Peak Oil Production

I was alarmed to read that not just environmentalists but even the CEO’s of some oil companies (and their accountants and geologists) are saying the moment of “peak oil production” may occur in the next decade.  Some say 2012, some say 2015.  Somewhere in there, I guess.  This is all a numbers game of course; and it doesn’t make much sense to even try to be that exact.

But the exactness is what scared me.  Let’s see in 2012, if I am still up and kicking, I will be 66.  I think that math is right.

So what’s to be alarmed about?  “Peak oil production” doesn’t mean the end of oil; only that the production of it will peak and after that, well, it will start inexorably to go down and down.  The result of course is that demand will far outstrip supply; especially now that the developing countries, like China, also want gas to fuel their new SUV’s. 

The cost of gas will accordingly soar.  Is ten bucks a gallon out of the question?  I don’t think so.  More worrisome is that the peak production will also affect the food supply.  A hell of a lot of petroleum is used in the actually production of food (think: green house tomatoes), and then there is this business of how far food travels to get to our mouths.  I keep hearing the figure that says the average travel of a piece of food from farm to the human mouth is about 1800 miles.  I don’t know how you figure such a figure, and wonder if you took out of the average the number of miles your average coffee bean travels, if that number would not be reduced considerably.

So there I will be 66 or maybe 69 years old, if I am still up and kicking, and on a fixed income.  I suspect I will have to severely curtail my car travel.  OK, so I have a market not a mile off.  I could walk there OK, I guess; possibly they will have shopping carts for sale.  So I could buy and push one of my own to the market.  And then when I get there who knows, there may be food shortages.  Or the cost of food will be staggering.  So I can push my cart back and forth with loads of beans and rice. 

Some are predicting the come back of cities and the creation perhaps of “villages.”  Take Manhattan.  You can’t drive there anyway.  So people walk and they can walk to get what they want, though it may take some time, because stuff is pretty close together.  Imagine a Manhattan, around the time of the peak of oil production, maybe with no cars at all; people walking to get where they want to go or maybe riding solar powered scooters.

Some people predict the end of the suburbs.  Think first of all the travel involved in getting from your suburb to your place of work or even to the market.  Then think of your average free standing house—once representing the pinnacle of the American Dream—Your own free standing house!  Why those things are ridiculously energy inefficient; all those windows every place and that damn lawn to keep up and all the lights. 

I think those golden years were always just a myth to lead us on and make us think some rest was just around the corner.  Well that’s not going to happen.  There I will be pushing my beans and rice in my shopping cart as long as I can walk, that is, on my arthritic knees.

I hope I live to see it.  But for my sanity, I should stop reading stuff about the future.

A First

For the past month or so, Brother Dan and I have been breaking in a new routine.  When he gets to work—or a little later—once he has settled in, he instant messages me (we both have Yahoo IM) and says, Hey.  Or something to that effect.

Usually I am there round then in front of my computer, sorting through emails, deleting some, writing others to students who have questions, writing group emails to the whole class, and mostly just trying to wake myself up with coffee and to get a toehold in the new day.

So he IM’ed this morning with a Hey, and while we were going back and forth about something, he must have been multitasking cause he made reference to my blog entry about text messaging, and I said yea I was trying to understand that, but doubted I would ever send a text message myself, and wasn’t even sure I could do it with my phone.

He said sure I could and then later wrote that he had sent me a text message between IM messages.  Wow! I said, but then, damn it, I couldn’t find my phone, and then I did find it and sure enough there was a text message from Dan that said Hey.  So I tried to say Hey back, but I couldn’t figure out where the space bar was for making spaces between the words, so my first text message ever read, “heybak.”  And then I realized I don’t know how to make caps either.

In any case, a first.  My first text message ever.  Maybe my last too, though I should check with Dan to see if he actually got it.  If he didn’t, I will have to try again to make it official.

And an update: my hypothesis about the kelp, fish, and dolphins may have some truth to it, because Carol and I saw dolphins again for the first time in three or four months.


