Once again, the price of gasoline is on the rise. In the past week, it’s shot up to $1.26-8 per litre around here, a rise shadowed by a few dollars a barrel raise in the price of oil yesterday. Whether these prices, along with many other markets, can continue their rapid rise from the depths of depression into some of the heights seen just before the crash is uncertain, but the rising cost of oil is without a doubt one of the most threatening factors.

It isn’t just consumers who pay for gas. Oil products play an important role in industries from agriculture to plastics, transportation, medicines and heavy construction. Everything rises with the price of oil, leaving many already-struggling folks to pay even higher rates for food, heating and transportation. Petrochemicals are the lifeblood of our industrial economy, and cutting our supply is like choking our society.

Why so high? Tensions with Iran certainly aren’t helping, but it would be utterly dishonest to ignore the rest of the world. Oil production is maxxed-out worldwide, a problem which has been recurring since the middle of the last decade, where evidence now suggests “peak oil” has probably already occurred. Despite an enormous rise in price (3-4 times where it was a decade ago, even at it’s depths), major exporters like Saudi Arabia have been unable to bring much ‘spare capacity’ online, and alternative “dirty oil” sources like Canada’s Tar Sands are far more expensive (and destructive). In spite of this, there’s been an enormous growing thirst for oil as industrial nations like ours refuse to cut back and developing nations like India and China rapidly industrialize. The Oil Drum reports that humanity just passed “500 Exajoules”, or a total of 10 times the energy we used a century ago, showing clearly that our demands on this planet are still growing.

Many had hoped that the “oil shocks” of the last decade were simply a result of financial manipulation, but it’s becoming clear that we’re going to see a repeat of this precipitous rise with every apparent step toward “economic recovery”. It will act as a brake on the world economy and only get worse as the supplies dwindle. Along with that will come increased wars over oil-rich regions, and industrial “gigaaprojects” like the Tar Sands which are beginning to span a continent at incredible costs. The added cost of both will only further burden our economy. We are entering a frightening spiral of resource depletion here, and it’s going to challenge the very way our society operates.

At what point do we stop pretending this isn’t happening?

Sometime soon, those in charge will have to choose between “they’ve been saying that for decades” and “nobody saw this coming”. The arguments levelled against “peak oil” today are little different than those which I encountered a decade ago, acting seemingly as if the last decade’s oil shocks and global meltdown didn’t happen or were somehow unrelated. Decades of policy were written based on the premise of endlessly expanding energy use, even when it became apparent that it was totally impossible.

Peak oil theories never stated that the oil would “run out” one day – just that a slight “peak” would be passed on a long plateau near the middle of our oil supply, after which it would dwindle. Smaller oilfields have always followed this bell-curve, and the sum of a lot of small bell-curves is, of course, a much larger one. After the “peak” is passed, the cost of extracting oil in those volumes rapidly rises. For a short while volumes can be maintained through much larger investment (higher prices, subsidies, frantic pumping etc), but sooner or later they will dwindle. If this theory continues to hold true, the economic shock-waves we’ve seen so far are the tip of the iceberg.

Of course, saying such things labels me an alarmist, an apocalyptic doom-sayer or simply a “nut-job”. Civilizations, we’re told, cannot end and only change for the better. If there is a problem, we’re told, our leaders will deal with it. Unfortunately, “keep calm and carry on” can only work for so long. Those in power have done nothing to suggest that they understand these problems or have any workable solutions to them – instead they’re trying more of the same, but bigger, harder, and with more power. Any real “solutions” are going to have to come from elsewhere. This issue strikes at the heart of our communities, homes and everyday lives, and that’s where resistance has to (and already has) begun. There are no easy lines between “activism” and “lifestylism” here – a real paradigm shift in the way we live requires both, and nothing less can begin to grapple with the scope of the problem here.

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