Life After the Oil Crash
Civilization as we know it is coming to an end soon. This is not the wacky conclusion of a religious cult, but rather the result of diligent analysis sourced by hard data and the scientists who study global “Peak Oil” and related geo-political events. The situation is so dire that even George W. Bush’s Energy Adviser, Matthew Simmons, has acknowledged that “the situation is desperate. This is the world’s biggest serious question.”
If you are like 99% of the people reading this letter, you have never heard of the term “Peak Oil”. I had not heard the term until a few months ago. Since learning about Peak Oil, I have had my worldview, and basic assumptions about my own individual future turned completely upside down.
A little about myself: A few months ago, I was a 25 year old law school graduate who found out he had just passed the California Bar Exam. I was excited about a potentially long and prosperous career in the legal profession, getting married, having kids, contributing to my community, and living the “American Dream”.
Peak Oil has caused me to seriously question how realistic this vision of my life is.
Whether your’e 25 or 75, an attorney or an auto mechanic, what you are about to read will shake the foundations of your life.
Below you find a brief explanation of Peak Oil, the ramifications, and what we can do about it. For the sake of simplicity, I have designed the following explanation for somebody unfamiliar with Peak Oil. If you would like more in depth explanations with graphs, charts, and the like, please consult the articles and sites I have linked to throughout this site.
What is “Peak Oil”?
All oil production follows a bell curve, whether in an individual field or on the planet as a whole. On the upslope of the curve production costs are significantly lower than on the downslope when extra effort (expense) is required to extract oil from reservoirs that are emptying out.
For the past 150 years, we have been moving up the upslope of the global oil production curve. “Peak Oil” is the industry term for the top of the curve. The peak will last for a year or so, at which time we will go down the very steep downslope. The further we go down the slope, the more it costs to produce oil, and its cousin, natural gas.
When will Peak Oil occur?
The most wildly optimistic estimates indicate 2020 will be the year in which worldwide oil production peaks. Generally, these estimates come from the government.
A more realistic estimate is between the year 2004-2010. Unfortunately, we won’t know that we hit the peak until 3-4 years after we actually hit it. Even on the upslope of the curve, oil production varies a bit from year to year. It is possible that the year 2000 was the year of peak oil production, as production has dipped every year since.
The energy industry has quietly acknowledged the seriousness of the situation. For instance in an article entitled “A Revolutionary Transformation,” the president of Exxon Mobil Exploration Company, Jon Thompson stated: “By 2015, we will need to find, develop and produce a volume of new oil and gas that is equal to eight out of every 10 barrels being produced today”.
That sounds pretty bad, but I don’t drive an SUV or anything. Even if gas prices get high, I could probably still make ends meet. Why should I be concerned?
Almost every current human endeavor from transportation, to manufacturing, to electricity to plastics, and especially food production is inextricably intertwined with oil and natural gas supplies.
Commercial food production is oil powered. All pesticides are petroleum based, and all commercial fertilizers are ammonia based. Ammonia is produced from natural gas.
Oil based agriculture has been fantastic for food production. Oil allowed for farming implements such as tractors and food storage and transport systems such as refrigerators and trucks. As oil production went up, so did food production. As food production went up, so did the population. As the population went up, the demand for food went up, which increased the demand for oil.
Unfortunately, we are at a point where the demand for food/oil has been rising exponentially, and is expected to continue to do so. Oil (food) production, however, is about to drop dramatically.
When Peak Oil occurs, food production will plummet because of the cost of fertilizer will soar. The cost of storing (electricity) and transporting (gasoline) what little food that is produced will also soar. Unless you grow all your own food on your own local, self sustained farm, you will have to deal with the food shortage.
Oil is also required for nearly every consumer item, water supply pumping, sewage disposal, garbage disposal, street/park maintenance, hospitals & health systems, police, fire services, and national defense.
Thus, the aftermath of Peak Oil will extend far beyond how much you will pay for gas. Simply stated, you can expect: war, starvation, economic recession, possibly even the extinction of homo sapiens.
This is known as the post-oil “die-off”. The term “die-off” captures perfectly the nightmare that is at our doorstep. For a humorous portrayal of the die-off, read chapter 3 of Michael Moore’s most recent book, “Dude, Where’s My Country?”
What do you mean by “Die-Off”?
Exactly what it sounds like. It is estimated that the world’s population will contract to 500 million during the Oil Crash. (current world population: 6 billion)
What About Alternatives like Solar, Wind, Hydrogen etc?
