A miracle has occurred. Many were beginning to contemplate a survival strategy because of the dual hammer of Peak Oil and Global Warming. But a funny thing happened on our way to doomsday. It is appearing that we are getting a reprieve, and, ironically, the gift is this serious, but fixable, economic collapse.
An absolutely incredible prognostication in Bloomberg is that January delivery will see crude oil below $20/barrel and oil traders are today purchasing gasoline for $0.97/gallon. What does all this mean?
Let us look at some historical consequences. Much of this is detailed in Chapter 1 of SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Planet Earth found in one of the boxes on the right, but the price of gasoline in 1973 (all the following will be in 2008 dollars) was $1.80/gal when the First Energy Crisis increased the price to $2.30/gal. The Second Energy Crisis of 1979 kicked it up to $3.17/gal in 1981. Gasoline then, with a small uptick due to the Gulf War of 1991, declined to $1.35/gal in 1998. That was the absolutely lowest real price of gasoline in history.
On July 11, 2008, petroleum skyrocketed to $147.27/bbl, causing gasoline to sell for $4.12/gallon on July 17. Gasoline on December 5 subsequently crashed to $1.77/gallon, 57% lower. The stock market only declined about half that in this interim.
This time, then, the economy affected oil prices, as the recession is reducing use, causing an oversupply. Following the First and Second Energy Crises, higher oil prices dampened the economy. After recovery, oil (and gasoline) prices dramatically dropped. The key question is, will this next recovery raise oil prices? Yes, of course.
We can thus expect the following:
1. Oil could drop below $30/bbl.
2. Gasoline prices might plunge below $1/gallon. This will be the lowest gasoline will ever be in all of history, even if the decline only settles down to $1.34/gallon.
3. If no Solar Manhattan effort occurred in 1982 when gasoline prices were near the modern day high, what are the prospects of anything monumental happening when it will be at an ALL-TIME LOW when Barack Obama becomes President on January 20? Remember, T. Boone Pickens, with all his sincere bluster, abandoned his wind farms when oil was still more than $50/barrel.
4. The economy will recover. It might take all of a year if there is no depression, but, certainly, in 5 years.
5. If, in the meantime, oil does rise to $75/barrel in a year or two, the slack now available to producers will delay any sudden escalation, for OPEC can increase production as necessary. However, the surging economies of China, India and rest of the world will almost surely further escalate the price beyond $100/barrel, maybe up to $200/barrel, in five to ten years. There is such a thing as Peak Oil, and there is mounting evidence that the Middle East does not really have as much of this resource as they claim.
In grand summary, then, this world economic collapse could well be a gift to Planet Earth and Humanity, for Peak Oil will be delayed, carbon dioxide in our atmosphere will be somewhat alleviated and, thankfully, we will have this five to fifteen year period to work on sustainable options that can begin to competitively replace fossil fuels.
The following simple solutions can be recommended:
1. Take advantage of this "gift" of time and comprehensively prepare for a sustainable energy economy. The Obama energy transition team and the new Congress can either instill a yes we can change...or royally blow it.
2. As research and development are only a fraction of actual commercial investments, government can cost-effectively and should expeditiously partner with industry and academia to plan for, fund and implement a visionary renewable energy mandate, even more monumental than the Apollo Project.
3. Smartly insert a carbon tax linked to the price of oil, now. As crude prices increase, so will, thus, this tax. At $30/barrel, something like a 2 cents / pound carbon dioxide tax is significant but tolerable. When oil eventually jumps to $150/barrel, the tax should be proportionately higher, at 10 cents / pound carbon dioxide. The revenues should fund renewable energy and conservation programs.
4. To kick-off the Planet Earth rescue strategy, immediately add a $1/gallon gasoline investment surcharge (also known as a tax, but the semantics can't hurt--and remember, Europe and many parts of the world already pay twice as much for pumped gas), which will result in nearly $150 million/year, also to be applied to the Obama Sustainable Energy Plan.
Society barely reacted after the First Energy Crisis of 1973. We did absolutely nothing after the Second Energy Crisis in 1979. Let us use this "gift" to act wisely this time.