According to one study, young people, also called teens, are writing more than ever what with email and text messaging.  Well, they are using letters—I mean to say the characters of the alphabet—to communicate, though some might argue this doesn’t constitute writing, since this form of communication doesn’t lend itself to the complete sentence…Necessarily….

So I talked with my students about this text messaging thing, and learned about something called Blackberry Thumb.  This is where you go to a doctor complaining about an ache in your thumb and he says do you have a Blackberry.  Because at one time the Blackberry had its wheel on the side and people were thumbing that wheel so much they were getting carpel tunnel of the thumb.  So it became known as Blackberry thumb even though most cases of it now arise from thumbing text messages.

Apparently this thumbing is going on all the time all over the place.  I asked one student how many text messages she had received while sitting there in my class.  She acted a little defensive saying she had put her phone away upon entering the class; so I said I was just interested and could she tell me anyway.  So she looked at her phone and said she had received 5 text messages while sitting in my class and one email. From her mother.

So when I was sitting with one group of students discussing topics for their research papers (one person was going to write about text messaging), I asked, how come so much text messaging and not phoning.  Well, first text messaging was silent, so you could pretty much do it anywhere without anybody noticing, as for instance in a large lecture class, or surreptitiously under the desk in my class.  But with phoning, well, you have to talk out loud and people could pretty easily detect a person doing that in lecture or class.

Also they just didn’t like they phone, and why was that I wondered?  Because, one person said, with the phone you have to talk to people.  Naturally, I had some trouble following that line of reasoning, but they explained like with the phone it’s immediate.  If somebody talks on the phone, you have to talk back.  But with text messaging you just send the message, and wait to see if the person texts something back.  And then you can text back if you want to or not, or take the time to think a bit about what to text back or not—and you can do it when you feel like it, unlike the phone which is pretty insistent.

Yea, somebody said, you could have a text message conversation going on all day long with somebody, and you could break up with boy friend that way too, one said—a day long text message break up.  Yeah, that’s right, others nodded knowingly.

So for all I know a goodly number of the students in front of me are engaged in multiple text messaging conversations while I am up there trying to command their attention.  Somebody could be breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend right there in my class right in front of me. 

Now that “text” is a verb, I wonder what its past tense is.  “Texted”?


I have been thinking about kelp because when I was surf fishing it was a real nuisance.  Paradoxically, where there’s kelp there’s fish, so that should be a good thing for the fisher person, but when I fished near kelp beds all I caught was kelp.

Also, out on the bluffs, I have been noticing lines in the water that I can’t remember having seen in some time, but which I do remember from last fall and summer.  I mean the lines, having retreated for a while, seem to be making a come back.  This could have to do I suppose with winds or water level, but I have been noticing little black stick like things poking up through the water.


Lines in the water 

These are the tops of kelp.  So now I have a theory.  Wouldn’t it make sense to say, since kelp are plants, albeit alga, that they need light to grow, and that possibly in the winter months (when there is less day light), the kelp die back a bit, and then when the days get longer, the kelp make a comeback.  Thus the lines in water.

Fish love kelp.  So maybe that’s why we haven’t seen dolphins in some months.  We figured we were coming at the wrong time of day and just missing them. But, perhaps, they weren’t there because the kelp had died back, the fish population had dropped, and the trip along the surf wasn’t worth it for the dolphins since there isn’t much there to eat.  Of course, the dolphins may have migratory patterns.

Anyway, that’s my hypothesis, and if it is correct, I should start seeing dolphins again pretty soon.

I did a little research to check my hypothesis and found this assertion:

The kelp beds along the Pacific coast are the most extensive and elaborate submarine forests in the world. The genus is best developed as the species Macrocystis pyrifera from the southern California Channel Islands to northwestern Baja California.

Little did I know looking out over that water that right below the surface is a sort of kelp equivalent to the Amazon Rain Forests.  The Macrocystis pyrifera is sometimes called the Sequoia of Kelp because they can grow to 200 feet long.  They grow well along the Santa Barbara coast, because the Channel Islands act to moderate wave action and so help the kelp to maintain their “holdfasts.”


