By Curt Collins
Lately there has been a lot of conversation out in Jackson County, and media attention about the use of oil, what we are forced to engage in to secure it for our country, its limited availability and how do we get off of it. What would we do, as a society if the prices continued to skyrocket and the supply continued to decrease? Because the reality of it is that this is happening, and I fear that the prices will not return to what we were used to because that is not the direction they usually go.
The Peak Oil problem appears to be a certainty for our country and the world sometime in the future. At home the U.S is producing almost less than half of the oil we were just back in the 1980’s: from 8,686 barrels per day in 1983 to 5,097 in August 2008 (U.S. Weekly Supply). This much of a drop in production is news to me. The Peak Oil Theory, developed by M. King Hubbert in 1949, says that at some point in the future we will reach the maximum amount of oil produced in the world, after which it will decline. All the while our use of petroleum will be increasing and our population will be too.
There is a documentary titled The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil. It is available in Hunter Library at Western and I recommend it to you. The film showed ways to accomplish what would be necessary, on a large level, in order to still have a modern and content society, with very little to no oil use.
Cuba confronted its own Peak Oil crisis recently in the early 1990’s when the Soviet Union fell apart and could no longer support the island nation with oil. Cuba’s economy suffered a 34% crash in GDP and an 80% drop in exports. This manifested itself in many ways in the country, one of them being the health status of its people: children became quickly malnutritioned; pregnant women became anemic, birth weight declined and Cuban citizens lost an average of 20 pounds per person! Add to this the decline in employment and available materials for doing just about anything and society as you know it is no longer. But they handled it, and as humans can easily do, they overcame their problems with a superior system to the prior one.
They imported a million and a half bicycles and built half a million. They converted trucks into large taxis and used semis to pull enormous “buses” in order to transport everyone. Gardening and local food production became a necessity, universities became decentralized, commuting distances drastically decreased, architecture took on a low energy focus, all things based on oil had to be reworked in their civilization.
Through this complete changing of their society they also reaped enormous side benefits. The average Cuban use 1/8th the amount of energy compared to the average American; this immediately translates into money (more of it for them and less for us) a decrease in pollution, and less messy politics (Cuba has zero imported foreign energy resources). There was a national decrease in diabetes, heart attacks and strokes due to an increase in activity levels and a healthier food supply for all Cuban citizens. The film also spoke of the increase in community (as evidenced by greater sharing of resources, co-educating, volunteering, etc.) and a rise in education rates leading to a doctor patient ratio of 57/1,000 contrasted with 28/1,000 in the United States.
It is too bad that we did not heed our own federal government’s movies like “When The Circuit Breaks”. This was made on our tax dollar and released for us to know about the finite gas supply. The film states, “…with a crisis that could recur and recur unless the entire country recognizes the dangers of a quite real energy shortage.” That was released during the gas crisis in the 1970’s and now that sentence has been proven correct. We are living the recurrence.
Then there was President Carter who began a new energy policy with tax credits for alternative energy use and CAFÉ (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards to make automobile manufacturers build more fuel-efficient vehicles. Unfortunately his ideas were rolled back by his successor Ronald Reagan.
If we are not somewhat ready for worldwide Peak Oil, and its subsequent decline, we will not be able to easily handle it when it comes. Preparing for it is thankfully already happening in the good ‘ol USA, and we could advance its rate exponentially if we wanted to. We all have a chance in a few weeks to vote for more secure energy production. Check out the candidates for all offices to see whom you think will make the better choices for us all.
1.The Power Of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil. Dir. Faith Morgan. Community Service, Inc. 2006.
2. “U.S. Weekly Supply Estimates”. 10/01/2008. Energy Information Administration. October 4, 2008. http://tonto.eia.doe.gov/dnav/pet/hist/wcrfpus2w.htm