The End of the Age of Oil

Am I one of the last people to get around to watching that Al Gore film, ‘An Inconvenient Truth?’ It’s been out for a while, I know, but I just didn’t get to it until now. I have to say, I enjoyed it immensely.

Al’s film (directed by Davis Guggenheim), is entertaining as heck, although, regrettably, it’s been transformed into laugh-a-minute time capsule material, a fairy tale about the all-importance of preventing global warming and saving the environment, paper-airplaned to us direct from the far-off care-free era of 2006.

I say this despite the fact that I live at the Jersey Shore, close enough to the sea that a mere two meter rise in sea levels (considerably less than those estimates cited in ‘An Inconvenient Truth’) would have the surf rolling through marshy Belford, across US Route 36, and right up to my doorstep. So much for my property value.

The truth, sadly—call it The Unfortunate Truth—is that ten or twenty years from now, no one’s going to give a rat’s ass about the environment. Why? Because we’ll all be dying off en masse. Probably over as short a time frame as five years or so.

In 1962, the year in which I was born, the world population stood at 3.12 billion, give or take a few million. That was a lot of people. If you were a kid in the early 1970s, you heard a lot about the Population Explosion. Approaching famine and disasters and Soylent Green and such. But that reckoning never came. It was put off by a growth-facilitating factor that threw a monkey wrench into the system, delaying the comeuppance we had already earned. Call it the Oil Factor.

Today, world population stands at 6.7 billion. This is an anomaly, a calamitous statistical deviation caused solely by the availability of oil. Oil is to humans on earth as several industrial-sized vats of honey would be to a sealed warehouse full of fruit flies. It has created an artificial and temporary environment in which human population has expanded far beyond the capacity of the earth to sustain it.

This anomaly is about to be corrected by a sharp decline in the earth’s obtainable oil resources. “Peak Oil” is the term for the tipping point at which our ability to pump, process, and transport oil stops growing and starts declining, even as demand continues to expand. Some people think this correction is already occurring. Other people—optimists in the crowd—think we have another twenty years or so until we start feeling the pinch. No one anywhere—from the worldwide scientific community to Al Gore to Dick Cheney to Sarah Palin to the oil companies themselves—believes that the total collapse of known oil reserves is more than fifty years away.

“Pinch,” it should be said, is used here as a euphemism for global war followed by a massive die-off of the vast majority of the human population. Oil is the answer to virtually every possible question you can ask about human existence in the 20th and 21st centuries. Without it, there is no energy, no food, no potable water, no medicine, no Paris Hilton, nothing. When the end comes, it will be swift. We won’t have a lot of time to regret turning so much of our oil into trash can liner twist ties, McDonalds Happy Meal toys, and cellophane shrinkwrap.

But, hey, what about solar and nuclear and wind power and wave power and hydrogen power? We’ll still have those things, right? Yes we will! Some of these power sources will still exist in the refreshingly uncrowded world of the future. After the mountains of fresh human corpses have decayed into moldering heaps of fairly fertile topsoil, there will undoubtedly be small tribes of people living along the rivers and coastlines of what was once America, using wave power and paddlewheels to generate small amounts of power. Solar grids will prove helpful until their parts wear out and can’t be replaced. Hydrogen and nuclear power technologies, however, are inextricably bound up with oil. They consume energy, provided by oil, in order to produce energy, in the form of electricity. Once the power goes out, these technologies will cease to exist.

Who will survive the massive die-off of the human population, even for a short while? People with skills that can be bartered for goods. Well diggers. Plumbers. Farmers. People with flocks of birds and herds of sheep. People with guns. That’s pretty much it.

Soon, the power will start to go out. It probably won’t go out in America first. (We don’t have all those troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and everywhere else for nothing. We still, to this day, have 35,000 troops in Japan, of all places.) But all we’ll be gaining for ourselves in that year-or-two interval before the power outage reaches our shores is a better seat from which to watch a fantastically escalating global war for resources. Again, some people believe this war (now located in Iraq and Afghanistan, soon to spread to Iran and Pakistan) has already begun. After it’s over, the power will really go out. And the darkness will be really, really dark.

Which, on the bright side, will put an abrupt end to our global warming problem. The seas will probably still rise for a few centuries, but hardly anybody will be around to see it.

2 thoughts on “The End of the Age of Oil

  1. Hey there, Harry. Glad to see you’re still that hopeful, upbeat guy. But seriously, I get a knot in my stomach whenever I read about peak oil; then I wonder why none of the grand poobahs are acting scared. Maybe they have an out we don’t know about. Maybe the fact that there’s water on the moon, means we can someday colonize it and reduce the stress on the Earth. But that would require a ton of oil. Anyway, I now live high in the Catskills, where all that rising ocean water can’t reach me. Then again, the river outside my trailer keeps flooding. Ain’t karma a bitch?

    • Hey, Nancy! Am I well-known for NOT being hopeful and upbeat? Maybe so. Or maybe I just find doom and disaster sexy. I know I’m still a little peeved that the whole Y2K crisis never panned out.

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