academic environmental studies   macalester college

The Beat of the Oil Drum

Introduction

History

Conversations   

Final thoughts

References and Links

















Conversations

     Interviews

In order to hear how more citizens have taken up the beat to Peak Oil I decided to interview two members of the St. Paul Peak Oil community. I found two individuals who have become involved in the movement in different ways. These two people represent distinct ways how individuals can become involved in the Peak Oil movement.

Environmentalist-Christopher Childs

Christopher Childs is a local volunteer in the Minnesota North Star chapter of Sierra club. His professional career has been as a writer, and published The Spirits Terrain in 1998. He has attended local Peak Oil Meetups and has been a national speaker for Greenpeace. He is currently working to promote the use of alternative forms of energy like the 3 kW of solar photovoltaics on his own house in St. Paul Minnesota. His involvement in the Peak Oil movement illustrates how a concerned individual can invest in resources that lower fossil fuel usage.


How did you learn about the Peak Oil theory and movement?

"I have been involved with energy, and renewable energy, and global warming issues for over 20 years. If I had to guess I’d say I probably first heard it or read it somewhere in the nineties, the mid to late nineties, but I didn’t really pay serious attention to it, I mean first of all the basic concept of peak oil is just a matter of fact. Anyone who thinks about fossil fuels knows that they’re a finite resource so someday they’re going to run out and that implies that at a certain point you’re going get less coming out of your oil well then you used to. But I really didn’t pay much attention to what kinds of movement until three or four years ago. So it has been a gradual evolution, but I began to take it somewhat more seriously within the last say four years." "The idea that we would reach a peak oil production to me was such a no brainer that the only question was how soon. When I started reading references to Peak Oil, and I was aware that there have been fairly accurate estimations a long time ago when the US oil fields would start to decline in production, I was not at all skeptical of the general predictions for the international oil fields running out. Obviously it still is a debate about exactly when. I actually wish we would use the phrase Plateau Oil rather then Peak Oil, it’s a little less melodramatic and I think it is more factual. We will reach a production plateau and we may be on it already and we will stay there for a little while, while new techniques are devised and more oil is squeezed out of old wells. But then there will be a time when we will fall off the back wall of that plateau and it’s going to be a challenge to deal with."

What resources need to be made available to bridge the gap between citizens who do not know about these issues or have not gotten involved with them?



"The biggest single failure, given the way our system is set up, right now on global warming and Peak Oil and a whole bunch of other important things, is that the media is mostly paying attention to what will attract viewers entertain them and not paying attention to what people really need to know. If there is a tornado coming I will grant them they’re pretty good about letting you know about that stuff. But when you are consider particularly with global warming that we are talking about a threat to the entire civilized world, not to mention all the other species on the planet, I think that is worthy of the same kind of serious attention that a tornado gets on a summer afternoon. That’s my biggest thing but since the media is not there yet, we need an awful lot more citizen action and I don’t know how to get that other then for those of us who work in the non-profit world to continue to bang the drum and get better at it to find more clever and more interesting and more dramatic in some cases ways of bringing problems to the publics attention."

When do you think the peak or plateau will occur?

"That’s a crystal ball questions, I think we are either on the front edge of the plateau or within five to ten years of it. You know the oil guys will keep finding more and more ways to extract oil, and of course we have the horror of the tar sands in Canada which is where most of our product come from here in Minnesota, which is just a disaster. They’ll find ways to squeeze oil out and they’ll stretch out the plateau but I do think we are really very close to at least to the front edge of that plateau. I just don’t know how long it will keep us on that plane once we really get there. They’re awfully clever I wish a lot more of that energy and intelligence was going to long-term solutions rather then to extracting more of a dirty resource. But I think they can probably keep us there for, just totally off the cuff, a decade maybe two, maybe more but even when the recourses plateau but the prices will still continue to rise."

