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Archive for March, 2008

Very, very bad.

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When I was in high school, I had a shrink trying to analyze me and whatnot… and he asked me a question that really stuck with me through all these years. We were talking about how strict I am about adhering to schedules and he asked, “If I had called in sick today and your appointment had been canceled, how would you have reacted?”

And I thought about it for a minute and answered, “It would have ruined my day.” And it would have. Not because I was particularly desperate to see him, but because it would have thrown off my schedule.

Over the last couple of years I’ve gotten quite a bit more… spontaneous. Easy going. More able to roll with the punches.

All that being said, I was only mildly surprised to find myself walking, after class and unexpectedly, to a hill overlooking downtown for Earth Hour.

I am, to say the least, ashamed at how many lights where still on in the cityscape I could see.

Shame. Shame. Shame. Or something.

In all fairness it wasn’t very well promoted. I almost didn’t hear about it. Not that I don’t live under a rock, ’cause I so totally do, but still. The lack of turn out (off?) for Earth Hour is not the point of this post though. Read on!

As a society, we are so dependent on electricity that leaving the lights off for an hour is actually an event. An event! I was sitting with a friend, after we gave up watching downtown, in candle light and it was so… odd. It had romantic connotations. It brought some sort of natural disaster feel to the room too.

Think of the last time you did something by candle light. Either you were trying to set the mood, doing something religious/spiritual or were unable to turn the electric lights on. No, I’m not stalking you. Promise.

Our use of electricity stems from our need to run such odd hours — off of the sun’s time. I’m sure many of you have heard how there “aren’t enough hours in the day” and other cliched sayings to that effect. And it’s true in these times. I read it over at Get Rich Slowly. I can’t find the specific post right now (darn my lack of ‘google-fu’ … is it even still google-fu when you’re not searching in google?) but it was an interesting number about how we work longer hours, on average, than any culture before us.

To make the hours in the day we start burning midnight oil — or, much more likely, keeping the office or home lights on just a little bit later. It’s screwing with our sleep schedules (we’re so sleep deprived, as a society, that the number of car accidents SPIKES when we miss out on one hour of sleep due to daylight savings time). It’s alienating us from everyone: family, friends, neighbourhoods; Most people know their coworkers or classmates much better than they know their next door neighbours. It’s causing a host of stress related health problems in the population at large. It’s directly taking the time from us to do things for ourselves (grow food, slow clothing, etc.) which has resulted in a society completely dependent on corporations to fill their most basic needs.

We will need to make a lot of changes to adapt to a world without cheap oil and to minimize the human-caused aspects of climate change. Some will be easy, some will be difficult. Think of it this way: if the ability to have the lights on until midnight, three or five am is eliminated, and more people have to do things for themselves, the long work week should crumble into a faded memory. That’s got to be a positive thing. Unless you’re a workaholic, but I’m sure you could still find something to keep you busy, if you are.

(Why yes, I am procrastinating finishing my post on biofuels, why do you ask?)

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Police Tanks

Today, I break from my introduction to peak oil series to talk about the armoured police SUV that was recently introduced to Calgary (Alberta, Canada). More can be read here. This, and anything like it, will now be referred to, irreverently, as (the) “police tanks.”

 

So, remember how I said I had dreadlocks? You may want to shed any stereotypes you derived from that to reduce the shock from this post. Okay, ready? Here we go.

 

 

I’m not all for laws, in a “no matter what way”… but neither do I feel compelled to rebel against “the system.” I would view someone stealing a loaf of bread for fun as worse than someone stealing it to feed a starving family. While both cases break the same law and are equally illegal, I believe that the second scenario is “less bad” but I maintain that all stealing is wrong. Yes, even from the “evil corporations!” (Some hippie I make, eh?) And while I don’t agree with every law I’ve ever come across ( though I would get arrested just for the free horse if that still applied 😉 ) I respect society’s need for some norms and expectations of conduct and act accordingly. Of course, if these norms, laws, rules, regulations, and general public safety-ness are to be kept up we need someone to enforce them.

That being said, I would like to say that I, more or less, agree with the introduction of the police tanks.

 

In theory.

 

I went to high school with a girl who’s father was a police officer, and I’m sure her and her family will be ecstatic about this additional safety measure. The same can be assumed about anyone else who cares about a cop. The city police need to be kept safe, especially with Calgary’s exploding population and increase in organized crime. And a great way to do that is to give them a nice, periwinkle police tank!

 

So, why am I writing about this? So far it doesn’t sound like much of a rant, does it… hmm… how to fix that. How to fix that.

 

Oh. I can’t help feeling, seeing that lovely, bright blue tank and hearing about the pact Harper signed with the US (in a state of emergency both countries can now send troops into each other) that they are trying to get us used to seeing tanks on our streets. Slowly, slowly chipping away at us to make a police state seem less… out there. Less something to rebel against. Less something to worry about. See as wrong. Oppose. I wonder if they’re desensitizing us to tanks being used to police even those who don’t deserve it.

