When the oil runs out

When I opened the latest Maclean’s magazine yesterday, I was surprised to see this article by Jonathon Gatehouse, entitled When the oil runs out:

The Four Horsemen have upgraded to SUVs. Not the hybrid ones either, but those gas-guzzling, bunny-crushing behemoths that Arnold Schwarzenegger favours. In oil-rich Babylon, whores are so thick on the ground that it’s a little hard to pick just one. Although everyone can agree on what the Antichrist is up to — running a multinational petroleum company. Yes, the End is nigh, if you believe the consensus that has been brewing in the halls of academe and the non-fiction aisle at the local bookstore. Starting in 2010, no later than 2020 or 2030, according to the latest vision of secular apocalypse, global oil supplies will peak, and the world will begin to unravel at the seams.

It seems that the idea of peak oil is making it into the mainstream, and that’s a good thing. The more awareness there is of the issue, the greater the chance that we will prepare for a world with expensive oil, then for a world without it. I believe that a soft landing is possible, but only if we face it, and plan for it.

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The New Reality of Oil Prices

Stanley Reed reports for BusinessWeek on the new reality of oil prices:

Everyone knows it: oil prices have gone through the roof. The price of benchmark crude rose 11% this year alone, to about $67 per barrel, before pulling back a little. But many in the industry have always figured that prices would sooner or later simmer down. One indication: Even when short-term prices soared to alarming levels, the futures market had until recently valued oil much more modestly. As new supplies came onstream, traders figured, prices would drift back down to their long-term average, which for years was about $20 per barrel. This thinking still influences the big oil companies, who have held back from investing massively in new projects.

But the futures market is now sending a radically different, and disturbing, message.

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The Undecided

The Undecided: I wish I’d known about this site before the election. It’s a flash application that works like a taste test. They give you a choice of selecting from any of the parties’ positions on a particular issue without showing which party holds it. Then you can rank the issues to find out which one(s) you most agree with.

It wouldn’t have had any effect on how I voted in the election. It mostly told me what I already know: I don’t agree strongly with any of the national political parties of Canada.

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Hoping for a soft landing

Reading The Long Emergency left me completely freaked out about the world’s energy situation. Kunstler predicts a catastrophic collapse of all the world’s social, economic, and political systems as the it moves past the current peak oil production into a period of continuing decline and uncontrollably rising costs.

While I agree with Kunstler’s fundamental premise — we’re all going to have to learn to live with less in the very near future as oil prices begin rising — today’s Treehuger post on switchgrass gives me some hope that it might be a softer landing than Kunstler predicts:

Here are the highlights: it grows eight or nine feet tall, native to the US. Generally, it’s very hearty and will grow in nearly any climatic variation, from the Gulf Coast into Canada. As a crop, it has a very high yield per acre (five to tens tons) with little use of pesticides, and a low production cost, which are two keys for economical production of alternative fuels. Switch grass can net up to 100 gallons of ethanol per ton, which is more efficient than corn, it’s better-known counterpart, and switch grass also uses the whole plant for making fuel, whereas corn uses just the grain. Sounds almost too good to be true, but we like what we’re hearing so far.

In the comments for the Treehugger post, Odograph points to the Dell-Point pellet stove, which can cleanly burn wood pellets, corn or wheat to heat a home for less than half the price of natural gas. Combined with the Alberta oil sands and a possible 9000 megawatt build-out of Ontario’s nuclear power capabilities, the future doesn’t seem nearly as dismal as I was dreading.

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