Remember that scene in “Serenity” when Mal asks Wash to clarify how their ship’s landing might get “interesting” and Wash replied, “Oh god, oh god, we’re all gonna die?” That’s kind of the feeling one gets after watching “A Crude Awakening: The Oil Crash,” Basil Gelpke and Ray McCormack’s documentary on our dependence on oil and the possible ramifications for when the we enter the post-“peak oil” period, which may be right around the corner.
In 1956, American geophysicist M.K. Hubbert postulated to the American Petroleum Institute that the production of oil from conventional areas would peak between 1965-70. I won’t go into the math, mostly because I don’t entirely understand it, but after readjusting his estimates to take into account the drop in consumption of the 1970s, the generally accepted view is that global oil production will peak some time around 2010, if it hasn’t already.
Whatever your beliefs about the theory of peak oil, which – while it still has many doubters – is gaining new adherents every day, you cannot deny the fact that oil was created by a chance geological phenomenon and is non-renewable. Once it’s gone, it’s gone, and with global demand increasing even as current wells decline in production, global (and especially American) society are fast running out of time with which to deal with the problem.
For examples, we’re offered the cities of Baku, Azerbaijan, Lake Maracaibo, Venezuela, and McCamey, Texas. All three, at one time, were huge centers of oil production (Venezuela was at one time the largest exporter of oil in the world), with hundreds of wells and prosperour communities. Now, after the wells dried up, all that’s left are ghost towns with silently rusting skeletons of oil derricks dotting the landscape. The filmmakers use these case histories to illustrate a larger point; that fewer and fewer new basins are being found, and those we have discovered are smaller in size and more difficult to reach.
Dwindling supply is only part of the problem, however. Exploding demand – in the US and in aggressively industrializing China – is draining what oil is left with frightening speed.
Finally, a little dirty laundry is aired (not that any of it was previously unheard of). Present-day problems are likely to be exacerbated by the intertwining of American energy and foreign policy, and the possibility that the United States may just skip the “bringing democracy to the world” ruse and seize oil production facilities by force to maintain our current supplies.
Our other options (hydrogen, biodiesel, nuclear, wind) are – at present – too costly to produce and even combined would not match our current levels of energy consumption. Solar power is another possible alternative, but at present is far too expensive.
Gelpke and McCormack have assembled a distinguished group of phycisists, geologists, policy analysts, and industry professionals to make the case, and they do a damn fine job of it. With the exception of a few hyperbolic soundbites at the outset (if I hear oil referred to as “blood of the earth” one more time I was going to have to look for Egg Shen in the final credits), the doc is quite sober and rhetoric-free. Maybe when executives from Shell and Anadarko and former Bush Administration officials are telling you things are bad, you might want to believe them.
And if you wanted to buy a mototcycle, get a mohawk, and start calling yourself “Wez,” I could certainly support that.