when there’s no more oil

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that the Earth’s oil reserves are not limitless remains an indisputable fact. i have seen many forecasts for when the fields will reach a critical mass whereby, effectively, we will have to stop using oil to run our engines and heat our homes and usually this date falls within my expected life-span. however, few people are seriously worried (ok, we all think about, but on a daily basis? i think not.) about the inevitability of this problem because already possible alternatives are in the works and appear to be making headway.
I wonder about another problem that will raise its snarling head when that day, far off in the future, arrives. as far as i understand, and i’m not a chemist or whatever else you would have to be to have an authoritative voice in this matter, almost all of the synthetics humankinds as invented thus far are oil based – plastics, acrylics, nylon, etc. apparently, a very minimal amount of oil is used in this products, so compared to the astronomical consumption of the oil reserves by heating, electricity and transportation, they negligibly contribute to the problem. however, when oil reserves truly reach “the bottom of the well” what will we do? i presume that the governments would wisely begin to stockpile the resources left for the manufacture of medications, weaponry, pesticides and other essentials. Will we be forced to return to manufacturing with natural products? and if we are, where will these resources come from and how much will they cost? forseeably, the price of all goods would skyrocket.
i remember reading for an intro anthropology course about the change-over from ceramic, metal and wood to plastic in Nigerian villages. Suddenly, items that had been prized heirlooms that had to be handled with care were easily replaceable. though there is a part of me that would relish an unequivocal end to consumer culture, i recognize that if this doomsday theory has any grain of truth and i live to see it, unhappy i will be.
So, here’s my question. Why isn’t this ever mentioned in the news-magazine articles that discuss the oil-supply? are we really that fixated on our cars or am i totally wrong and there are other synthetic materials available to replace the plastics that seem ubiquitous in our everyday lives?

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4 thoughts on “when there’s no more oil

  1. Stockpiling medications, weaponry, pesticides? Personally, I think that an imposed dearth in all three might actually be beneficial to us. Yes, oil reserves are running out, as are plastics… but I mean, what specifically is the problem… did we not have ways of heating our homes before oil? Hydro-electric power is still doing fine, as is solar and aeolian power. I think that although research into the energy crisis is justified, I think that alternative modes of power are FAR mroe important and that far too little research has been dedicated to these.

    Not to mention, conceptually, I think that the only way consumerist culture can begin to end and/or be conquered, is when people begin realizing that human power is LIMITED and that there are certain things that CANNOT be controlled or bought or cured, etc… and unfortunately, I think that that realization is going to be really painful, and can only happen after a huge amount of pain, suffering and being confronted with sheer seeming meaninglessness.

    Personally, I think that when there’s no more oil, we’ll adapt, somehow. Go back to wood heating? coal? maybe… or maybe we’ll come up with something completely new. Not to mention that nuclear power is still very alive and thriving, although dangerous, it is efficient and effective. Myself, I place my faith in the one characteristic that can be ascribed to humanity : adaptibility. There is no other creature in the world that can adapt as we do, and cover the planet, making our lives as comfortable as possible in most places, in this way. Not to mention the fact that we’re able to exist in such societies (which would normally digust us and move us to suicide in order to save our own will to ideals and our will to the fact that there’s something in us that’s higher) adapting our minds and hearts so that they can fulfill their needs (i.e. being able at all to practice religion, philosophy and romantic (what Rousseau would call Moral) love).

    I think the riotous fears about the dearth of oil end up being premised and predicated on an assumption of absolute dependence, and a fear of confronting our own natures outside of this dependence.

  2. I think you’re confusing 2 problems. Then problem you’re referring to is “peak oil”. Not hitting the bottom of the barrel. The second largest oil reserve of the world has only recently been discovered. It’s in the arctic ocean around Norway. There was a massive oil refinery built in Spain for 3 years that was floated out to it and that started production only a few years ago.

    The problem with oil is no so much the quantity as the price. Whereas our needs keep growing immensely (and China gearing up more and more is not boding well for the end of this anytime soon), the new reserves and refinement capibilities don’t grow nearly as fast. Thus we end up with a supply and demand problem, causing the price to rise and rise.

    Peak oil is when we won’t be able to find any decently sized new oil reserve. Then prices will start skyrocketing making gas and oil-based heating all but unafforable. For products that use minimal amounts (like plastics, pesticides and medication) the price will go up a little but not as drasticly as others.

    So overall, we won’t be so much running out of oil as having our current market system put the available oil out of our reach.

  3. ok. your comments are nice, appreciated, thoughtful and illuminating. i didn't know that about the oil field off norway. bryan and i had a big discussion about this in person yesterday, so i feel i already addressed his comment.

    my question, though, was about why this problem is never brought up…
    when was the last time you read an article about "when oil prices reach a point whereby we [the middle class] will not longer be able to use it?" am i the only person who sees THIS problem is the more mind-boggling one? a change in the entire structure of society rather than our method of heating?

  4. Answer #1: the price rise has already started. When I began driving to work, 3 summers ago, the average price for a litre of gas was about 65 cents. Last summer, you were lucky if it went below 95 cents. This is a 50% increase in two years, far above inflation rates.

    Furthermore, because so much of the goods we use are shipped from everywhere around the world (western Canada, the US, overseas…), we are impacted by the increased cost of shipping for them. It’s already begun happening. When I was working in accounts payable last summer, almost all our shippers increased their prices. When costs for the company increase, these cost increases are passed on to the consumer. So prices for just about everything shipped are going to go up, to one extent or another.

    Answer #2: This is not an all-or-nothing problem, but a gradual one. It’s not that one day, there’s just not going to be any more oil. It’s that, as the reserves start dwindling, oil prices will get higher and higher. At one point, people are going to want alternatives, because the oil prices are just too high. Instead of SUVs, they’ll start looking at more fuel-efficient cars, hybrid cars, or perhaps even alternatives to cars altogether. Instead of heating with oil, they’ll demand heading by hydro-electric, solar, wind, nuclear, etc.

    I think long before we’ve hit “the bottom of the barrel,” as it were, the alternatives will be put into place, because oil will be too damned expensive. It’s already started, and I suspect the trend will increase over the next few decades.

    — Julie

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