By Joe Cohen, Standard-Times staff writer
April 23, 2008
(Reprinted from the Herald News)
DARTMOUTH - Call it coincidence or irony, but crude oil prices hit a record high of almost $120 a barrel on Earth Day 2008 and an expert on fossil fuels and energy came to SouthCoast to proclaim "the party is over."
Richard Heinberg, senior fellow at the Post Carbon Institute in California, told a gathering at the UMass Dartmouth library that with oil, natural gas and coal being consumed faster than new supplies can be found and developed, the era of fossil fuels has begun to wind down.
Mr. Heinberg has authored several books; among the titles is "The Party's Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies."
"U.S. energy policy is clearly failing," he said, and the only "sensible" energy policy for the nation and world is to "discourage fossil fuel consumption." He said the government at all levels should be encouraging conservation, renewable sources, research for alternatives to fossil fuels and replacement of the nation's infrastructure to accommodate energy-saving changes.
He talked of unprecedented economic, social and political impacts if the United States continues on the path it is following that will lead to a national crisis worse than the Great Depression or World War II.
As for skeptics who doubt the seriousness of the energy problem, he suggests they and others will understand after an "economic crash." He said it would not be surprising to him that the U.S. would fail to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and traditional energy sources until forced to.
Speaking to an audience of about 40 people composed about evenly of students and area residents in a lecture on sustainability, Mr. Heinberg traced the nation's path of using domesticated animals, human labor including slaves and fuel comprising mostly wood from the mid-1800s, through an era when coal was the primary fuel of the American economy, and into the petroleum age that took firm hold in the 1930s. The use of coal and oil led to a decreasing need for animal and human labor to actually perform manual chores.
He also charted out the increasing use of fossil fuel - especially petroleum - from the 1880s through the mid-1970s and into the current period. The U.S., he pointed out, reached peak oil production in the lower 48 states in the mid-1970s and, even with the added supplies from Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico, the nation continued to import increasing amounts of petroleum since the 1950s. At present, he said, the nation imports about two-thirds of the petroleum it consumes.
Mr. Heinberg said the supply of fossil fuels "will never run out," but already it is clear the U.S. and eventually the world will "run out of the stuff that is easy to extract."
"At the core, it is supply and demand," he said, with supplies tapering off and world demand steadily increasing.
Contact Joe Cohen at email@example.com