Kicking The Gasoline & Petro-Diesel Habit

Five Ways The Public Gets Spun About The Oil Situation

August 13, 2008

By Charles Cresson Wood

The American public is being fed significant quantities of disinformation and spin about the current world oil situation. Unfortunately many among us are so pressed for time that they can’t spare a few minutes to seek out alternative points of view. But don’t take this author’s word for it — do your own research on the Internet, searching for terms such as “peak oil” and “Hubbert’s peak.”

The world oil supply is now peaking, or about to peak over the next few years. The long-term implications of this event are monumental and largely unappreciated. For example, air travel will be much less common because it will simply be too expensive. The world is already starting to see some of the short-term serious effects of this peaking world supply of oil. The retail cost of gasoline is sending a clear message. The message is also evident in the price of food, which is most often made with large quantities of petroleum (to make fertilizer, to harvest the plants, to process the food, to cook the food, to ship the food, etc.). Petroleum is used by just about every sector of the modern economy, and as prices increase and supplies diminish, every sector of the economy will be forced to go through rapid adjustments.

In response to peak oil, there are three broad strategies that Americans must embrace, and embrace immediately. First, we must do much better at conservation. Second, we must dramatically improve the efficiency of petroleum-dependent processes. Third, we must rapidly transition to other sources of energy. For example, in the transportation area, we must rapidly move to alternative fuels such as ethanol, butanol, bio-diesel, straight vegetable oil, bio-methane, natural gas, di-methyl either (DME), hydrogen, and electricity. But before we can be motivated to make these changes, we must really see how we are being spun so as to continue to use petroleum just like it’s “business as usual.” I provide below five examples of this spin and misinformation.

The first type of spin involves the message that we have plenty of oil and that we can continue to consume without concern about depleting supplies. The reality is that oil production in the United States peaked in 1971, and ever since we have been making up for shortfalls in domestic production by importing oil from other countries. But when the world oil production peaks, if it has not already, there is no other location from which we can import oil to make up the difference. The situation is serious enough that the US Department of Defense has categorized peak oil as a serious threat to the nation. See the Arlington Institute’s report called “A Strategy: Moving America Away From Oil” for a sample of the high level governmental thinking about the serious threat that peak oil presents.

The second type of spin involves the message that the large oil companies are working on the problem of peak oil, that they seriously have good solutions, and that the ultimate solutions will come from these oil companies. To ask the oil companies to provide solutions such as this is like asking the fox to guard the hen house. It would instead be logical to assume that the oil companies want to continue to sell oil for as long as they can, and they don’t want people converting to other technologies, because this would lower the demand for oil, and thus likely lower the price for oil as well. Many of the most promising alternatives to petroleum do not come from the oil companies. For example, electric cars, which look like one of the long-term winners in the competing technology area, are not researched, developed, tested, or offered by oil companies. See the movie called “Who Killed The Electric Car” for a good idea of the true situation.

The third type of spin involves the message that the petroleum industry is on top of the latest developments, and what it is doing is in the best interests of the country. The petroleum industry sounds many notes of caution and gradual evolution to alternative fuels. Of course in the meanwhile, the world will be using large quantities of oil. The petroleum industry would like to gain access to new supplies of oil, such as those in Iraq. Meanwhile the taxpayers continue to be footing the bill for the Iraqi invasion and occupation. Fighting wars for the remaining supplies of oil is a losing strategy, but converting to new alternative fuels (that are now cost-competitive with petroleum-based fuels) is a winning strategy. See the book called “Resource Wars” by Michael T. Klare for additional information about the geo-political fights now underway, fights to control the world’s remaining oil.

The fourth type of spin involves the message that we can convert to alternative fuels only after we make massive investments in infrastructure. While massive infrastructure changes may be needed to support certain types of hydrogen vehicles (those that burn hydrogen in internal combustion engines), such investment unnecessary with many other technologies. For example, the energy distribution infrastructure (the electrical grid) already exists to support electric cars — we just need metering facilities to sell electricity to the public in service stations. In addition, fuels such as bio-methane can now be manufactured by a village, by a business, or by a small community, and then used as transportation fuel, and/or used to generate electricity. Some of these alternative fuels are not based on fossils energy such as coal or petroleum, and can be manufactured on a relatively small-scale basis from trash, animal waste, agricultural waste, and other biomass sources. See the US Department of Energy’s web site entitled “Biomass FAQs” for information about how biomass can be used to make bio-diesel, ethanol, and straight vegetable oil, all of which can be used as motor fuels.

The fifth type of spin involves the message that alternative fuels are not yet ready for prime time, that they need more research and development before they can be used, and that the public must necessarily wait until such time as they are ready. The fact is that many alternative fuels are ready for widespread use, and the pressing peak oil situation means that we will soon be forced to use them. For example, all electric cars are now on the market, and they can be used for many applications such as commuting to and from work, or making local deliveries for a small business. Although the driving range is currently limited to a few hundred miles, these vehicles are far less expensive to operate than most petroleum-fueled vehicles. See the magazine called “EV World” for many examples of currently available electric vehicles.

It’s time for the nation and the world to evolve beyond petroleum, but not just for peak oil reasons. Such a shift is called for by recent climate change research, and it will also help us reduce our dependence on foreign countries that may be hostile to the US. Do your own research, discover what is really happening, and then convert to sustainable technology in the near future.


Charles Cresson Wood is a green management consultant based in Sausalito, California. His latest book is entitled Kicking The Gasoline & Petro-Diesel Habit: A Business Manager’s Blueprint For Action. He can be reached via


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