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The Grassroots Address

October 28, 2011

 A weekly column about sustainability and intentional living

Picture the outline of a bell, flat side down. Going from left to right, the curve of the bell rises rapidly, reaches a peak and then falls just as rapidly. M. King Hubbert proposed in 1956 that this curve greatly resembles the cycle of oil production.

His theory suggests that from the time natural oil wells are first tapped, their outputs increase exponentially until reaching a point of maximum production. Upon reaching this point, or peak, the production starts to consume more energy and produce less oil. This results in an exponential price increase.

Hubbert predicted U.S. oil would peak around 1970 and was entirely correct. Since then, our national oil reserves have been steadily producing less and less at a higher cost. Oppositely, the country’s hunger for oil has only increased. Though the country was able to turn to foreign oil, it has only prolonged the problem.

Many scientists, applying Hubbert’s curve to a global scale, hypothesize world oil will peak within five years. This means the oil that runs our cars, makes our plastic and ships our products –our country’s drug of choice- may soon become as rare and sought after as a whore in church.

This being said, the impending predicament of peak oil does not account for any of the current malcontents of the nation’s addiction. While some deny global warming exists, no one can fail to see the smog around cities (more than half of which is caused by vehicles alone) or acknowledge the global discontent stemming from our reliance on foreign oil.

These problems are not simple and should not be oversimplified. Admittedly, it may take an oil shortage to break the trends of our nation, but does it have to?

As always, the easiest change starts with the individual.

When you go home next, dig out that rusty bicycle your dad bought when he was 20, and bring it back to school. Or, if you’re really hip, find those roller blades you saved up for in seventh grade. Heck, some people even enjoy walking still. Anything that stops the turning of an ignition makes for a cleaner, cheaper and more sustainable alternative.

Likewise, if you enjoy traveling (or just going home), trains and buses are swell options. Right from Galesburg, for instance, you can make it to Chicago for as low as $20.

Lowering personal use of oil can also come from the choices we make as consumers. Unless the food you eat comes from a local source, significant amounts of oil have gone into its production and transportation. The same can be said for the clothes we wear, the books we read and the chairs we sit on. Buying local products, however difficult and potentially expensive, greatly reduces the use of oil.

At the very least, though, realize the influence of oil all around you. Realize that oil is a finite resource and will soon peak in production. Realize that you are a demanding force in the nation’s economy and that every action, big or small, matters.

Make a change.

William J. Terrill
Contributing Writer

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