If the US Secretary of Homeland Security announced at a news conference that a large asteroid was bearing down on earth, bringing massive destruction to our world, would he get more than two paragraphs on the Reuters news service? That’s pretty much what happened last week.
Instead of the Homeland Security chief it was the energy chief for the European Union, Guenther Oettinger, who made the announcement. Not about an asteroid, of course, but about peak oil: “The amount of oil available globally, I think, has already peaked.” The imminent damage to the civilized world implicit in that statement is equivalent to the damage done to the dinosaurs by the last big asteroid, but he got exactly two brief paragraphs in Reuters.
Remarkably, the implications of peak oil still have to be explained, even to those who witnessed this country brought to its knees by the oil shocks of the 1970s, when at most ten per cent of imported oil was withheld from the market (we were producing a lot more of our own back then: oil production in the United States peaked in 1970). Remember the gas lines, the desperation, the disruption, the near-riots? Now imagine that is just the beginning of a situation that can only get worse, because there is not enough oil available anywhere to meet demand, and there never will be again.
Oettinger is hardly a voice in the wilderness, and his point of view is not that unorthodox; it just has no advertising and PR support from Big Oil. This year’s World Energy Outlook, published last week by the International Energy Agency, says it is probable that world oil production peaked at 70 million barrels per day — in 2006, four years ago. Despite all the cheerleading about new technology and new discoveries, for three years in a row world oil production has been stuck at around 68 million bpd. The only reason we haven’t noticed, aside from the blackout imposed by Big Oil, is that the worlwide recession put demand on a temporary plateau, now coming to an end.
Oettinger’s remark was not an idle one, it was made as he was introducing plans for a trillion-euro program to try to wean Europe from fossil fuels. As late and as weak as that response is — to a threat that has been widely predicted for decades — it beats the US response by about a trillion euros. And by two paragraphs of news coverage.