Apart from questionable forestry practices, timber can seem like such a benign building material. But a closer look shows that the ubiquity of timber is actually significantly dependent on an ample supply of fossil fuels.
The price of oil's been crashing, and no one's cutting back production to bring up prices. Could this be a death knell for the U.S. fracking industry, and possibly even a disaster for the world economy?
A few weeks ago I had the fortunate opportunity to attend an excellent weekend bamboo course with Giant Grass on the outskirts of Melbourne. Along with a thorough overview of bamboo and its uses, a group of us spent a couple of days designing and then putting together a bamboo structure at an urban community garden.
On what was the first day of the course we were doing a bit of Q & A, and one of my fellow attendees had this to ask: "If I want to build a small structure, say 12 feet by 12 feet, is it going to cost less if I build it with bamboo or with timber?" When it was cordially pointed out that building with timber would cost less, her disappointment with the whole bamboo venture was readily obvious. Without missing a beat however our instructor then asked an excellent question in return: "Why do you want it to cost less?"
Granted, this woman was also interested in building a small structure for an urban community garden, which generally have few funds to work with. These issues can easily lead to the discussion of quality (which has copious variables) versus quantity (the desire to fork over the least amount of cash), but that's not a tangent I want to touch here.
I'll admit that I was completely caught off guard by the recent (and ongoing?) crash in oil prices. It'd be a stretch to say I'm embarrassed by my lack of foresight, although perhaps "dumb-ass" would be a bit deserving.
I would say I'm well enough versed with the reality of peak oil: I've read perhaps a couple dozen books on the topic, poured through several of the peak oil blogs (upon deciding to end my 5-year Internet hiatus a year ago), have seen several talks given by authors and writers on the topic, and I've attended two Age of Limits conferences.
Nevertheless, even though there were bloggers out there discussing the possible ramifications of low oil prices, its possibility still didn't register with me. I'll explain what I mean by that shortly, but to do that it'd be best if I first give a recap of what the mainstream media have been saying about collapsing oil prices the past couple of months.
If you've been following the recent oil-related news stories then you'll be familiar with two things: first, that the price of a barrel of oil has been crashing (to nearly 50% of its value half a year ago), and second, that OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) has refused to cut back its production, the hope being that a cut in supplies would have resulted in a rise in prices.
The first sign of trouble came after OPEC's November 27th meeting in Vienna whereupon it was announced that OPEC was going to maintain its production levels. Seeing how no explanation or elaboration was given, it was no surprise when the expected theories on the topic began appearing, and, of course, the conspiracy theories.