Unfortunately, it is too late. It would take us a minimum of 50 years to develop a food delivery infrastructure based on alternative energies. Peak Oil is going to occur within five. Even if we stopped all wars, and committed ourselves entirely to energy alternatives such as solar, wind, hydrogen etc, the best we can hope for is to soften the fall.
Oil accounts for 40% of our current global energy supply. There are no alternatives to oil that can supply this much energy, let alont the amount of energy we require to feed a wolrdwide population that is increasing exponentially.
Let’s briefly examine the commonly proposed oil alternatives:
Natural Gas currently supplies 20% of global energy supply. Gas itself will start running out from 2020 on. Demand for natural gas in North America is already outstripping supply, especially as power utilities take the remaining gas to generate electricity. Gas is not suited for existing jet aircraft, ships, vehicles, and equipment for agriculture and other products. Conversion consumes large amounts of energy as well as money. Natural gas also does not provide the huge array of chemical by-products that we depend on oil for.
Hydro-Electric power currently accounts for 2.3% of global energy supply, compared with the 40% provided. It is unsuitable for aircrafts and the present 800 million existing vehicles.
Solar power accounts for .006% of global energy supply. Energy varies constantly with weather or day/night. Not storable or portable energy like oil or natural gas so unsuited for present vehicles and industry. Batteries bulky, expensive, wear out in 5-10 years. Photovoltaic solar equipment (US$4/watt) is about 15% efficient, giving about 100 watts of the 1 kW per square metre exposed to bright sunshine (enough for one light bulb). A typical solar water panel array can deliver 50% to 85% of a home’s hot water though. Using some of our precious remaining crude oil as fuel for manufacturing solar equipment may be wise
Wind power accounts for .07% of global energy supply. As with solar, energy varies greatly with weather, and is not portable or storable like oil and gas.
Hydrogen accounts for 0.01% of global energy. Hydrogen is currently manufactured from methane gas. It takes more energy to create it than the hydrogen actually provides. It is therefore an energy “carrier” not a source. Liquid hydrogen occupies four to eleven times the bulk of equivalent gasoline or diesel. Existing vehicles and aircraft and existing distribution systems are not suited to it. Solar hydrogen might be an option in some of the hot countries.
Nuclear is currently being abandoned globally). Its ability to soften the oil crash is very problematic due to accidents and terrorism. Many more reactors would be needed. Tons of radioactive materials to transport at risk to public. Nuclear waste disposal is still the major, unresolved problem, especially breeder reactors producing plutonium a nuclear weapon/terrorist raw material, half-life contamination is 24,000 years. All abandoned reactors are radioactive for decades or millennia. Nuclear is not directly suitable for aircraft and vehicles. Adapting nuclear to make hydrogen or other fuels would be a huge, and energy-expensive project. Nuclear fusion is still not available, after 40 years’ research and billions of dollars invested.
Humanity always adapts to challenges. We wil just adapt to this, right?
Absolutely. Just most of us won’t be here.
Is It Possible That We Have Already Hit Peak Oil and Are Now In the First Stages of the Oil Crash?
Yes. As stated above, we won’t know we have hit the Peak until a few years after we hit it. Global oil production has dipped every year since 2000, so it is quite possible the Peak has passed.
Ample evidence exists that we are in the first stages of the Oil Crash. In the last year (2003), the cost of food has risen 16%-25%. Health care costs have risen 15%. Education costs have risen 20%. These are often excluded from measures of inflation because they are considered “volatile”.
As of 12/03 the “adjusted” unemployment, which has been squeezed out of as much meaning as conceivably possible, still hovers in the 6% range. However, if you factor in the quality of employment, then the real numbers are closer to 12%-15%.
The rolling blackouts experienced in California during Fall 2000, the massive East Coast blackout of August, 2003 and the various other massive blackouts that occured throughout the world during late summer of 2003, while not directly related to Peak Oil, are simply a sign of things to come.
If the year 2000 was the year of Peak Oil, it means we have very little time to prepare before things completley disintegrate.
Why Haven’t I Heard About This On the News?
There are a couple of reasons:
1. 75% of the media (all newspapers, television and radio stations) are owned by 5 companies. Each of these companies is heavily invested in the energy industry. If they were to publicly announce the truth about Peak Oil, investment in the stock market would dry up, the economy would plunge, chaos would ensue, and the whole deck of cards would come crashing down before our leaders and corporate elite have a chance to secure their own well-being.
2. The ramifications of Peak Oil are so serious that it is hard for anybody, including journalists and politicians, to accept it.
