Peak Oil is You

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Page added on August 25, 2013

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Might as well face it, you’re addicted to oil

Might as well face it, you’re addicted to oil thumbnail

America, we need to talk.

Have a seat.

Remember when President George W. Bush told you seven years ago that you’re addicted to oil?

Well, you’re still addicted, and it’s clear that many of President Bush’s prescriptions for breaking that addiction — “zero-emission coal-fired plants”, nuclear energy, next-generation biofuels, and hydrogen — have gone nowhere. Even now, they remain part of President Barack Obama’s climate plan. We are no closer to “moving beyond a petroleum-based economy” now than we were in 2006.

It’s time to get serious about your problem. So here’s a little tough love.

Admit you have a problem

Your addiction is getting worse, even if you’ve cut back a little on your use.

You consumed 2 million barrels a day (about 10 percent) less oil in 2012 than you did in 2006, but your gasoline consumption is down just 0.5 million barrels a day. And that decrease is mainly because you can’t afford it in a recession, not because you’re deliberately finding ways to use less. You’re just driving less, in an older vehicle. You’ve still got a fleet of around 240 million cars and light trucks on the road with an average fuel efficiency of 22.5 miles per gallon (mpg). New cars average 23.8 mpg on a sales-weighted basis. That new 54.5 mpg federal standard is great, but it doesn’t cure your problem.

The market for hybrids and electric vehicles (EVs) is growing, but it still has very little share. As long as you keep buying millions of trucks per year that get 22 mpg, you’ve still got a huge problem.

Stop blaming others for your addiction

It’s easier to point fingers at someone else than to face your addiction. But you know who has the real problem.

It’s not the fault of the oil companies or the car companies or even Congress that you’re addicted. Sure, they didn’t help, just as ads for liquor don’t help keep you off the bottle. And sure, you had a tough childhood, growing up in a time when people were building roads and suburbs all over the place with no thought for how that architecture might work in an era of constrained oil supply and high prices.

But nobody made you live 50 miles away from your work, or put the kids in activities scattered all over town, or buy that inefficient vehicle. It’s your problem now. Nobody else’s. Deep down, you know that’s true.

Who’s in control here? You, or the gasoline? You, or society? You are not powerless over your addiction. You make a choice every time you buy a car, get behind the wheel, get on a plane, and pick a place to live or work. You make a choice every time you vote for or against roads, buses and trains.

Acknowledge the cost of your addiction

Gasoline prices will never fall back under $3, because the cost of new oil from activities like hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and tar sands production is so high.

Americans spent $434 billion last year on imported oil. That’s $1.2 billion dollars a day.

In addition, you’re spending somewhere between $13 billion and $143 billion a year in military costs to protect U.S. oil interests in the Persian Gulf, alone. You spend yet more to protect them in Africa, South America and anywhere else there is oil.

There are health costs: Many of your children have asthma because of pollution from cars and coal-fired power plants. Social costs. Climate change costs. Environmental destruction costs, not from just well blowouts, but from habitat loss and many other things. All kinds of hidden costs. A rough back-of-the-napkin analysis I did in 2007 found that the true cost of your oil could approach be in the range of $12.5 trillion a year (it would be even higher today). That’s nearly equivalent to America’s gross domestic product (GDP), so it’s probably an overestimate.

Due to a lack of reliable data, it’s almost impossible to know the right number. But that doesn’t even matter. It’s huge. It’s like spending every dollar you make on drink.

That is part of the reason why you’ve got money troubles. A big part. You will never get your balance sheet straightened out until you stop using oil.

Stop denying it

Fracking has brought a temporary new bump in U.S. oil and gas production, but it’s already showing signs of slowing down. Tar sands aren’t a solution either; they’re the oil junkie’s last fix.

These marginal sources of oil don’t cure your addiction; they extend it.

You are the world’s biggest oil junkie, by far. Nobody else consumes roughly one-fifth of the planet’s oil supply. Increasing your domestic supply does not curb your consumption. You can make a big show of becoming “energy independent” some day, on a net British thermal unit (BTU) basis, by exporting more coal, gasoline and diesel, but that isn’t fooling anybody. You’re still the largest oil consumer.

Forget about miracle energy cures. They are fantasies, the hallucinations of an addict in withdrawal. They aren’t real. The only real solutions are difficult and require some sacrifice.

Stop kidding yourself that global warming isn’t happening or that isn’t happening because of your consumption of fossil fuels. You have been the main contributor of carbon dioxide emissions for decades. You have released carbon that took nature many millions of years to sequester, and pumped it into the atmosphere in about 150 years. Don’t even try to pretend that hasn’t affected the climate.

Get off the sauce

You can’t actually stop using oil. It is embedded in everything you buy, everything you use, and everything you eat. If you tried to go cold-turkey, everything would grind to an immediate halt. Your fear of that — eating shoe leather in the dark — is what keeps you in denial. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

You can do your part.

