Once again, I must repeat: we’re not even close to running out of oil, coal, gas, or most minerals. But we face a convergence of entirely predictable but severe consequences from the depletion of the concentrated, high-grade resources at the top of the pyramid: less affordable and more volatile commodity prices; worse environmental impacts—cumulative, mutually reinforcing impacts—both from accidents and from “normal” extraction operations; declining resource quality; declining EROEI for fossil fuels; and the need for massive new investment both to grow production levels, and to keep environmental consequences at bay.
And all of this is happening just as investment capital (needed to fix all these problems) is becoming scarce. In short, the monetary and non-monetary costs of growth have been rising faster than growth itself, and it looks as though we have now gotten to the inevitable point where growth may in fact no longer be an option.
The Deepwater Horizon disaster reminds us that, of all non-renewable resources, oil best deserves to be thought of as the Achilles heel of modern society. Without cheap oil, our industrial food system—from tractor to supermarket—shifts from feast to famine mode; our entire transportation system sputters to a halt. We even depend on oil to fuel the trains, ships, and trucks that haul the coal that supplies half our electricity. We make our computers from oil-derived plastics. Without oil, our whole societal ball of yarn begins to unravel.
But the era of cheap, easy petroleum is over; we are paying steadily more and more for what we put in our gas tanks—more not just in dollars, but in lives and health, in a failed foreign policy that spawns foreign wars and military occupations, and in the lost integrity of the biological systems that sustain life on this planet.
The only solution is to do proactively, and sooner, what we will end up doing anyway as a result of resource depletion and economic, environmental, and military ruin: end our dependence on the stuff. Everybody knows we must do this. Even a recent American president (an oil man, it should be noted) admitted that, “America is addicted to oil.” Will we let this addiction destroy us, or will we overcome it? Good intentions are not enough. We must make this the central practical, fiscal priority of the nation.