Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

That river in Egypt is mighty deep

In the last episode of our Hinges of History Review, I discussed the magical cloak of invisibility over the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Meanwhile, I've been nibbling at the edges of another Great Denial, known as peak oil. This is the most important geopolitical fact of our age, far more important in the context of international power struggles, war and peace, than global warming, infectious disease, water supplies, deforestation, mass extinction, human rights, you name it. Yes, you may care more about some of those other little problems, but governments, especially the ones that wield powerful militaries, do not.

Petroleum is what flows through the veins of our industrial civilization. It's obvious to you when you drive your car or heat your house, but the fact is that the food you eat, the clothes you wear, the house itself, are all ultimately made of petroleum. Not just transportation, but agriculture, manufacturing, even communication, are all fueled by petroleum. It's everything we do. It's how we live.

Everybody knows there is a finite amount of it in the earth, and everybody agrees that at some point, the effort to extract it will face diminishing returns, and the supply will decline. It's not that it will all suddenly be gone; it's that the investment needed to find and pull out what's left will be steadily more and more per barrel, the price will inevitably go up and up, and the world will have to do with less and less. The experts disagree about when this will happen. Specifically, the range of predicted dates for peak oil is from 2006 to 2030. Not a typo -- many perfectly sane, highly credible, well informed people think it has already happened. In fact, the range is narrowing and right now, about the latest anyone is really hoping for is 2017.

Now, have you heard any politician, of either party, at any level, even mention this? The candidates for president talk about war in Iraq; possible war against Iran; global warming; the long-term future of the economy including Medicare, Social Security, and the federal debt; but none of this has anything to do with peak oil, a phenomenon which does not even exist. Republicans, in fact, are still telling the people that we can eliminate our dependence on foreign sources of petroleum by drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and eliminating all those pointyheaded liberal environmentalist restrictions on drilling off the coast of Florida. If you thought the Weapons of Mass Destruction™ and the Saddam-al Qaeda connection were egregious lies, why aren't you out in the street demonstrating about that one? Why do you think they told those other lies in the first place? It's because it is illegal to mention the real reason the U.S. invaded Iraq.

Michael Klare in The Nation offers a brief primer on the subject, but he has surprisingly little to say about the consequences. I have more to say, but that's for the next installment.

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