You can choose modes of transportation that use less — or no — oil. You can drive EVs that charge up with your own rooftop solar arrays. You can get around on bicycles and use public transportation. You can carpool. You can take a train and build new rail systems, like California’s high-speed rail. (But no, you can’t bet on Elon Musk’s “Hyperloop,” because no one is planning to build it.) You can move to a place that will let you walk to work.

Make amends to those you have harmed

Your addiction has caused a great deal of harm and suffering, not just at home, but in other countries.

You’re a big part of the reason why rising sea levels threaten to swamp populations from the Marshall Islands to Miami.

Your addiction has led to wars that have claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. It has fomented the terrorism that has made surveillance and pat-downs part of your everyday experience. It has caused the destruction of vast areas of boreal forest in Alberta, and the contamination of lands and waters in dozens of countries around the world. It has probably contributed to habitat loss and species extinction. It has contaminated the air that you and everyone you know breathes.

You have many people, places and species to make amends with. There’s no time like the present to get started.

Make a commitment and take responsibility

It’s time for you to take responsibility for your oil addiction and do something about it, instead of just hoping that you can continue to be a high-functioning addict.

Saudi Arabia, the world’s No. 1 or No. 2 oil producer depending on the year, which enjoys the cheapest domestic oil on the planet, is building a $22 billion metro to cut its oil use. You are the world’s largest oil importer (although you’re about to be the second largest, after China), and the cost of producing your oil is among the highest in the world. Should you not do at least as much as Saudi Arabia to curb your addiction?

You need to do much more than you have done to get your life under control again. You need to think about how to get 240 million cars and light trucks off the road, permanently. Merely cutting back on your use a little through a few more efficient vehicles each year isn’t enough. You need to make some big commitments, and give up on some cherished dreams and beliefs. It’s going to take real courage to look yourself in the mirror and make those changes, but you really don’t have a choice. You’re either going to get a grip, or your addiction is going to kill you.

The good news is: If you resolve to do something about it, you can recover from your addiction, bit by bit, year by year. As you do, you’ll discover a better you inside: One that’s happier, healthier, able to help others cure their addictions, and able to start repairing the damage you’ve done. But you have to commit to it. Your days of inaction, denial and blaming others have to stop.

You can do this, America. Let’s start on the long road to recovery, individually and collectively. Starting now.

Thanks to Robert Rapier for a little inspiration.

smart planet

14 Comments on "Might as well face it, you’re addicted to oil"

  1. Plantagenet on Sun, 25th Aug 2013 2:40 pm 

    Curious that George bush told Americans they were addicted to fossil fuels and have to get off it while Obama promises America that we’ve got a 100yesr supply of energy and the USA will soon be energy independent so there’s nothing to worry about. Is Obama really that much stupider than bush?

  2. rollin on Sun, 25th Aug 2013 2:51 pm 

    Chris has some very interesting and thought provoking writings out there. I recommend you read some of his other articles, he usually isn’t this preachy, tries to lay out the facts.

    On the other hand, I disagree with his conclusions about passenger rail. Passenger rail and especially high speed passenger rail are no more efficient than cars are airplanes, actually less so. With the new high efficiency aircraft coming on line, passenger trains are far less efficient. Cars too are capable of being more efficient than passenger trains and are headed that way.

    Still, I recommend the transition to passenger rail and more aircraft transportation. Why? Because of a two-fold effect. It will allow the destruction of major highways, thus saving huge amounts on infrastructure and it will discourage rampant travel due to the cost and inconvenience. So, with less infrastructure and less travel, we use a lot less fuel. A third effect will occur, forced higher ridership on trains, as roads disappear, will make them more efficient. If we are really smart we will convert major passenger and freight lines to electric power thus allowing wind and solar to power them and using even less liquid fuel.

  3. DC on Sun, 25th Aug 2013 5:01 pm 

    Q/But nobody made you live 50 miles away from your work, or put the kids in activities scattered all over town, or buy that inefficient vehicle. It’s your problem now. Nobody else’s. Deep down, you know that’s true.

    This is just flat out wrong-a lie if you will. In fact, someone else DID make these decisions for all us, in many cases, decades before we were even born. Large corporations and govts mandated the construction of in-efficent PRIVATE gas-burners, and provided massive subsidies both direct and indirect to affect there construction. Then , govts, in their role, mandated urban sprawl and did absolutely nothing to contain it. Once govts mandated the current living arrangement that corporations dictated, govt directed all its efforts to accommodating more sprawl and providing more subsidies to private corporations.

    But they went even further. Both corporations AND govts worked hand in glove to ensure no alternative arrangements to car-sprawl would, or even could, exist. The idea that citizens ‘chose’ our shop drive consume society is simply not supported by the facts.

    Like his fictional suburban amerikan slob, its only true in a trivial sense that its *his* choice to live 50 miles away from nothing. He choices in reality, are limited to whether he wants to live 45 miles away from nothing, or 50. Now the authors central assumption is his fat amerikan slob actually likes this arrangement. This MAY be true in a great many cases, at least in the sense the suburban slob does not perceive the current arrangement as problematic. Constant advertising and propaganda has convinced everywhere car-dependant sprawl is the ideal way of life. Just because people have come to accept this premise w/o question, and have been given literally no other alternative to it, hardly qualifies it as an ‘addiction’.

