mark hertsgaard

Independent Journalist & Author

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Peak Oil Coming

A long view on oil from Marketplace commentator Mark Hertsgaard.

(Mark Hertsgaard)
It used to be, only environmentalists and conspiracy nuts warned about
the world running out of oil. Not anymore.

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A growing number of industry insiders now admit that the earth’s oil
is finite; scarcities and skyrocketing prices are imminent; and our
governments and economies are utterly unprepared for the chaos ahead.

The insiders include Matthew Simmons, an investment analyst who’s
briefed President Bush, and Exxon-Mobil, which recently projected—
without issuing press releases—that non-OPEC production will peak by
2010.

Peak oil is the key phrase. The earth is not about to surrender its
last drop of oil. Rather, peak is when half of a given amount of oil
has been pumped out and half still remains.

But that second half is much costlier and uncertain to obtain. With
global demand increasing every year, that means higher and higher
prices and more frequent shortages.

Think back to the oil shocks and gas lines of the 1970s. Then imagine
those shocks continuing for decades. In this peak oil future,
suburban living will be impossible. Economies could crater and
nations go to war.

Conventional wisdom says the magic of the market will solve the
problem: higher prices will call forth more supply. In particular,
Saudi Arabia is assumed to hold inexhaustible reserves.

But Simmons, the analyst who briefed President Bush, demolishes those
assumptions in his book, Twilight in the Desert. Simmons notes
there is virtually no verifiable data that Saudi oil is
inexhaustible; outsiders have essentially been taking the Saudis’ word
for it. Simmons believes Saudi oil is now at or beyond peak and the
world is heading for a crash.

All of which casts a harsh light on the debate in Washington, with its
posturing about ending U.S. dependence on foreign oil. If the peak
oil prophets are right, $3 a gallon gas will soon sound cheap, and the
real imperative is to end our dependence on oil altogether.

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About Mark

Independent journalist Mark Hertsgaard is the author of seven books that have been translated into sixteen languages, including Bravehearts: Whistle Blowing in the Age of Snowden; HOT: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth; and A Day in the Life: The Music and Artistry of the Beatles. He has reported from twenty-five countries about politics, culture and the environment for leading outlets, including The Guardian, Der Spiegel, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, Time, Mother Jones, NPR, the BBC and The Nation, where is the environment correspondent. He lives in San Francisco.

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