Saturday, 30 October 2004

Peak Oil for the Beginner

This was originally published in TU MAI on October 04

I’m a regular Kiwi bloke. Old generation though so I’m a bit set in my ways and find a lot of the new high-tech world a bit daunting at times. I do have a computer though. It seems without email and Google you’re nobody. Even my old mum spends her time ‘on line’ trading for old movies or swapping whakapapa research with people all over the world. Anyway, I got to using my computer and the internet to read about all sorts of amazing things, I had been so proud of my Encyclopaedia Britannica too. Poor thing sits lonely and unused now. Looks great though on my bookshelf.

About five years ago I started reading about oil. I don’t know how I got there, I think I must have been reading some political blurb or some such and something I read got me thinking and asking questions. So I started to search. I started to read. I read for about three months and then I started to buy books. I kept reading. It’s been 5 years now and I am still reading and my bookmarks are like the index volume of my encyclopaedia and my bookshelves are full of books about oil and the politics of oil. I am still reading, still learning. And I am frightened. I am not frightened for me — I am an old fart and shuffling off this mortal coil would be a blessing on the world I am sure. I am frightened for my children and I am frightened for their children and I am frightened for my rellys and friends.

In all my reading I have had to get my head around things I never knew before — I have had to learn about economics, history, sociology and above all the politics of power. I have to admit to a bit of education — I have a degree in science (straight A’s too) and I have most of a degree in surveying which helped get me work in the coal industry for a few years — mostly spent playing cards at the ‘crib’ — some off-cut hole in the ground where we miners had our lunch and smoko, (though of course you can’t smoke in a coal mine). I know a bit about the energy business from the ground down so to speak.

I am frightened because I have a good grasp of what is coming. I can’t tell you the future, I don’t have crystal ball skills (hmm, must Google that), but I can imagine what might eventuate. And what might eventuate, what seems most likely to eventuate, is catastrophe. Utter, total catastrophe. Our world, our wonderful world, of low cost airfares, fantastic quality goods, superb cars, marvellous communications and boundless supermarket shelves is all built on oil or its partner in all ways — gas. All of our food, every single morsel you eat is dependent, heavily dependent, on oil and gas. The world is as we know it only because of oil and gas.

In 1956 a man named Marion King Hubbert (not to be confused with our own Dick Hubbard or Scientology’s L. Ron Hubbard) predicted that the USA would ‘peak’ in oil production about 1970 — that was 14 years before the event. He was right, but for more than 14 years he was ridiculed and demonised by other oil people, economists, journalists and politicians. So what’s this ‘peak’? It is a tad technical but it is basically like this — when you have used half of something (like oil) from that point onwards you can only get less. You might have read in the Listener last year (March) an article by an Otago University professor of Geology Richard Sibson titled ‘Falling Off Hubbert’s Peak’. You might browse your local bookstore and spot The End of Oil by Paul Roberts. You might hearken to those who claim that the war in Iraq is all about oil. You might have been following the financial news of late and noticed the link between share market indexes and the price of oil.

Really, to not see how important oil has become to our way of life you just have to be blind. Think about it. Everything in your house, even the entire house, has got to be where it is because it was hauled there with oil. Many many of the things in the house are made of oil — all your plastics, much of your clothing, your paint, all your high-tech gear — is either made of oil or was built with something made of oil or was enabled by the power of oil. All of your food, all of it, even if you are a vegan, even if you only buy GE-free, organics it is only available to you because of oil. Even you gardeners who grow your own can only do so because of oil. All of your fertilisers and herbicides, all of our farming, all of our agricultural commodities, everything, is only as it is because of oil and gas.

