Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Deffeyes and Diamond

Dr. Kenneth Deffeyes gave a talk last night at the UAF campus on the problem of peak oil production and the resultant potential for shocks (probably massive) to our economic system. Richard Seifert of the Alaska Energy & Housing Program gave the introduction. David James and I had gone to lunch with him, Seifert, Phil Loudon, Milt Behr, and Gary Hall, and then later listened to his talk. Very interesting, and, although I didn't agree with all of his points of view, his facts seemed quite solid. One interesting point he made was that when a system reaches its capacity and becomes stressed, system behavior, or in this case, pricing of oil, becomes very subject to the factors that influence price (say, a couple of warm winters in New England), and gets both erratic and extreme. It parallels queueing theory, he said, and showed us a graph of oil prices, fairly stable up through the nineteen forties, but then getting wild extremes up and down from the seventies onward.

He made a few modest suggestions about conservation that I hadn't heard or thought of before, but of course now they seem obvious. The two main areas to be hit hardest by reduced availability of oil are transportation and agriculture. So one practical way to reduce oil consumption is to grow a garden, store root vegetables, and can foods. Thus, one has more food locally grown, food that doesn't require the oil to ship it (and if grown organically, no petroleum-based pesticides or fertilizers, but he didn't think much of organic agriculture as a way to feed billions of people), and food that isn't shipped in the middle of winter. He said he hates turnips and rutabagas and parsnips, which store well, but (sigh) we've got to change the way we live.

The News-Miner has a front-page article today on his presentation (good for them!).

Next week, Jared Diamond is coming to UAF on the 28th at the Davis Concert Hall at 6 pm to give a talk on the subject of his book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. The UA Geography program is doing a series of lectures for the International Polar Year, and I think Diamond is the first one on the roster. Here's a review of Collapse on Grist Magazine. I plan to attend this lecture also.

These men's books are available at Gulliver's. I have a couple of Diamond's books (Guns, Germs, and Steel; Collapse) but I don't have Duffeyes' books yet (Hubbert's Peak: The Impending World Oil Shortage and Beyond Petroleum: The View from Hubbert's Peak). I plan to get them.


Ronymaru. said...

Intrepid Liberal Journal said...

Does he have different conservation methods for urban areas compared to suburban/rural neighborhoods?

Deirdre Helfferich said...

I'm sure he does; he didn't go into it very much as that wasn't the main subject of his speech. He mentioned the old standbys of turning off the lights, buying fuel-efficient cars (there was a discussion afterward of the lack of availability in this country of the 100-mpg vehicles one can purchase in Europe). Deffeyes is a hard-rock geologist. At lunch we talked about the problem of mall sprawl and the emphasis on parking lots, but that was mostly me and Richard Seifert. Our planning and zoning are big problems: they encourage sprawl and waste of agricultural land for parking and one- to two-storey giant shopping malls that everyone has to drive to because they aren't your neighborhood store. In other words, the very structure of American and Canadian cityscapes is predicated on and requires cheap oil. In Europe this isn't such a problem because cities and villages are more compact and built over the centuries around the pedestrian rather than the automobile.

A problem, no? Who gets on those low-glam planning commissions becomes a very important issue when looked at like this.

The how of conserving energy is out there: remember the book 50 Ways to Save the Earth?

The basic point is that oil consumption affects every aspect of our lives, in ways we may not have thought of, like putting up food, planting a garden (one can have container gardens in the city), walking or biking or taking public transportation.