Monday, May 10, 2004

Taking stock

Last night over at Path to Freedom, I watched a documentary about the peaking of the amount of oil still easily extractible worldwide and the implications for the industrialized way of life in the future as supplies decline: The End of Suburbia: Oil Depletion and the Collapse of the American Dream. It was very thought provoking.

The re-airing of the issues of housing/suburbia and the automobile sent me back to a course I took over nine (!) years ago, Ethics of Everyday Life. (The course I took was taught by Robert Banks; Simon Holt was one of the teaching assistants.) The four issues we looked at were: housing/suburbia/home ownership; the automobile and transportation; time and busyness; and shopping and consumerism.

Besides watching documentaries and reading articles, we were required to collect articles from newspapers and other sources published during the time the course was offered; write up two "field" experiences; and write a longer paper on one of the issues.

One of the questions on a little quiz we took was, "Suggest four procedures/practices/habits which could be used to make us more aware of everyday ethical issues." My answer:
  1. Continue reading the newspaper
  2. Consider the impact of my actions on the environment; ask, "What if the whole world had the opportunity to live as I do?"
  3. Routinely take stock of how I'm living my life—what are the effects, what needs to be changed?
  4. Pursue the questions raised in class, read more of the books suggested with others.
The newspaper continues to supply ample material to ponder. Today's WSJ had interactive graphs (paid subscription required) showing the effect of increasing demand for oil by China and India:
Experts warn that without alternative fuel sources, the need for oil could pit massive consumers such as the U.S. against China and India. Gal Luft, executive director of the Institute for Analysis of Global Security, an energy-policy think tank, warns, "While the U.S. is absorbed in fighting the war on terror, the seeds of what could be the next world war are quietly germinating. ... By 2030, China is expected to have more cars than the U.S. and import as much oil as the U.S. does today." Although India's economy isn't growing as fast, its oil consumption is skyrocketing.
On peaking and price:
Paul Roberts, author of the book "The End of Oil, On the Edge of a Perilous New World," said in an interview that between 2012 and 2015, there will be signs of a peak in "easy oil" -- supplies that can be produced at prices roughly equivalent with today's. After that, he says, "you'll have to be willing to spend $35 to $40 a barrel for oil. As soon as oil outside of OPEC goes beyond $45 a barrel, OPEC will also raise its prices. With China helping us eat through easy oil much faster than anticipated, we'll reach that depletion point much more quickly."
On pollution, again a quote from Mr. Roberts:
"The Chinese are saying 'We can't afford high technology to make cleaner use of energy.' They're saying, 'The developed world had its shot at rapid industrialization with little regard to the environment, we want our chance too.'"
Another warning:
Dr. Luft of the Institute for Analysis of Global Security warns: "The oil market is too small to hold three massive consumers. The best way would be for China to circumvent complete dependency on oil. ... Without substantial American technological support, China is likely to follow the path of least resistance and become a full-fledged oil economy."
And from tomorrow's Journal: "Saudis Ask OPEC To Increase Quota: Economic Growth Is Fueling Soaring Demand For Oil That May Outstrip Supply. The article doesn't address long-term supplies of oil as much as why the short-term supply issues:
The big reason why growth in oil-supply capacity isn't keeping pace with consumption: uneasy money. Shocked by a price collapse in the late 1990s, the industry is widely seen to have underinvested in the capacity to pump, refine and distribute oil.

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