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Home > Blogs > Anthony Harrington > Peak oil and collapse scenarios. Part 1

Peak oil and collapse scenarios. Part 1

Fossil fuels | Peak oil and collapse scenarios. Part 1 Anthony Harrington

Stepping into the Peak Oil debate is not to be undertaken lightly. The two warring camps, the peak oilers and the set of all those who think peak oil is nonsense, are praticed skirmishers. Both camps are armed with statistics, impressive charts and carefully marshalled arguments, all guaranteed to overwhelm the innocent traveller who wanders inadvertently or under-prepared into this closely-contested terrain. The irony here is that to “prepare” immediately precipitates you into one or other of the warring factions, depending on which side’s charts “capture” you first. Me? I listen to the peak oilers, but take comfort from the anti squad, since, well, I like modern living and feel no pressing urge to reinvent the Middle Ages. Surgery by candle light, anyone?

That fossil fuel is finite is indisputable. That we are using oil - as demand drops through recessions to one side - at an increasing rate, is hard to dispute. After all, the rapid industrialisation of say, a third of the world’s population, has to be fuelled by something. Is there enough oil still undiscovered to carry the process through to completion, with “completion” defined as some sustainable post-oil energy platform capable of meeting global energy requirements? That, my friends, is the question and the nub of the dispute.


For the peak oilers, we’re already oh so bust. I recently reviewed both Dmitry Orlov’s Reinventing Collapse and John Michael Greer’s The Wealth of Nature in a blog series (here is Part 1), both committed peak oilers, as one would expect from proponents of collapse scenarios. Here is Orlov on why we are screwed:

“Crude oil is and will remain the world’s main enabler of industrial activity, because most of the world’s transportation infrastructure runs on products derived from it: gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. Even if it could be redesigned to run on something else, the process of replacing it would take decades. It would have to be replaced with items manufactured using the current industrial infrastructure, and this would require a level of industrial activity that can no longer be sustained. The time window for initiating such changes has already closed: the oft-cited Hirsch Report states that it would take twenty years to prepare for Peak Oil in order to avoid a severe and prolonged shortage of transportation fuels. Given that the peak was back in 2005, we now have minus twenty five years left before we must start preparing. According to Hirsch et. al. we have failed to prepare already.”

This is exactly the kind of thing that drives anti peak oilers nuts. Start thinking like this and the overnight collapse of modern (oil-based) civilization is inevitable. Forget (oil-based) entrepreneurship, forget (oil-based) industry, start learning how to grow potatoes and soya beans in tubs on your balcony, hone your bartering skills and get in tune with Mother Earth – or, if you are a survivalist, lay in guns and ammunition to stave off the starving urban hordes.

Don't panic

For the anti-peak-oil camp, this is all way too “New Age” and green fanatical, or just plain nuts fanatical. In fact, quite decent strides are being made, the anti-PO camp is keen to point out, in devising a “Plan B” for transport. Electric cars, bio-fuels, dual fuel cars, battery technology, natural gas driven engines are all today’s technologies. Note, no one talks about Peak Natural Gas because there is a huge amount of it out there and the end is not in sight for a long enough period for the human attention span, which is solidly geared to immediate threats, to dismiss it as a serious concern. Peak oil has happened, according to peak oilers, so hey, that’s serious enough to command attention.

Orlov is a believer in the cliff-edge collapse scenario, which presents peak oil in its sharpest form. This is kind of like a sacrificial gambit opening in chess where, if you don’t know the counter or can’t devise one over the board, it’s game over in no time. We’ll pick it up in Part Two, along with the inevitable Hubbert curve transformed into a Hubbert cliff. (Don’t know the Hubbert curve? Google it or click here. The whole Peak Oil debate kicks off from it…)

QFINANCE is still running a competition with New Society Publishers to win both the books featured in Anthony Harrington's 'Collapse Scenarios' series... because everybody loves free books. Enter now for your chance to win.

Further reading on industrialization and emerging economies:

Tags: battery technology , bio-fuels , Collapse Competition , Dmitry Orlov , dual fuel cars , electric cars , energy crisis , fossil fuels , fuel crisis , Hirsch Report , Hubbert curve , John Michael Greer , Peak Oil , Reinventing Collapse: The Soviet Experience and American Prospects , The Wealth of Nature: Economics as if Survival Mattered
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