Adjusting to peak oil highlights of Dave Rollo’s presentation

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President
Illinois Renewable Energy Association

Dave Rollo, a member of the Bloomington, Ind., task force on peak oil, was a keynote speaker at this year’s Illinois Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair (Aug. 7-8 at Ogle County Fairgrounds near Oregon, Ill.). He indicated society is reaching an ecological limit as we have consumed half of the world’s oil supplies, and the resource is being rapidly depleted.

Oil is our primary energy source as it provides 40 percent of our total energy. Our challenge is to learn to live in a world that has significantly less available. Eventually, oil will require more energy to obtain than it provides.

There is no known energy source that can replace oil on the scale necessary to continue operating our society as we have. Rollo portrayed our annual use of oil as 1 cubic mile. It is equivalent to more than 50 nuclear power plants running for 50 years or more than 33,000 industrial wind generators spinning for 50 years.

While biofuels will be an important local fuel source and serve selective needs, we have neither the land nor sufficient resources to grow and process biofuels to replace our existing oil consumption. Rather than trying to provide the fuel to serve our existing lifestyles, Rollo suggests changing those arrangements so less energy is needed.

Globally, 54 of the 65 most important oil-producing countries have already used more than half their oil resources, leaving only 11 to fill the declining production gap. While “drill, baby, drill” makes a compelling political slogan, too little oil remains to drill our way out of the coming energy crisis.

When energy prices spike, the economy collapses and oil prices fall temporarily, only to pick up as the economy recovers. Described as an undulating plateau, it inflicts havoc on the global economy. Since transportation consumes 67 percent of our oil, it offers the biggest opportunity to cut oil consumption. Redesigning our communities, substituting mass transit for individual car travel, walking, biking and developing local food supplies are all means of reducing oil consumption.

With an increasing number of government and business groups from Britain, Germany and Kuwait acknowledging peak oil, Rollo is disappointed our political leaders have not addressed the issue. With the human tendency to think of the future as an extension of the past, few citizens are willing to give much thought to the implications of declining oil supplies.

Since our economy is built on a consumer culture, a political candidate promising a return to the existing paradigm of economic growth has a greater chance of success than one calling for redesigning the economy toward sustainable goals.

Rollo believes the problem of peak oil is very serious and that a future of depleted resources and resource wars is not one citizens will find comfort in.

For Rollo, it is essential to accept the reality of peak oil so we can begin the important local work of adjusting to it. He was deeply involved in developing the Energy Descent Action Plan for Bloomington. It is similar to other such plans in that it focuses on the need to change behavior to cut energy consumption. It concentrates on cutting energy demand in an orderly fashion and relocalizing the economy along with developing a new concept of what is meant by prosperity. Citizen involvement is essential to meeting the program’s goals, including building local resiliency so that as the complex global economy begins to unravel, the need to adjust will be less disruptive, and sufficient local wealth will still exist to rebuild the local economy.

As Faith Birol of the International Energy Agency has declared, “We need to leave oil before it leaves us.”

While no silver bullet, energy from biomass is one path to reduce our energy dependence. The second International Bioenergy Conference, to be held in Rockford Sept. 26-29, will highlight developments in bioenergy and provide an opportunity to get up to date.

From a presentation at the Ninth Annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair, Aug. 8, 2010.

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 Sept. 15-21, 2010 issue

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