Film Review: Crude Awakening – The Oil Crash

Several weeks ago, Duke University and Energy Foundation held a forum on climate change and agriculture in Little Rock. One of the panelists, a representative from the Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation (AECC), asked a questioner if he wants to pay $4 per gallon for gasoline. According to the AECC representative, that’s what we’ll see if the federal climate change bill passes. The questioner answered yes, saying higher gasoline prices will help the U.S. move away from its dependence on cheap foreign oil.

The film Crude Awakening – The Oil Crash does not say whether increasing gas prices is the way to end our addiction to cheap oil. The film, however, offers a convincing argument that the era of cheap oil is over. Swiss journalist Basil Gelpke and Irish filmmaker Ray McCormack interview various experts, including Energy Advisor to George W. Bush, to illustrate that the supply of oil is finite, and that we are using it up faster than the development of alternative fuels. One of the reasons why we use so much oil is the price, which is kept artificially low by both producers and consumers of oil. I come from a country where a liter of gas costs about $1.50, meaning a gallon of gas costs about $5.70. You can’t help but drive less when you’re paying that kind of price. The reason Japan taxes oil heavily is because as a small island nation with little to no natural resources, it has two choices – import oil and let its economy become hostage to oil producing nations or reduce its consumption and protect its sovereignty. Japan has gone to war over natural resources, so it understands the costs of being dependent on other countries. In the 1970s, oil made up over 80% of Japan’s energy sources. Today, oil makes up 50% of its energy mix. By 2030, Japan hopes to reduce this share to 40%.

The film makes a convincing case that oil consuming nations, especially the U.S., are playing a Russian roulette by refusing to face the reality. The United States uses 25% of the world’s oil, yet it possesses less than 4% of the word’s reserves. The world has seen a strong and sustained rise in demand for oil, and no giant oil field has been discovered in a while. Once rich with oil, communities such Baku, Azerbaijan, and McCamey, Texas, are now ghost towns. The world’s oil supply is reaching its peak if it hasn’t already done so.

Two things in the film struck me. First, we pay more for a cup of Starbucks latte than we do for a gallon of oil. Second, even Energy Advisor to George W. Bush, Roger E. Ebel, says that the oil supply is finite, and that we must find alternatives. If George Bush’s advisor gets peak oil and its consequences, why don’t many Americans get it? (A side note: I used to work at the think tank where Roger Ebel serves as the chair of its Energy and National Security Program. He knows A LOT about energy, and it was cool to see him in the film.)

Perhaps Crude Awakening should be a mandatory viewing for Americans. Let’s hope that they get the consequences of their oil addiction without resorting to such a measure and, most importantly, before it’s too late.

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