By day, Chris conducts research in conservation biology and prepares for the intellectually demanding exams required of doctoral students. At home in the evening with his wife and 2-year-old daughter, he teaches himself to create fire by rubbing sticks together.
Chris is one of the graduate students with whom I am fortunate to work, and he has wisely chosen to live in two worlds. The first is the overindulged culture of make-believe in which most Americans are comfortably ensconced; the second is the real world of peak oil.
World oil production reached a peak in 2005 at 85 million barrels per day. We've been easing down the bell-shaped oil-supply curve, losing production slowly and gradually. Next year we will fall off the oil-supply cliff, with an average daily production of less than 78 million barrels.
The response of the Bush administration has been to go to war to get oil. Thus far, we've exchanged considerable blood and $500 billion for a couple million barrels of oil each day. By controlling the Iraqi government, we've also assured a place at the OPEC table. Mission accomplished for the oilman in the Oval Office means sustaining the American Dream one barrel at a time.
By 2015, when world demand is projected to exceed 120 million barrels per day, world supply will drop below 65 million barrels. The double-digit inflation and double-digit unemployment of the 1970s, a predictable result of the continental United States passing the oil peak, will seem like the good old days. For that matter, so will the Great Depression.
Seems the American Dream, rooted in the suburbs and propped up by cheap gasoline, could transform itself into the American Nightmare. The Star's new Interstate 10 widening blog, called Gridlocked, will be revealed as the chimera it is.
Oil priced at $100 per barrel represents serious sand in the economic gears of empire. Imagine what happens when demand outstrips supply by a factor of two or more, and oil is priced at $400 per barrel. Because this country mainlines oil, it is easy to envision the complete collapse of the U.S. economy within a decade.
Because all energy sources are derived from oil, the implications for the Old Pueblo are particularly grim: delivery of water, food and air conditioning depend on ready supplies of cheap oil.
Peak oil is the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced. If World War II rates a 1 on a scale of 1 to 10, global warming is a 3 and peak oil is a 12. Most experts who write about peak oil predict complete economic collapse within a decade, followed shortly thereafter by anarchy.
Although we could employ a variety of conservation measures to mitigate the impacts of ever-decreasing supplies of oil, no politician would propose such a career-ending strategy. After all, conservation went out of style in the early 1980s when Ronald Reagan ripped the solar panels off the White House and trumpeted economic growth as our only god.
According to Reagan's campaign slogan, it was "morning in America," so I suppose he thought future generations wouldn't need electricity.
Now what? It's time to start making other arrangements, the kind that do not include cars, airplanes and the delivery of cheap plastic crap to a Wal-Mart near you. It's time, in other words, to start living in the real world.
Take a page from Chris: Start learning skills for a post-carbon world. If you can find a way to do something practical and useful on a smaller scale than it is currently being done, you are likely to be well-fed and even revered in your local community.
If that community is Tucson, I recommend you learn how to harvest water, grow edible crops and get along with your ill-prepared neighbors when it's 100 degrees and the calendar says summer is still around the corner.