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Professor Chris Rhodes

Professor Chris Rhodes

Professor Chris Rhodes is a writer and researcher. He studied chemistry at Sussex University, earning both a B.Sc and a Doctoral degree (D.Phil.); rising to…

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Governments Must Work together to Avoid a Peak Oil Scenario

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.

Related article: Keystone XL: Celebrities Won't Help the Cause

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

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  • Christoph Becker on February 20 2013 said:
    From the perspective of western Europe and north America you are right.
    But form the view point of China and some other nations, you may be wrong.
    Imagine an EMP-attack as described in the book 'One Second After'. Just a very few nukes started from cargo ships at the coast of the US and Europe, and the US and Europe will stop using oil and other resources almost for ever. 60 to 90 Percent of the populations are dead after just one year and the rest is starved and weakend enough to become an easy game for asian and arab armies trying to conquer Nato's land, where water and fertile ground are plentyfull.
    Thus for the goverments of China and most Arab countries the smartes polictics may be NOT to work together with our goverments, but prepare for war and work against us. Indead China is preparing for war (see John Xenakis comments at www.generationaldynamics.com ). When resources are limited, as they are, there is no alternative to war. Especially if such cheap, smart and easy to use, "non destructive" means as a high altitude electromagnetic pulse attack and cyber war are available.
    Creating and clendestine launching a B-weapon like the spanish flue, for which the attackers, but not the defenders have the vaccins may also be a very effective way of coping with the limits of resources.
    We in Europe don't like war anymore because we are lazy, fat, faithless and old, and because we did grow up with narratives of war that almost everybody, including the winner lost, while there was plenty of engery and resources to live in peace with each other. But our narratives may not be reasonable in the near future for China and other countries. For them war may become the best answer, since only war can zero the use of oil and resources in Europa and the USA AND depopulate our fertile and water rich land. War can give them plenty of oil, ores, water and land. By war they can grow and become richer. Peace is no perspectiv in a world of shrinking resources, execpt for fat, old, lazy and faithless people like the Europeans and Americans who are unable and unwilling to fight real wars.
  • Rick on February 20 2013 said:
    "..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".

    When I look around at all the goings on, it almost looks as though this is in progress, to a fashion. I would hesitate to say that it was with full co-operation but rather an OECD enforced scheme.

    Governments know full well that they could stimulate their economies more effectively by direct injection of money but choose not to do so. Present policy looks more like a controlled form of demand destruction.

    At the same time, military interventions in MENA countries that we assumed were an oil grab now appear to have been a deliberate attempt to frustrate growth in supply of low production cost oil. This keeps the world price of oil high and enables your tar sands and tight oil to be almost viable.
  • Chris Rhodes on February 21 2013 said:
    Yes, I agree with you entirely, and I do not believe that what I am suggesting is likely to actually happen. I would not dismiss your scenario, but I think it more likely that nothing will be done, until economies and societies begin to collapse. By then relocalisation will be the only way, and it is a shame that humanity will not anticipate the liquid fuel crisis and save much pain by forward planning and advance action.

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