by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
April 7, 2007
SOUNDING THE ALARM ABOUT 'PEAK OIL'
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) generally doesn't go too far out on a limb when it comes to predictions.
So when the GAO issues a report stating that worldwide crude oil
production will eventually dwindle to nothing, and that the United States
has no strategy at all to deal with that scenario, it's worth paying attention
The material in the GAO's report, "Crude Oil - Uncertainty About Future Oil Supply Makes It Important to Develop a Strategy for Addressing a Peak and Decline in Oil Production," is familiar to anyone who has been following what's become known as peak oil - when the available reserves of petroleum are outstripped by demand for more oil.
However, what makes the GAO report interesting is that this is the first time that any responsible party in the federal government has acknowledged that something might be wrong.
The report acknowledges these factors:
Even if one doesn't factor in the effects of global warming on the U.S. economy, all this adds up to a major crisis for a nation that has grown accustomed to a ready supply of cheap energy and has done little to plan for a probable post-petroleum future.
The GAO report urges the Department of Energy and other relevant federal agencies to create and implement a plan to deal with peak oil. It suggests greater and immediate investment in alternative fuels, such as ethanol, biodiesel or liquified coal, for running our vehicles.
That sounds good, but most who are familiar with the subject will that there is no technology now available or on the horizon that will allow us to keep driving our cars as we do now. There is no magic formula that will allow the United States to continue living in the style it has grown accustomed to since the end of World War II.
The level of delusional thinking at every level of government is astounding. It is what gave us suburban sprawl, 10-lane superhighways, big box stores, fast foot restaurants and all the other accouterments of a car-centered culture. Yet few of our leaders question the long-term sustainability of a car-centered culture once the cheap energy it runs on disappears.
As Upton Sinclair once observed, "It's difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon him not understanding it."
The GAO report may meet the same fate as other attempts to draw attention to issues no one wants to face and be stuffed in a file cabinet and forgotten. Or we can take this information as the starting point toward creating a new economy that's not organized around automobiles and suburbia.
James Howard Kunstler, author of the book, "The Long Emergency," and one of the leading experts on peak oil, recently spelled out what needs to happen next.
"Life in the USA will have to become much more local, and virtually all the activities of everyday life will have to be rescaled," wrote Kunstler. "If you can find a way to do something practical and useful on a smaller scale than it is currently being done, you are likely to have food in your cupboard and people who esteem you."
This means local agriculture, local businesses, local manufacturing, local innovation, human-scaled communities and strong social connections. This means reviving lost skills and lost social traditions that were discarded in the rush toward modernity.
It's difficult to picture seeing the world we live in now utterly and totally changed because we're running out of oil, but that's what we are likely to face in the coming years. The end of cheap oil need not be a disaster, but it will be if we ignore the warning signs and continue to behave as if nothing going to change. The nation has plenty of work to do, but with hard work, creativity and fresh thinking, maybe we can survive.
AR Correspondent Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 25 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at email@example.com.