Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Ends and Means

In late March, two members of the Congressional Peak Oil Caucus, Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) and Tom Udall (D-UT) called a press conference to announce the release of a previously embargoed General Accounting Office report which reveals that the U.S. is "particularly vulnerable" to disruptions in its 22-million-barrel-per-day oil habit due to the imminent peak and anticipated decline in world oil production, and that the U.S. government is "unprepared" to deal with the consequences of these supply breakdowns, brought on either by production shortfalls or political conflict.

Their press conference announcement (two pages, pdf) provides a thumbnail of the GAO document and a link to the full report.

"This GAO peak oil report is a clarion call for leadership at the highest level of our country to avert an energy crisis unlike any the world has ever before experienced," Bartlett said, adding that this supply crisis "could happen at any time."

Udall listed the steps Washington needs to take to deal with the inevitable supply crunch, including "a concerted focus on conservation, higher fuel efficiency standards, energy saving buildings and appliances, (and) revival of passenger and freight rail..."

With the price of crude oil once again topping $70 a barrel, the age of cheap gasoline is already history, and the coming supply crisis a certainty rather than a possibility. The GAO report points out:

*OPEC countries hold most of the world's oil reserves, but the extent of those reserves has not been verified by independent auditors, and is therefore an unknown and unknowable quantity.

*Four countries -- Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, and Venezuela, hold an estimated one-third of world oil reserves. All four are either politically unstable, strongly anti-American, or both.

I'm surprised that Al Gore, who now has to be considered an undeclared presidential candidate, has not picked up this issue and married it to his global warming crusade, since the solutions to the coming petroleum supply disaster are also the solutions to the climate crisis.

I have no doubt that Americans will sooner or later do the right thing in dealing with global warming, just as an obese person in a time of famine is bound to do. Our way of life and our economic regime for the past six decades, dominated by the perpetual horizontal expansion of cities with replicated suburbs spreading farther and farther from the core, and the proliferation of automobiles to negotiate these freeway-linked megalopolises, is rapidly passing away. Whether our transition to a new, high-density urban way of life is relatively easy or catastrophically hard depends on the quality of the leadership we choose to take us there.

It will take more than just electing a president who doesn't have his head in an inappropriate place. Strong, determined, and in some ways implacable and puritanical state and local leadership will be required as well.

Because in the days to come, as the prophet said, Americans will burn gasoline and natural gas "by measure, and with astonishment."

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