There are some friends who are physically present at all times… and others who disappear for awhile, only to return as if they had never left. Jeff is one of the latter, but whose friendship and perspective I am always grateful to share whenever the opportunity arises. He just sent me this email today, which I’m passing onto you. If you don’t think what he says is serious, may I recommend The Long Emergency by James Kunstler, or if you’re more cinematically inclined, The End Of Suburbia.
I haven’t preached for awhile on peak oil and our over population. I just got back recently from the ASPO peak oil conference in Sacramento so I thought I would share some thoughts. It was enlightening as always and this time somewhat overshadowed by the financial crisis. Lots to digest. We remain on the plateau of maximum oil production since 2005 of around 84 million barrels of oil a day and it is doubtful that new production will offset depletion of the old megafields to change this. 2012-2015 is the forecast for the crunch time when new production will be less than the depletion rate and will happen when world oil demand will only have grown so until then volatility will swing all over the map. Economic recession may create some demand destruction that could depress oil pricing on one side and the depletion and huge appetite keeping supplies tight. After this 2012-2015 period the forecast looks bleak as we descend down the back side of the bell curve of increasing depletion and decreased production. This was the message from the conference on the oil front. Alternatives cannot be scaled but rapid deployment of everything from wind, solar and nuclear would be wise but without major cuts in consumption won’t solve our problems. So how does this affect the big picture?
Jeff photographs some dwarf plants
on the North Slope, AK
Originally uploaded by woodcreeper.
I am somewhat sanguine about a cultural shift in the near term future. We are on the knife’s edge and the painful consequences of our overshoot as a species approaching 7 billion may lead us to a global consensus to radically change our values and directions away from consumption and materialism but it can equally lead us toward resource wars and fascism. This is a proverbial fork in the road of historic proportions. You cannot ignore the statistics of the huge flood of humanity in China India Brazil and many other places who are trying to reach their own version of the “American Dream” of consumption or the developed world’s tenacious determination to keep unsustainable lifestyles going. To bring about a shift toward recognizing sustainability as a foundation for our survival instead of some trendy buzz word will require a series of painful consequences. This puts me in this strange place where I find optimism in calamity as it seems the only force to question the status quo. At least calamity until peak oil and other limits to our growth become understood in our collective conscious.
We are an overpopulated species on the planet. A hundred years ago there were less than one billion of us. Today there are almost 7 billion. Our modern civilization has been masterful for over 100 years of harnessing the planet’s resources and experiencing what is for a species a remarkable exponential growth. Every decade that this exponential growth has skyrocketed upwards we have made ourselves more and more vulnerable to a chaotic collapse. The further a complex system moves away from equilibrium the less likely that its return to equilibrium can be done in an orderly way. I remember my lessons in evolution and ecology. That long periods of equilibrium are punctuated by rapid change and chaos. This seems to be characteristic of complex systems. What is more likely going forward? That we can return to equilibrium and a sustainable global population through an orderly mitigation that will be supported by the masses of humans who have become normalized to high consumption levels or that a collapse and chaos will bring about a rapid return to equilibrium and that the horrific experience of passing through this will have profound consequences and be culturally transformative for the human survivors?
I have a hard time seeing how we can achieve an orderly pathway toward a sustainable equilibrium when the ascent that brought us to where we are happened so rapidly. Since 2003 when I went to the first peak oil event I suspected this was a defining theme of the 21st century. Things have unfolded more quickly than I could have imagined to confirm this.
We should all be psychologically prepared that we are not passing through temporary instability but rather just the opening acts of what will prove an immensely challenging century. It will be a hell of a ride and not without positive challenges for our children. They will be the first generation to seriously confront this mess and really be forced to do something about it. There is the potential for great noble achievements. This death of consumption will be replaced with the birth of producing sustainable models of living. Themes going forward? Try frugality, humility, community, making stuff, fixing stuff, growing you own food. Being resourceful with less. Friendships.
This e-mail is mainly a reminder that the peak oil story is real, that our exponential growth and over population is reaching fundamental tipping points in our biosphere ranging from the collapse of marine fisheries, climate change, fresh water depletion, top soil depletion, extinctions and loss of biodiversity.
We have already past the doorsteps and have entered the opening scenes living in the reality of these tipping points. We have moved way beyond an ideological struggle and into the physical consequences of our overshoot.
No need to preach this stuff. Consequences are at our door step!
P.S. I guess the last thing you really wanted to read was this sunny e-mail after watching the stock market in the US lose the most in one day since over 20 years. Is the credit crisis related to the limits of growth that peak oil and other resource depletions are indicating? The US economic system has grown so deeply in debt that we are spending our grandchildren’s wealth. Are we not also spending our grandchildren’s energy resources and shifting the consequences of environmental collapse on to them? Think of the deeper spiritual implications of breathing and drinking your grandchildren’s oxygen and water?