US Addiction to Oil Continues

Look around you, what do you see? Do it: turn 360 degrees, take it all in; buildings, cars, buses, paper, plastics- the common items of a college campus. Look closer. What you are seeing, in literally EVERYTHING, is oil. Whether it is in the production and transportation of goods and food or in the creation of energy itself, oil is the lifeblood of 21st century society. This is true globally, but especially in America where we are the number one importer of oil in the world. Unfortunately, that blood is running thin. America’s oil production peaked in the late 1970’s and has been decreasing ever since. Many experts forecast world oil production to meet its apex within the next five to ten years, some even claiming this inevitability to occur as soon as 2008. President Bush, in his latest State of the Union address, brought up the topic of America’s endless need for cheap petroleum, calling for the nation to “break this addiction through technology.” Is it too late? Thursday night brought author and expert on the quickly approaching oil crisis, Richard Heinberg, to the Ira Allen Chapel for a lecture on the subject. Explaining the complex idea of Peak Oil in easy-to-understand terms is no small feat, but Heinberg was able to put these concepts into a perspective that a novice could easily grasp. Addressed in his lecture were the supposedly vast reserves of oil remaining in the Middle East. The truth, Heinberg explained, is that most reserve estimates given by OPEC are greatly overstated. For example, Iraq’s stated reserves increased threefold in a single year with no decrease for years after despite continued drilling and oil production–an obvious impossibility. We don’t truly know how much oil is out there. What is for certain is that demand is increasing exponentially as world population explodes, while no new major oil fields have been discovered since the 1980s. Most current petrol production, as Heinberg explained, comes from older super-fields, which will only last a finite amount of time. With oil discoveries all but ceasing, production in decline and demand on the rise, something has to give. Heinberg suggested it might be society, as we know it. “We may be at a point of civilizational collapse,” Heinberg sadly commented, and not without warrant. Without cheap fuel to transport food cross-country, cities such as Phoenix and Las Vegas will be cut off from agriculture entirely, as climates in such regions are not conducive to crop growth. Power outages will be increasingly common and “oil wars,” which Heinberg claims have already begun, will become constant. While Heinberg’s predictions were bleak, Peak Oil isn’t necessarily a death sentence. “We are an adaptable people,” Heinberg stated hopefully. “I’m convinced that the American people are adaptable enough to make it through this trying time if we apply ourselves.” The emphasis on the last statement was noticeable and Heinberg proceeded to explain what has to happen. “Is there anyone in Burlington who makes shoes? Who can repair small motors? Who can grow their own food? These are the businesses we have to support,” Heinberg stressed. The importance of sustainability on a cultural level is the key to the future, according to Heinberg and other Peak Oil experts. When asked what the average student could do to prepare for the impending crisis, Heinberg had excellent advice. “Be thinking of how to prepare oneself to live in the post-oil world. What skills are required? Agriculture will be in extreme demand.” With a sad smile, Heinberg concluded, “I would be very concerned if I were in highway planning.”