Tuesday, June 24, 2008
A. Robert Thurman
Salt Lake Tribune
There should have been banner headlines in every newspaper in the country. It should have been the lead story on every newscast. On June 7 U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman announced that the world had reached peak oil output and that demand was outracing supply.
Instead, Bodman's pronouncement in Japan, before the energy chiefs of eight industrialized countries, drew virtually no notice. Bodman did not use the term "peak oil," but the situation he described, flat global oil production dating back to 2005, coupled with ever-increasing demand, including hefty increases in demand from China and India, precisely fits the paradigm of peak oil.
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The implications of peak oil are unnerving, to put it mildly. One of the most far-reaching implications is the decline and eventual end of the use of the individual automobile. With gasoline at $4-plus per gallon, we are already seeing the beginning of the decline. Behemoth SUVs are rapidly becoming unmarketable, and, according to a June 10 Washington Post story, car owners are starting to curtail their driving.
With the problematic future of the automobile in mind, perhaps it's time to reconsider transportation policy for the Wasatch Front. [And in Salem, and Oregon, and all over the US---ed.] New highways may not be what we need. In fact, they may not even be economically feasible. . . .
Instead of new highways, we need more mass transit, and we are likely to need it soon. Transportation monies should be spent on mass transit projects to tie together the sprawling Wasatch Front communities, not on highway projects that are all too likely to become virtually useless white elephants.
By the end of the year, a new task force created by Cleveland City Council will make recommendations on how city departments, businesses and residents can better prepare for a future of permanently high fuel prices.
Cleveland will be the first major city in the Midwest to have such a task force to address the topic of "peak oil," said Jesse Auerbach, special projects coordinator at the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center.
"It's great to see Cleveland take a leadership role on this issue," Auerbach said. "Peak oil will affect all of us. In fact, it may already be affecting us."
Peak oil is the point at which oil production for a region, nation or the planet reaches its maximum output and then starts to fall. No amount of investment in more wells or new technology can prevent the oil from depleting since oil is a finite resource, said Tom Whipple of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas.
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Everything from the cost of getting to work to the price of food, the expense of policing and trash collection, and the cost of doing business is rising and is likely to rise higher. Whipple made that sobering prediction at a recent meeting of the National League of Cities environmental and energy committee, held in Cleveland.
Similar peak oil task forces were formed in Portland, Ore., San Francisco, Calif. and Austin, Texas. As a result, those cities reallocated funding to help businesses become more energy efficient, provide guidance to residents seeking to reduce their commuting costs, encourage urban gardening and promote land use development patterns that require little or no driving.
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