From Protesting Chinese Truckers to Cash-Strapped US Voters, Not Mentioning Peak Oil Helps No One

Apropos of the IEA's chief economist again pointing out that no nation is prepared for peak oil, which will be upon us soon if we're not a bit past it already: Over the weekend NPR ran two stories that though they weren't explicitly connected, ought to have been--one on how President Obama's approval ratings fluctuate with the price of gasoline and one on protests by Chinese truck drivers at the rising price of fuel there.

Last Friday approximately 2000 truck drivers blocked part of the port of Shanghai because diesel prices have risen precipitously.

They can't even afford to eat because the price of gasoline is now so high, one man says, looking warily over his shoulder. China has raised fuel prices several times in the past year, blaming the rising cost of crude oil. This month gasoline and diesel prices hit a record high after the government raised them by as much as 5 percent. The drivers are also angered at new fees introduced by warehouse operators. Another man says the police have responded with violence -- beating up many truckers. One of his friends was beaten and another arrested, he says.
And on Obama's approval ratings versus gasoline, the former have fallen to the mid-40% range:
At one private fundraiser, he suggested that if gas prices were lower, his poll numbers might be higher. Nevada banker Lonny Thomas lends some support to that theory. Between fundraisers, the president flew to Reno, Nev., for a town hall meeting. Thomas did not vote for the president in 2008; he feels neutral about him now; and he's very aware of the impact gas prices are having on the community.

"Some of my small-business clients who have delivery business or who rely on delivering product or whatever, it's hurting them," Thomas said. "You can see that the higher gas prices are cutting into their profit margins. They're having to adjust, lay people off or curtail certain areas of their business in order to cover the increased cost in gas."

Let's connect the dots.

The issue of whether or not the price at the pump accurately represents the true cost social and environmental costs of gasoline aside (hint, it doesn't, not by a long shot), people naturally get upset when price inflation of essential commodities rapidly outpaces their increases in wages. Protests in China and presidential approval ratings reflect this.

The part that goes unsaid in all this all too often is that the price of oil is on an upward trend that is likely irreversible. On one time scale speculation does matter, and is the focus of the President often when talking about gas prices, but the part that seemingly dares not speak its name here is peak oil.

Whether when talking about gas prices or energy policy, the very notion of peak oil or fossil fuel depletion doesn't enter into the US national debate and seldom into international discussion--even when there are serious doubts about the extent of Saudi oil reserves and their ability to expand produciton as they constantly tout.

This is a potentially deadly mistake. Whether it's the IEA, US government agencies, foreign government agencies, or independent researchers, the message is clear: We have ignored the impact that peak oil will have on our lives for too long, and continuing to ignore it will not make it any easier to deal with or to attempt to develop alternatives to oil.

While it won't help ease the financial burden on Chinese truckers nor US businesses and residents from rising fuel prices, not even publicly mentioning peak oil won't either. And it may provide a more logical backdrop, a more detailed picture, to the general public than just blaming speculators all the time and playing the nationalistic card of energy independence.

photo: AgentAkit/Creative Commons
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