3. The average American may not be emotionally prepared to deal with Peak Oil. Peak Oil is a literal death sentence to much of our population as well as a figurative death sentence to the energy intensive American way of life. When faced with such news, most people choose to “kill the messenger.”
How Are the Energy Companies Dealing With This?
According to Dr. Colin Campbell:
“The major oil companies are merging and downsizing and outsourcing and not investing in new refineries because they know full well that production is set to decline and that the exploration opportunities are getting less and less.
The companies have to sing to the stock market, and merger hides the collapse of the weaker brethren. The staff is purged on merger and the combined budget ends up much less than the sum of the previous components. Besides, a lot of the executives and bankers make a lot of money from the merger. Since their making money off the situation, they are not going to go public with the truth.”
Does This Have Anything To Do With the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?
George Bush, Dick Cheney, Condi Rice and Donald Rumsfeld are all former executives for large oil companies. They have known about Peak Oil for decades.
In the context of Peak Oil, the wars in the Middle East are not wars of greed. Rather, they are wars for survival.
You can expect the U.S. to invade Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia within the next 2-5 years. As you watch the news, you can already notice the hints are being dropped. “Iran has WMD” or “Syria isn’t cooperating in the war on terror” or “Saudi Arabia is funding terrorism”. “The war on terror will last for decades.” The stage is being set so that the American public will accept these future invasions.
What’s going to happen when recently industrialized China decides it needs what little oil is left as bad as the United States does?
World War III
What about other “Westernized” countries like France? Don’t they need oil also?
We will likely be inavding or attacking France at some point as well. Several high level officials in the Bush Administration are pushing for a plan to force nations to “choose between Paris and Washington.”
Well at least we don’t have to worry about Russia, right?
In October, President Putin called the US a “Rogue state” and reserved the right for a unilateral, first nuclear strike against the US. Reason: The US is not only monopolizing Russia’s oil suppliers, they are also buying Russian oil companies.
War with Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, China, and France and Russia? Won’t that require a reinstitution of the draft?
George Bush recently approved a massive increase for the Selective Service’s 2005 budget. The Selective Service is currently undergoing a massive overhaul and has been told it needs to be ready to report to the president in June, 2005. This means you can expect a reinstitution of the military draft some time thereafter.
Essentially, every young man currently between the ages of 12 – 22 has been earmarked as a solider for future oil wars.
I think I’m going to be sick. . .
I know the feeling.
My son is between 12 and 22. How do I keep him from being drafted?
Check WarIsARacket.net (my other site).
If we get Bush out of office, will that solve the problem?
Peak Oil is happening with or without Bush. In fact, you may have the Bush administration to thank for the couple extra years of cheap oil he is robbing from the Middle East. This gives us in the U.S. some extra time to prepare for the post-peak Oil Crash. (Note – I in no way feel this justifies the invasion of Iraq or Afghanistan)
The President, his administration, and most of our legislators have been reduced to ceremonial figureheads for the energy and defense industries. These industries control both parties.
None of the presidential candidates except Dennis Kucinich have publicly mentioned Peak Oil even once.
In other words, regardless of who gets elected, we’re on our own.
Does Peak Oil have anything to do with legislation such as Patriot Act I, and Patriot Act II?
When food production plummets, the only way to control the population will be through the institution of a fascist style police state. The passage of the Patriot Acts are the foundation of that state.
What is the government doing to solve this problem?
It may come as no surprise to you that our leaders are doing more to exacerbate the problem then they are to solve it. Rather then developing a reasonable plan for handling the coming Oil Crash, out leaders have decided to make a last ditch grab for whatever recoverable oil is available by stealing it from the nations that have it. With control over the world’s dwindling supplies of recoverable oil, they will have the ability to choose who lives and who dies.
If you aren’t making over $200,000/year, our leaders don’t care whether you live or die. As an example, 35-70% (depending on the source) of our troops from the first Gulf War are now disabled with Gulf War Syndrome. The Reserve and National Guard troops that are now in Iraq have not been issued sidearms or bullet proof vests. Our lives mean nothing to our leaders.
Furthermore, at least 40% of our Senators are millioniares. They have enough money that they will be able to feed their families even if the price of food doubles, triples or quadruples. So even if they know about Peak Oil, it’s not like they’re going to be the ones doing most of the suffering.
Remember, these are the same people who give us a color coded chart, a roll of duct tape, and a war of dubious origins as solutions to terrorism.
As stated above, we’re on our own.
