Summer peregrinations

It's only the first week of July and already it feels like the dog days of August, brittle and scorched. The much-anticipated blue sky days and ubiquitous sunshine were obscured by a haze of smoke from more than 1,000 Northern California fires, the sunsets almost surreal.

The heartland, meanwhile, has been devastated by 500-year storms, curtains of rain falling day after day, rivers swollen, vast stretches of farm land turned into lakes, homes flooded, many left to silt and mold and clean up. Images of levees cresting their banks, small towns and large submerged up to their street signs, long lines of locals filling bags with sand and hope are still with us.

Tornados, Mother Nature's most lethal arrow in a full quiver, arbitrarily cut swathes through Midwestern communities, leveling all in their paths, the destruction unequivocal.

Is this aggregate of extreme weather a precursor to what lies ahead, as climate change ceases to be an abstraction? Are jet streams being rerouted north due to rising temperatures, bringing tropical storms of increasing intensity and duration?

It's been reported that of the last 10 years, six have been among the hottest on record. Droughts are increasing (California but one example). Severe storms are ever more common, with wind gusts of 70-plus mph and hail two inches in diameter. Tornados with an F2 magnitude or greater have been on the rise since the 1970s. Was hurricane Katrina simply prologue?

Of course, environmental events over a summer cannot be extrapolated to mean global warming is in full sway. Or can they?

Some climatologists have pointed out that storms which were once separated by a century are now arriving every two decades. And many scientists are stepping forward with global warming attribution based on model-simulations. What is more unsettling is that what was once thought of as the future is now increasingly part of the present.

There is also an item that has received scant discussion nationally or internationally. A growing number of scientists, economists, bankers and politicians are quietly discussing, in the most serious terms, a stark and approaching reality: oil production will peak soon or has already. In other words, demand will exceed supply. The implications are enormous. Even catastrophic.

Think of oil output-consumption as a bell curve which has been building to a peak since the early 1900s. Some say we have already topped out what we can produce to satisfy demand and we are now on the other side of the curve and descending.

As the supply decreases and demand increases (or even remains the same), the price of a barrel of oil will continue to rise to a point where it is no longer sustainable and economies will begin to collapse.

Our global dependence on petroleum, a web which permeates every aspect of the international economies and all aspects of our lives, will begin to take on apocalyptic implications that go far beyond our environment. That is, if our chronic dependence on oil is not altered. Not marginally altered, but profoundly altered. Today. Not tomorrow.

There is a growing number of what are called "oil peakers." These are folks who are already discussing possible outcomes, estimating that we have, perhaps, until 2015 to reframe our economies. It's chilling to read their Web sites about life without oil. Many assume no changes will occur, hence sounding like either hard-core survivalists or "the sky is falling" alarmists.

Many advocate going rural &

buy a team of mules, some cows, chickens, a few goats, learn to grow crops, plant a garden &

because if the food can't get to the local grocery store, you'll have to grow it yourself.

Oil dependence will morph into self-dependence, say the Peakers. And the transition will not resemble the gradual, decades-long shift from agrarian to industrial economies. Peakers suggest it will be far more abrupt, perilous and disruptive.

Sounds extreme. Not unlike those scenarios brought to us by the same outfit that predicted the millennium collapse. But inject the reality of world events into the discussion &

look at but one example, the price of gasoline per gallon, and then look at SUVs (new and used) filling up car lots, and extrapolate.

Suddenly our atrophied public transit seems grossly inadequate.

Without affordable petroleum, an endless number of things simply will cease to happen. Petroleum-based manufacturing (from computers to milk bottles to toothbrushes to lipstick and a million other items) will require a complete restructuring. And on and on.

Not only might we be too late regarding the environment. We might be too late in freeing ourselves from a dependence on a finite resource that will become ever more costly because of its availability.

What we are confronting is a reach that may far exceed our grasp, the changes so profound that we can't muster the international political or economic will to even begin to address what lies ahead.

Are we capable of massive shifts to wind, solar, biofuels, green buildings, hybrids with stunning mileage, a two-way grid transformed, developing new battery technology and new water filtration and purification capacities? Likely not, say the Peakers.

Is this postulated crisis a larger inconvenient truth? Or science fiction? How to judge? All things considered, breath. Just breath. Or perhaps not, given the quality of the air in our valley.

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