Wednesday, January 23, 2008

$100/bbl is GREAT!

My brother-in-law Joseph is an unabashed optimist. Start describing the latest financial meltdown, environmental catastrophe or political scandal and he'll retort with something wonderful he's found on the Internet that day. He'll say something like "laser light hard disk technology will eventually enable us to store 10 terabits per square inch. Isn't that amazing?!" It won't necessarily be on-point, but it will make his point: a lot of life is where you look, how you look at it, and that there has never before been such a wondrous time to be alive. And, once again, technology from human ingenuity will save the day.

Although I've always been a bit of a pessimist, I'm starting to come around to Joe's way of thinking, especially when it comes to the Peak Oil doomsday scenarios that abound on the 'net. It's interesting to me that many of the doomsayers are also marketing products and services to address the problem. features a 'preparedness store' for instance. It's all strangely reminiscent of the Y2K phenomenon, one that swept me into a funk for a year and half prior to that non-event. (As a matter of fact, I pulled a couple tablespoons of sugar this morning out of the 20lb HDPE container I bought... 8 1/2 years ago.)

One of the most balanced and readable commentators on energy issues that I've discovered thus far is Vaclav Smil. As I learn more about biofuels generally and biodiesel in particular, it has become apparent, at least to me, that there is not a singular solution to the problem of petroleum substitutes. We are going to have to have a diversity of resources lined up to make the transition from so-called 'fossil fuels' to whatever's next. And the fact that I think Smil could be characterized as 'down' on biofuels provides me with a reality-check on this project.

But, be that as it may, again and again over the past 30-plus years since the OPEC embargo of the US, any momentum for alternatives to petroleum has been hampered by the return of cheap oil. So in that sense the best thing for biofuels generally, and local B100 in particular, is a sustained run of 'outrageously' expensive oil. The fact that oil remains nearer $100/bbl than $20/bbl keeps it on everyone's radar, and makes it easier to engage allies (such as local legislators and educational institutions) who may otherwise be too deeply immersed in other pressing issues to pay much attention. Smil says "Steeply rising oil prices would not lead to unchecked bidding for the remaining oil but would accelerate a shift to other energy sources." [1] I'm sure Joe would agree with that.

[1] Vaclav Smil, Peak Oil: A Catastrophist Cult and Complex Realities


unrepentant said...

Bill agrees with me!

The unrepentant optimist

James said...

If it wasn't for the peak oilers I may not have become interested in biofuels and sustainability. Before I ran across some good end of the world peak oil sites I'd never really even thought about biofuels. I know I had heard of biodiesel before that but it never really registered. So anyway, the scare tactics had me concerned for a minute there and woke me up to the fact that there is a lot going on with biofuels and sustainability and that slowly things are changing for the better.
It's probably been about 4 years since I ran across that first peak oil site and have since sold our two gasoline cars and now have two VW TDIs that we run on bio as much as possible.