And it is going to run out. Not tomorrow and not instantaneously but it will run out. As it starts to run out oil will become more and more expensive. Nations will fight over it. There will be war and famine. The huge populations of the North will seek escape from the increasingly impossible situation there and those who have the money will flee seeking any place that they and their kids might survive. They will flee here. It’s already started. Go ask your local solar energy retailer who they are getting most of their business from and you will find it is rich Americans setting up fortresses on Kiwi farming blocks that they have bought for a song. More and more, as we stay in the dark, those who fear what is coming will seek out this place hoping that salvation from the worst might be found here. What are you going to do about it? What are we going to do about it? We do not have much time — maybe 5 years. In that time you have to establish yourself so well that when the crunch comes you can hope for survival — for you and your kids.

Tuesday, 1 June 2004

The Lord’s Prayer


On request by Robert Atack

Our Oilmen, who art in Washington
Hallowed be thy Names.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done,
In Iraq as it is in Washington.

Give us this day our daily gas.
And forgive us our lying ways,
As we ignore those who protest against us.
And lead us not into depletion,
But deliver us from shortage.
For ours is the kingdom,
and the power,
and the glory,
for ever and ever.


Napalm 21 (Psalm 21)


On request by Robert Atack

George Bush is my oil man – I shall not want
He makes me down to lie
In Oil lands rich; He leadeth me
And those that speak out shall die.

My tank he doth restore again;
And me to drive doth make
and for the God of commercial gain
The world’s last oil he’ll take

Yea, though I drive for miles and miles
Yet I will fear no ill
For George will find the gas I need
My SUV he’ll fill

My gas tank he hast furnished
despite our Arab foes
My life he dost with oil anoint
And my tank overflows

Goodness and mercy all my life
Shall surely follow me;
And in the white house forevermore
His dwelling place shall be.

All My Life I’ve Waited


On request by Robert Atack

Well all my life I’ve waited and waited patiently
for an honest politician or two or three maybe
someone to spur my faith in men and women who might lead
some bright and honest leader not consumed by power and greed

I’ve waited nearly 50 years and watched you all go by
from left and right and center I’ve seen you have a try
I’ve heard you all, your ways and means, I’ve even followed polls
I’ve sometimes even had a vote and joined electoral rolls

but mostly I’ve grown sick and tired of waiting for my vote
there’s never seemed to be a point and so this poem I wrote
it’s written to you leaders, you lot who seek to lead
who take our hard earned money and let the country bleed

you think you have a mandate to choose the way we go
you even think you have the right to judge what we should know
you all assume you’re smarter and know the ins and outs
the ropes of legislation - cause we’re all dumb-ass louts

and so with little more at all than just ideals and whim
we’re very soon committed - and all must sink or swim
you’re led around by snout and ear by lobbyists with cash
and wined and dined like royalty and dressed to cut a dash

you stand in pomp and circumstance delivering address
while all your social policy becomes a stinking mess
I’ve met so many leaders and members prom-in-ent
and listened to them speak their case, considered their intent

but not a one, not ever, has piqued my confidence
nor even ever made me think that they are ought but dense
how many of you have a clue as much as even me?
I know that I am better schooled than you will ever be

and yet you think to lead us, to be our heart and soul
but none of you have any clue what should be now our goal
the peak in productivity of oil and gas has come
and very soon a world of shit is what it will become

I used to think the Greens maybe would lead us through the mess
but no, Jeanette Fitzsimmons even seems to not care less
for other things important are playing on her mind
and winning seats in parliament is all her work you’ll find

and that’s the crux, the problem of our democracy
it’s geared to periods too short or so it seems to me
before you’ve had a chance to forge some hope that we might win
again the time as come to vote and change the shit we’re in

but that is all you ever do you leaders at the top
and I forever wonder when this mess will ever stop
I watch my kids and grandkids grow and all the time I think
that maybe they will perish soon in all your mess and stink

