Lest you think that a "hard crash" scenario is completely unthinkable, chew on this: there are at least three vital chokepoints in the vast oil pumping, processing, shipping, refining, and transportation industry. These are: the Abqaiq processing plant, the Ras Tanura terminal in Saudi Arabia, and the narrow oil shipping sea lane Strait of Hormuz . If one or several of these were to shut down from an act of God or man, up to 18% of global supply could be interrupted, overnight.
If any one of these things happened, or a number of smaller things, we could wake up to find that oil is $400 a barrel (that estimate has no data behind it at all, btw). Trucks couldn't run. Grocery stores would be empty, in some places, within days. The economy would shut down almost completely.
Or we could dodge all these bullets, the system could prove resilient, our leaders could become enlightened. We could abandon our "American lifestyle is non-negotiable" approach to energy and get realistic. We might see a graceful transition to a lower-energy future. It might take years to see the effects of peak oil.
Or not. Oil could resume it's steady climb, marching past it's previous highs of $140 to achieve new records, year after year. We might see a slow, grinding, descent into poverty and despair. We might see food riots and the Greatest Depression. I just don't know.
So I don't know what will happen, but I think it's sensible to prepare for emergencies and start the transition to a more sustainable lifestyle. In addition to just the common sense of being prepared, I believe in the "Theory of Anyway" promoted by Sharon Astyk and others - the idea that many of the things we are doing to prepare for peak oil are things that we should do even if peak oil didn't exist - because we want to help the environment, because we want to achieve financial independence, we want better tasting and more nutritious food, and we want to leave our son a better world.
Because my sense of urgency is increasingly driven by my worry about the environment. Every day, species and habitats are disappearing forever. Every week, scientists unveil a new ecological danger - like the brown cloud floating over Asia, threatening food harvests, or the ocean acidifying, or the permafrost thawing. Every month, the state of the planet gets a little bit worse and the planet's temperature rises.
No matter how hard environmentalists work, how many programs we implement, we're fighting the tide, because the dominant paradigm remains the same. And while Nature may be resilient, she can't bring back the beauty of elephants or gorillas, once they become extinct.
So at the same time that I fear peak oil's effect on humanity, I also hope that it will soon force us to reduce our consumption, our energy use, our destruction of the planetary biosphere. It seems that nothing else, besides the current financial crisis, will.
On a personal note, I have posted my Peak Oil Goals 2009 in a prominent place in our kitchen, along with my Riot 4 Austerity envelopes for tracking expenses. Here's a picture:
You can see I decorated my goals with smiley faces, and my Riot envelopes with pictures of endangered animals (for motivation). If you are curious, my six strategies for peak oil are:
- Reduce dependence on electricity
- Reduce dependence on gasoline
- Store 6 months of food (I need to take a recent inventory - not sure what I've got!)
- Grow our own fruits, vegetables, and herbs
- Make our own food (yogurt, cheese, bread, etc.)
- Reduce dependence on formal economy
What are your goals and strategies? Do you have a sense of urgency?