Framing Peak Petroleum as a Public Health Problem

As global demand for petroleum continues to rise, the cost also will increase. Peak petroleum is the term used to describe the phenomenon when global petroleum production is expected to reach a maximum. Peak petroleum will increase the costs of medical supplies and pharmaceuticals; and hospital and health care facility operating costs, as well as the costs of food, home heating and home cooling. Unemployment and an increase in the costs of goods and services will further negatively impact public health and well-being, especially among the most vulnerable Americans. The public health community must prepare for likely health threats.

To inform that process, these researchers conducted a nationally-represented survey of Americans in December 2009 at a time when the average price for a gallon of gasoline was $2.60.

Some 76 percent of respondents said that a tripling of oil prices over the next five years was either very likely (24%) or somewhat likely (52%). A majority (69%) also said that if oil prices were to triple it would be either very harmful (44%) or somewhat harmful (25%) to the health of Americans. Conservative and moderate respondents were significantly more likely to anticipate human health harms than those more liberal.