Saturday, May 24, 2008

Is the World Really Running Out of Oil?

Stories like this break your heart. It's a good idea to be "self-sufficient." It's another thing to be stampeded into that kind of a lifestyle out of fear and ignorance.

A few years ago, Kathleen Breault was just another suburban grandma, driving countless hours every week, stopping for lunch at McDonald's, buying clothes at the mall, watching TV in the evenings.

That was before Breault heard an author talk about the bleak future of the world's oil supply. Now, she's preparing for the world as we know it to disappear.

Breault cut her driving time in half. She switched to a diet of locally grown foods near her upstate New York home and lost 70 pounds. She sliced up her credit cards, banished her television and swore off plane travel. She began relying on a wood-burning stove.

"I was panic-stricken," the 50-year-old recalled, her voice shaking. "Devastated. Depressed. Afraid. Vulnerable. Weak. Alone. Just terrible."

Convinced the planet's oil supply is dwindling and the world's economies are heading for a crash, some people around the country are moving onto homesteads, learning to live off their land, conserving fuel and, in some cases, stocking up on guns they expect to use to defend themselves and their supplies from desperate crowds of people who didn't prepare.


The couple have gotten rid of their TV and instead have been reading dusty old books published in their grandparents' era, books that explain the simpler lifestyle they are trying to revive. Lynn-Marie has been teaching herself how to make soap. Her husband, concerned about one day being unable to get medications, has been training to become an herbalist.

By 2012, they expect to power their property with solar panels, and produce their own meat, milk and vegetables. When things start to fall apart, they expect their children and grandchildren will come back home and help them work the land. She envisions a day when the family may have to decide whether to turn needy people away from their door.

"People will be unprepared," she said. "And we can imagine marauding hordes."

So can Peter Laskowski. Living in a woodsy area outside of Montpelier, Vt., the 57-year-old retiree has become the local constable and a deputy sheriff for his county, as well as an emergency medical technician.

"I decided there was nothing like getting the training myself to deal with insurrections, if that's a possibility," said the former executive recruiter.

Do we really need to talk about turning away the needy and insurrection?

My favorite part of all of that is the part about "the stockpiling of guns" because that's exactly what we need to do whenever there is a crisis--succumb to fear and arm ourselves to the teeth so that every single desperate, uninformed person has a gun readily available for use without thinking.

One should always be armed in some way with a firearm. If a person feels the need to "stockpile" a gun, they don't know much about guns in the first place. Repeatedly firing a gun until it wears out, forcing someone to go their reserve gun, and then replacing that when it wears out is the scenario envisioned by the gun stockpiler. Having extra barrels helps. A supply of several hundred thousand rounds of ammunition is always a good thing as well. One can never run out of bullets when defending their home against whatever has forced them to wear out several guns.

The problem with that scenario is this--if you are firing your gun so much that it "wears out" and forces you to go to one of the guns you have "stockpiled" then you aren't in a bad situation. You are in a shooting gallery, and nothing--no amount of preparation and no amount of personal armament--is going to save you.

Instead of stockpiling guns, have a reliable firearm handy that you can use. Ensure you have enough ammunition. Enough means what it really should mean--about three or four hundred rounds is probably enough, but you can be the judge of that. If you are arming yourself for the apocalypse, or the First Battle of the Somme, then the apocalypse and the German machine gunners are going to find you.

We need to have faith in technology and the free market. Technology has gotten us out of plenty of "shortages" of oil. During World War I, it was theorized that the United States had pumped all of the oil it was ever going to pump and that we had arrived at a "peak oil" moment. Since then, we have been through countless panics and scares.

The world is not running out of oil, but it is getting more expensive to pull it out of the ground. We are not running out of it, at least not for another hundred years, if then. We need to cut our dependence on it, and make it last longer but we're not running out of it. Or natural gas. Or hydrogen. Or nitrogen. Everything has a finite supply, but we're not going to run out of these things. The world is also not running out of wind or solar or hydroelectric power. We need better technology to take advantage of these technologies to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and eliminate them altogether to slow down or reverse, if possible, global warming.

We can, calmly and rationally, work our way out of this mess. We don't need fear. We need heavy investment in technology and education. We don't need wars for scarce resources. We need a smarter way of getting what we have to work more efficiently.

For an old woman to live in fear right now is sad, however. A sad indication of just how uninformed people are, and of how a simple issue can be demagogued to death. There is "too much information" out there. Too many people screaming and getting hysterical. The world isn't going to hell in a handbasket nearly as fast as we think it is. But if we're smart, we can do things--reasonable things--to make the trip in that handbasket fairly pleasant.

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