“The bad news is, there’s good news”…am I twisted, or what? How could good news be bad news? And what the bleep am I talking about, anyway?
OK, let me tell you what I’m referring to. Some of it is pretty immediate and you’re probably aware of it–the price of a barrel of oil has dropped by about a seventh, from nearly a hundred and forty dollars a barrel to about a hundred and twenty. We will soon be seeing gas prices as low as three-fifty a gallon. Whoop-te-do!
The second bad/good news is longer term and lower on the radar–but there are signs that, globally, we may be in for overall cooler weather for at least the next decade. In part, this is because the sun has cooled off slightly, and in part it is because ocean circulation seems to be slowing down, and not bringing warm water to northern areas at quite such a clip. Of course, this is happening in part because of reduced salinity due to increased ice melt in the Arctic, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s go back to the oil supply for a while. Why is cheaper oil bad news?
Two reasons. Number one–oil use in this country has finally started declining, but if it’s cheaper, use will start to rise again, and, number two, there will be less incentive to find alternatives. If people use more oil, we will go on carbonating our atmosphere. Then, when the sun heats up again, we will really get body slammed by climate change, and, as the oil runs out, we will have fewer resources with which to work on alternatives, and they will be much more costly.
—C-mon, there’s all that oil off the coast that McCain and Obama want to drill for, and there’s all that oil shale in Wyoming and Colorado–billions and billions of barrels, a hundred and ten years worth, they say.
What they don’t say is how expensive that oil is to pump, or that even the best case for oil shale pegs it at supplying no more than a sixth to a quarter of our current demand. And they don’t talk about how many years it’s going to be before that oil is actually available to the public, either, or that other companies have had sure-fire extraction methods that didn’t pan out.
That leads to another part of the good news/bad news, which is that Shell Oil has apparently developed a process for separating oil from shale underground, using much less water and energy than earlier methods that would have strip mined vast areas of the desert west and sucked up more water than there is available for all uses, although the people and infrastructure needed for this underground separation method will still strain the limits of the available water Bad news: now it’s practical to put more carbon in the atmosphere by extracting this oil. Good news: they think the process may be applicable to the tar sands of Alberta, which would end, or at least slow down, the eco-rape of the northern boreal forest. Ah, it’s an imperfect world. Perfectly imperfect. But, I digress…..
My best guess is that oil prices will start to rise again right after the election.
Meanwhile, up in the sky, the sun has lost its spots. There is, for reasons we don’t fully understand, an eleven-year cycle in the frequency of sunspots. The last cycle ran down about two years ago, and….has yet to kick back in. The last time this is known to have happened (because the Chinese were studying sunspots while Europe was sunk in superstition) was between 1650 and 1700, a time referred to as “the little Ice Age.” What we don’t know is whether there was a connection between the lack of sunspot activity and the cold weather, but we may be about to find out.
Meanwhile, as I said, researchers are now predicting a ten-year cool spell, due to changes in ocean currents, although this has not yet affected either of the poles, both of which are reporting unprecedentedly warm weather–highs in the 80′s Farenheit on Baffin Island, where the temperature has traditionally rarely gone over 60, and rain in Antarctica, where penguin populations are being decimated by weather the birds just didn’t evolve for, and ice sheets are melting at rate that is described by scientists with the highly technical term, “scary.”
Ten years of slightly cooler weather will be wonderful feed for the climate change deniers, who seem to be collectively suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder and an inability to comprehend reality. In one recent episode, Barack Obama has come under attack for Sean Hannity’s version of what he said, when all Obama did was quote suggestions from Bush’s own Department of Energy about doing regular oil changes and keeping tires inflated to the right pressure, and saying such measures can save more oil than offshore drilling will yield.
I’m no great fan of Barack’s, but the right wingnuts who mock Obama are spoiled, arrogant oil junkies who deserve to be bitch slapped, not pandered to, as Obama, for the sake of politics, has had to do. Phil Gramm, bless his cold, lizard heart, was right–this IS a nation of whiners, just not how he meant it. Drilling off our coasts will not drive gas prices down now, but it will undermine what’s left of aquatic life. Hey, guys, if you really just gotta build a bunch of offshore towers, let’s put wind turbines on them, OK? They’re much cleaner and easier to install, and they’ll go on providing carbon-free electricity long after the oil would have been exhausted.
Offshore drilling or no offshore drilling, oil shale or no oil shale, we will never see ten or even fifty-dollar a barrel oil again. We have all but spent our petroleum inheritance, and we need to be figuring out how to get along without it much more than we need to be arguing about how much is really left.
music: Grateful Dead, Samson and Delilah