Friday, August 28, 2009

Why Your World...is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller


I decided to dive right back into reading about important issues related to energy, ecology, social maintenance pretty quickly after finishing school (image from flickr). I finished Jeff Rubin's "Why Your World is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller" a few months ago and quite frankly have not been motivated to plop in front of the computer and compose anything "thoughtful" for a while. It's been mostly 140 character snippets via twitter...maybe indicating I need to slow down.

With the recent vacuous and "don't-worry-it'll-be-OK-stick-your-head-in-the-sand-and-keep-buying-stuff" Op-Ed piece by Michael Lynch in the NYTimes 'Peak Oil' Is a Waste of Energy, and the resulting discussion with classmates more intelligent than me at BGI, I felt it was time to...well...write something.

The book was good.

There it's done. Well, maybe there's a little more to it. The fact that Mr. Rubin was the Chief Strategist/Economist for the CIBC World Markets for a number of years, has correctly predicted some of the most recent oil price spikes, has provided insightful analysis on the influence (cause) of recessions related to oil price spikes, and does not come at this from an "extremist" point certainly lends credibility to the work. I found the writing approachable and based on factual analysis inasmuch as I may confirm (since I am NOT a geologist). What I'm getting at here is that my sense is people of nearly any political/ideological background would get something useful from reading it. Here are the points I highlighted as I read:
  • "Peak water will hasten peak oil" (I'm not going to get into peak water) p. 76
  • "Long after triple-digit oil prices render the internal combustion engine...obsolete, oil will still have value as a petrochemical feedstock." p.77
  • "What we need to do is to impose a carbon cost on emitters at home, then impose the same standards on imports." p.169. This is interesting, though politically I am not sure how it'll be done and how you'd track the CO2 (discussion for another day).
  • Local everything will become the norm. Chilean Sea Bass will be more expensive and some of the cheap food coming from far away will not be so cheap anymore. Chapter 8.
  • Where is the food of the future going to come from? Your own backyard." p. 221
  • "Peak oil may give us peak food." p. 225 (dependence on petro-chemical fertilizers)
  • JIT & Lean manufacturing operations (all the rage) dependent on global supply chains that are themselves dependent upon cheap transportation fuels will be dramatically affected. (That reminds me we did not talk about that in our Operations class in school)
  • Travel now. "...for most airlines in the world today it [rising fuel pricing] will be a losing battle to stay abreast of soaring fuel costs even if they ultimately try to pass them on to customers ." p.232
Most of this seems pretty intuitive to me; the world's finite, and so are the resources contained therein. Let's be a little smarter about how we use them.
The following excerpt seems fitting for a post about peak oil it appeared in a guest post by Richard Heinberg a Senior Fellow of the Post Carbon Institute and author of five books on resource depletion and societal responses to the energy problem. He can be found on the web at http://www.richardheinberg.com/ and www.postcarbon.org.
If we step back and look at the industrial period from a broad historical perspective that is informed by an appreciation of ecological limits, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that we are today living at the end of a relatively brief pulse—a 200-year rapid expansionary phase enabled by a temporary energy subsidy (in the form of cheap fossil fuels) that will inevitably be followed by an even more rapid and dramatic contraction as those fuels deplete.
On the lighter side, here's a funny and insightful blog post responding to Mr. Lynch's NYTimes piece, http://www.manbunnymatrix.net/.

Many thanks to Stanley, Ari, and Zach, some BGI peeps for their insights, guidance, and humor.

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