Peak of the Devil: 100 questions and answers about Peak Oil

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1. What’s this peak oil thing you keep jabbering on about?

“Peak oil” is the phrase used to describe the point where the world’s oil supply, well, peaks. A fairly easy concept there. It’s the best we can do, and the best we will ever do, when it comes to pumping conventional crude oil out of the ground. After peak oil, it’s all downhill, production-wise. Too many people think that peak oil means the oil is going to run out, and that’s not quite right. The oil will not run out. Not ever. It will, over time, get increasingly rare and probably expensive (before it’s worthless), but there will always be at least a little bit of oil for us to use. Well, for someone to use. Probably not you and me, unless I sell a whole ship load of books. No pressure.

It’s all about the classic economic issues of supply and demand. If supply exceeds demand, as oil did for many years, there’s plenty to go around, the price stays low and everybody’s happy. Good times. If the item in question (like oil) gets a little scarce, or the demand for oil rises faster than the oil can be supplied, then the price of oil goes up. With oil, right now, we’re seeing a little of both; that is, the oil is getting scarce as the demand continues to rise. A double whammy. Lucky us.

So peak oil is an event. A point in time. True, it’s an unseen event we won’t be able to figure out until long after it happens (much like our own maturity), but it will happen. Maybe it already did. It’s tough to tell because people don’t like to talk about it. Yes, we’re back to talking about peak oil here. The thing is, once we pass that peak, we’re going to slide though a period of “Interesting Times.” Yes, eventually things will settle down, but until they do, we’re going to be in for a great many changes, and not all of them will be what you might call “good.” But they will be interesting. You have my word on that.

Some years ago, peak oil was something that was going to happen far, far in our distant future. No need to worry. Just keep driving. Everything’s fine. When I began reading about peak oil in the late 1990s, it was going to happen around 2035. That was a long ways away. Then a funny thing happened: the more I read about peak oil, the closer it got. That is, the predictions for when global peak oil would occur moved back in time faster than we were moving forward. That prediction for peak oil in 2035 became 2030, then 2025, and then 2020. After just a few years, I was reading about peak oil by 2015, then 2010 and then. . . .

And then, after about 2005, I started to read about how maybe peak oil had already happened. Huh? What? Hey, what happened to 2035? How did this event slip backwards thirty years? As it turns out, we were using up more oil, and finding less oil, than anyone could have predicted. Whoopsie. Our bad.

2. Well, whose fault is that? (stay tuned)