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What is Peak Oil Theory?

Peak Oil Theory: Are we running out of oil?, via SustainableBabySteps.com

The entire peak oil theory is vast and sometimes overwhelming. I've attempted to simplify the concept below (don't judge my rudimentary skillz, yo). This is by no means in-depth, but rather an introduction to the ideas with resources below should you wish to know more.

What is peak oil? The term refers to the peak in the extraction of oil followed by a decline of production and a dramatic rise in cost. Simply stated, we will reach a point in which we "peak out", and oil will be at its cheapest and easiest to extract. As oil reserves diminish from that point, the peak oil theory is that it will become increasingly difficult and more costly to extract until it's simply too difficult or expensive to extract anymore.

"We've embarked on the beginning of the last days of the age of oil."

- Mike Bowlin, Chairman, ARCO

The fact that crude oil is a finite resource is apparent to most. Every nonreplenishible (or painfully slow to replenish) resource that comes from the Earth is likely to diminish, more quickly if our consumption continues to expand faster than the rate of replenishment. Over the past decade, with the industrial age and increase of suburban development and automotives, the U.S. and other countries have experienced an astronomical increase of the use of and reliance on oil. In fact, the US uses approximately 19 million barrels of oil per day1, the top consumer in the world.

It's not just our personal transportation sucking down the black gold, although our gas-guzzlers do tend to get the brunt of criticism. But oil also makes up a huge portion of our modern convenience-based lifestyle: farming resources, commercial pesticides and fertilizers, manufacturing or agriculture equipment and machinery, and the shipping of our foods up to 1,500 miles to the local grocery store; our cosmetics and personal care items; construction; the manufacturing of plastics, the heating of our homes, endless streams of processing...the list goes on and on. It's actually difficult - and a bit scary - to imagine how we would survive without it. And when the US Energy Information Administration feels we have enough oil for the next 25 years, but has substantial uncertainty after that, that might be cause for alarm.2

What Is Peak Oil Transitioning?


North Americans consume approximately 35% of the world's energy resources, while only holding about 5% percent of the world's population.

"Transitioning" has become the buzz word when discussing peak oil theory. It simply means making immediate moves to wean ourselves from our addiction to oil through the immediate use of alternative energies and lifestyle choices.

It also means a simplifying of our lifestyles to accommodate the shift in resources: Changing our means of transportation (bicycling, public transit, etc), supporting the local economy and agriculture, and rebuilding smaller, more efficient communities (those that are walkable are crucial).

Some advocates of transitioning say that we must begin transitioning to alternatives 10-20 years prior to the peak, while weaning ourselves simultaneously, to avoid detrimental social or economic consequences. If this is true, and it's also true that we could peak between now and 20402, we have just enough time to understand peak oil theory and make such crucial changes.

What About Peak Energy or Peak Everything?

Along with peak oil, comes peak everything: coal, natural gas and even peak water. It's impossible to consider one, without consider the others, as they all point to an irresponsible consumption and willful ignorance toward the facts of nature: All are finite resources and each depletion comes with its own dilemmas.

Coal is our top finite commodity in the U.S. and is most damaging to the landscape during mining. So called "clean coal" is laughable by the environmentalist, as burning it only provides part of its usage problem and thus cleaner burning does little to mitigate its effects of strip-mining and mountain "topping" on the Earth. Natural gas is nearly impossible to measure the reserves of; it won't dwindle like oil or coal but will just stop abruptly instead. But without feasible alternatives it is hard to image survival. Clean, drinkable water is being depleted or polluted and is predicted to leave thousands in dire conditions in the coming decades. When you consider we've been drinking the same water for millenia and we can't exactly create more, it's a pretty terrifying scenario.

What To Do With Peak Oil Theory

The details, criticisms and solutions to any peak reserves are complex. Nearly all of this website can be included in your search for peak oil solutions and what you can do.

There are also a few resources which I suggest investigating for more in depth and interesting peak oil theory:

  • M. King Hubbert, a former Shell geoscientist, is credited with the peak oil theory. You can read his original report at the Hubbert Peak website.
  • PeakOil.com is a community and collaboration portal about peak oil theory and energy-related topics.
  • TheOilDrum.com is a place for discussions about energy and our future.
  • TransitionTowns.org encourages sustainable communities and provides advice on how to achieve them.

Books About Peak Oil and Energy

If you're wanting to dive deeper into more peak oil theory, there are many recommend books on the topic. Click to check out these titles below on Amazon:

the end of oil book
the party's over book
the long emergency book
world made by hand book
the transition handbook
the transition timeline book
future scenarios book
the long descent book
peak everything book
peak oil survival book

DVD Documentaries Covering Peak Oil Theory

For those of us visual learners, there are a few media options for learning more peak oil theory, as well.

end of suburbia documentary
crude awakening documentary
crude impact documentary
power of community peak oil documentary

And here's an interesting infographic illustrating some of this information:

Out of Oil Infographic

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