Peak Oil


Life and Peak Oil12 Aug 2009 11:44 pm

A little less than a year ago I wrote about how the imminent energy descent will likely mean the end (over the next couple of decades) of our high-tech tools and toys (especially anything that uses a microprocessor or other sophisticated solid state electronics). That post was triggered by this excellent paper by Alice Friedemann.

Here are some more recent articles that deal with the same topic:
* The monster footprint of digital technology, by Kris De Decker.
* The End of the Information Age, by John Michael Greer.
* Will the Internet Still Be Here in Tough Times?, by Sharon Astyk (which draws heavily from the two articles above).

As Sharon’s post and the resulting comments discuss, two of the major adaptations we will face are losing easy access to a world’s worth of readily searchable information, and learning to live and interact solely with those physically close to us (instead of the like-minded communities we find online).

Computers have been a regular part of my life for nearly 30 years, and the Internet for half that time. It is hard for me to imagine living without them, but that is exactly what we will eventually have to do. It does help to remember that quite a few people who came before us seemed to manage  ;-)

Economy and Peak Oil05 Aug 2009 01:46 pm

We spent this last week at the beach (an enjoyable family tradition that I am all too aware will probably come to an end sometime in the next decade or two). While there I read a book that has been sitting in my ‘to read’ pile for the better part of a year: “Culture Change: Civil Liberty, Peak Oil, and the End of Empire” by Alexis Zeigler.

This is a small book (126 pgs), but one full of weighty ideas, drawn from a large body of literature and eloquently argued. Even though I am well-acquainted with many of the issues Zeigler covers (peak oil, climate change, and resource depletion among them), he ties these together and explains their likely impact on our society in ways I hadn’t encountered or considered. The book confronted several deep-seated assumptions I had, and exposed some relationships that had never occurred to me. It was only by the time I was finishing the book that the concepts really came together for me.

Zeigler’s thesis is that human societies are mostly shaped by their economic and ecological circumstances. The ‘great man’ view of history holds that great thinkers and their ideas shaped their respective societies, but Zeigler convincingly argues — using a broad set of examples taken from recent and more distant human history — that this simply isn’t the case. For example, he holds that the rise of the Nazis in the last century is attributable primarily to the circumstances that German society was in after WW I, not so much the particular person named Adolf Hitler.

Economic and ecological crises allow individuals and groups (today that includes corporations) that are waiting in the wings to step in and advance their agenda. Given this, combined with the ingrained human response to defer to leadership in times of crisis, and the stage is set for the rise of an Adolph Hitler (or any number of similar figures throughout history).

Why should you care?

Well, what follows from this analysis is the conclusion that the coming decades of energy depletion, resource scarcity, and climate change are likely to bring with them ugly changes in our society: the rise of totalitarianism, scapegoating and repression of minority groups, and a loss of civil rights for many in our society.

[Zeigler also touches on a number of other themes, including how women's role in society depends on economic / ecological circumstances, why biofuels are an ecological and ethical nightmare, how the first-world economy rides on the back of the world's poor, and why humans have a way of behaving collectively that makes them susceptible to repression of their normally highly-tuned social awareness.]

Does Zeigler offer a way out of this? Yes, in a fashion. He has some suggestions; as one example, we need to voluntarily reduce our energy use faster than supplies deplete. At the same time, he acknowledges that the changes required to avoid the path to totalitarianism are going to require ‘a quantum leap, both in thought and in action’. While they are simple solutions, in a sense, they will require the rich of the world (which includes anyone reading this) to give up much of the material world that they now have. On many fronts, this is something that we are proving daily that we don’t have in us.

This is the kind of book that stays with you long after reading. If you aren’t yet convinced that you should order a copy, at least read this good review.

Economy and Peak Oil04 May 2009 08:58 pm

I just came across Chris Martenson’s The Crash Course, a truly excellent series of presentations about the very special set of problems facing us in the next couple of decades: our growth-dependent economy, the end of cheap energy, and the depletion of a number of important resources.

Much of the information Mr. Martenson covers I was already aware of, and have discussed here, but he explains the ties between these issues in a way that strikes me as profound and jaw-dropping. He has a real gift for distilling a problem to its essence, and explaining rather complex topics in a way that makes them seem almost obvious. He uses examples that provide clarity without drawing false analogies.

I urge urge urge you to watch all 20 ‘chapters’ from beginning to end; I’m certain this a 3 1/2 hour investment that will pay for itself many times over.

Despite my urging (what, I didn’t emphasize it enough??), some of you just won’t watch the whole thing. If that describes you, at least catch Chapter 16: Fuzzy Numbers and Chapter 17a: Peak Oil.

Some of the more eye-opening bits for me:

  • The extent to which our current financial system is dependent upon growth. The fractional reserve system we have had for the last several decades will collapse if not ‘fed’ by a continually growing economy.
  • The extent to which figures like CPI and GDP are subject to manipulation. During the last few (Democratic and Republican) administrations, such fundamental metrics as debt as a fraction of GDP have become so twisted as to become almost meaningless. The policy which results can be downright frightening.
Peak Oil29 Mar 2009 04:51 pm

This is the best video I’ve seen on the web about peak oil, the future of our food supply, and permaculture. Required viewing!

Energy Conservation / Renewable Resources and Peak Oil07 Jan 2009 01:10 am

A year ago to the day I first wrote about Peak Oil. Wow, what a year it has been!

In that post I touched on the fact that we cannot count on alternative or renewable sources of energy to bail us out of this predicament:

… And while some renewable energy sources hold promise for supplying some energy, it is likely that in the short term we won’t be able to come anywhere close to meeting demand. For reasons I won’t get into here [...] hydrogen fuel cells and biofuels are not answers but rather dangerous distractions.

Last summer Kurt Cobb wrote an article (which I just came across now) that very clearly explains why this may hold true not only for the short term, but long term as well. The issue is what David Goodstein called the ‘rate of conversion’ problem.

Here is Kurt’s article about the ‘rate of conversion’ problem, which you should consider our required reading assignment for the week  ;-)

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