by Charley Reese
One of the things the Bush administration is ignoring is the coming catastrophe that is likely to impoverish the world and plunge it into global warfare.
It will be the end of civilization as we know it, and it will occur in this decade or the next. Not since the fall of the Roman Empire will human progress so forcefully and quickly reverse itself. I'm talking about the end of the oil age.
Several experts now agree that world oil production will peak soon and begin an unalterable decline. The price of oil will skyrocket, and as the supply dwindles, some of the nations that can't afford it will try to take it. Nation-states will be like starving hounds fighting over a few scraps.
Things we take for granted, like electricity, the family car and air transportation, will become unaffordable for the great mass of people. Petroleum permeates our economy, not only in the form of gasoline, diesel fuel and heating oil, but also in the myriad of petrochemicals that are made from it. Many of these are essential to large-scale agricultural production.
The impact of the loss of oil would be better understood if someone had not mislabeled the Industrial Revolution. It was instead a fossil-fuel revolution. Prior to that, in the course of human history, poverty had been the norm. The only sources of energy were human and animal muscle, wind and water. Oil and coal existed, of course, but no one knew how to convert them into energy that could do work. That's why for most of human history, slavery was universal.
Whatever work was to be done — agricultural or construction — had to be done by human muscle, assisted, if they were available, by animals. Water could be used to grind grain, and wind was the principle source of propulsion on the seas. Since the human population was small, slaves were considered simply as the spoils of war, a valuable commodity.
The invention of the steam engine, followed by the internal combustion engine, the diesel engine and the electric motor, allowed mankind to use fossil-fuel energy to do the work of civilization. At first the main fossil fuel was coal, until cheaper oil put it into a secondary position. Now our civilization is dependent on oil, and so is development. The big net importers of oil today are the United States, China and Japan. As other countries try to develop, they will need cheap oil, and so even as supply peaks and then dwindles, demand is constantly increasing. That spells skyrocketing prices, conflict and poverty.
For a more academic discussion, you might read the new book "Out of Gas: The End of the Age of Oil " by California physicist David Goodstein. Others in the petroleum industry are also forecasting the same thing.
President Bush, instead of trying to increase the profits of his corporate oil buddies by opening up new areas for exploitation (which won't amount to a drop in the bucket), should be mobilizing the nation to face the coming crisis. Uninformed talk about hydrogen won't do it. Goodstein points out that it takes the energy of seven gallons of gasoline to produce enough hydrogen to do the work of one gallon of gasoline.