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Archive for March 16th, 2008

“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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