What role does energy play in your life? What role does oil play in the lives of those around the world? If you have free time today, wander over to the government publications in the library. In the military documents section you can find Strategic Assessment 1999, prepared by the National Defense University Institute for Strategic Studies. Chapter three is entitled “Energy and Resources: Ample or Scarce?” It is quite an enlightening read – enough to make one pause.
It starts: “Some specific energy and resource problems could exacerbate regional political tensions, potentially causing military conflicts in key areas, such as the Persian Gulf.”
Hmmm. Not really news to anyone. Then: “U.S. forces might be used to ensure adequate supplies for western democracies.”
Kenneth S. Deffeyes, former Shell Oil research scientist and Princeton University professor just released his new book, Hubbert’s Peak: The Impending World Oil Shortage. The peak refers to the coming peak in world oil production. What M. King Hubbert is famous for is the modeling of the rise and fall of oil production. In 1956 he predicted United States oil production would peak in 1971. It turned out to peak in 1970, and has been falling ever since. No exploration has helped; no Alaskan oil has reversed the trend. It is a matter of statistics and the way that oil leaves the ground. It tends to follow a bell-shaped curve, and after a while you just can’t pump it any faster.
Deffeyes has applied a similar analysis to world oil, and has figured that we will not run out anytime soon, quite the contrary. But, it is extremely probable that world oil production will peak within the next ten years and then begin to fall, to never rise again. He gives 2008 as his late figure. British Petroleum recently announced that BP now stands for Beyond Petroleum. Do not doubt that they know what is going on. What does this mean though?
This means that we must rethink our approach to fixing the resource problem. In the past we have searched for more supplies, but this cannot work indefinitely. We must now look for ways to do more with what we have, and we must realize that without changing our habits, scarcity will be something we will have to live with.
As an example, take the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It will almost definitely be drilled for oil – if not sooner, then later – as other supplies fall off. But it would be wise to hold off while better options, such as increasing efficiency, are still available. According to the Rocky Mountain Institute, a leading energy resources think tank, if we decreased the average fuel use of American passenger cars by four miles per gallon, we would save more fuel per day than could physically flow down the pipeline.
We must realistically look at efficiency options. Energy issues are real and not going away any time soon. Read Deffeyes’ book. Go to www.rmi.org and check out the newest info on ultra-efficient hybrid electric and fuel cell cars. Tell your parents to ditch the Expedition and get a hybrid. Switch to energy-sipping, compact fluorescent light bulbs. Carpool down to the farmer’s market with friends and shop for local fresh produce to eliminate hundreds of miles of trucking. Talk to your friends about all of these things.
President Bush said recently that it is our patriotic duty to shop. This is only partially true. It is our patriotic duty to shop for efficient products that will give us the same benefits and productivity while using fewer resources. Efficiency, or doing more with less, is the key to a stable and productive world, and we must not underestimate the instability that comes when resources become scarce. We must not underestimate the negative effects of our energy-hungry ways.
Adam Brandt is a senior environmental studies major.