Climbing Hubbert’s Peak        

         Good evening everyone.  We are here tonight to give you some facts, and some surprises.  We hope that you will like what we call our entertainment.

          I am going to start with a bit of history, about a man with a peculiar name.  Back in 1956, an oil geologist, by the name of L. King Hubbert, published an article in which he predicted that oil production in the United States would reach its peak between 1970 and 1972, and from then on would decrease every year.

         Despite the fact that Hubbert was a respected scientist and that he presented solid evidence for his conclusions, he was derided, laughed at, or ignored by almost everyone in the oil industry.

         Then came 1972.  In that year, oil production in the U.S. peaked, and since then it has declined every year. That, and not oil industry greed, China’s new energy appetite, or rebellions in Nigeria, is the main reason why you paid over $3.00/gallon for gasoline last summer, and our country is dependent on foreign oil.

          By the way, whose bill for heating and cooking with Propane went up this winter? ___________  Mine increased 50%.

         Other scientists have improved Hubbert’s calculations, and have extended the methodology he successfully used to predict Peak Oil in the U.S., to Peak World oil production. They have concluded that world oil production will peak within a few years from now, or has already peaked.

         It is in the nature of the oil industry that the figures given out by oil companies and OPEC countries cannot be trusted.  We only learn about such events sometime after they have happened.

         Kenneth Deffeyes of Princeton University, Colin Campbell, who is a geophysicist, energy investment banker Matthew Simmons, and a Republican Congressman from Maryland, Roscoe Bartlett, have been sounding the alarm. They have been derided, laughed at, or just plain ignored. It is only now, after the price of energy sky-rocketed last summer, that they are getting any public attention at all.    

The End of Cheap Oil

         The impending loss of cheap oil is going to profoundly affect the way we and our children lead our lives.

(enter stage L — a fairy, dressed in pink tutu, with a diamond tiara, and a wand with a star at its end – “she” is flippant and bubbly, and speaks in falsetto, kind of like Glenda the Good, from Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz)

[TF]         “Hi, I’m the Tooth Fairy (TF) and I’ve come to tell you that there’s nothing to worry about. There’s plenty of oil left. All you have to do is look for it under your pillow!”

[KF]         Hey, wait a minute! You’re interrupting a serious discussion. And you look ridiculous in that tutu. These people are here to learn important things that will affect their lives. Please do not interrupt us.  (TF glares at K, petulantly, hands on hips)

         Now, where was I?  Oh yes, even the phrase “oil production,” is misleading. Human beings have never produced even one drop of oil. It was all produced by Nature some 600 million years ago. More properly, we ought to call it “oil extraction.” The amount of oil available is, for all intents and purposes, finite (unless you want to wait around another 600 million years.) When it’s gone, it’s gone, and all the wishful thinking in the world won’t bring back a drop of it.

         Our contemporary, technological civilization is organized around and totally dependant on cheap oil. This situation is being compounded because every year America’s appetite for oil is increasing. China and India’s economies are growing at 10%/year and they are running around the world, trying to lock up all the existing and potential oil and natural gas sources they can get their hands on. When demand increases and supply goes down, the law of economics tells us that the price will increase.         

[TF]         Oh, yoo–hoo! I have an easy solution. You know, when children lose a tooth, all they have to do is put it under the pillow, and the tooth fairy (that’s me!) will come in the middle of the night and replace it with a dollar bill. Now, all you have to do is place your empty gas tank under your pillow and the Tooth Fairy will fill it up with oil made from Canadian tar sands, or Pennsylvania coal, or Ethanol from corn

[KF] Now look here, you demented elf! You are interrupting a serious discourse and making a farce out of this. Leave this room right now, or I’ll Canadian tar-sand and feather you! (TF exits in a huff, stage Rt.)

Say Goodbye To Cheap Oil

         Thank goodness were rid of that ridiculous person.  Magical thinking will not help us. Only a few years ago, the price of oil was 35$ per barrel. Last summer it shot up over $70. 

         Do not allow yourself to be fooled by the short-term ups and downs of the market.  When oil pipelines get blown up in Nigeria, or Putin threatens to cut off Russia’s oil supply to Belarus, the price spikes.  When the Northeastern United States experiences a tropical winter, oil prices dip down. Notice what happened recently to prices at your local gas station when old man winter finally hit New England.

          I am going to go out on a limb and predict that the price of oil next summer will jump over $70 per barrel again (sotto voce – may be even $80) and that the price will go up every year from now on. 

         The high price of energy will profoundly change our lifestyles.  The Global Economy, which is based on the ability to cheaply transport goods from one part of the world to another, will inevitably collapse.  Economies will, of necessity, become localized, and we will have to depend on local food supplies.

         Everyone knows. . .

[OF]   Hi there. I’m the Oil Fairy and I’ve come to tell you that there’s plenty of oil around the Caspian Sea. And, we know there’s lots of oil under the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge without having even drilled test wells there, or ……

[KF]   Great! Another idiot! Look here!  If they started exploring ANWAR tomorrow and found oil, which is not certain, it would take at least 10 years to locate, drill, and build a pipeline to carry the oil down to us. But, it sure would make a lot of money for Exxon, BP, etc. And maybe they can even get Halliburton to build the pipeline.

