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Page added on October 23, 2010

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Peak Oil Pinball

Consumption

After giving talks on peak oil and its ramifications, I am usually asked how I see it playing out when we begin to feel the tightening of supplies. We have read all the internet sources, and see all kinds of predictions and possibilities for the future. Some see it as a chance to “go back to nature”, whatever that means. Others see it as a Mad Maxx scenario, with everything being a life and death struggle day by day. Others see a gradual collapse of society as we know it, others see a rapid descent into a miserable existence. Some people do what I call time-lapse thinking, trying to compress what may be a several year or even decade of events and situations into a several month or one year calendar. One thing is certain; the descent of the oil age will not be as orderly as the ascent was. In fact the descent will be somewhat chaotic at times.

I got to thinking about what would mimic the chaotic path of the descent that we are familiar with today. My first thought was the demolition of a building that we see on TV every once in a while. Even though the actual destruction looks chaotic over the 10-20 seconds that it plays out, it is actually a very carefully orchestrated event, with things happening in a planned sequence. The descent of the oil age will not have that kind of sequenced change. I finally settled on the old fashioned pinball game. The only things predictable about the pinball are that initially it will bounce back and forth at the top of the machine between two bumpers before it drops into play. The second thing is that the pinball always heads to the bottom of the machine.

It is what happens between the top and the bottom that is so unpredictable. As the pinball descends, depending on the momentum at the top, it will angle off to one side or another, encountering bumpers that may deflect it, or spin it in another direction entirely with a whole new momentum. As it travels across the game board, it can encounter obstacles that redirect it whole new directions, sometimes sending it higher on the game board, but never back to the original starting point. On occasion, we can interact with the pinball with flippers to send it back upwards a certain distance, or if we are too slow reacting, the ball drops off the board between the flippers. Each player will have a totally different set of pinball conditions from the previous play.

I envision the oil age descent will probably be somewhat like the pinball game. Right now the ball is at the top bouncing between the two bumpers. Research is now pointing to 2012 or 2013 when the ball drops off the peak and into play. Some bumpers are labeled oil shortage, some labeled food shortage, and some are service shortage. Some towards the bottom are labeled resource wars, some are labeled economic collapse, and some are labeled starvation. I would think, depending on where you live, the pinball may miss some bumpers entirely and hit others several times before descending further, just like in a real pinball game. Occasionally the oil companies will announce another 100 million barrel find (5 days worth for the US), and the oil find flipper will send the ball higher, and keep it in play longer.

Even though I live within 75 miles of three large refineries with oil fields surrounding the area, I cannot be certain which bumpers the oil pinball will hit on its way down the oil age board for my area. We may surrounded by relative abundance in terms of food resources and energy resources than other parts of the country, but the resources may be redirected (deflected) to more critical needs elsewhere. The only certainty is that over time, the oil pin ball will be lower on the oil age board, and the bumpers there have more serious consequences when they are hit. The top bumpers I call inconvenience bumpers, then the deprivation bumpers, and finally the lower bumpers will be the instability bumpers.

I think we as a society will only be able to marginally keep the oil pin ball in play with alternative energy, additional oil finds, and conservation, trying to keep the oil pinball up between the inconvenience and deprivation bumpers. As individuals, we can become more resilient by researching alternatives, learning new manual skills, and banding together. The oil age descent will probably be by its very nature chaotic at times, and I will have to learn to adapt to its chaos. That doesn’t mean that I have to let my own life become chaotic in the process. The oil pinball probably will sometimes hit me with a gentle tap, at other times with enough force to knock me off my feet. How I will respond to each of these conditions requires that I start playing the scenarios out in my own thought process now. I will have to develop a mental resilience that even when I have been hit hard by the oil pinball, I have to resist the urge to throw in the towel, and keep on going for another round.

When I was doing contingency planning for a living, we used to do a preparedness test called a table top exercise where we took a specific event and thought it through out loud around the table as to the likely side effects and brainstormed ways that our current plan would have to be modified to accommodate the most likely set of conditions that would surround the initial event. I think each of us needs to begin thinking ahead of potential ways to lessen the impact of the oil pinball when it comes our way. Having thought this out in advance gives us options. The thought process is likely to be less chaotic if there have been some alternatives considered in advance. When I used to fly, sometimes I was asked if I ever considered it dangerous. My reply was only if you run out of altitude, time and ideas at the same moment. We will have to accept as a society, that the oil pinball will eventually drop off the board. The game is only over for the oil age. How we think and plan now will determine how we go forward; in personal chaos, or in some semblance of order.

Peak Oil Blues



2 Comments on "Peak Oil Pinball"

  1. KenZ300 on Sun, 24th Oct 2010 10:38 am 

    Wind, solar and biofuels all need to ramp up production. The growth in the use of alternative energy must be accelerated.

  2. Daniel Hood on Mon, 25th Oct 2010 7:06 am 

    Great post

    One nation on earth has learnt to not just cope but thrive in such chaotic circumstances as you have written. I’ve just got back from a fact finding mission. That country is little Israel. Well it just so happens it has produced an entrepreneur by the name of Shai Agassi the former SAP executive. In less than 3 years his newly formed company has attracted more seed investment than any other start up company in history of the world. I introduce you to Project Better Place
    May I suggest you tell as many people as you can about this company, because it will change the world in a way that’s breathtaking. I also invite you to read a book that touches on why Israel produces entrepreneurs and companies as forward thinking as this. Start Up Nation by Dan Senor and Saul Singer. I hope it fills you with inspiration as it did with me.

    Shavua tov

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