Running on empty - Page 4

The San Francisco Peak Oil Preparedness Task Force explores life after fossil fuels — an era that may be coming sooner than most people think

Jake McGoldrick, the board passed Resolution Number 224, recognizing "the challenge of Peak Oil and the need for San Francisco to prepare a plan of response and preparation."

For Fridley, the resolution and the formation of the task force were matters of appropriate preparation. "We have two oil tankers come under the Golden Gate every day to fill up the local refinery tanks to produce the fuels that keep the Bay Area running," he says. "What would happen if those tankers don't come in? Or they don't come for a week? The city has no plan for that, but we have the ability to be better prepared."


When discussing the phenomenon of peak oil, Lundberg prefers to use the term petro collapse. It is a turn of phrase that quickly provides insight into his considerable sense of alarm for the days ahead.

"It is going to be a globally historic event," Lundberg says. "Imagine a nationwide version of [Hurricane] Katrina."

Although ominous in its predictions, Lundberg's perspective is based on a long road of experience. While he ran the Lundberg Survey with his father in the 1970s, their widely read insider journal for the oil industry predicted the second great oil shock of the decade (in 1979). In the mid-1980s he moved on from the family business to form the Sustainable Energy Institute nonprofit in Washington DC, a move USA Today marked with the headline "Lundberg Goes Green."

As suggested by the title of the online magazine he currently edits — Culture Change — Lundberg has come to view the peak oil phenomenon as being primarily an issue of the American consumer lifestyle.

"We have this crazy way of life based on limited resources that are clearly becoming constrained," he says, "and we're holding on to yesterday's affluence without realizing that we have already walked off the cliff."

Chairperson Rosenmeier, one of Lundberg's colleagues on the task force, is wary that such an explicitly bleak viewpoint may scare public attention away from the matter.

"You have to be careful with peak oil that you don't immediately leap to 'We're all doomed and our economy is doomed,'<0x2009>" she says. "I think there is an intermediate phase, which is what we are being asked to address: the transition from business as usual."

An accountant by trade and a longtime Green Party activist, Rosenmeier ran for state treasurer in 2002, garnering about 350,000 votes. Setting an ambitious pace for her contribution to the report, she recently met with the Mayor's Office of Economic and Workforce Development to request an analysis of how oil prices are related to the orientation of San Francisco's economy. For this reason, she appears less concerned with predictions than with producing a heavily researched and well-structured report.

"I have a very strong vision of what I want the report to look like," Rosenmeier says. "I want us to have a uniformity and a more quantitative approach. I do not want to address the disintegration of our society."

The disparity between the views of Lundberg and Rosenmeier reflects the vast spectrum of opinions on how peak oil will manifest, although the extremes go well beyond them: some call peak oil a liberal hoax, while others have converted all of their assets to gold and prepared well-stocked and well-armed bunkers where they can ride out the social and economic storm.

The Web site is now getting as many as 23,000 hits per day. Creator Matt Savinar, a graduate of the University of California Hastings College of the Law, abandoned his law career as a futile concern when compared to the implications of peak oil.

"It is pretty simple," Savinar tells us.