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Wednesday, February 5th at the University of Texas at Austin, Burdine Hall

by R. J. Johnson

Julian Darley at the Colloquium

On Wednesday night, I attended this panel discussion on the peak of world oil production and preparing for the after-effects of it. When gathering what I learned from this, it became obvious that I should share with others some of the ideas that were presented. I believe these are issues that are going to affect us all in the future at some point. Please feel free to forward this message to somebody you think might benefit as well.


Roger Baker, local Green Party member, renewable energy and transportation expert.
James Galbraith, UT economics professor.
Jim Baldauf, Texas Aggie oilman, "conservative" (as in conserve resources). Contact: 512-517-2663.
Julian Darley, head of www.GlobalPublicMedia.com,  head of The Meta Foundation in Vancouver, British Columbia, former BBC journalist, environmental philosopher. Contact: julian@globalpublicmedia.com
Moderated by Bob Jensen, UT journalism professor.


1859:  Pennsylvania, kerosene first used.
1930:  Oil discovery peaked in the lower 48 states
1950:  U.S. began importing oil
1964:  World oil discovery peaked
1971:  Oil production in U.S. peaked resulting in increased imports of foreign oil
1973/79:  World oil crisis, long lines at the pumps
today:  Oil sold for $33.94 a barrel (42 U.S. gallons)

Key Points:

Per Dr. Kenneth Deffeyes in his book, Hubbert's Peak, world oil production will peak somewhere around 2004-2008. Peak oil is not a problem, but a fact of life. It will be a problem if we do not start preparing for the downside after production peaks. Since production curves must eventually mirror discovery curves, global oil production will doubtless peak at some point in the near future. After the oil peak, industrial nations will have less energy available to do useful work--including the manufacturing and transporting of goods, the growing of food, and the heating/cooling of homes. The burden of consumption will have to be squeezed by somebody when the supply of oil shrinks. It was stressed that we are going to have to sacrifice and make changes in our car culture lifestyle.

Solution: drive less by walking, biking, using public transit, carpooling, living close to your work.

The "freedom fuel" that George Bush spoke of last week in the State of The Union speech would come from hydrogen. Hydrogen is produced from natural gas. A major decline in North American natural gas production has already begun; therefore "freedom fuel" is not a viable solution to the situation we are facing. Previous attempts to turn ethanol into a viable energy source had failed due to the fact that it takes 1.5 gallons of gas to make one gallon of ethanol. The point was made that production of solar panels uses a lot of fossil fuels. Nuclear fusion was also brought up as a possible alternative, Mr. Darley concluded that it is not a viable option.

Solution: more money will have to be invested in renewable energy research. This should be brought about by demanding action from corporations and local & national governments. Conservation also plays a key role.

Food production depends very heavily on oil: pesticides, combines, tractors, crop-dusting, transport to market, processing, etc. Julian Darley stated that eating a vegetarian diet is better for the planet as it takes 16 pounds of grain to make 1 pound of beef, very inefficient energy conversion. That 16 pounds of grain could be feeding starving people. On the topic of organic foods, the point was made that organics may cost more in the store, due to the heavily subsidized nature of factory farming in the U.S., but organics require less fossil fuel input and do not damage the soil. Buying conventional produce supports more consumption of fossil fuels and has a greater cost on the environment due to the heavy input of hydrogen-based pesticides. It was also noted that buying food that is flown or trucked in also consumes more fossil fuels. It is doubtful that crop yields can be maintained at current levels.

Solution: buy locally-grown organics whenever possible and minimally processed foods.

Recommended Websites:


Recommended Books:

Hubbert's Peak by Kenneth Deffeyes
The Limits To Growth by Donella H. Meadows, Dennis L. Meadows, Jorgen Randers & William W. Behrens III
The Partyıs Over: Oil, War, and the Fate of Industrial Societies (March 2003)

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