Back in March I wrote a little about the phenomenon known as “Peak Oil.” As an accompaniment to that entry, I included an embedded video of the movie, A Crude Awakening: The Oil Crash and invited everyone to watch it and be edified. If you missed that entry, or if you passed on the opportunity to watch the film, I encourage you to click the link and take the opportunity to read and watch now. I can virtually guarantee you won’t be disappointed.
For those who have never heard the term Peak Oil before, I will refer to my earlier entry on the subject:
Basically it’s like this: all oil wells eventually reach a point of maximum production and then begin a steady decline as they are emptied out. This is the peak to which the name Peak Oil refers. The problem arises not just from the decline, but from the peak in demand. Supply begins to drop first, but demand continues at the same pace until it becomes clear that it has far outstripped the ability of oil producers to provide product. What follows is a decline in oil usage, but it always lags behind the initial drop in supply. The difference between demand and supply is a shortage, and you know what shortages mean: skyrocketing prices and diminished availability of such essentials as transportation fuel.
Written out like that it doesn’t seem all that threatening. It’s only when you are faced with the ultimate result of these shortages — and the inevitable exhaustion of the resource — that it begins to sink in exactly what we’re facing here. Again, I refer to my earlier entry:
Our whole civilization depends upon oil for its very existence. More than that, it depends on cheap, abundant oil that can easily supply our industries. Food is affordable only because mechanized farming and petroleum-based fertilizers allow abundant crops, and because it doesn’t cost a fortune to transport food from producer to market. We’re able to commute to work only because fuel is cheap enough to make such a drive monetarily feasible. Raise the prices significantly in transportation and everything begins to fall apart simply because it’s no longer economically viable to do what we’ve been doing all along.
The eventual, inevitable depletion of oil is about more than inconvenience, and it’s not an easily resolvable situation. A Crude Awakening will wake you up to this in a hurry.
The first part of the film concerns itself with the Peak Oil concept. Despite my succinct explanation, it oftentimes takes more to really get the idea across. To this end, A Crude Awakening tells the story of Baku in Azerbaijan, once the bustling energy center of the Soviet Union and a target for the German war machine in World War II. Baku was the epitome of the boom town, pumping oil like there was no tomorrow and flush with oil wealth. Skip to today, and Baku is practically a ghost town. The wells are all but depleted and the wealth is long since gone. It’s frightening because you understand immediately that what happened in Baku will as a matter of course happen to every city or country that pumps oil. The transition happens with terrifying rapidity and left unprepared, the population is in for a hell of a crisis.
A Crude Awakening then goes on to discuss the worldwide oil industry and how the rate of discovery of new oil fields has slowed to a crawl over the last 30 or 40 years. We’re just not finding oil like we used to, and most of our sources are quickly drying up. A Crude Awakening was released in 2006, at exactly the year oil experts predicted Peak Oil would occur. We are on the down slope of that curve now, and one glance at the price of gasoline can confirm that something seriously bad is up.
What about new technologies for extracting oil? Those do exist and they are improving all the time, but as one of the experts in the film points out — and I should say this is a former advisor of George W. Bush, so we’re not talking about some pie-in-the-sky academician — these technologies are only “super straws,” sucking out what little there is left. We may be better and better at getting the oil out of the ground, but that doesn’t mean the supply will last any longer. Quite the opposite, in fact.
A Crude Awakening is not hysterical, even though it has every right to be. The talking heads it introduces speak matter-of-factly about the unfolding crisis. The documentary grows darker and darker still as it unspools, but the tone never becomes frantic. The filmmakers want you to be fully informed about this critical issue and they want you to be aware of the consequences of repeatedly delayed action.
Unless you are one of those folks who insists the oil will magically continue to appear out of the ground no matter what we do, you’re going to be deeply unsettled by A Crude Awakening. When even Republican Congressmen, as shown in this film, are predicting a terrible fate for the oil industry, something is definitely happening. The documentary will spur you into action, though it is difficult to know what sort of action on an individual level will make much of a difference in a system-wide crisis like this one. It’s even more disheartening when one realizes that the overwhelming majority of people and policymakers don’t even know Peak Oil is a thing. It’s hard to get someone agitated about something they don’t recognize as an existential threat.
I’d love to say that A Crude Awakening offers some easy solutions that can be followed one, two, three to the resolution of the Peak Oil dilemma. The situation has degenerated far too much for that. The film does offer some suggestions about courses we might take to generate a “soft landing,” as opposed to the civilization-ending crash that seems inevitable at this point, but as I said earlier it’s a hard pill to swallow. You will be disturbed by this documentary and you will want to spur your fellow human beings into some kind of action. A Crude Awakening is that effective. You’ll want to show it to everyone.