Peak oil and the disintegration of industrial society

Tomislav Markus has written an important article on 

Peak Oil and the Disintegration of Industrial Civilization:

I believe he has a point.. He reasons as follows:
Our civilization is based to a large degree on (cheap) oil. Now that peak oil seems to have occurred, we will see ever rising prices of oil and products dependant on oil (food: fertilizers, herbicides, etc.; plastics, transport, to name a few). In an already debt-burdened economy, this will lead not only to inflation and stagnation, but inevitably to a collapse of our industry, agricultural production and so on.

Is there no alternative for oil? We will see an increasing use of coal, probably, but this is not a substitute for the versatility of oil. Also, use of coal contributes significantly to the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and hence, climate change. Alternative energy sources cost a lot of energy and money to develop, and both of these are becoming scarce. Plus, it will take many decades to make the transition to a solar economy, time we don't have. The conclusion of the article seems logical to me: we will witness an end to industrial civilization as we know it now.

One piece of a solution to the current crisis (and the worst is yet to come), seems to be the Transition Town Initiatives that are becoming more popular today. A more local scale of economy seems unavoidable in the light of the above considerations.

Any thoughts?


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Comment by Martin Euser on March 28, 2012 at 8:15am

Anand: Bangladesh:USA equals 1:50 ratio! That is a gigantic proportion.
We are in for an energy descent scenario. David Holmgren has depicted some scenarios here.
He was one of the originators of permaculture, along with Bill Mollison (Australia) and independantly: Sepp Holzer from Austria. BTW, the idea of permaculture is very old. Many ancient peoples practiced forms of sustainable agriculture. Remnants of these forms can be found around the globe. Permaculture has become a broad concept, far beyond agriculture. It also encompasses cultural values as basic to economic organization and how to steward our earth (much commonsense notions).

A final note: I wonder whether the economic-financial-energy crisis has entered a new phase. Economy growth in  Brazil and China seems to have plummeted. Europe is in a recession, USA is struggling as well. Will our leaders find a solution to the ongoing crisis or will things deteriorate fast? One big problem is fresh water supply: within a few years half of the world population will lack sufficient supply. High time to implement water catchment solutions worldwide. Sometimes these solutions are as simple as digging swales and collecting-storing water in underground tanks and/or using swales to kickstart pioneer trees to aid water retention and green the deserts. These solutions have been shown to work perfectly. No expensive engineering works needed.

Comment by Capt. Anand Kumar on March 27, 2012 at 9:02am

The type and extent of problem can be identified by this Wikipedia page giving energy consumption per capita countrywise. While Bangladesh consumes 6.76 Giga Joules per person the US consumes 327.38 GJ per person per year. At Bangladesh consumption level the energy needs of the entire planet (7 billion) can be met by solar and wind power alone. At US consumption level no sources of energy can meet the demand. Add to that increase in population and the extent of challenge becomes clear.

We will need to adopt frugality for survival.

Comment by Martin Euser on March 27, 2012 at 6:24am

Biofuel from algae looks promising, but it has a long way to go before it becomes economically feasible.
For food production purposes I see more in permaculture, which is based on natural and mutually supporting  components (solar energy storage in trees and plants, gravity (slopes) to aid irrigation, water capture and storage, waste products as input for natural fertilization (mulching), etc. Such systems are natural producers of surplus resources (food, fuel, and the like). They are vastly more efficient than current agricultural systems, and can even turn deserts into productive land. All this is proven method and technology. Slowly this is being recognized around the world.

Comment by Daniel Noga on March 26, 2012 at 11:28pm

Algae fuel is an interesting option that adds CO2 to the atmosphere, but also takes it out as the algae grows, so at least it's a zero-sum game:

Comment by Capt. Anand Kumar on March 26, 2012 at 10:24pm

Natural Gas carries the problem of putting CO2 in the atmosphere too. Solar and Wind technologies are yet to crack the problems of intermittent production and storage. So, truly there is no alternative in sight however expensive. Some breakthrough is required.

The root of the problems are basically two. Increasing population and the high consumption lifestyle. It not just mere increase in population but the aspiration of those billions to acquire more and more goods for their comfort. And they take the view that if the Americans and Europeans can have it why can't I?

Irrespective of what source of energy or what technology we eventually adopt these two problems will still need to be tackled. "Frugality" driven by spirituality as Martin proposes, seems to be the only answer.

Comment by Martin Euser on March 26, 2012 at 2:05pm

Laszlo is a relevant writer in this regard. In his book "You can change this world" he gives a template for mailing one's favorite politician, asking him or her to pledge to support sustainable living.
As for energy: there is still a lot of natural gas available, but oil is used for so many purposes that gas cannot replac, that it will come as a shock to our economic system when  prices keep going up quickly. We are in for some tough times, I think.

Comment by Daniel Noga on March 26, 2012 at 10:22am

Thanks Martin, I am too. Somewhere else in the group you mentioned Erwin Laszlo, and it is from his writing that I came to think that way. In his book The Chaos Point, he does a pretty thorough job making that case. As a result of reading that book I am far more optimistic now than I would have been otherwise.

Comment by Martin Euser on March 26, 2012 at 7:06am

"How bad will things actually get?"

Nobody can know that. It depends on what we do now (and how fast we do it) to restructure our economies.
Pessimists like James Lovelock expect the worst (only 1 billion people remain living on the planet), while others say that the planet can sustain far more people by use of permaculture. I am more inclined to the latter.

Comment by Daniel Noga on March 26, 2012 at 1:09am

Here's a question: How bad will things actually get? Is Markus' prognosis accurate? Certainly there is a need to dramatically scale things down, and it will be forced upon us--but how much can we expect our standard of living to be reduced? Maybe for some, the standard of living will actually go up, since the big commercial and industrial enterprises that plunder the land and deprive the masses will lose their economic base.

