Yesterday I helped two other grown men push a small van up a slight hill. Together, the three of us moved it maybe 30cm before giving up. Have you ever considered how much energy is contained in a single drop of oil?
For the past few months I have been reading all I can about Peak Oil. The basic idea is that the global oil supply will soon (around 2010) be less than oil demand. As oil is so fundamental to our lives (all transport, manufacturing, fertilisers for agriculture) this will cause big problems. Some people think modern society will end (literally), others predict a global depression, and some the death of the suburbs as the world reconfigures itself for a low energy lifestyle.
Here are some common predictions that I rate as plausible:
- Oil prices will sky rocket, like over $150/barrel, causing the price of everything to increase, i.e. high inflation.
- Stock markets tumble as every stock is based on the assumption of continuing economic growth sustained by cheap energy.
- Widespread unemployment as whole industries collapse, i.e. “demand destruction”. Starvation in less developed countries (no fertilisers)
- People with very high debt levels (the norm in Australia) will be in deep trouble. Overpriced housing markets collapse. The “perfect storm” for a modern economy.
- As the taxation base decreases the government will be less help. For example they won’t be able to fund a switch to renewables, pay unemployment benefits, fix blackouts.
After a few months of research I am convinced Peak Oil is for real. While I am not in the survivalist camp (I think modern society will pull through) my best guess is that there will be very tough times for the world economy.
A powerful DVD on the subject which I recommend is A Crude Awakening. A really good book is Half Gone by Jeremy Legget, which nicely explains both Peak Oil and Global Warming. Or just Google on Peak Oil.
Governments (except Sweden) are ignoring the problem. This means that if Peak Oil hits, we will be largely unprepared, as we will have squandered the time required to prepare for transitioning from fossil fuels. So it’s probably up to individuals and communities to do what they can to cushion the blow.
You know what scares me about the Peak Oil problem? As an engineer I am used to solving problems. Software doesn’t work, you fix it. Hardware bug? Start debugging. You know that there is always a fix, somewhere. Peak Oil scares me because I just can’t see the fix. Anywhere.
So I am thinking about what I can do to “kick the carbon habit” and prepare for Peak Oil. Tactics like reducing debt, an electric vehicle (EV) conversion, improving my household energy budget, re-arranging my stock portfolio, and getting a grid-connect Photovoltaic (PV) array for my household electricity. All good stuff, even if Peak Oil isn’t for real. More on this later.
I am also interested in the possibilities of using Free Telephony to help a post Peak Oil world. I figure if people are moving around less and have less money, then low cost, low power telephony based on open hardware and software may be very useful for connecting the world.
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