Decline in output from the world's oil fields is averaging 5% per year, with some speculation that we may have reached the global production limit for conventional crude oil. Once the loss in output overtakes what can be provided from unconventional sources, it can be said that we have passed the point of global "peak oil". The exact timing of this will be known only to posterity, but its circumstance is widely perceived as an unquenchable and imminent disaster of planetary proportions, and the "End Times" movement, hard-line Christian fundamentalists, mostly in the US, are rubbing their hands in anticipation of such "proof" that God really did tell us 2000 years ago that the Tribulation would befall us, in preparation for the second coming of Jesus Christ, who would ultimately transform the Earth into paradise. A cynic might say that since these are mostly people who live in a nation that consumes vastly more energy, and has more cars than anywhere else on earth, such acceptance is really an act of inertia, and they would rather die than change their lifestyles to anything less energy consuming.
Being essentially an optimist by nature, I am trying to avoid falling to apathy along the wayside, although it is extremely difficult not to see things in a gloomy perspective, especially living in a country that has pledged itself to additional debts of around $1.2 trillion (£750 billion) in the wake of the 2008 banking crisis, and which will take so long to pay-off that the point when (or if ever) the balance sheet comes back into the black is really anybody's guess. If it takes 30 years, one can only speculate as to the kind of world and society that will prevail then, and since I am a man of a certain age, in all probability I won't be part of it.
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There are many scary scenarios to be had, and which are gratuitously foretold, but mostly these involve wars over resources, mainly oil and also water. The two are connected inextricably in the matrix of energy and production that forms the web of globalisation, with oil-powered pumps drawing water to bring desert into fecund crop-land and pasture. Thus if oil fails, so does the land, and much of the food production especially in the mid-western United States, once it is no longer possible to extract water, much of which is of fossil origin, drawn up from underground aquifers. These are not routinely refilled by rainwater, but are an essentially finite resource, laid-down millions of years ago.
It is not worth elaborating the conceivable plots of mayhem, including one I have heard of, where the governments are forced to bomb the inner cities to destroy the rapacious and desperate millions, before they become lawless and soulless roaming hoards, rather as in the 1956 novel "The Death of Grass”. Rather, to consider that there may be a solution, but only one, and that is for the governments of the world to unite in a voluntary and cooperative programme to reduce oil consumption by 3 million barrels/day (ca 3%) per year, in line with the predicted fall in oil production from the present to 2030. Any other strategy - including business as usual - will be tough, unpleasant and disastrous, and must inevitably abrade society into conflict and all-out wars between regions and between nations. In a nutshell, oil-producing nations must agree to reduce their production by 3% per year and oil-importing nations to reduce their imports by an exactly matching amount. Production will fall and must be planned to fall, while consumers take-up the slack in supply, in the form of fuel rationing.
We need a clear strategy to gear-down our dependence on personalised transportation and on the carriage of essential goods such as food and water to the extent that should this mechanism fail, in Britain we have probably three days supply before the supermarket shelves are empty and the country begins to starve. To put it another way, a fall in oil provision by 3% per year means building more localised means that depend less on transport by that same figure, pro rata. Since the problem is a global one, the solution can only be found globally, and individual nations - under the leadership of their governments - must cooperate in creating an overall less fuel-dependent ideology and putting this into practice. Fuel rationing is key and a reconstruction of societies so that the means for shelter, work, food production, money and all else are not separated, but become part of the integrated hive of community.
By. Professor Chris Rhodes