[OF]           Oh, but what about that oil they just found in the Gulf of Mexico?

[KF]   First, they have to go down 3,000 feet from the surface to the sea floor, and then drill another 5,000 feet to reach oil that may or may not be there.  You see, that oil is going to be very expensive to get, and that is just my point. 

[OF] But all I have to do is wave my magic wand and. . .

[KF] There is no such thing as magic!  You can’t make something from nothing. Why don’t you go away and stop bothering us with your wishful thinking?  (TF stands petulantly, hands on hips, & glares at KF)

         They have looked everywhere, and there are no hidden sources of oil. There is no adequate substitute for oil. You can’t stick a nuclear energy plant in your car and make it run. Too heavy. You can convert coal to gas, but the more coal you dig, the more expensive it will be to get to.  And up and up will go the costs.

         As for corn-derived Ethanol, it is the latest fad of the technofixers. Corn is a very energy- demanding crop.  At least two scientific studies have shown that more energy has to be put into the process than can be gotten out of it.  That’s a heck of a way to free yourself from foreign oil.

         Not only that, but every acre put into production of corn for Ethanol, is an acre taken out of the production of food in a country where the number of food-producing farms is shrinking every year. If our government is so worried about our dependency on foreign oil, how vulnerable will we feel when we become dependant on foreign-grown food?

         This is not theoretical.  The price of tortillas in Mexico has risen 50% in the last few months because a large portion of the US corn crop that used to be sent there has been diverted into ethanol.  And that’s no joke to the average Mexican family, who use tortillas for almost all their meals. 

         If you think that this situation is a concern only for poor Mexicans, think again.  The Associated Press reported only a few weeks ago that “strong demand for corn from ethanol plants is driving up the cost of livestock, and will raise the prices for beef, pork and chicken.” 

         What we now have is what amounts to a competition for shrinking agricultural land between automobile owners and families, who need to put food on the table for their children.  If you will excuse the expression, there is no free lunch, and that is for sure.

What Is Oil Good For?

         The first thing people think about when you mention oil is fuel – energy – energy to drive your car to work, to fly by plane to the West Coast, energy to push that diesel truck up the Interstate bringing cheap stuff to Home Depot and Wall Mart.

         But energy needs are just the tip of the iceberg. Where do you think your anti-allergy pills come from? Your antibiotics?   Most medications are synthesized from oil.  What do you think will happen to your medical bills when oil hits $100/barrel? $200/barrel?

         Does anyone here know what the Asphalt that our highways are built with is made from?  ________________ 

         Did you notice that last summer, Bonner County cut back on paving local roads  by 50%?  And, a few weeks ago, the Idaho Transportation Department announced that they were delaying 2 out of 4 widening projects for highway 95.  Both situations occurred because the price of asphalt has doubled in less than a year. That is just a little taste of what is to come.   Will Idaho be able to build more highways?  We will be lucky if they have enough money to fill in this winter’s pot holes.

                  What do you think plastic is made from? Take a wild guess. ( _________ )

[KF]  Hey, Oil Fairy, do you know how much plastic there is in your refrigerator? your iPod?  your automobile?  I’ll bet even your magic wand is plastic

         Another question for you fairy! Do you like bananas in your cereal for breakfast? Now, don’t tell me you just wave your wand and make them  appear!  Do you know where that banana came from?

[OF] (Timorously) – Ecuador? 

{KF} How many bananas are you going to eat when the cost of transporting them from Ecuador doubles, triples?  Food distribution patterns are going to have to change or we will not be able to feed over 300 million Americans. 

Bioregionalism anyone?

[OF}  I think I’ll leave. The batteries in my magic wand seem to have run down.  I wonder what batteries are made of?  Goodbye.

[KF] Good riddance! Whew! We are finally rid of her! Now, where was I?  

         Oh yes. Let’s talk more about food.  After all, it is your ultimate energy supply.  What is the fertilizer that makes that food grow, made from?  Anyone?  _________

         How about the pesticides and herbicides that they use on farms? What are they made from?  _______________ How much oil did they expend to manufacture the combines, tractors, and the other mechanized equipment found on most farms today?  And, how much energy is used to run them?  How much fuel was expended to transport food from Imperial Valley, California to your dining room table last night?

The Technofixers

         And that’s just the beginning. What about – – – – – – – – – – – (Big rumpus –Technology Fairy enters – stage L)

[TF]  Hi – I’m the Technology Fairy, and I’ve come to save you! Not to worry! I’ve got a technological fix for everything! Just look under your pillow!

(someone in audience shouts – “Hey “Techy,” you’re cute”)

[TF]   I’m not only cute, I’m clever. Hey, do you know what we can do to squeeze more out of an oil field? I can drill on a slant to get oil from under nearby mountains or drill down a mile with offshore drilling rigs.

[KF] (exasperatedly) It’s already been done.

[TF] Oh – well, I can pump water or steam into the wells to push up more oil.