It's kind of ironic--from a capitalist point of view, the smart thing to do in the long run would have been to divert lots of resources into the development of sustainable energy and then work to corner that market the same way they've cornered oil. Sure, the way the energy companies have gone has resulted in incredible profits--but one wonders what use today's currencies will be in the new economy this oil rush has made inevitable....?

Comment by Martin Euser on March 21, 2012 at 3:44pm

The hungry ghost is the ghost of capitalism, the necessity for providing for interest.
The alternative to obsessive growth need not be stagnation, but rather a healthy dynamic equilibrium with the environment, expanding and contracting needs and wishes in harmony with the possibilities offered by nature (and a wise use of techonology). Work with nature, not against it.

Comment by Martin Euser on March 21, 2012 at 9:31am

YES! Magazine has a couple of articles on reclaiming the commons.
This issue was in the picture in the year 2001 already. It will become ever more urgent the coming years.

Comment by Daniel Noga on March 21, 2012 at 1:12am

The mass media has played an important role in keeping people focused on consumption, as its controllers benefit personally from this imbalanced system. For a significant (but thankfully shrinking) segment of American society, if it's not fed to them on TV, they don't listen to it. The mass media will never deliver the message of this need for frugality and co-operation so long as it is under corporate control. Fortunately, there is now social media, gradually allowing the turning of the tide. It's fascinating how inter-connected all of this is: Everywhere you look, the way forward appears to involve the more even distribution of energy (whether in the form of electricity, money, information or other resources). Reading the article on peak oil, I can't help but think that so far, green energy has not been sufficient to power today's society, but it would work well in a society that has undergone the necessary shift from centralization to more distributed configurations. Huge banks of solar panels and vast wind farms to power metropolises are less likely and less feasible than one or two windmills and some roof-mounted panels to power the local food co-op...

Comment by Martin Euser on February 10, 2012 at 7:51am

How to sell that idea (of frugality)? Well, maybe it's time for our leaders to get honest with us and themselves. That would certainly be a change compared to current practice. People are not stupid. If you explain to them what's really going on they will accept the message, eventually. Setting good examples goes with this. Why haven't our governments pushed the agenda of energy neutral housing, local economy and the like, more than they have done so far?  Betting on economic growth "to create jobs" will not work any more in the years to come. Changing the type of economy to much more local forms with cooperation of the common people will make a lot of difference.

Comment by Capt. Anand Kumar on February 10, 2012 at 7:05am

Thanks Martin. I think frugality is the keyword here. How to sell that idea without involving spirituality, is the challenge. I do not blame the politicians since I consider they are as much a victim as us of wrong paradigms that we ourselves have followed for long. If at all it is the intellectuals- scientists, economists, political scientists, sociologists, philosophers etc. that have failed to impress upon the common people the need for so-operation and frugality. But the blame game is not going to lead us anywhere. That is why David Korten has become my favorite, "We are the ones we have been waiting for".

Comment by Martin Euser on February 10, 2012 at 6:41am

In stead of buying gold (which you can't eat!), people might do better to buy land collectively, for farming purposes. Grains, vegetables, soy, are all important items to grow. Forget about livestock for meat consumption - that's too inefficient and a waste of resources.

Comment by Martin Euser on February 10, 2012 at 6:30am

Thank you Anand. Thinkers like Ervin Laszlo and James Lovelock have warned us for the impending collapse of our systems. I wrote about Laszlo in my recipes for global change. Cooperation, community, crowd funding and frugality are keywords here. Some economists are talking about crude oil prices above 200$/barrel coming within a couple of years. Transport of goods will become much more expensive, favoring local production-consumption patterns.

Can mother Earth support 7 billion+ children? Not with their current consumption pattern. This will have to change drastically. Enter the era of frugality and sustainability.  Pessimists like James Lovelock estimate the size of a supportable population at 1 billion. Nobody knows for sure. Resource wars may decimate populations anyway. There might be a global shortage of fresh water soon. In many parts of the world there already is such a shortage. Frugality issues again. This may hit us sooner than we think. Within 20 years, starting now, a lot has to change  in how we do business and practice economy. Resource limits will force us to change anyway; it is beginning already now. The next couple of years will press that issue ever stronger upon us.

Comment by Capt. Anand Kumar on February 9, 2012 at 9:43pm

Several thinkers since 1970's warned about the impending crisis due to our over-dependence on the cheap oil as the primary source of energy. We have not listened. Now the doom is upon us. As India and China compete to maintain their growth rates, crude prices by the end of this year are expected to  touch 150$/barrel, if not earlier. No alternative source of energy capable of meeting such demand is available, though there is some talk of Hydrogen Based Economy.

UNCTAD this week has released the report of its Secretary General titled, "Development Led Globalization". The first chapter itself is titled "Goodbye Finance Driven Globalization". The report suggests bringing checks and balances into the global financial system, Co-Operation and use of resources for development. However, since this report is basically on the subject of reforms of institutions and systems but not on radical change as suggested by David Korten and others, its value is limited.

One often overlooked factor in the rise of demand for energy is the rise of population. Can mother Earth really support 7 billion plus children?

Comment by Martin Euser on February 9, 2012 at 6:34pm

The (endless) growth paradigm, being a key tenet of capitalistic economy, will only accelerate the demise of our current system. No more resources to plunder, how will people react? Small wonder that governments avoid to speak about this coming event. People might revolt with the breakdown of the welfare state. Gun sales are at a record high in the USA if I am to believe the accounts of some on the internet. Not a pretty thought.

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