Monday, June 06, 2005

Oil Storm, systems theory and peak oil links

After reading some of the commentary on Oil Storm, I found myself nodding my head to a post on one of the's forums that talked about what the film got right:

1. Troops in the Middle East for oil, not freedom

2. Recession, depression, ... and panic

3. The dangers of relying on foreign oil

4. Oil artificially supporting suburbia

5. China as a legitimate competitor for oil

6. The importance of farming and sustainable living

I would add that it highlighted the vulnerability of the entire system and how interdependent everything is. All of these are important concepts that are relevant regardless of what we believe will happen after peak oil.

We need to start thinking in terms of system. Systems theory points out that things that happen in one part of the system can effect things in other parts of the system, and I think the film made that abundantly clear. We also need to think about the inputs and outputs of the system. Oil is an input to more than just gasoline. One important product the film mentioned was fertilizer and pesticides. Another system to consider is the delivery system that relies on cheap oil. Remember the truckers? How will the food distribution network be effected by high prices or shortages? These considerations lead people in the sustainable community to claim that "food=oil."

The system model also allows us to zoom in or out to look at subsystems and suprasystems. "Think globally and act locally" follows this principle. It is easy to get completely overwhelmed when considering what is happening at the global level. I think it is very important to stay in touch with our "sphere of influence." To feel more empowered, we need to focus on what we can do. This could be something simple like implementing one of the suggestions you have seen many times on lists about how to conserve energy; things like changing the setting on your thermostat or putting in fluorescent bulbs.

A slightly more complex idea from systems theory is feedback. The classic example of this is in animal populations that increase in times of plenty. Then when the animals start to outstrip their food supply the population decreases. We need to look at oil in the big picture and understand that we have been in a unprecedented time of plenty, but when the supply dwindles we will have to adapt, one way or another.

So what did the film get wrong? The problem lies in what it didn't say. It presented Russia's oil as a solution but did not point out that oil itself is a finite resource. It missed an opportunity to bring forward the idea of peak oil.

I have mentioned this concept several times and I would like to give you some background information. Kevin Drum, in his column in the Washington Monthly, has written a series about peak oil that will introduce you to the basics.

Part 1: Oil production in the non-OPEC world is likely to peak within a few years and then begin an irreversible decline.

Part 2: Oil peaking is caused by unavoidable geologic factors. It happens to all oil fields and can't be stopped just by spending more money.

Part 3: There isn't much oil left elsewhere in the world to make up for the upcoming decline in non-OPEC supplies. A global peak, followed by a steady decline in production, is likely within the next ten years.

Part 4: As bad as this is, there's something even worse that's happened already: the world has run out of spare pumping capacity. The result is likely to be steadily rising prices and frequent oil shocks, leading to increasing global instability and a turbulent economy held permanent hostage to terrorists, unstable dictatorships, resource wars, and natural disasters.

Part 5: There are things we can do to manage the approaching oil peak, but we need start now and we need to address both supply and consumption.

Coda: A final word on why peak oil is serious, but not the end of civilization.

Elisabeth Alpers has put together a list of links for further reading at her storefront Peak Oil Aware that sells items with peak oil graphics on them (I've deleted links previously referred to).

Oil Crisis A very comprehensive collection of articles, summaries by experts, discussions on renewable energy alternatives, and more - essential reading. The Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas and the Uppsala Protocol - essential reading.

Peak Oil Audio Documentary and Oil, Immigration and Population Growth by Kellia Ramares.

Dry Dipstick - a great directory of peak oil links.

Oil Awareness Meetup Groups Worldwide links to groups of people around the world who meet together to discuss peak oil and its implications.

The Oil Drum - an excellent blog, from a progressive and academic perspective by two bloggers: a senior faculty member in energy production disciplines, and a social scientist.

And if you are willing to be confronted by some "in your face" arguments about peak oil, check out

Life After the Oil Crash - very thought provoking stuff here! It certainly helps to kick-start you into 'prepare mode'.


Jay Denari said...

Hi, Liz,

We need to look at oil in the big picture and understand that we have been in a unprecedented time of plenty, but when the supply dwindles we will have to adapt, one way or another.

What's unnerving about this is that our system has been working under the delusion that we aren't subject to the same population control rules that all other lifeforms are, so not enough people are thinking about what the oil shock will do to our population.


Anonymous said...

Hey Liz... Just a quick note... Saw the Macon area paper has an article published by Kunstler on peak oil via the Editors Corner... The link is:

Also, Mr. Bartlett, congressman Maryland (R) has a section devoted to peak oil on his website and he has given several special order speeches to the house, broadcast live on C-SPAN. The links to his website is:

His stuff on peak oil is listed right on the main page.


Liz Logan said...

Hi Jay,

I'm disappointed that the link to the rest of your post isn't working. What you say speaks to the disconnect we have with the natural world.

Liz Logan said...

Thanks, Johnny,

I'm thinking I would like to send the Congressman an email telling him to keep up the good work.

Jay Denari said...

HI, Liz,

I don't know why it didn't work, but it's at my blog,

Jay Denari said...

Oh, and speaking of not having enough energy available, did you see this article in today's paper?