In A Peak Oil World, Live Like An Island Castaway

by Erik North on October 8, 2012

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Peak oil is one of the most contentious energy topics out there. Just do a Google search to see what I mean. Because it is about oil and the idea that there is a limit to this geological jackpot, it falls squarely in the cross-hairs of a few highly dogmatic ideologies. For some, peak oil is the harbinger of the end of the post-industrial society. The other end of the rainbow feels peak oil is a green myth, concocted to scare folks into some hippie agenda.

My take for the last few years (after a 6 month bout of peak oil dooming) has been that we are very possibly headed toward an oil constrained future. This doesn’t mean we’ll run out. But as long as China and India want to live like middle-class Americans, demand and supply will but heads. So it makes logical sense to live like an island castaway.

What is Peak Oil (your obligatory boring Wiki – style definition)?

Totally copying this from another post. Peak oil, as a generic term, is the point when world production of petroleum peaks and begins to decline. M. King Hubbert first articulated this concept (sometimes called Hubbert peak theory) in 1956. It was based on the observation that the production rates from individual oil fields followed a bell curve-like distribution. This also came to be called ‘Hubbert’s Curve’.

Hubbert's peak Hubbert realized regional production rose and fell just like individual wells. Source:

Production would rapidly rise as infrastructure was built and the best pockets of oil were tapped. Eventually, it would reach a peak, sustain that peak for some time then decline over time. Hubbert’s observations showed this held true for individual wells, oil fields, geographical regions, entire countries and, yes, entire planets.

Imagine picking apples from a tree. The first apples picked would be those still fresh apples on the ground. Then the proverbial low hanging fruit, then those within easy reach in the branches. In not too long a time you would have picked all the ‘easy fruit’. Getting those higher up would require ladders, more help and possibly heavy duty equipment like a hydraulic lift. Everything would be slower and more expensive. Less apples = less oil.

Living Like A Castaway

And I don’t mean sitting on your duff hoping that the Professor builds a nuclear reactor from a coconut. Suppose you were somehow stranded on a remote island with a very low chance of rescue.

You’ve salvaged a fairly large supply of non-perishable goods, enough to last several years. In scouting the island, you’ve discovered an abundance of fish, crabs, and edible greens. You even found a mango grove (so plenty of vitamin C, no scurvy).

The optimist castaway eats their limited cache of non-perishable goods, hoping they’re rescued before supplies run out. They’ll be rescued, right? Right? Is that a ship on the horizon?

The sensible castaway takes a more balanced approach. They know that the food and supplies they’ve scavenged could last a long time but they can’t depend on a miracle rescue. This castaway leans on fishing and foraging as a source of long-term sustenance, dipping into the non-perishables in emergencies.

That is very much the global situation in which we find ourselves. Whatever ingenuity and technologies are applied to the world petroleum supplies, they are finite. And at 80 million barrels of oil used each day (That’s over 3 billion gallons), we are married to using it and there is no current alternative that could completely replace it.

What the smart castaway can do is not expect a miracle rescue. Start moving toward fishing and foraging rather than wolfing down our non-perishable food (or non-renewable oil) and be a smart castaway.

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