Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Suppy, Demand and Peak Oil

Our friend ProfGoose is guest blogging at Ezra Klein, and this has given him an opportunity to further spread the word on peak oil. This post provides a comprehensive and readable explanation of the supply and demand issues surrounding peak oil. Regardless of one's thinking on our ability to innovate our way out of the end of oil (or, at least, the end of cheap oil), it's hard to imagine that we won't face some level of upheaval while making the transition away from an oil-based economy.

On that note, my reading of The Long Emergency continues. As I noted in a comment to ianqui last night, I do think Kunstler does a very nice job of explaining our current state of affairs; I also think his overview of the history of oil production provides a necessary context for understanding how we've gotten to where we are. At the same time (and I'll review as I read, which is probably a dangerous path), it's pretty clear that what Kunstler does very well is to create a narrative framework for oil and its peak. That's an effective way of presenting information (as I tell my writing students), but it also carries the risk of fitting facts and ideas to that narrative. If I had to label The Long Emergency in terms of a mythic framework, I'd say the story of Icarus is his model -- like that figure from Greek mythology, our relationship with that lovely black gold has involved "flying too high," and Kunstler's "Long Emergency" parallels Icarus' wing melting. I suppose I fall a bit closer to the "technological utopian" camp he describes, though certainly not the "do-nothing" extremists often seen in the American right-wing. I am concerned about our political development in the face of peak oil, but have to wonder if Kunstler's prediction of societal and political meltdowns aren't overstated. Perhaps it's just hard for me to imagine the industrialized world devolving into the kind of chaos we generally associate with the postcolonial regions of the globe, but as I read more about ongoing experiments with renewable energy, cradle to cradle design and sustainable business practices, I don't think a meltdown is inevitable. Do I think that we'll face some challenging times? No doubt. And those challenges will force us to rethink the "American dream" in ways that many would consider heretical. Ultimately, though, I just don't believe that as many of us are sleepwalking as Kunstler claims. But, again, I've still got more to read...

One more thought -- does anyone also think that Kunstler's analysis of the "war on terrorism" is a little odd in the face of his arguments about peak oil? It seems to me that he's a bit too quick to buy into the narrative of a grand conflict between the Western world and "militant Islamic fundamentalism."

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Buy The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century at Powell's City of Books.