The world is running on empty, warns petroleum geologist Deffeyes (Hubbert’s Peak, 2001), and yet Humvees continue to roll down the assembly lines, roads to be built, and economic models to be churned out.
Hubbert’s Peak refers not to an oil-implicated place along the lines of Kuwait or Teapot Dome, but to a statistical concept hatched in the 1950s by another geologist, M. King Hubbert: it posits that world oil production over time will follow the classic bell curve, the apex of which took place in the past. Tinkering with Hubbert’s math just a little, Deffeyes projects that the end of 2005 will see total oil production at 2.013 trillion barrels, adding, “Wherever the peak, the view is not good.” He adds, provocatively, that Thanksgiving of that year ought to be designated World Oil Peak Day and that we use the occasion to give thanks to the years 1901 to 2004, when oil was abundant and cheap. Stopgap measures will not help, he offers: drilling the five billion barrels locked up in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, as the Bush administration has been thirsting to do for years, will only “postpone the world decline for two or three months.” What, then, is to be done? Well, Deffeyes suggests, we can always try to capitalize by buying into an oil royalty trust. More to the point, governments can develop coal and nuclear energy generators in the short term, polluting and potentially hazardous though they may be, while looking for longer-term solutions with a sense of urgency behind them. And ordinary consumers can learn to turn off lights, eat foods that don’t require tons of pesticides and shipping far distances out of season, and stop buying gas-guzzlers—or, as Deffeyes growls, departing from his friendly college-lecture style, “find some other way of publicizing your testosterone.”
A timely, compelling argument that should make owners of hybrid cars just a little bit happier, and everyone else very glum indeed.