Isn’t This Just Another “end of the world scenario?” Y2K was supposed to be the end of modern civilization and it turned out to be much ado about nothing.
I wish that Peak Oil was “Y2K Reloaded.” Y2K was an “if”, not a “when”. Unlike Y2K, we know that Peak Oil is going to happen. The only question is at what point between 2004-2010 will it happen. Furthemore, oil is more fundamental to our existence than anything else, even computers. Had the Y2K predictions come true, our civilization would have been knocked back to 1965. With time, we would have recovered.
When the Oil Crash comes, our civilization is going to get knocked back to 1765. We will not recover, as there is no available oil left to discover that would help us recover.
Y2K was “announced” in the early to mid 1990’s – a full 5 – 10 years before the problem was to occur. Peak Oil will occur within 1 – 6 years, and we have made no preparations to deal with it. The preparations necessary to deal with the Oil Crash will require a complete overhaul of every aspect of our civilization. This is much more complex than fixing a computer bug.
It is important to note that over the course of history, the world’s biggest disasters have never been “announced” ahead of time. The Great Depression, Pearl Harbour, 9-11, all could have been prevented if we had been paying attention. Given the fact that the Oil Crash will be worse than all of these disasters put together, it should come as no surprise that our leaders are not warning us.
Unlike past “end of the world” scenarios, such as nuclear war, biological terrorism, and of course Y2K, Peak Oil is not a question of “if”. Peak Oil is a scientific fact. The only question is when.
For months, I was in denial about the reality of what we are facing. I finally accepted what all the evidence points too: we are in really deep shit.
Read through the articles on this site. Listen to what well respected energy industry folks such as Matthew Simmons, King Hubbert and Colin Campbell have to say. Listen to what the energy industry is (quietly) talking about. Look at what they are doing. Look at what Sweden is doing to prepare for Peak Oil. Look at all this in the context of U.S. foreign and domestic policy. Then decide for yourself if Peak Oil is simply “Y2K Reloaded”, “SARS: The Return”, “Cuban Missile Crisis II: Judgement Day” or if it something we need to deal with head on.
I’m by nature an optimist. Peak Oil sounds too pessimistic for me to accept as reality.
I felt this way too for while. Then I realized there is a difference between being an optimist and being a fool.
An optimist is somebody who looks at bleak facts and decides to make the best of the situation that they can. A fool is somebody who looks at bleak facts and decides to ignore them because they are too upsetting..
If you are an optimist, you will deal with the reality of Peak Oil in a realistic way that optimizes humanity’s chance of surviving Peak Oil and building a prosperous post-oil civilization. If you are not willing to deal with Peak Oil in this way, you are a fool who will be dead within 20 years.
I’m having trouble believing that a country as powerful as the United States is going to collapse.
That’s what people in Baghdad circa 1979 would have said about Iraq. Its also what people in Moscow circa 1960 would have said about the Soviet Union.
We won’t be the first superpower to collapse. Rome, Sparta, Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union – all superpowers long erased from the map.
Keep in mind that thoroughout the history of humanity,living in a collapsed society is not uncommon at all. Even in contermporary times, billions of people are living in collapsed societies such as the former Soviet Union, Iraq, large portions of India, West Africa, Somalia, Liberia, the West Bank, Gaza Strip. etc. . .
Oil is the lifeblood of our civilization. Without oil, our fate is the same as the hospital patient who loses all of their blood.
Those of us lucky enough to live in the industrialized world are like the cool kids who got invited to the big party. Unfortunately, the party’s over.
How can we best deal with Peak Oil as a society?
Peak Oil is going to happen. People are going to die. We cannot stop it. But we may be able to minimize the amount of suffering while maximizing the chances of building a successful post-oil civilization if we immediately come together as a species and do the following:
1. Stop all wars and other nonessential economic activity. Dedicate all of our time and resources to developin energy alternatives.
2. Stop having kids. We cannot feed our current population. When the Oil Crash comes, the situation will go from bad to worse to nightmareish. More children means an increased demand for food that we cannot produce.
3. No more pets. They require food that needs to be used to feed people.
4 No more beef eating, as cattle raising is extremely energy intensive.
5. Drastically cut our energy consumption. This means eating produce that is grown locally, investing in hybrid cars, substituting bicycles for cars, limiting our purchase of consumer goods to those that are absolutely necessary, and no air travel unless absolutely necessary.
What should I do to prepare as an individual?
Well first of all, it is absolutely imperative that you do not allow yourself to succumb to a fear based consciousness. This may be difficult as Peak Oil is going to necessitate absolutely massive changes in our way of life. However, if we allow ourselves to be overtaken by fear, we will only exasperate the situation and duplicate the system that has brought us into this situation.
