Friday, February 10, 2006

Oil The World's a Stage

How many people actually sit around thinking that if their eyes are open, they're probably looking at something that was made with oil?
(Yes, Peter, I know you do.)
So do I. In fact, this disquieting thought meanders through my brain quite often lately. I mean, everything has something to do with oil. Even if it's something that wasn't made directly from oil, chances are the machine on which it was made has some connection with black gold.
Have we not, as a civilization, put all our eggs in one basket? What happens when that basket gives out? I, for one, have little interest in surveying the giant omelette that was once our whole world.
There are conflicting reports on just how long the oil supply will last. But it's a pretty safe bet that we'll see the end of oil within a generation or two. And I think we've long passed the point where we could adapt easily to a world without oil and everything it's been made into.
There are alternate energy sources out there. And I'm not talking solar or many factories do you know of that are run by the sun and the summer breeze? More than a century ago, Nikola Tesla found a way to sink a rod into the earth and bring up electricity; his scheme collapsed when his backers realized there was no way to make money from it. You can bet that somewhere, somebody's got ol' Nikky's notes, and they'll spring this new power source upon us just as soon as they've wrung every last cent out of oil.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: I am an almost complete ignoramus when it comes to economics. Every time the price of oil inches upward, we're fed a litany of excuses. They won't actually come out and say they're starting to run out of oil--that'd cause real panic--but everything from a little wobble in Middle East geopolitics through to the mere possibility of a hurricane is enough, these days, to send the price of oil shooting for the moon. To me, that indicates a lack of stability in the supply. But from here, it looks like the only reason we're being asked to pay more for gasoline is to line the pockets of Big Oil. Every quarter, their profits grow fatter. The PRICE of oil may rise, but it's pretty obvious the COST of oil hasn't. If you count the cost in dollars alone, anyway.
Consider a world without oil. In many ways it'd be an improvement over what we have now...but getting there would probably take an Armageddon or two. Individuals don't kick addictions easily. With societies, it's damn near impossible.
It'd be in our best interest to develop a wide-ranging, sustainable, and powerful source of energy right about yesterday. It will take time to wean the world off the oily tit. But even having done that, there remains the colossal problem of material...most of it, as I said, either made from oil or made with the assistance of something that was made from oil. That's what's called a nontrivial issue.
An atomic replicator a la Star Trek would be ideal. While still in the realm of science fiction last I checked, I do believe such a machine is at least theoretically possible. And the payoff is beyond any invention in the history of inventions.
If I were a government, I would offer a 25-year exclusive patent to the first company that comes up with a working replicator. Greed is a powerful motivator, perhaps the most powerful motivator of all. What price a machine that will literally create weath? Every episode of Star Trek I ever saw had the replicator confined to making little stuff like a cup of tea. But if you can create a cup of tea out of thin air, what's to stop you from creating a new house?
Or an atomic bomb?
Every new technology has its promise and its peril. I think the only reason we haven't seen atomic replicators in our world is simply that spiritually, our world isn't ready for them yet.
We'd better get with the program soon. Before we run out of our drug of choice.

1 comment:

Peter Dodson said...

Hey Ken. I would recommend a book called The Long Emergency. Of all the books on peak oil and its consequences, his is by far the scariest. He argues that we may have already passed peak oil.

The scariest thing is that each and every alternative energy out there requires oil in order to manufacture the infrastructure to produce that energy. Think about ethanol. Yeah, its a nice alternative energy, but how much oil is needed to grow the corn in the first place?