Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Peak Oil and Social Impact

One has to take studies by the University of California with a certain amount of salt; this is, after all, the University that supports Robert Reich, who is probably certifiable. Still, all schools harbor a few nuts, and UCSB is one of the better jewels in the crown of California’s institutes of higher education, so their publication on “Peak Energy, Climate Change, and the Collapse of Global Civilization: The Current Peak Oil Crisis” has to be taken seriously. It is available here as an ebook, and what it has to say is not pretty.

Some of its unpleasant facts, suggestions and forecasts,
*Global conventional oil production likely peaked around 2005 – 2011.
*Peak global production of coal, natural gas, and uranium resources will likely occur by 2020 – 2030, if not sooner.
*Oil shortages will lead to a collapse of the global economy, and the decline of globalized industrial civilization.
*This current transition of rapid economic decline was triggered by the oil price shock starting in 2007 and culminating in the summer of 2008. This transition will likely accelerate and become more volatile once oil prices exceed $80 – $90 per barrel for an extended time. Demand destruction for oil may be somewhere above $80 per barrel and below $141 per barrel. (It’s at $87 per barrel now.)
*There are probably no solutions to peak oil that do not involve at the very least some major changes in lifestyles.
*The global human population has increased from 2.5 billion in 1950 to nearly 7 billion today, and is expected to reach 9.2 billion by 2050.
*Based on best estimates, the global population may have nearly reached or already exceeded the planet's human carrying capacity in terms of food and energy production.

The economic collapse of 2008 is constantly blamed on Republican economic policy which allowed Wall Street greed to run wild, but carefully omitted from that discussion is that the price of oil reached $147 per barrel and remained there until the economy collapsed. Was that oil price a contributor to the economic collapse, the actual cause of the collapse, or irrelevant?

In any case, the larger issue is that while we are talking about climate change and energy cost, we are not talking about the structure of our civilization itself. To support a population which increases almost by a factor of four in a century, lifestyle changes have to be considered, and we are not engaged in that line of thinking.

We have eleven housewives each driving eleven miles to eleven different stores eleven times a month for groceries, and our “green thinking” consists of having those eleven housewives each driving eleven miles to eleven different stores eleven times a month in cars that get better gas mileage. We need to think better than that, we need to be thinking in terms of smaller numbers to replace larger numbers as many times as possible. We need to think structurally rather than incrementally.

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