 

I’m probably wrong. I hope I am. But who knows? Today they start with a, perfectly legit, armoured SUV to protect the normal, everyday, wonderful police. Tomorrow maybe they’ll add a few more. No reason to worry yet. And maybe next week they will open up somewhere for an army-style tank to be trained within the city limits. Oh, that’s perfectly fine. Now we’ll give the city police a couple of the army-style tanks. Still, no reason to worry. The police tanks must not have been sufficient. …Right? And then, one day, we’ll have an entire army wandering our streets. Where’d that come from?

 

I, for one, will stop and gape every time I see the police tank (barring obvious reasons to not to, like I’m driving a car). And will decide today where my threshold of comfort lies and vow to stick to it, so that “they” cannot push it backwards without me noticing.

 

Perhaps you should do the same.

 

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“Oil fields are voluntarily reducing their outputs. Since they say it’s voluntary they must be telling the truth! And since they’re cutting back the supply, of course the price will rise.”

 

Sure. “Voluntarily.” I have no solid evidence to back up my claims… but I will tell you this: If I was making widgets and I could sell as many as I made, no matter what, I wouldn’t be “voluntarily” making less when they hit $108 a barrel. But I would be calling a drop in my ability to meet the widget demands “voluntarily” if saying, “oh crap! I can’t make enough widgets!” would send the world into a panic. On the other hand, if “voluntarily” lowering my widget production caused the prices to increase enough that I would make a larger profit despite the lower volume sold, I could see myself doing so.

 

Mostly, I’m just annoyed that people accept this crap without any question whatsoever. Please, for the love of all that is good, when you’re reading or hearing something important take a minute to ask yourself “does this make sense?” and “could these people have a bias?” (by the way, the answer to that is always YES). “Might they be trying to sell something?” is a good one too. “Why would they want me to believe this, what would they gain?” It’s called critical thinking. It’s married to common sense. They’re semi-retired because no one bothers to make them work anymore. They should be immortal, so make them get off their lazy behinds and earn a living!

 

 

In ten/twenty/fifty years everything will be powered by wind/solar/geothermal/nuclear/hydro and oil will be a thing of the past.

 

 

The problem with this assumption is that wind/solar/geothermal/nuclear/hydro power currently use oil at some point in time in their electricity production. Sometimes in the making of the parts and sometimes just in the transportation of the parts. And these parts only last X years, so even if we do build up our renewable energy sources, what will happen in X years when it all starts breaking down? Sharon explains this much better right here.
Please don’t misunderstand me, I’m all for some miracle solution that involves lots of windmills and solar panels; I just don’t see how it could happen. Which doesn’t mean a lot… We’ve gone over how I’m just a 22 year old college girl — in Accounting (not Environmental studies) — yes? I’m not an expert!

 

 

I’ll talk about various biofuels separately, since I think they deserve their own rant.

 

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Alright, so you know how I said I always feel like writing? Tis true. Unfortunately, I don’t always feel like revising. (One could, of course, argue that writing is revising, and therefore I don’t always feel like writing but let’s keep the two separate for this post.)

This “incredibly rare” combination (somebody please tell me I’m not the only one), sometimes results with a hard drive containing approximately two dozen blog posts in various stages of completion, and no posts published for a week.

Whoops. Revising now. Next post should be up sometime tomorrow or later tonight.

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“Why will peak oil affect me?” Or “I’ll just drive less!” or some variant thereof.

 

The short answer to these is the fact that oil is either in everything or used to produce and transport everything. Everything. Driving won’t be the only thing affected by a hike in gas prices. Like I said in part one, we live in a world totally addicted to this stuff!

 

Take food. Everything that doesn’t come from your own backyard is shipped to you using gasoline. Also, farms use machinery, which run on gasoline (at least in developed countries). And conventional fertilizers, herbicides (weed killers), fungicides (fungus killers) and pesticides (buggy killers) are made using oil. The rising food prices and the threat of peak oil are not separate. The food prices feed off of the rise of gas prices. There are other factors (is the dwindling space to grow food caused by biofuels really unrelated to peak oil? And then there’s overpopulation, problems with climate change, eroding soil, etc.), but the price of gas is probably one of the biggest influences on food prices.

