"Peak Oil" refers to the fact that worldwide, per capita petroleum production peaked in 1979. Owing to population growth, even though we continue to pump more actual barrels of oil per day, the amount of oil pumped per person continues to drop.
It should be easy for Americans, who are all too familiar with skyrocketing gasoline prices to comprehend that a potential catastrophe looms on the horizon. It should be, but energy companies, auto manufacturers, and politicians are major players in a game of disinformation and distraction that has half of us convinced that global warming is scientifically questionable. And why shouldn't they be? They have everything to gain and nothing to lose in the short run by maintaining the status quo.
In the late 1990s, one of GM's annual reports focused on that company's efforts to open the Chinese market to American-made cars. The report bragged that GM intended to bring personal transportation to 1 billion Chinese. Investors had to love the idea of practically limitless profits. The oil companies had to be thrilled as well, because all those cars meant lots of gasoline consumption, and of course, profits.
The fact that the atmosphere didn't really need the waste products spewed out of a quarter-billion more cars was not discussed, nor any of the other environmental impacts of the business plan. All eyes were on profits.
At home, big oil cheered as auto makers, with help of weakened environmental standards, produced and marketed gas-guzzlers like turbo-charged pickups, SUVs, and Humvees, which Americans bought in droves. After the bombing of the World Trade Centers, Americans were barraged with advertisements for vehicles with low- and zero-interest loans. These promotions were almost exclusively for high-consumption vehicles.
Not that there were no efficient vehicles being produced. Toyota introduced both the Echo, a four-cylinder wonder that got 40 mph and the Prius, a gas-electric hybrid during this time, but the vehicles went nearly un-promoted.
Soon after WTC, Americans marched off to war in countries where petroleum production was the major business, coincidentally destabilizing governments and the oil markets, and causing gasoline prices to first double, and at times, triple. Transportation is not the only petroleum-dependent industry in the U.S., and the prices of agricultural products are beginning to rise with production costs, and as the demand for agriculturally produced fuels places upward pressures on the price of corn.
Meanwhile, the auto companies are well on their way to creating a Chinese version of the American dream, with a car in every driveway. Forethought is limited to getting the vehicles sold. The Chinese are faced with a rapidly growing demand for gasoline that has already outstripped domestic production.
At present, the U.S. military is present in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the current administration is eyeing Iran. Meanwhile, Chinese companies are scampering about Africa attempting to stake their claims to that region's black gold.
Enter Darfur. While the U.S. was patting itself on the back about its war on terror, the black population of Darfur was being decimated. Officially, it is not about the oil, but a powerful case can be made that the officials are lying.
Meanwhile, we burn as much gasoline as we can comfortably afford. Hybrid cars are expensive and still consume gasoline, and Iraq is beginning to look like a bed of quicksand. The Chinese want oil, and lots of it, and even if the average American citizen is unwilling to enter a world war over control of petroleum reserves, big oil companies and their homeboys in Washington D.C. are willing. The U.S. is in the process of establishing an African base of operations, which would make them ready. Being able to succeed is not part of the equation.
There is only so much oil on this planet, and the big kids have no intention of sharing. It may be a while before the popular peak-oil disaster scenarios come to pass, but the hand is writing on the wall. We need only to read what is written there.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
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