[KF]   Been there – done that. It adds to the cost, and eventually it messes up the entire oil field.

[TF]    Oh – well, I can explore other parts of the world, using high-tech equipment, 3-D computer imaging, and find loads of oil.

[KF]   (addressing audience)  They have almost certainly already found all the great oil fields on Earth.  There is no other place to look for large amounts of oil except the Arctic Ocean and the South China Sea.  That’s why China, Japan, Taiwan, and Vietnam have recently been threatening each other over that area. I don’t think that superpowers fighting an oil war is going to help lower the cost of oil.

[TF, getting surly]  Yeah, well how about all those hydrogen-driven cars? –  clean, no pollution, free energy. yippee!

[KF]    You know, it’s a funny thing.  Nobody talks about where they’re going to get all those H2 atoms. You see, they’re going to pull them off of – guess what?  _____________ oil and natural gas. That’s like robbing Peter to pay Paul. You see, H2 cars are not energy sources. They are really just big batteries, and where is all that infrastructure to transport the H2 atoms to where they can be pumped into cars? It’s non-existent.  And, are they going to store the H2 in tanks.  I do not think I would want to live near one of them.

(ImageHindenburg exploding)

[TF]   Well, what about all the energy you can get from that Liquefied Natural Gas from Africa?

[KF] Listen, speaking of energy, you’re wasting ours. What’s next? Are you going to invent a perpetual-motion machine?  First, they must transport the LNG at -260° F in tankers.  Then, what do you do with it?  They will need to build special ports to receive LNG, and special facilities to store and transport it throughout the United States.

          Do me a favor Technology Fairy. Get lost!  Put an egg in your shoe and beat it!                                         

[TF]    Well, if that’s the way you feel about it, go drown in your misery. What a grouch! I have a million ideas of how to get more oil. Maybe there’s some on Mars. There’ll always be a technological fix right around the corner. Off I go to find one. Don’t worry – be happy. La De Dah De Dah – – – – – – – –  [exit stage R]

[KF]   Well, I sure hope we’ve seen the last Fairy.

(voice from audience –“Don’t you bet on it”!)

         One of things that most concerns me about Peak Oil is that in our efforts to find substitutes, the world will turn to even more highly polluting fuels, like coal, that emit high amounts of CO2.  This will only exacerbate and speed up Climate Change.

          The end of cheap oil will obviously have profound effects on our lives, both upon our economy and our social structure.  Lanie will talk more about that when she speaks to you about the role of cultural beliefs in the way we treat the Earth.

The Role of Psychological Denial

         If you accept the seriousness of what I have just been telling you, you must be thinking ‘How on Earth have we gotten ourselves into such a predicament?’  After all, there are very smart people in governments, business, and academia all over the world.  How could they have overlooked this situation?  Why did they not start planning for these contingencies long ago?

         I would like to take a few moments to explore these questions because I think that they are important in understanding what we are up against when we try to change people’s attitudes.

         Three weeks ago (3/7/07), there was a public meeting in New Orleans, called by city officials to discuss plans for the reconstruction of the city after the devastation of Katrina.

         After discussing such critical matters as where a new baseball stadium would be constructed and the repair of an historical fort, a woman stood up and demanded to know why strengthening New Orleans’ levies was not included in the plans.  A city official replied that, “It was an oversight, and would be corrected in the revised plan.”

         How would you account for such an “oversight” as forgetting the levies?  There is an explanation for this.  It is called Denial.

         Psychological Denial is a defense mechanism, often put into use when a person is faced with a fact that is too painful to accept, and rejects it instead, despite what may be overwhelming evidence.

 I believe that not only individuals but, entire cultures can go into a state of denial when faced with a situation, which, if taken seriously, would force them to reevaluate their entire lifestyle and change it.

         I believe that is the situation our culture is facing right now with respect to the end of Oil and Climate Change.

          Polls show that it is only recently that a majority of the American people has accepted the reality of Global Climate Change.  This has happened only after: a lot of strange weather, many showings of “An Inconvenient Truth,” and the recent well-publicized report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that states unequivocally that climate change is a reality and that Man has had a central role in bringing it about.

         In order to convince the Doubting Thomases, we need to just keep chipping away, and not get discouraged.  Eventually, their defenses will break down, and they will admit reality.  Of course that long delay may put our entire society in a position from which it cannot extricate itself.

( Joshua Walters comes in, plays “Swimming in D’ Nile” on his guitar, & leads the audience in the refrain)

         The good news is that, we in Sandpoint do not have to wait for our government and most of the country to catch up with our understanding of this situation.  We can start planning right now.  With the help of local groups like ClimateCAN, we can work to assess what needs to be done to make our region more self sufficient in the basics, like food, fuel, and transportation, and to persuade our public officials to start planning for the inevitable.

         Yes, we can come together and start to form a true community like the ones that prevailed in small town America little more than a century ago.  A lot of the changes we have to make will be inconvenient and even painful. But Sandpoint at least will have a head start, and we may find some of the changes even to be good, with a renewed emphasis on family, friends, and community.