Monday, August 08, 2005

The tank's half full
Like most Americans, I wake up each morning and think, "Gee, I wonder what's going on in Jennifer Anniston's life?" But on a recent morning, I woke up with a completely different concern: "Will the coming end of the oil era result in destruction of the economy, the environment, and life as we know it or will it just be harder to buy lottery tickets and Slim Jims once all the gas stations are gone?"

I woke up wondering about that because I recently read a jaunty little knock-me-down called "Out of Gas" by David Goodstein. This festive book explains what scientists have long suspected: that the earth's supply of oil will be totally used up by the end of this century. (It could be even sooner if Dick Cheney decides to get his Hummer pimped.)

Like me, I'm sure you're thinking, "Big deal. By the end of this century, I'll be worm-burgoo and my great grandchildren will be flying around in Red-Bull-powered hovercraft." Which is true, but according to Goodstein, the environmental and social doodoo will hit the fan way before we actually run out of oil.

That's because of a natural resources theory called "Hubbert's Peak," which, if I have my facts straight, is named after gas-station attendant Butch Hubbert, who pumped ethyl at the Sinclair station in Marengo, Indiana, in 1970. That was back when you could get your dipstick wiped for no extra charge. Good times.

Anyway, Butch Hubbert had a widow's peak that was inversely shaped like the world's oil supply, which geophysicists soon realized was running out, big-time. Hubbert's Peak accurately predicted that the United States' Texan oil reserves would peak in the '70s and that we'd never be bothered by Texans again. Now, experts predict that the ENTIRE WORLD'S oil supply will peak within the next decade.

That means that sometime very soon – maybe now! Or even now! – human beings (and I'm including Cheney) will have used up exactly half of all the oil there is and ever will be in the whole world. When it does, we will for the first time in history be consuming oil faster than we are finding it. What happens after that is a complicated series of environmental, economical, and sociological events that scientists refer to as a "shitstorm."

According to the laws of economics, open markets don't wait until a resource is in short supply to freak out. Instead, they begin freaking out at the halfway point, which is where we are today. Prices will begin to rise rapidly on not just gasoline, but on all petroleum-based products, including personal lubricants and 99% of all items sold at Wal Mart. Oh, and also on everything that is made or delivered using petroleum, which is everything.

Here's how some experts think it will go down: Sometime in the next decade, the New York Times will report that oil demand is significantly outpacing supply, and an accompanying editorial will demand that we invest in developing the embryo-burning engine. OPEC will acknowledge dwindling reserves and people all over the Middle East will rush outside and shake their fists at television cameras. Meanwhile, China will become furious that it didn't begin driving before Americans used up all the gas and people all over China will dress in military regalia and march in parades, which is known to consume very little petroleum. Thirty years later, Fox News will acknowledge the problem. The world will then begin burning coal and building nuclear plants at a rapid clip. A dark cloud will cover the earth, blotting out the sun and destroying the ozone layer, but nobody will care because of a nuclear holocaust, which will be slightly mitigated by the fact that by then we'll have a president who can at least pronounce it. The End.

But it might not be that bad. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. So when oil supplies get tight, we'll rush to our cars and drive around a lot listening to driving songs and talking about driving and watching others drive on TV, just to console ourselves. That always makes us feel better. And then we'll take over a few countries. But eventually, we'll settle down and come up with alternative energy sources, such as seven billion of those stationary Gilligan's Island bicycles or nuclear fusion or hydrogen from coal, or solar space stations, which are all totally do-able and safe.

Or, maybe we'll just shrug our shoulders and think, "I wonder what Jessica Simpson is up to…"

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