Peak oil—ignored, but important

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl

President and Vice President

Illinois Renewable Energy Association

With global economic decline, peak oil no longer attracts the attention it once did. But peak oil advocates are quick to remind us that declining supplies will be followed by more global economic decline and wars to obtain dwindling energy supplies

Nov. 9, the Guardian claimed two employees of the International Energy Agency revealed that pressure from the United States forced the agency to delay disclosing their dismal forecast of declines in global oil supplies. In 2005, the agency projected that by 2020, global oil production would peak at 120 million barrels per day. By 2009, the estimate was lowered to 105 million barrels per day. In 2009, officials of Conoco Phillips and Hess Corp. also warned of declining global oil supplies. A lower forecast of 95 million barrels per day came from the CEO of Total, SA. Given global consumption of 84 mb/day, the margin for safety is slim.

Of course, oil optimists such as Daniel Yergin and Michael Lynch provide rebuttals to peak oil concerns.

Such conflicting views on peaking supplies tend to be brushed aside by a public distracted by declining housing values, job opportunities and wages, rising costs of living and deep cuts in social services. The conflicting views also tend to immobilize citizens and their local leaders, who delay taking constructive action to reduce their dependence on imported oil and to use energy more efficiently.

For some, the answer is to increase all energy supplies, whether coal, nuclear, oil, natural gas, biofuels or forms of renewable energy. All result in adverse environmental impacts and rising costs. Recent enthusiasm for vast supplies of shale gas overshadows the fact it is costly to develop, and its success appears dependent on ignoring adverse consequences on water supplies. It also involves undercutting local resistance and transferring authority to higher levels of government so local interests can no longer delay what is portrayed as progress.

Calls for changing behavior tend to be ignored in the pursuit of more energy and jobs. When placed in such a desperate situation, short-term solutions are often chosen, despite their long-term adverse impacts. Creating or using a crisis transfers more power and authority into fewer hands.

Assuming peak oil is already near suggests we should be placing greater emphasis on conservation and efficiency and redesigning our communities for living with far less energy than we now use. Lowering speed limits to 55 mph is the quickest way to cut consumption. Improving rail service, returning to traveling by ships and airships, and generally reducing the need to travel would also cut consumption.

Federal actions have caused our standard of living to fall for decades. We are faced with the need to make tough choices with the decline in income. Numerous writers point out that the reason our national leaders disappoint us once they get into office is because they answer to the special interests who support their election campaigns. Others see even more sinister motives for federal policies, which benefit special interests while running roughshod over the common good and passing costs on to the public.

Interest is rising in taking actions that both improve individual lives and reshape local communities to supply more food, energy and material goods and services locally. As oil supplies peak and become less available, we will be forced to make a transition. Taking action now is far better than ignoring the situation until we have fewer resources to deal with the challenges.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. The Vogls and the IREA are members of the Environmental Hall of Fame. Dr. Robert Vogl is vice president of Freedom Field, and Dr. Sonia Vogl is a member of Freedom Field’s Executive Committee. The Vogls consult on energy efficiency, renewable energy and green building. They have 3.2 kW of PV and a 1 kW wind generator at their home. Forty acres of their 180-acre home farm are in ecological restorations. They are active in preserving natural areas and are retired professors from Northern Illinois University. E-mail

From the Jan. 13-19, 2010 issue.

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