Monday, March 24, 2008

Is this peak oil?

Oil recently hit $110/barrel. The value of the dollar has dropped compared to other currencies. Housing prices are falling, and the U.S. economy may be going into recession.

At the beginning of this decade, I became aware of the idea of peak oil, or Hubbert's Peak, and was a little obsessed with it for a year or two in 2004-05. Since then, I've become more of an optimist than I was in those days. In the long run, I think we can do better with renewables (mainly solar) than we have done with oil.

I used to follow, but I was put off by the doomer point of view there. Now I follow Peak Oil Debunked casually. But really, I'm not stuck on oil any more. I'm more interested in hearing what people like Jamais Cascio or Bruce Sterling have to say about the future than I am about the future of petroleum.

Lately, the future looks a little more bleak than it did a few years ago, mainly because of the state of the U.S. economy. But I don't think this is all about peak oil. Rather, we are feeling the effects of bad decisions our government made in the beginning of this decade. The cost of the Iraq war has been estimated at three trillion dollars, and we're bound to feel the effects of that cost in our standard of living. As for $110/barrel oil, I barely notice the cost of gasoline. I hear that prices for things are going up, but I don't notice runaway inflation when I shop. California's economy is adding jobs. Apparently, tech is still strong, despite troubles in the rest of the U.S. economy.

Anyway, getting back to the title of this post: are we seeing the first effects of peak oil? If not, when will we start to notice them? I tend to think that the effects of peak oil won't be all bad. In fact, in the long run (long run being defined as 30-50 years from now, at which time not all of us will be dead), the effects will be good, because peak oil will force us to develop solar, which we should have been doing all along.