Just when you thought it was safe to drive a gas-guzzler again — peak oil is back. And it’s after your wallet, your air, and your planet.
Peak oil. It’s an idea that’s generated a lot of controversy in its lifetime, with both proponents and naysayers arguing fiercely over not just its accuracy, but even over whether it exists at all. The theory goes that, eventually, oil production will stop increasing (it will peak), then enter a death spiral, never to recover.
However, with the introduction of oil from unconventional sources like fracking and tar sands, many in the “peak oil is a myth” camp have been quick to claim victory. And since oil production has steadily increased since 2009, it seems that, at least temporarily, there is a basis for their self-proclaimed victory.
But how much of a victory is it, really? Yes, oil production is at an all time-high, and yes, prices are relatively low, but there are several reasons to think that peak oil — or something similar — could come back from the dead. And unlike most zombies, it doesn’t want your brains: It wants to drain your wallet, to pollute the air you breathe, and to alter the climate you depend on.
What do I mean? Well, we already know the terrible toll oil has on our economy, our air, and our climate. But what many people don’t know is that the unconventional oil that we’ve been relying on more and more to keep production rates up is worse on all three counts.
For starters, unconventional oil is significantly more expensive than oil extracted conventionally. And the more of it we end up using, the lighter our wallets will become. Second, oil from unconventional sources seriously damages air quality, leading to “increased incidences of rare cancers,” in addition to all the other horrible effects of poor air quality has on our bodies and even our brains. Third, unconventional oil is already a serious contributor to climate change, a consequence that will only get worse.
So yes, the peak oil theory that suggests we’re going to run out of oil in the near future is probably unsubstantiated. But what is substantiated is the idea that, unless we start rapidly transitioning away from oil, there will be serious ramifications for our planet and economies.