As far as what steps to take as an individual, when I first asked that question, the answer I got was: “Step 1: Imagine the absolute worst apocalyptic nightmare you can think of. Step 2: Think of how you would prepare for that situation. Step 3: Get to work.”
Personally, I recommend the first step to be educating yourself about Peak Oil and its ramifications. Then notify as many of your friends and family as possible. Seek out like minded people and come up with some type of a plan.
Unfortunately, I know very little at this point regarding how to survive without the amenities of modern civiliazation. As I learn more, I will post what I learn on this website under Prepare.
Should I be getting a gun?
I debated whether or not to even address this question, but given the fact that I’m an American, I guess its mandatory.
Personally, I won’t be getting a gun. My philosphy is why bother extending my stay in hotel earth for a bit longer if I have to contribute more violence to an already violent place?
However, if I was a woman I’d definitely be getting sometype of defensive weapon or looking into self defense.
I have work, school, bills, kids, traffic, etc to deal with. How am I suppossed to prepare for the Oil Crash when I’m barely keeping up with life as is? I have too much too worry about right now to worry about the future.
Join the club. Your’e not the only person who has day to day problems.
If Peak Oil is too much for you to worry about, feel free to ignore the facts and stick your head in the sand. But remember, when you stick your head in the sand, you leave your ass exposed for the world to kick.
Is there anything positive about Peak Oil?
Its hard to say that there is a “bright side” to Peak Oil, but here goes:
Most of us in consumer based countries like the U.S. are actually very nice people. In our hearts, we really do believe in ideals such as equality, brotherhood, and justice. We would never abuse, mistreat, or kill somebody just to get something of theirs. However, to support our oil based lifestyle, our government goes out and does these things for us.
If the average American knew the amount of suffering that went into producing every piece of plastic in their home, every gallon of oil in their gastank, and every piece of food on thier dinnertable, they would likely be sick to their stomach and would be willing to do whatever it takes to change things.
Peak Oil will force us to change things. Peak Oil does mean that the end of the world as we know it is at our doorstep. It also means that we have a chance to create a new world in which humanity lives in harmony with itself and the earth. Such a lifestyle is no longer simply “the right thing to do”. It is now a necessity if we wish to survive as a species.
Does this have anything to do with evolution and biology?
Quite possibly. In every species, the “over adapted” members of that species tend to die off and be replaced by simpler versions. In the case of humanity, hyper-industrialized societies such as the United States will become extinct, while simpler, more peacefull societies will continue.
Peak Oil may be nature’s way of turning the “survival of the fittest” theory on its head. Traditionally, we have defined evolutionary-social fitness by looking at things like cunning, military strength, ability to dominate etc. . However, the only societies that are going to survive the Oil Crash will be those that define fitness by looking at more benevolent traits, not the least of which is the ability to control what your leaders do with your tax dollars.
I am not part of what you might call the “Anti-American” crowd. I was born here, grew up here, and have no desire to go anywhere else. While I love it here, I also recognize that America has done some pretty atrocious things. Regardless of your political outlook, the unfortunate truth is we used forced labor to build our nation on stolen land. (So did many other consumer based, oil driven nations, and they will be crashing also)
More recently, the U.S. dropped so much depleted uranium on Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War that birth defects in Iraqi babies increased by 500 percent in the next 12 years. The radiation was so bad that 67% of American Gulf War veterans ended up having babies with serious birth defects as well. In 2003, we dropped so much depleted uranium on Baghdad that radiation levels rose to 2,000 times normal. Depleted Uranium has a half life of 4.5 billion years. Essentially, we have eliminated the Iraqi population (and many our of own troops) from the healthy human gene pool.
It’s almost like Peak Oil is nature’s way of saying, “If you are so heartless, spineless or brainless as to not prevent your leaders from committing horrible atrocities in the pursuit of resources, then you are not fit to survive.”
I’m still pretty scared. How am I suppossed to go about my daily life and maintain a positive mental attitude now that I know industrial civilization is about to collapse?
As an eternal optimist, I’ve decided to look at the future as a giant episode of “Survivor”.
All joking aside, this is something I’ve struggled with considerably. I’m writing an entire article on how I’ve been able to maintain my jovial demeanor and sense of humor while dealing with the harsh reality of Peak Oil. I should have it done in a week or so (by 1-14-04).
In the meantime I suggest a good, stiff drink.