Kelp Forest 




Seeing some surf fishers out by the Elwood Bluffs put me in mind of a summer—damn, more than 20 years ago—when I went out surf fishing.  I don’t remember having fished much before that but I was looking that summer for some activity that might get me out a bit, relax me some or provide a mild diversion from my depression sodden state.  So I bought a pole and other stuff necessary to catch a fish.  We lived down in Santa Barbara then so sometimes I would walk out on the wharf and stand there along side the other fisher persons, many of whom were, at that time, Vietnamese People, who would good at catching stuff. 

But since I don’t like being around people that much I would drive mostly to the beach down in Carpenteria or walk as far out on the break water as I could.   The break water didn’t have many fisher persons on it probably because there weren’t that many fish out by the break water.  So when you surf fish, you throw your line out as far as you can past breakers (which wasn’t necessary at the breakwater since it was already past the surf line).  Then you just stand there.  You don’t have to expend a lot of energy fishing.

It’s pretty boring really, but with just enough tension from the idea you might catch something, to keep you interested. So I would stand there and get all glassy eyed and sort of sleepy.  Jeez, I did this three or four times a week that summer for two sometimes even three hours at a stretch.

I can’t say that I caught much of anything.  A couple of sting rays—pulling those in was like pulling in a wet paper sack–a couple of perch, a sea bass, and once I caught a halibut.  But it was too small so I threw it back which I was happy to do in any case since I really didn’t want to eat it.

The halibut is a flat fish because it is flat, and is pretty odd looking, since it has both of its eyes on the same side of its head/ body.  One side—the one that it keeps down on the ground (since the halibut tends to be a bottom feeder) is all pale and colorless and has no eyes; and the other side has color on it and two eyes poking up.


Once though Carol and I went camping and I started talking with a real surf fisher down on the beach.  I say real because he meant business and knew what he was doing.  He had two 16 foot poles, held up by containers stuck in the sand, and while I was standing there, the lines started shaking—both poles.  He asked me to help with one, so I pulled in the line, and damn but there were six perch because the guy had six hooks on each line and each hook had a perch attached to it.  So I got them off as quickly as I could, and stuck on more bait, and threw out the line and bip, bip, bip.  I pulled it in and there were three more perch.

So in a fifteen minute stretch, the guy caught about 20 perch.  Just like that and then they all went away.

Debtor’s Prison

An article in the LA Times on the current financial situation was particularly glum.  At least I can’t remember having seen, any time lately, language quite like it.  One line runs:

The nation’s long buying binge appears to be over. And that’s probably bad news for the economy.

Another line suggests this “binge” has been going on for roughly 2.5 decades.  This coincides with my general theory that the consumer society, as we now know it, began to achieve its full flowering roughly around 1980.

Here’s another part of the article:

Between 1980 and the end of last year, for example, average weekly wages of production and nonsupervisory workers, who make up 80% of the nation’s labor force, remained essentially flat. The trend convinced many analysts that consumers didn’t have the wherewithal to expand their purchases of goods and services.

But, as it turned out, Americans boosted their after-inflation spending by nearly half. In the process, they pushed up the fraction of the nation’s total annual output that goes to consumption from 63% to more than 70%, or by more than $1 trillion by today’s measure, according to government statistics.

Consumers managed this feat by doing three things — reducing their savings, taking on debt and relying first on rising stock prices and then on increased housing values to keep them financially whole. And for most of the last 2 1/2 decades, that strategy worked.

This fits with other stuff I have read in other places; the average real buying power of the average American, as based on real income, has risen only a few percentage points since the mid 1970’s.  Americans kept up, if that is the word, by having both partners in a relationship work more, and by something like a three week extension per year, of time put into work.  And of course by borrowing more and more.

Something made possible by a completely irresponsible extension of credit.

Samuel Johnson wrote in 1758, "It is vain to continue an institution [debtor’s prison] which experience shows to be ineffectual. We have now imprisoned one generation of debtors after another, but we do not find that their numbers lessen. We have now learned, that rashness and imprudence will not be deterred from taking credit; let us try whether fraud and avarice may be more easily restrained from giving it."

I guess things have not changed all that much.  A good thing though we no  longer have "debtor’s prison."