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It doesn’t matter whether we’ve hit peak oil yet. We still must address global warming. We can’t wait for oil shortages to wean us off our bad habits.
Peak oil is one of the decade’s hot subjects. According to this thesis, proposed by geologist M. King Hubbert, somewhere in our future an oil crunch will occur, as ever-increasing demand exhausts the dwindling supply.
Back in 2009, British environmental polemicist George Monbiot warned that the peak oil disaster was upon us. But in a July 2 London Guardian column he did an about-face.
“We were wrong on peak oil,” he said. “There is enough to fry us all.”
While other energy experts took sides on this issue, the real question isn’t where we are on the peak oil curve, but where we are on the global warming front. And we’re getting dreadfully close to the tipping point there.
Those who thought that peak oil would mean that the world economy would “by necessity” embrace renewable energy were fooling themselves. Even as the alarms were ringing, industry and consumers here remained addicted to fossil fuels.
It’s just not true that the law of supply and demand will bring us painlessly into a solar-powered, green utopia. Barring state intervention and environmental activism, industrial civilization will not rethink its oil addiction, any more than a shark can be talked into going vegetarian. What peak oil means is that the quest for oil will become more nasty, violent and desperate.
And if you expect some leftist ecological revolution in the Third World to come to the planet’s rescue, think again. Latin America’s left-leaning governments love oil as much as any capitalist does.
Socialist Bolivian President Evo Morales can talk all he wants about the environment, but his country is now no less dependent on oil and natural gas exports than it was under previous governments.
And under the leadership of the Workers’ Party, Brazil’s national oil company Petrobras has become one of the world’s largest corporations. Petrobras is now digging for oil in the Atlantic, in waters that are deeper and more dangerous than where the Deepwater Horizon tragedy took place.
What this means for the environment is that none of the peak oil forecast models spare us from global warming’s worst-case scenario.
Whether or not we agree on the precise time of peak oil, we must band together to change the economy’s course or face planetary catastrophe. Local grassroots struggles against fossil fuel extraction operations, like mountaintop removal and shale oil, are an essential part of this effort.
Our window of opportunity for action is beginning to close. We do not have much time.
Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero is a Puerto Rican author, journalist and environmental educator. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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