Friday, October 19, 2007

Peak Oil and The End of Suburbia

Several months ago I began writing an article for one of the sign industry trade magazines about Peak Oil and what the impact would be on the industry that I've been a part of for the last 25 years. As a former sign company owner, general manager of the second largest sign company in Reno, an oft-published author for sign trade magazines, and as a consultant who specializes in turning around and managing sign companies, I am immanently qualified to write about the industry.

I started thinking about the article with the premise that paints, vinyls, digital printing, manufacturing, and almost everything that makes our industry possible, including energy, was going to be in short supply, and that sign company owners should make plans to switch to as many other technologies as possible to protect themselves, their businesses, and their employees.

As I began my research into Peak Oil for the article, I started discovering some disturbing things: That the problem was far more serious than I had imagined, and that scientific conclusions from the best paid, most widely-respected geologists, physicists, bankers, and investors in the world, many from varying political ideologies, all rational, professional, conservative individuals who are absolutely terrified by the phenomenon known as global "Peak Oil."

Realizing that what I had to write about to tell the truth about my conclusions would never be published in any of our trade magazines, I dropped my plans for the article.

In the U.S., our "peak oil" came in the '70's when we began importing more oil than we were exporting, and has been dropping steadily ever since. We simply did not have the continuing resources to meet out national thirst. Consequently, we started buying from other sources.

Globally, most experts are saying that worldwide "peak oil" has occurred, or will occur, between 2004 and 2008, and best estimates indicate it happened in 2005. That's when Worldwide demand will outpace worldwide production by a significant margin. We don't know for sure. What we do know for sure is that everyone, including the Saudis, are lying about their oil reserves (here, here, and here).

This is not a temporary problem. It will be permanent condition, and as I've written here recently, there's no alternative in sight. In a 1999 speech , while still CEO of Haliburton, Dick Cheney stated:

"By some estimates, there will be an average of two-percent annual growth in global oil demand over the years ahead, along with, conservatively, a three-percent natural decline in production from existing reserves.That means by 2010 we will need an additional 50 million barrels per day."

Cheney's assessment is supported by the estimates of numerous non-political, retired, and now disinterested scientists, many of whom believe global oil production will peak and go into terminal decline within the next five years. Many industry insiders think the decline rate will far higher than Cheney predicted in 1999. Andrew Gould, CEO of the giant oil services firm Schlumberger, for instance, recently explained:

"An accurate average decline rate is hard to estimate, but an overall figure of 8% is not an unreasonable assumption."

Last night, we watched the DVD The End of Surburbia: Oil Depletion and the Collapse of the American Dream. With brutal honesty and a touch of irony, The End of Suburbia explores the American Way of Life and its prospects as the planet approaches a critical era, as global demand for fossil fuels begins to outstrip supply. World Oil Peak and the inevitable decline of fossil fuels are upon us now, some scientists and policy makers argue in this documentary.

Carl Jung, one of the fathers of psychology, famously remarked that "people cannot stand too much reality," and this challenges everyone's assumptions about the kind of world we live in, and especially the kind of world into which events are propelling us, and it looks like we're in for a rough ride into uncharted territory.

What's integral got to do with this? Can you see others' perspectives? Can you suspend disbelief long enough to consider that this is a possibility and do some research on your own without dismissing it out of hand? Can you begin an integral approach in solving what can be solved and preparing for what cannot? What if your way of life depended on it? What if your very life, and those of your loved ones, depended on it?

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