Science Time With Six

Wednesday, April 26, 2006 at 04:41 AM

Or should perhaps this piece be really titled Okay, idiot, one more time, this is why oil costs so damned much.....

Way back when I were a cubling mystic, some nice men from the local nuclear power plant came to our school to show and tell us all about the wonders of fissing U235 atoms apart to boil water to turn steam turbines to light our homes. Believe it or not, for 2nd-graders, the talk was frank and very high-tech, amazing, too, we asked some very sharp questions. Mine were more into the mechanics, yes, obviously.

But one girl asked the best one: "Sir, why?"

"Because," this nice man said, and to this day, I can still see the stern look he handed her, "One day, honey, within your lifetime, we will run out of petroleum products."

He was dead over the numbers flared. (Pilotspeak for the prettiest touchdown imaginable, you park the bird dead at the end of!)Years later, I would read of the scientist and geophysicist, M King Hubbert, and his amazing theory: Peak Oil.

You punks and punkettes weren't around for Peak One, me, Lee, Mix, others, we old timers were. The images online pale to me sweating my ass off, seated in my Ford Pinto, waiting two blocks away from El Cheapo gas. Cheap? 99 and 9 and climbing. The Arab Oil Embargo was at warp. Nixon was still in the White House. Gas that used to piss off Papa at 39-n-9 was now at 99-n-9. A dollar? Soon, we were told.

"It's a rip-off!", some declared. Oh, the yarns than were spun: Oil tankers parked off Charleston, not heading in. Gee, I flew that area a few times while learning to fly, never saw one out there. A Cessna 310 out over the water, IFR mode, me and an older friend, and we looked high and low for them. Nope, just water, the occasional shrimp boats. Just water.

"There's plenty of oil, it's a hoax to drive prices up!" I heard that in 1974, and strange, I just heard it again a few days ago.

Is it a hoax?

Nope. That's the bad part, it's not a hoax. It's real as a .357 in your face real.

Mathematically, if Hubbert's work was based on picking ponies, he'd have been arrested for "fixing" races. To date, his timetables haven't been off by so much as one RCH, and in math terms, that makes his work prophetic.

Even by the time OPEC declared their anger at those who supported Israel (73-74), it was clear to those in the loop that we were already highly dependant on foreign oil. The wells of America were already past peak, yet, the demands for more and more were steady up the scale. Hence, an economy and civilization based on cheap energy was already under serious threat. Hence, the runaway inflation during Nixon, into Carter, and hence, in a strange way, the beginnings of American fascism, so to speak.

Hubbert's first peak came and went. We tried like hell to fix the problem: A 55-mph speed limit, conservation measures, the beginnings of looking into alternative energy sources, and yes, sorry, more fissing U235 to light the homes.

I'm asked, then, by younger friends, shit, dude, what went wrong? I tell them that back in the 1970's, car ads featured MPG status, now, they feature power, power, and more power, as if the vehicle now contains mattter-anti-matter plasma-pulsing warp-eleven capabilities. SUV's the size of small tanks, and for what? Soccer mom's?

Conservatism, I tell them, evolved into neofacism. Carter was sent back to Georgia, Raygun swept into office, dismantling the Windfall Profits Taxes, this tax, that tax, let the oil companies go kookoo. In a way, I say, settling back, it's like America rolled a huge giant doober and toked.

We just got used to cheap oil again. Well, sort of, if $1 whatever-n-9 is cheap, but compared to the current 2.85 and 9, far cheaper.

We closed our eyes and pretended. America just didn't give a shit anymore. So, people like Bob Redford and Jimmy Carter and others were relegated to being hippy types, fools, charlatans, idiots all. "There's a metric shitload of oil, see?"

No. There never was.

See, OPEC, after the Embargo, realized this, and went to warp to drill, drill and then, pump, process, sail, sell. To those paying attention, it was the darkness getting deeper, meanwhile, Uncle Ronnie was dismantling unions (bye-bye PATCO, you guys watched us so well!), allowing "Corporate Raiding", and yeppers, the first signs of jobs going overseas. This is true: Under Raygun's watch, the electronics industry of America fell pray to illegal pricing tactics of Japanese electronics firms, but....

But, see, Hubbert knew all this: Rising population, rising demand for gasoline, oil, home heating/diesel, A1, Avgas, and stuff to make plastics would just keep rising, and guess what: There only exists a finite amount of oil, dumbass!

So, lessee, here we are Peak Two. China's demanding oil. So is India. So is Europe. So are several million Americans, and yep, we use far more than anybody does.

The peak is here, children. Now, what do we do?

That's for the next chapter. See ya then.