005, you wrote:
Are there any cohousing communities that are preparing for a shortage of oil? Please see the article below


Buzz Harris
Writer, activist, & political researcher

buzz [at] thesubnet [dot] net

'Market Macht Frei'


  • Peak oil dwoodard, April 12 2005
    • peak oil , October 27 2005
      • Re: peak oil Buzz Harris, October 30 2005

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