09/07/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Understanding Peak Oil Through... Peak Caviar?

How best to explain the concept of Peak Oil? How about this: There is a finite amount of oil in the ground and at a certain point, we'll increase production to the point where we're producing more than ever riiiiight before we realize that we're running out -- and fast.

If that doesn't do it for you, try Tower Of Power's classic, "Only So Much Oil In The Ground."

Still no? OK, then we're gonna pull out the big guns: Fancy foods. The Green Desk has never had caviar, but found this explanation of peak oil via canned fish eggs illuminating (and a bit funny):

I asked what had happened; the answer that I received was that the government had prohibited the sale of black caviar. This explanation came with some extra details, such as that the ban had come because the market had been taken over by some unspeakable Caucasian mafia which had set up a lucrative black market. Curious, because red caviar from the Far East was still on sale. People seem to try all the possible mental exercises before they are willing to use the dreaded word "depletion".

Back home, searching the internet, I found that it is true that the Russian government has banned caviar sales in January 2008. It is also reported that there have been problems with illegal sales. The reason for all this, however, is a simple one: sturgeons, the source of black caviar, are nearly completely gone. "Peak sturgeon", and as a consequence, "peak caviar (black)", took place around 1980. This is something I know well since I had written a paper on the subject that I presented at the fourth ASPO conference in Lisbon in 2005. Here are some data from the paper (Bardi and Yaxley, 2005)

And of particular note:

It doesn't matter if a resource is theoretically renewable, as sturgeons and whales are. If sturgeons or whales are killed much faster than they can reproduce, then they behave as a non renewable resource; just as crude oil.

We're kinda thinking that the caviar crowd and the legislative crowd overlap a little on this one.