Peak Oil


It might be tempting to think that burning less petroleum-based fuel in the future will reduce pollution. After all, there would be fewer tailpipe emissions from vehicles, fewer jets painting the sky with pollution, fewer motorboats and jet skis picture of car belching exhaust fumes leaking fuel into bays and rivers, and fewer snowmobiles making a smoky racket in our national parks and elsewhere.

Some peak oil analysts also deemphasize the threat from global climate change, asserting that the reduced burning of petroleum-based fuels in planes, trucks, cars, and other vehicles will reduce carbon emissions enough that we should forget about global warming and start spending all of our time worrying about peak oil. Indeed, in 2008, spiking oil prices and the beginning of the ever-worsening economic depression combined to reduce US CO2 emissions by 2.8% in 2008. Total global CO2 emissions, however, increased by 1.7%, and that’s what counts.

Petroleum is the basic ingredient in plastics, pesticides, and chemicals—all of which are overused and misused, and are serious problems for the environment (and the people and creatures that live in it). Less of those things would be a positive, environmentally.

So, generally speaking, will less available oil will mean less pollution from petroleum-based products? Will peak oil have a positive impact on the environment? In the long term, it probably will. Unfortunately, in the near term, peak oil promises to have a devastating impact on the environment on a number of fronts. Let’s go through some examples.

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