    Are you ‘addicted’ to food? I am, but for a lot of us, unhealthy industrial pseudo food constitutes the bulk of the supply. Am I addicted to crappy food then? No, I avoid it as much as possible-but the current arrangement, dictated again, by mega-corporations, and not us as individuals, is in charge-not me. So it is with cars and oil.

    He never once mentions corporations role in all this-not once. Rather its the ‘little peoples’ fault. Put another way, the choice to NOT use oil and cars, is simply not available in the corporate controlled marketplace. Its been excised from the market if you will. At least not in North America.

  4. bobinget on Sun, 25th Aug 2013 5:35 pm 

    True addicts are accustomed to being scolded.
    They never benefit from being told throwing away their future, hurting loved ones, is suicidal behavior.

    One way to ‘help’ addicts is raising the price of their addiction. It’s true. Guess what, a person consumes less gasoline, in this case, when that cost is higher.

    (Now that cigarettes are over five bucks a pack fewer people smoke then when they were .25 cents).

    Druggies can often manage their habits if offered a substitute drug that is supposed to be less harmful but in fact is only legal. WE are seeing this in transportation fuels.. Ethanol, for example.
    We keep ethanol around so that we will feel less guilty.
    Guilt being a chief adversary of any destructive habit.

    Here’s the good news, Its Working! Maybe it’s the net maybe it’s high insurance costs, maybe it’s peer pressure, never mind, kids are not driving as we did.

  5. actioncjackson on Sun, 25th Aug 2013 6:01 pm 

    This article reads like it was written by a juvenile. It’s provocative, but ironically, it offers little more than pointing fingers and blaming the US for the world’s problems (even though granted it’s largely guilty.) He needs to take some of his own medicine and point a finger at himself and his carbon dependencies, including using computers and the internet to write whiny articles like this one. The collapse is coming and no amount of conservation or alternate technologies is going to prevent that. The US will be hurt worse than probably anyone else when this happens.

  6. Steve on Sun, 25th Aug 2013 7:37 pm 

    What’s the fossil fuel requirement for an EV and its charging infrastructure? A high-speed rail system? Maintenance and eventual replacement of the above? Who in the lower 95% of wage earners in the U.S. can afford the cost premiums of the above? Perhaps our 40 million SNAP card users will qualify for ZAP cards to charge their pre-owned Teslas?

  7. Luke on Sun, 25th Aug 2013 8:04 pm 

    First we should start banning the advertisements of Big Automative and Big Oil in the media seducing people to buy “smart” cars and “cleaner” gasoline. No matter either Bush or Obama are in charge, those Bigs rule our daily lives. Flesh is weak, so don’t account on Jack and Carol to change their lives as long as short term thinking is dominating our society.

  8. Eams on Sun, 25th Aug 2013 9:09 pm 

    Makes some valid points, but doesn’t even try to acknowledge the MNC’s who advertise, lobby and actively steer U.S. gov’t policy to perpetuate this addiction. Maybe if the American public wasn’t lied to everyday about reserve forecasts and the viability of alternatives, things might be a tad different.

    This article will be re-written verbatim anyway in 10 years , with China replacing America as the main culprit.

    The entire human race is hopelessly addicted to oil; not just us less-than-humble ‘Mericans

  9. BillT on Mon, 26th Aug 2013 1:14 am 

    Until ‘for profit’ capitalism ends, nothing will change…

  10. Keith_McClary on Mon, 26th Aug 2013 2:31 am 

    So we shouldn’t pay any attention to anyone on the internet?

  11. actioncjackson on Mon, 26th Aug 2013 5:13 am 

    Not saying that at all, you guys are great. I just wanted to point (no pun intended) out the irony in the article.

  12. dashster on Mon, 26th Aug 2013 11:17 am 

    The phrase is wrong. If people are addicted to something it is driving cars (often large) frequently (often great distances each day).

    The only good thing about that behavior is that Americans have the most slop in the system. When oil supply starts to go down they can stop commuting to work by car, freeing up a lot of oil. And by then they will come to the realization that business can’t continue as usual and begin working on solutions. In a few decades they will even realize that population growth is not such a good thing.

  13. dashster on Mon, 26th Aug 2013 12:45 pm 

    ” If we are really smart we will convert major passenger and freight lines to electric power thus allowing wind and solar to power them and using even less liquid fuel.”

    I think if we were really smart we would have done that starting in 1971. At some point I think everyone will conclude that most transportation needs to be based on electricity.

  14. dashster on Mon, 26th Aug 2013 12:48 pm 

    ” Maybe it’s the net maybe it’s high insurance costs, maybe it’s peer pressure, never mind, kids are not driving as we did.”

    I think they might be poorer. I believe the American standard of living could be in reverse. And/or housing costs have soared from overpopulation. I believe the house in the suburbs is much more out of reach these days.

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