Friday, October 21, 2011

Richard Heinberg on "Coast To Coast"

I first became acquainted with the Peak Oil hypothesis in 2003. Although I had become immune to doom and gloom forecasts by that time (the future that I had been taught to fear seemed bucolic in comparison to that awful year), the Peak Oil "conspiracy" terrified me in a way that earlier, vague predictions of axis shifts and alien invasions had ceased to: by virtue of its elegant simplicity and irrefutable logic.  I immediately paid off my mortgage and began planning my backyard garden. For once, I actually believed that the end was near.

Since that year, the more alarmist predictions of the Peakers have not come to pass; our civilization has not collapsed into another dark ages, and worldwide conflict has not (yet) broken out over a struggle to gain control over increasingly scarce resources.

Nonetheless, the economic model articulated by another Peaker, Matthew Simmons, has, arguably, transpired. Simmons predicted that the problem of Peak Oil would largely be ignored by the mainstream, but its effects would unfold cumulatively through our financial system; as the cost (price) of oil rose due to a gradual increase in scarcity, disruptions and breakdowns would occur in the worldwide financial systems. While these breakdowns would be the consequence of increasing oil scarcity, pundits and "analysts" would blame them on unrelated factors--either out of ignorance, or a refusal to face an awful truth.

I made careful note of this prediction, hoping that the Peakers would be wrong. But eight years down the road, I'm ready to concede that the Peak Oil model is the most likely cause for our present economic disruption.  Our present Great Recession is a direct result of the spike in oil prices that occurred in 2008.  Still, I hope that the worst predictions of the Peakers will not transpire... and here's why I hope.

First, and foremost, the "future" is not necessarily a logical consequence of current trends. While there *are* trends, movements, and probabilities based on current projections, most significant historic events have been disruptive.  Pivotal historic transitions are often caused by disruptive discoveries, inventions, and ideas largely unforeseeable at the moment. Any model of the future that fails to account for the possibility of a new disruptive paradigm (technology) will ultimately fall short of the mark.

Second, it's my personal belief that challenges and limitations are introduced into certain historical periods for specific purposes. I prefer to find meaning in historical events. (I was likely influenced by my early reading of Victor Frankl.) Instead of seeing Peak Oil as a death sentence on our industrial culture, I see it as a challenge, which our culture can choose to meet and overcome, or not. 

1 comment:

  1. I'm familiar with this topic from Thom Hartmann's Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight, a book I enjoyed. He talked about denuding of natural resources like wood being the downfall of Roman and Greek societies. I'm thinking it was more complicated than that, and so many people flat out lie to us it's hard to know what is true and not. It seems common sense we don't need to rely on fossil fuels supplied by another culture that abuses women terribly, not to mention others. I think the peak oil predictions are just wrong.