A Wall Street Journal book review today (of Alex Epstein’s The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels) says, in a prominent lift-out in big type: Renouncing oil and its byproducts would plunge civilization into a pre-industrial hell—a fact that developing countries keenly realize.
Now of course I love that word “renouncing”—as if as a collective we actually would or even could. But, sure enough, the rest of the statement has the smell of truth. When we run out of oil, we’ll certainly know it.
Perhaps Mother Nature, a bit irate about having her deep-lying blood sucked, is giving us early hints. What with global warming (or is it aging and unmaintained infrastructure), power failures are a whole lot common. As I think back over the last four decades or so, they were extremely rare earlier in that period and much more frequent in the last decade. At our old house we experienced a slew of them in the last five years—due to maintenance neglect by Detroit Edison. Having moved, we’ve already had one of those—due to weather.
Around here everybody is on wells—and the wells need electric power. Those who’re on the sewer system need electricity to send the waste to those pipes. Power failure means not only no water but, for the more advanced, also means no flushing. The work around, what with a lake next door or bordering the lot, is to haul water; and to go across the street to toilets that still empty into septic tanks. That still leaves sump pumps in those houses lucky to have basements. As for heating, furnaces don’t function without current either although they burn gas. A sensible but expensive solution is to invest in a full-sized generator, in effect a power plant for a single house only. Cost is around $10,000. These systems come on seconds after a power failure and everything stays on. They’re fueled by natural gas. Plans are firming up around here to have one of those babies installed in the near future.
Meanwhile we hope that our descents into pre-industrial hell won’t last but fractions of a day—and it isn’t raining heavily while they last—so that the sump pit in the basement doesn’t overflow. But after the gas runs out too, as inevitably it will, it will be time to rip that gas-fueled contraption (it looks like a stack of logs) out of the fireplace to see if it will actually burn wood which, by then, we’ll have to saw by hand. While the saw lasts…