A Crude Awakening is a film about oil, “peak oil”. Peak oil is the idea that there is a limited amount of oil in the ground, and the remaining reserves are becoming harder to extract, while demand keeps increasing.
Logically this means we will reach a point where production peaks and demand exceeds supply. When that happens, prices are likely to raise steeply.
One question raised in the film is exactly when this might happen: 2008? 2500? Or has production already peaked? Although the estimation of oil reserves is very complex, with all sorts of financial implications for countries and companies declaring their reserves, the film settles on the answer – “just about now”.
Given the state that the climate is in, running out of oil could be seen as a good thing – less oil burnt means less CO2 output, right? But it’s not as simple as that.
As the price of oil rises, there is more pressure to use other fossil fuels, such as coal and tar-sands, which produce more carbon for the same amount of energy. There’s also the possibility of more wars to “secure” the remaining reserves.
The oil and other fossil fuel reserves were laid down hundreds of millions of years ago, and are being released at a phenomenal rate. According to Jeff Dukes at the University of Utah, each year we burning more than 400 times more fossil fuels than are laid down (1997 figures).
We all know the “greenhouse” analogy for global warming – CO2 keeps the heat in like glass in a greenhouse. To work out what we need to do about it, the “blanket analogy” is better. Imagine you’re in bed, and it’s too hot. Someone is piling blankets onto you (think CO2 being added to the atmosphere). What will make you cooler? Asking them to slow the rate at which they *add* blankets (emit CO2)? Or reducing the number of blankets (reducing the actual amount of CO2 in the atmosphere)? It’s clear that merely slowing the rate at which we add CO2 to the atmosphere won’t work, unless we cut out emissions to the level at which carbon is stored by fossil fuel creation and other mechanisms.
So what can be done? Nuclear won’t save us – there’s not enough accessible fuel, and many countries will not be “allowed” nuclear in the near future, and so it’s not a global solution to what is a global problem. With our current energy usage, biomass would require massive amounts of land. Carbon capture and storage is new and unexplored, but do we really believe we can lock the carbon back up for hundreds of millions of years? One of the major solutions is to reduce energy use, by greater efficiency and cutting out things we can avoid (e.g. flights).
What this tells us is that whatever happens with peak oil, we need action to drastically reduce the burning of fossil fuels – we can’t just hope that we’ll run out before the planet fries!