Thursday, January 15, 2009

In Petrol Speramus: The Impending “Crude Awakening”

The excrement of the devil, black blood, the blood stream of the new economy, the blood of the dinosaurs, the blood of the earth, black gold, Texas tea—oil—the subject of Basil Gelpke and Ray McCormack’s documentary A Crude Awakening: The Oil Crash is one of the most terrifying films I have ever seen; however, after doing some research and talking to some environmentalist acquaintances, it seems that this is more or less environmental propaganda. First, the filmmakers show us that “We use it [petroleum] for everything.” Then they tell us that “Collapse is only a few years away.” Before finally telling us that the world is going to end unless shit changes and we basically start using solar energy, as nuclear, hydrogen, and bio-diesel are no good.

Points the film makes, rather overtly, I might add, are as follows: Oil is our God. No matter who people say their deity is, they actually worship petroleum. Up until the 1950’s, the U.S. was the leading producer of crude oil, in many ways it built our economy, we were the Saudi Arabia of the world, and like with most things America dominates, it was thought that this was what it was going to be like forever. After that came Venezuala for our consumption while Russia depended on the city Baku. These places have been totally annihilated as a result of their loss of petrol-dollars. Oil is a magnate for war. More and more oil is going to come from exceedingly unstable places of the world. A guy named M.K. Hubbert came up with this bell-shaped curve aptly called “Hubbert’s Curve” that shows when oil production and consumption both peak and then abruptly drops off. This took place in December 1970 when the oil production in the U.S. peaked and then we had to go elsewhere for our oil. Everyone has because the only place in the world that hasn’t peaked is the Middle East, and evidence suggests that they too have actually peaked though getting accurate numbers out of them is exceedingly difficult. Once the peak of oil has been reached it probably means the peak of sustainable life. Once that happens then holy shit. Cities in the U.S. are built around the need to drive, unlike in Europe where cities were in place before the car was invented.[*]

Not only that but Saudi Arabia’s instability is a formula for major, major conflict. In the last 20 years there has been a huge drop in the per capita income of the Saudi, from $28,000 to $6,000 a year. Islamic fundamentalists are being bred by the minute as their government is seen as corrupt and sending all their country’s money to the U.S. and they hate both America and their own leaders who use our military capabilities against them. One commentator says “What we are looking at is a multigenerational resource war.” He later explains that even if you hybridize every car on the road right now, we would still be consuming the same amount of gas in a decade because of the ever increasing need. Biodeisel, hydrogen, ethanol, nuclear, wind, none of these things are really more than a drop in the bucket compared to the amount of oil we depend on.

Once we hit Hubbert’s Peak unprepared as we are, then its only a matter of time before economic collapse. When that happens, poof, no more technological society and things will get incredibly, incredibly grim because the financial system is built on petro-dollars, it all comes down to cheap energy. Only the top one percent of the top one precent will drive a car or fly in an airplane. Your grandkids may never ride in an airplane.

By the time the film was over I was stockpiling water and gasoline and trying to figure out how I would make it from Winston Salem to Indianapolis on foot or whatever now that World War III was going to happen at any second now since we are very clearly going to run out oil in a couple of weeks or years or what have you. Outkast’s song “Da Art of Storytellin Part 2” came to mind and I considered buying a rocket launcher for when raiders came once we go beyond Thunderdome if you will. But once the female companion came home, of course, she was able to make my neurosis apparent as only she is really able to do when it occasionally springs up. And seriously, it is hard not to feel sort of insane just thinking “when we reach peak oil, I am going to be prepared,” but who knows. The female companion, who grew up having heard that Jesus was going to return at any moment to usher in the apocalypse, basically told me that this was just another form of the craziness that she had to deal with everyday from like birth until college where she became, like me, an existentialist.

However, I do think we greatly need to curb our dependency on oil—I mean it’s not going to last forever. This film, though it is probably propaganda, does end up being pretty solid and informative. I only hope that it is information that should be taken with a grain of salt.

[*] Something to think about: a 16 oz. bottle of drinking water will run you around $1. With 128 ounces in a gallon that comes out to $8 for a gallon of good old H2O, with which we could not live with out. The last time I got gas it cost me $1.58. Gasoline is just about the least expensive liquid we can get here in the United States.