Best Alternative to Worrying About Oil Prices? Home Energy Efficiency.

Crude prices in 2000 a As noted by the New York Times' Green Inc. blog, last week marked the 150th anniversary of the first oil well drilled in Titusville, PA.  Everyone from the peak oil realists at The Oil Drum to Saudi Arabia's Prince Turki al-Faysal took the opportunity to ruminate on the future of oil, with a special issue of Foreign Policy magazine dedicated exclusively to the topic.

Amidst all the talk, the only certainty is that the future of oil will be uncertain.  Supply is, as it has always been, potentially volatile; and as Keith Johnson pointed out in the WSJ yesterday, the demand side is increasingly out of our control, as well: "For many oil watchers," Johnson notes, "what happens in China (and other developing countries) with respect to demand for oil will be at least as important in coming years as it was during the great oil-price spike of 2007-2008–and more important than what happens in rich countries."

So, out of our control?  Prices, yes, probably.  But the power to determine to what degree the volatility of the global oil market affects us is still firmly in our grasp; and that determination is one best made before any sudden, unwelcome changes take place.

And how do we build immunity against the fluctuating price of oil? By improving energy efficiency, and reducing the amount of fuel, whatever the source, that we'll need - both in the short term and the long term.

As John Holdren recently pointed out, we've gained more energy from efficiency over the last 30 years than from all new energy sources combined.  And if you're still doubtful about its long-term viability compared to renewables, take the example of Passive House: one of the most cutting-edge concepts in energy-conscious architecture, and one which relies almost entirely on efficiency - that is, no rooftop turbines, but an abundance of less-glamorous features such as top-notch air sealing and super-insulation.

Whatever one's position on peak oil or the future of the commodity, it's clear that prices - seemingly mitigated by a drop since last summer - are on a slow and steady rise.  The graph above is from a BBC story from 2000 discussing the "troubling" prospect of $30 crude.  As of today crude is above $70.

So without taking sides in the debate, we'll say simply that whatever the fate of oil, it's in our best interest to take action now (caulk, insulation, maybe some foam), so even if the energy market goes crazy, if the oil bull starts bucking, we won't have to go along for the ride this time.

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