205. IS PEAK OIL SOMETHING THAT THE LAYMAN NEEDS TO WORRY ABOUT?
This question has been nagging me lately. The general vibe from the peak oil community is that peak oil is imminent, and even ordinary people need to take it very seriously, right now. Note that I'm not saying that scientists, engineers, investors, economists and other specialists shouldn't be concerned about it. They are and should be. It's a tough technical problem, and it's interesting in its own right. What I'm asking is: why do lay people need to know about it?
The usual answer is: it's going to shake up your life. It's going to get you whether you pay attention or not. But I look at my own life, and nothing much is really happening. Despite the ongoing energy crisis, and oil rising by as much as 7 times in 7 years, peak oil has had no noticeable impact whatsoever on my life. I wouldn't be any worse off if I didn't know about it. Yes, it's a fun topic, and I like to follow it, but that's just my own personal quirk. On the scale of problems which directly affect my daily life, peak oil ranks near the bottom. I wouldn't even notice it if I wasn't looking for it. Even for heavy energy users in the U.S., the problem has been fairly marginal. All they really need to know, as lay people, is: "Hmm... Fuel's getting more expensive these days, better conserve."
Do they really need to obsessively follow the news in the peak oil community? It's like a hungry mouth that needs to be fed. It's one spooky headline after another: the die-off in Niger, Katrina, bird flu, storage depot explosion in the UK, the Russia gas crisis, the latest UK fuel oil crisis etc. etc. But, oddly enough, all these problems get resolved and forgotten, and then the chase is on for the next one. I was thinking about this "news cycle", and remembering that even Laherrere (a peak oil pessimist from ASPO) forecasts an all liquids peak in the year 2015. That's about 10 years from now, and I imagined all these peak burn-outs turning gray, going from headline to headline for the next 10 years. It's kind of a sad thought.
It's actually even worse than that. In the late 70s and early 80s, world oil production dropped by 15% over 5 years, and nothing particularly doomy happened then either. I was driving at that time, and I never even noticed that an oil crisis was happening. There was a recession, but it's not like you really need to "prepare" or educate yourself for a recession. Generally, everybody goes into a recession unprepared, and still muddles through. I didn't know anything about the 1979 peak, and it didn't do me any harm.
So how much does a person really need to know about peak oil?