Peak Oil Day

Auntie Ruth missed it, but so did everyone else, with the sole exception of resource-depletion expert Richard Heinberg, who earlier this month designated July 11 as Peak Oil Day. “On July 11, 2008, the price of a barrel of oil hit a record $147.27 in daily trading,” wrote the Post Carbon Institute fellow in Energy Bulletin. “That same month, world crude oil production achieved a record 74.8 million barrels per day.” Oil prices have slid ever since, and while Heinberg admits that pinning down the world’s petroleum production peak to a single day is a somewhat dubious exercise, if you had to pick an anniversary, July 11 works as good as any.

But what does it all mean? Well, Auntie’s favorite explanation of peak oil goes something like this: Back before the Chinese first began drilling and piping oil with bamboo poles in the fourth century, there was anywhere from 2 trillion to 6 trillion barrels—the figure is hotly disputed—of petroleum in the ground. If we have indeed reached the production peak, we’ve got half of the oil left. Unfortunately, our thirst for petroleum has grown exponentially since the 19th century, and the half of the supply that’s left will grow increasingly more expensive to extract—so expensive, we won’t be able to afford to extract it. That’s because once the “easy oil” is gone, it will take more energy to extract the remaining oil than the oil will yield.

It’s a losing equation, and although experts differ on when the actual peak will occur, no one disputes that it will happen sometime before 2050. The optimistic view is that science and innovation will somehow engineer a work-around. Those seeking the pessimistic view are directed to Clusterfuck Nation, a blog authored by James Howard Kunstler, the dark prince of resource depletion. “The sheer programming of American life runs wide and deep,” he wrote in a recent post. “We are, apparently, a people born to drag children behind hundred-and-fifty horsepower two-stroke engines … no matter what is really going on in the world. Alas, mindless programming is the sort of thing that kills societies.” Disclaimer: Auntie Ruth is not responsible for your peace of mind should you decide to give Kunstler a read.