After oil

We’ve known from the beginning that oil was a finite resource—that existing wells would run dry, that what remained would become increasingly difficult to get out of the ground. But that knowledge didn’t change our consumption habits. Not really. We’ve carried on as if artificially cheap fossil-fuel energy would always be there.

But it won’t. And recently, something seems to have shifted in the way we talk about it.

Suddenly, it’s not just environmentalists and the tinfoil-hat folks that seem to be using the phrase “peak oil” with urgency. Even oil-industry leaders seem in agreement that global oil production is at or near its crest. Though some of them predict that the price of oil will actually drop in the short term as a result of a temporary oversupplies, most of them do not deny that the overall price of oil is going to head up, way up.

Recently interviewed on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens (a pro-Bush billionaire who, incidentally, thinks America has earned a claim on Iraq’s oil reserves) is just one magnate who doesn’t deny the existence of peak oil. Among other things, Pickens foretold that “SUVs will become dinosaurs” and that “Congress will be forced to pass higher CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards.” “It’s not a panic,” he said. “It’s not something that will happen overnight, but it is something that will happen over time.”

But there are also those who think a panic scenario is likely, especially since global oil consumption is actually predicted to increase (with demand rising in China and India) instead of the other way around in the coming decade. In The Long Emergency, James Kunstler is downright apocalyptic in his view of what is likely to come. If you’re up for a good scare, read his perspective on what America will look like in a post-oil world.

With this week’s feature story, “Sacramento on empty,” SN&R’s Cosmo Garvin and Kel Munger begin an exploration of this global issue at the grassroots level. They ask: “How will the Sacramento region fare in a world with little or no oil?” How we answer is crucial.

Because nobody doubts we face a future without oil. The only question is when we’ll face it and how well we’ll have prepared for it.