Thursday, October 15, 2009

Peaks and Valleys

The peak oil issue is like one big onion, in that there are continuous layers to be peeled away, except these layers are representative of the new things and ideas that I often come across when reading about this emerging issue. The latest comes courtesy of Suburban Empire, a relatively new blog. I am used to looking at peak oil in terms of the Hubbert's Peak theory, which follows a Bell-shaped curve. Initially, the curve rises due to new discoveries of oil fields, as well as emerging technologies that can be used to gather more oil out of the ground. Later, however, the curve peaks and then sinks downwards due to resource depletion.

But when you basically turn the peak upside down, you have a valley. And a valley would also be very instructive in helping to understand this issue. In this case, courtesy of Suburban Empire, this valley would be an indicator of human production (work) rather than oil production.

As hydrocarbons are on an upward swing and become more and more plentiful, less and less work is required of the human populace, especially in nations with ready access to oil reserves. This is the power of oil, it's equal to having many "superhumans" (or slaves) doing the hard work for us, allowing us to have desk jobs or jobs in the service industry, which requires relatively little skill. So as long as oil is in a state of robust production, and new sources are being continuously discovered, the work rate that humans do drops. We eventually reach a bottom, or a valley, which can be considered by some as being some beautiful Eden. But as SE notes, we must leave this Eden eventually, and what will push us out of the Eden will be rising oil prices and/or shortages. Leaving the valley will require us to climb upward, meaning that us humans must put in more and more work if we hope to maintain any semblence of civilization.

So, if you can't understand the ramifications of oil reaching peak and our way of life becoming prey to soaring oil prices and scarcities of many amenities and necessities that we take for granted, perhaps you will understand the valley, which we must leave eventually, and then, we will start getting our hands dirty.

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