June 10th, 2004

Macbeth the Usurper


This month's national geographic has an article about the finite days of the oil supply. Yup, I believe it, too.

End of Cheap Oil

I happen to have an optimistic view around the end of oil.

In the short run, when prices get high enough, we will see a competition for a different fuel supply. All kinds of ideas will be tried out. Eventually, a winner, or a few winners, will emerge. Things might get dicey or or weird, but we'll get through this. How you ask? Well, ever watch Junkyard Wars? Take three ordinary people and give them a day to build something. It's amazing what people can build in a junkyard. When you have both industry and industrious people anxious to do something about this, ideas will start coming.

For instance, farmers will buy ethanol converters for their tractors, then produce their own ethanol. If prices for gas goes high enough, they'll do it. They have a huge biomass resources. They have the parts lying around their farms.

Some people will turn to vegetable oils. This will result in higher deman for various vegetable oils. More farmers will grow vegetable oil plants. Companies will genetically engineer higher-energy oil producing plants, or ones that grow quicker. PROFIT will be the driving motivator to make this solution work. There lots of profit to spread around, which makes for many hands and minds. There are already people modifying stock cars to run on vegetable oil.

There is already an existing synthetic oil industry. I have synthetic oil in my car.

The chemichal industry tends to change every twenty years or so, so if changes are to happen in that timeframe, the industry can handle the changes.

More expensive fuel means more people on mass transit (good). It means fewer SUV's and more small car sales. (Good). It means a return to the city from living in the suburbs. (Problematic. Where will the poor live who need to work and can't afford gas. And who will buy those big houses in the country?) We'll see more alternate transportation, like electric bikes, scooters, and so forth.

My real faith here is in humanity. Given enough brains working on it, we can and will adapt to the new world that we will live in. We've done it before. We'll do it again.

Notice that I said nothing about "fun."