I finished reading Paul Robert’s The End of Oil, a book referenced in an earlier post about the possible end of oil production growth and the consequences of that. All I can say is that I learned a lot about the world energy situation and the supply system, but I didn’t come out of it with any sense of empowerment. The whole thing is so complex, so uncertain, and so full of big power players (governments, oil companies, utility companies, etc.) that frequently during the reading all I could do was shrug. What can I do about this situation that affects us all? Nothing. Sure I could buy a hybrid car, get a solar catcher for the roof, and turn off the lights more often, but, given the way energy is used on the whole, those steps would just be insignificant gestures.
Usually with books like this the author identifies a bunch of problems and then issues a call to action like, “Get mad, write Congress, put a windmill on your roof, etc.” There was none of that. Roberts just said there’s no disagreement that at some point in the not too distant future a transition to a new energy regime based on something other than hydrocarbons will be necessary; there’s innumerable scenarios for that change from optimistic to disastrous; it’s a global issue involving the US to be sure but also massive emerging economies such as China and India; and the change will be driven by economic forces with climate and aesthetics as secondary considerations. The US is key not only because it consumes so much energy but because developing countries are not going to implement cleaner, more thrifty energy sources unless the US sets the example and maybe helps make better technology affordable for them. But nothing much is going to happen in the US until there is an energy shock on the scale of the OPEC embargo back in the ’70s. Until energy is a topic daily on TV and around kitchen tables we’ll go on as we are.
So keep an eye on those prices at the pump. Oil futures hit $55 per barrel today. If oil prices continue to go up next year like they have this past one, that shock may be upon us.