Saturday, November 12, 2005

There's a Darkness on the Edge of Town

On last night's commute I heard a "thwop" sound and the streetlight above me went dark. The wind was blowing strong from the south and I was riding south toward Issaquah along the East Lake Sammamish Parkway. As I rode onward, it looked like the blackout pretty much encompassed the city of Sammamish but lights shining across the lake reasured me that this wasn't anything wide reaching, like the change postulated in S. M. Stirling's grimly intriguing novel, Dies the Fire.

As I rode into the wind, watching candles flicker to life in the windows of multi-million dollar lake-front homes, I thought about the change, not the apocalyptic quantum change of Stirling's speculation, but the certain change -- the end of cheap oil.

Notice that I didn't say the end of oil, I said the end of cheap oil. People can debate the level of oil reserves, play games with numbers, speculate about all kinds of scenarios but there is only so much oil under the ground.

We've built our world around cheap oil and that cheap oil is going away. And that will be a big change.

Even if you are a hemp-wearing, tipi-living, organic-gardening Bhodisattva living in Shangri-La, the end of cheap oil is going to have a big impact on you. At the very least you'll have a lot of your neighbors suddenly very interested in how you live!

As I rode into Issaquah, I rolled along new pavement shining under the full-powered glow of the McDonalds and Krispy Kreme signs. Cheap oil made that smooth pavement. Cheap oil fertilized the crops that became the food-like substances sold by McDonalds and Krispy Kreme. Cheap oil brings bikes to your bike shop and food to your market. Cheap oil made the case for the laptop I'm typing this on and placed the fiber optic cables that connect this internet of ours.

I don't claim to have a solution and I don't even claim to have any good advise. But there's a darkness on the edge of town and this isn't the time to be smug or point fingers or say "I told you this was coming." It is good to know where your candles and matches are and to think about where they come from.

We live in interesting times. Over the next few years, it will probably get more interesting.


Tammy said...

Nicely written! I didn't know about the power-outage. Sounds kinda cool as long as you have a good bike light, which I'm sure you do :)

So where's the book review? Should I rush out and buy it...using the cheap oil in Subaru, of course??

Kent Peterson said...

Well, maybe you should run, not drive, to the store or the library.

The book is science fiction with an interesting gimmick, some kind of wierd quantum change in a few things that we have always thought of as physical constants. It doesn't spend a lot of time or detail into a "why" or "how" behind what the characters come to call "the change" but in an instant electricity and high
volitity reactions (gas/air explosions and gunpowder) stop working. Yeah, don't bother to write a bunch of "but that can't happen" posts. Just call it a gimmick and move on.

Anyhow imagine the power going out globally all at once. Planes falling from the sky, every car stopped in an instant. Thing go medieval really fast and it makes for a good story. "Dies the Fire" is the first in a series. The second book is out now and third one should be out next fall.

And the action in the books takes place in the Pacific Northwest so it's got kind of a cool local vibe. Certainly not Utopian stuff, more like Mad Max without the gasoline.

BTW, bicycles are one of the most high tech things that still work after "the change".

Anonymous said...

I just read The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of the Oil Age, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-first Century by James Kunstler. He also addresses the end of cheap oil and possible/likely implications.

Definitely worth reading and contemplating. Not sure what solutions follow. Think I'll go ride my bike, helps me think clearly sometimes....