 

And then there’s consumer products. Because even if that lovely shirt or those fancy power tools, and that apple, weren’t shipped to the store, the companies that sell them still need to pay their employees (who need raises because their bills are going up), light and heat their stores, buy plastic bags for customers to tote their finds home in… and who am I kidding? Of course that great find at Old Navy or Rona was shipped! And probably from across the ocean too. So the truck (airplane, boat, whatever) company needs more money to fuel their trucks (airplanes, boats, whatever) and the utility bills, for everyone involved, have skyrocketed. Meanwhile, minimum wage continues to rise. And then the company that supplies the plastic bags decides that they need to charge more for a bundle… what happens to the jeans you were about to buy? Maybe they go up five dollars, maybe ten. Maybe they became more expensive six months ago, and they’re going to cost more tomorrow. And I’m not talking just regular inflation, but a problem more pronounced as everything that uses oil gets more expensive in pace with oil. Of course prices are going to rise slowly as the cost of living goes up. But what happens when it spirals out of control and the employees wages just can’t keep up? When the cost of everything doubles (when oil hits $100 a barrel from $50, or $200 compared to now) without a single increase in pay because the increase in consumer cost comes from the utility and shipping bills?

 

Utilities will also continue to go up. Heating is, here in Canada at least, generally done with some form of fossil fuel. Coal and natural gas are estimated to be at or near their peaks, just like oil. Similar price hikes can be expected while supplies start to dwindle, regardless of which fossil fuel is used. There has also been a start to talk of “peak water,” where supplies of drinkable water start to become undrinkable for various reasons (pollution, rising sea levels or less precipitation due to global warming, etc.). I want to go more in depth with electricity so I’ll talk about it more in my next post.

 

Plastic is also made with oil. If you’re curious about how widespread plastic is, I recommend Envirowoman’s blog where she tries to eliminate plastic from her life. Compostable plastic bags are corn based, but society’s excessive corn usage is a whole different rant (and some “biodegradable” plastic bags are even worse for the environment. Many of these bags are made by joining pieces of regular plastic together with something that decomposes when exposed to sunlight and air. They “biodegrade” by breaking apart into itty bitty pieces of plastic that easily float away on a breeze). Plastic is also in less obvious places like music (CDs have a layer of plastic on them); electronics; food storage, transportation and cooking containers (the insides of pop cans and teflon come to mind) and some fabrics (polyester, nylon). This doesn’t include all of the obvious plastic that’s in our lives. Next time you goto the store, notice the containers you’re buying stuff in, if there’s plastic connecting the price tags, etc. Plastic has become one of the most prevalent packaging materials. And quite a bit of it is intended to be thrown out almost immediately.

 

Replacing driving with another transportation method is a great start, but it won’t solve all of the other problems peak oil will cause to pop up.

 

More naysayer phrases coming in the next post!

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This will be a multiple post entry because my communications textbook keeps telling me to KISS (though they claim it stands for “keep it short and simple.” I guess they don’t want to offend anyone by calling them stupid. Honestly, I wouldn’t mind if this particular textbook called me an idiot… I write “better” when I’m allowed to bend, or completely shatter, the rules of grammar.)

 

What is peak oil?

 

I’m going to start by stating a few very simple facts and apologizing in case I come off as condescending. I’m sorry if I come off as condescending.

Oil is a finite resource. That means that there’s only a certain amount of it and once that’s used, it’s gone. We could make more oil but it would take waaaaaaaay too long, so for simplicity’s sake we will say that oil is entirely irreplaceable (since we do not know how to make more before our current resources run out) and that there is only a fixed amount left.

We, as a planet, use oil at an incredible rate. It’s something along the lines of 86 million barrels a day.

If we use something and we only have a certain amount it will run out. I don’t care if you have a thousand apples, if you eat one apple a day and never get new apples, you will run out of apples (three years down the road. This ignores the fact that apples decay, but it’s a concrete example).

So, if we add all three together we get that we only have so much oil left, and we are rapidly using it. Which means that eventually oil will run out.
Simple, yes?

 

But, for all the naysayers who still claim that we have plenty of oil left, peak oil doesn’t really have anything to do with oil “running out.” It has to do with cheap oil running out. So if the price continues to rise faster than the economy can keep up with, we’re all in a lot of trouble. It doesn’t matter how many barrels of oil are still left in the ground when we hit that price threshold; Our oil dependent lifestyle can only take so much, beyond regular inflation, before things start to fall apart. Our daily lives depend on oil to such an extent that when oil prices rise drastically everything else skyrockets too. And when the rate of increase is beyond what regular inflation can handle, the economy starts to fall apart. I think one of the scariest examples is America’s expanding “heat or eat” crisis, where more and more families need to decide between food and heat. Specifically, when a family can only afford to turn the heat up enough to keep the pipes from freezing and since they’ve turned the heat on they cannot afford to feed their children adequately.

I’ve heard estimates that the tipping point will be when gas hits 4 or 5 dollars a gallon in the US. I don’t know if that will actually be the real point. I don’t think anyone will know when that point was until fifty years later. Rest assured that it is coming… unless we’ve missed it already.

 

I’m going to continue this post (tomorrow?) with things I’ve heard people claim to “prove” peak oil won’t affect them, and my thoughts.

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