How much do oil prices have to rise before we decide to get off oil?

Frog in boiling water
Photo Credit cactusbones

Last year the world was in shock when oil hit $80 per barrel.

Less than a year later, the media has been celebrating the fact that oil prices have dropped to below $110 per barrel.

Four years ago oil was just over $30 per barrel!

With the exception of a couple of spikes, oil prices have been inching up every year since Dec 2001.

Oil price increase

Oil price increase

It is only when petroleum prices go above certain milestones like $3 per gallon or $4 per gallon that people start to sit up and take notice but even this would appear to be a short-term effect. How well do you remember the $3 per gallon shock?

Just how much do oil prices have to rise before we decide to get off oil for once and for all? How high does it need to go before we realise the water is boiling and we need to develop competitive, reliable alternatives?


  1. says

    “How high does it need to go before we realise the water is boiling and we need to develop competitive, reliable alternatives?”

    Surely the issue is that deep down a lot of people know that there *are* no competitive, reliable alternatives. The moment anyone sits down and takes seriously (and I’m as big an advocate as anyone) they also realize that there’s no way in hell that it can just be a plug-and-play substitute for oil in the modern world.

    So my guess is that most people don’t want to meet that trouble half way … they’d rather hope that another oil field will turn up, in deep water or under the arctic, that will keep things ticking over for at least the rest of their lifetimes. Because the changes required to adapt to post-oil are just too much trouble when you’re so heavily invested-in and occupied with the current state of affairs.

  2. says

    Money drives everything. Right now, it’s less expensive for pretty much anyone using oil to continue to do so. But it won’t always be. I believe that the more the oil price will rise, the more alternative energy will become affordable (price-wise, confidence-wise, convenient-wise, etc.) in comparison, and therefore will develop, until we reach the breaking point.

    I have no doubt that this breaking point will happen, like coal replaced wood, and oil replaced coal.

  3. says

    The big problem as I see it is that politicians are afraid to tell their constituents the truth for fear of causing panic and also because they know there are no easy solutions, or they will get blamed as the cause of the problem and not just the messenger.

    Despite the best efforts of many well-informed, well-intentioned people, my best guess is that the future will be a series of ‘oil price shocks’. These will grab peoples attention for a few months and then life will carry on as usual. This cycle will carry on until the current way of life is simple not possible any more. Although this too will happen at such a slow rate that people may not fully realise that their way of life is changing for the worse.

    The only hope is for a really concerted effort to change the energy infrastructure and to push for massive growth in renewable energy and increased energy efficiency.

  4. says

    It is pretty clear that we must get off not just oil, but all fossil carbon sources as fuels.

    To do that requires that either we rethink personal transport options (unlikely) or we find good alternatives. Unlike the previous commenter, I think there are several things we can do in teh short and long terms.

    1. mandate higher fuel efficiency standards, like CAFE and/or ensure that the price of gasoline stays high encouraging a shift to more fuel efficient vehicles.

    2. Provide the means to acquire electric vehicles, e.g. liek teh project.

    3. Really commit to alternative energy sources for electricity generation. In California it ia almost criminal how we waste the sun’s energy, let it heat residences and then use more energy in A/C. Just allowing both central and distributed power generation, better still with incentives, would really get the ball rolling.

  5. Randy says

    The biggest oil field in the world is conservation, after that we MUST have alternatives for Home heat and for transportation.The idea that they May be slightly more expensive than oil right now is economic suicide when all of a sudden Gas is 4-5-$6 a gallon. We need to diversify NOW NOW NOW. SInce getting off Heating oil in 2002 I saved between $15000, and $20,000 And my new automatic central heating unit cost me $2600 If thats not a good reason to change i don,t know what is.