How Mr. Childs is getting involved in the movement:


"We have a regular Prius in this household, my wife has a 2004 version of the Prius, which we love. We have 3 kilowatts of solar power on this house which, I mean obviously we have to buy power at night or when it’s cloudy, but we produce during daylight hours a lot more then we consume during daylight hours so if you average out everything over the course of the year we are already producing as much power as we use. That’s the way this household is looking towards Peak Oil and actually our primary motivation again was not Peak Oil it was global warming and our concern about reducing our carbon foot print, but it is very true that the resource literally dries up and the price of gasoline gets higher and higher it will become an increasingly economically thing to have solar on your home and have that power car that is all electrical or partly electric. So that’s just one-way to deal with it."

Peak Oiler-Thomas Welna
 

I interviewed Thomas Welna in his office at Macalester College. Tom Welna is a graduate of Macalester and has served on many environmental boards including Executive Directory of the Neighborhood Energy Consortium (NEC), and Director of the High Winds Fund. Recently he has been a part of the creation of The Twin Cities Resource Guide, which aims to give readers a resource for learning about Peak Oil, as well as to provide a resource for the areas where Peak Oil is expected to have the greatest impact.

How did you become interested in the Peak Oil movement?

"It was in the 1970s, and I was not that old then probably a teenager, and I took note of it then, and ignored it for several years. After graduating from Macalester I became the first director of the Neighborhood energy connection, and so I worked on a community level on energy conservation and recycling programs and have been involved in those issues ever since. It has always been an interest the environment and energy but I approached it sort of regardless of the arguments about peak oil.” “You know, there are lots of doubters about peak oil, and there are people who believe yeah we know it’s energy it is not the role of communities or government to monkey around with how we doing things and let the market take care of it. As I said earlier it sort of doesn’t matter whether it is peak oil or not. The idea that you can eat a salad here that came from 3,000 miles away is absurd. One thing it is going to eliminate is a diesel truck binging your salad.” "Even if we open up all the fields and ANWAR, you’re on your way to 7 billion people and it is climbing, and the Chinese and Indian population is a billion and over a billion making up two sixths of the world population they all have cars now."

Thoughts on what will cause change and awareness:

"I think that if that basic commodity price rises fast enough both things will occur that you asked about, awareness will leap forward I mean people are quick if its blatant, whenever they’re handed a crisis people, most people rise to the occasion. You think of the sudden impact high impact changes that hit people and they rise to the occasion and adjust their lives. Even though before that they would ask themselves questions like how can I ever adjust my life to deal with this it’s too big to cope with. Both things happen if that price goes high enough, people become aware and then secondly they’ll all be thinking about survival."

When will the peak happen?

"Don’t really know if we have hit the peak, I’m not sure. It seems like it to me. It seems like probably we’ve either hit it very recently or we are sort of in the midst of the peak. But what I also understand is that there is a period of volatility where the price spikes up and drops down and I think that is what we are in for, for the foreseeable future, a five year kind of a time frame is the spiking up and down, eventually you get to a plateau and a slowly decreasing production while you get an even price increase to go with it as it disappears. I don’t think we are there yet that’s at least a decade away. I mean there is a lot of oil out there, but the question is what are we going to use it for."

How Mr. Welna is getting involved in the movement:

"Two or three years ago, through the urging of Mary Morse, (Executive Director Neighborhood Energy Connection) a group of us from a variety of backgrounds… kind of a loose coalition… started meeting saying okay we don’t know if oil has peaked or if it is peaking or if it is about to but we’re operating off economic theories that are looking more real every day. And so we got together and talked about what happens if this is real and it is upon us soon. Our goal was to put together a resource guide so that instead of worrying about the global issues around Peak Oil, we would look at what can you do at your house, what can you do in your neighborhood, and then looked at the broader community. And that’s sort of the community resource guide we are putting together."


The opinions expressed in these interview are the opinions of the individuals and not the institutions or organizations they are a part of.









oilly
        Lower Oil Production will make Gasoline much more expesive and                               cause individual to dread filling up their gas tank. (peakoil2010.com)










































































TOMWELNA

        Cover Page of Resource Guide (see final thought for downloadable version)




 


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Comments and questions to rdonihue@macalester.edu

   Last updated: 5/7/2008