I beg you now to stand up tall and start to make a change
to fight for true democracy that seems to you so strange
democracy is not at all a case of win and rule
democracy means citizens - a massive voting pool

where every single law you make is argued by us all
not argued just between you dolts then forced upon us all
come greens and Limbaugh lovers come independents too
come lefties too I beg you there’s much for you to do

start looking out beyond just now and educate us all
and seek to make this country one where we can all stand tall
try looking now at Sweden where they all know what comes
and guide us with a loving heart and please stop being bums

the future will be horrible we educated know
and now we want our leaders too to know the way to go
try speaking out more bravely, try speaking out at all
try giving up your party goals and save us from the fall

for Olduvai is coming (go google that and read)
the peak of oil will cause a crash so bad that we will need
a nation geared to live it through a people bold and brave
and so my good and noble readers here I end my rave

Tribute to Robert Atack -


First Published:

Our hero sought to save us all
but we refused to hear
he worked and slaved to teach us
with rising dread and fear

“you must perceive” he cried and cried
but all we did was jeer:
“there’s plenty left” was our reply
our leaders gave a sneer:

“extremist people just like you
don’t understand the game
it’s market forces we obey
and shifting votes and blame”

“just understand the price will rise
and magic will ensue
the market it will save us
not idiots like you”

and so our hero hung his head
and wrung his hands with pain
his heart was torn with fear and dread
at all our children’s pain

for he looked ever onward
towards the coming fall
with grim anticipation
with what could kill us all

and though he thought to give it up
his calling and his quest
he summoned up his mighty will
and dug deep for his best

and so the years unfolded
and soon the Peak had come
but we all smiled and laughed aloud
’cause we knew what he’d done

he’d saved us from our ignorance
he’d fought our lazy ways
he’d banged our heads with words of truth
cause he’s the one who stays

we thank you dearly Robert
we understand it now
we know that we are worthless yobs
but you love us anyhow

Fill Up Your Attic With Brand New Shoes


first published:

Fill up your attic with brand new shoes
a pair a week until the oil-crash news
pick sizes and styles that will sell and last
because when there’s no cars shoes wear out fast

Don’t tell a soul (I intend no pun)
you can’t defend against a grim mans gun
pack some for you - you’ll need some too
and maybe some tacks and maybe some glue

and all the things that strugglers need
some axes and shovels and long-life seeds
and fishing tackle and guns and bows
and books on things that nobody knows

and needles and thread and lots of wool
and keep it up ’til your attic is full
tell no-one at all not even your kin
just store it and wait for the fun to begin

and maybe those shoes will be worth more than gold
and worth more than diamonds whenever they’re sold
and with care and with skill your attic will be
a bank for your future, just try it and see

if you liked this you might also like I can still remember the time before the crash

I Can Still Remember the Time Before the Crash


originally published:

I can still remember the time before the crash
when we all drove around in cars and I had lots of cash
and anything I wanted, I’d just go out and buy
I’d even drive a mile or two - just to buy a pie

but then the oil wars started and everything collapsed
the supermarket shelves were stripped before a month elapsed
and people all turned really grim and gained a hungry look
we’d steal from anyone at all we’d kill for things to cook

and everywhere disease and grief and bodies left to rot
while gangs of grim and brutal men would kill and steal and plot
and people fled the cities and countless numbers died
and everything was so so bad not even mothers cried

our house was one of many then, a normal family home
but it was stripped and burnt for fuel when we had left to roam
and I remember mum and dad, my little sister too
but they were killed and eaten back sometime in ‘22

and now I know I’m dying, I’ve left no living heirs
nobody is alive to know there’s not a soul who cares
there’s only me so damned hungry I’m gnawing at the trees
there’s no-one left to kill and eat oh God please help me please

and as I stagger on and on through burnt and plundered homes
I see the the signs of rage and ruin and countless human bones
I hear the starving pack of dogs that follow close behind
and I am now so close to death I hardly even mind

I fall and screaming dogs begin to rip and shred my life
my mind drifts back to days of oil and to my kids and wife
oh life was so so simple then and life was so so good
but all we had we wasted, we never understood

if you liked this you might also like for our sons and daughters too