Friday, June 11, 2004

The end of oil

Yesterday I talked about the conspiracy-minded former cop Michael Ruppert, whose site has pushed the "peak oil" theory for some time now. Basically, this theory says that we entered Iraq because we are running out of the black-n-slimy stuff, and Bush hoped to commandeer as much of the dwindling supply as possible.

I've long hesitated to accept this weltanschauung. Back in 1973, headlines proclaimed that we were running out of oil -- Russia would soon be importing, the spigots in Arabia would run dry, and chunks of sky would crater our backyards. Many now believe that these dire projections were politically-inspired fabrications. Sheik Yamani, then the Saudi oil minister (and viewed as something of a "Darth Vader" figure throughout the 1970s) said in 2001: "I am 100 per cent sure that the Americans were behind the increase in the price of oil. The oil companies were in real trouble at that time, they had borrowed a lot of money and they needed a high oil price to save them."

We can (and should) debate the past incessantly, but what really counts is the future. The man with the most functional crystal ball seems to be Paul Roberts, author of The End of Oil: On the Edge of a Perilous New World.

His book strikes a sensible common ground between the ultra-pessimists and those of an annoyingly sunny "just-trust-the-market" disposition. His conclusion: We are in the midst of a epic transition, but change won't occur quickly enough unless government and industry both take a more proactive stance. Oil is running out. The easy-to-pick fruit is almost all gone; now we are going to have to reach further. New technologies may make the hard-to-get oil accessible, but the stuff will be a lot more expensive. Hydrogen holds promise, but serious problems exist. (I would argue that the amount of money tossed at the Iraq war could well have resolved those problems.)

If you want an engrossing and comprehensible lesson in how the "awl bidness" (as they say in W's home state) works, hie thee to your local bookstore or library and check out Roberts.

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