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After Peak Oil, Are We Heading Toward Social Collapse?

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Several years ago, Glen Sweetnam, director of the International, Economic and Greenhouse Gas division of the Energy Information Administration at the Department of Energy (DOE), announced that worldwide oil availability had reached a “plateau.” However, his statement was not made known through a major US mainstream media outlet. Instead, it was covered in France’s Le Monde.

One could assume that the US assessment of the oil decline was exposed through this particular publication perhaps due to some arrangement that Barack Obama made with Nicolas Sarkozy. (Maybe it is an indirect way to alert the French while keeping most Americans still in the dark on the topic, so that the latter bunch can ignorantly carry onward as usual. After all, no unsettling prognosis should disturb their slow return after the economic recession into shopoholic ways that keep the economy, particularly China’s, on which the US federal government depends for loans, going strong.)

All considered, there was not, as far as I know, even a ten-second blurb about Sweetnam’s message issued via newscasts in New England where I live. At the time of his declaration, their reports primarily covered ad nauseam a recent major flood again … and again.

In a similar vein, no reporter discussing the deluge dared to raise the point that worsening extreme weather is on the way with climate change consequences in the mix, along with oil’s relationship to these outcomes. Moreover, imagine the effect on the Dow or NASDAQ if Sweetnam’s estimation and a discussion of connected economic ramifications got splashed all over the news and across the USA.

Over the news and across the USA?

What exactly are the implications? In “Life After Growth,” Richard Heinberg, senior fellow in residence at Post Carbon Institute, stated, “In effect, we have to create a desirable ‘new normal’ that fits the constraints imposed by depleting natural resources. Maintaining the ‘old normal’ is not an option; if we do not find new goals for ourselves and plan our transition from a growth-based economy to a healthy equilibrium economy, we will by default create a much less desirable ‘new normal’ whose emergence we are already beginning to see in the forms of persistent high unemployment, a widening gap between rich and poor, and ever more frequent and worsening financial and environmental crises – all of which translate to profound distress for individuals, families, and communities.”

In other words, we collectively have to stop our delusions about perpetual economic growth and find another way to live from this point forward. We need to stop pretending that all is well because our myopic view of life shows no oil or other major shortfalls in the very near future. If we do not face up to the truth, the repercussions are clear.

Instead of an “ignorance is bliss” outlook, it’s markedly better to have long-range vision and see the coming monster so that meaningful preparations can be made. Scrutiny of the landscape behind and ahead, followed by timely adaptation, is required. A suitable response is preferable to someone or some group blindly sticking to the same old patterns that could have worked well in the past, but are no longer functionally viable. (Shortsighted government leaders trying to wring the last drops of oil out of the Earth to continue globalized commercial goals certainly provide a clear case in point.)

Certainly, reality does not conform to fanciful hopes and dreams regardless of the degree that they are compelling due to familiarity or any other reasons. A willful adherence to past choices and whimsies just won’t help under the circumstances. As John Adams suggested, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

At the same time, our current standard of living clearly is provided by our ability to burn through unimaginable amounts of fossil fuels, including an estimated 30 billion barrels of oil or more a year, whilst roughly 40 percent of global energy consumption stems from petroleum. Conversely, people without access to such rich energy sources, whether in developed or developing nations, rightfully equate prosperity and access to material goods with fossil fuel use.

After all, no “green” substitute can even come close to the energy density obtained by their derivatives. As such, Robert Bryce, managing editor of Energy Tribune and author of the fairly newly released “Power Hungry: The Myths of ‘Green’ Energy,” and the “Real Fuels of the Future,” pointed out in “Let’s Get Real About Renewable Energy” at online WSJ: “We can double the output of solar and wind, and double it again. We’ll still depend on hydrocarbons.”

In his view, the reason is that we can never, in a reasonable amount of time, reach the colossal scale needed to supply sufficient energy by alternative means. Likewise, “[renewables] cannot provide the baseload power, i.e., the amount of electricity required to meet minimum demand, that Americans want.”

At the same time, access to fossil fuels will increasingly be a major driver of small and large conflicts around the world with the biggest contenders – most notably the USA, China and Russia – using ever more forceful means to gain advantage over rivals. As such, the current Middle East and African wars are diminutive in scale compared to the contention that lies ahead.

In addition, the pending oil shortfall will cause products, services and food that rely on oil to skyrocket in cost. Moreover, petroleum derivatives serve as the foundation for fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, transportation of goods to markets, the majority of the grocery packaging operations (i.e., the manufacture of containers in addition to the bottling and canning processes, etc.) and, of course, operational farm machinery.

All considered, imagine just farms alone being run without sufficient oil. Would they be capable to supply enough food for over seven billion people without it? How will they provide for the nine billion to ten billion expected to be on the Earth in approximately 40 years?

Henry Kissinger stated, “Who controls the food supply controls the people; who controls the energy can control whole continents; who controls money can control the world.” However, he perhaps neglected to consider that our food and practically all industry and finance are deeply tied to energy and that, in turn, is tied to fossil fuels.

According to a Greenpeace USA report released some years ago, “‘Nearly 71 percent of US electricity comes from fossil fuels, including 53 percent from coal. Of the remainder, 21 percent is generated from nuclear power, 15 percent from natural gas, 7 percent from hydro, and less than 2 percent from other renewable sources.’ As a result of this energy mix, the US emits more than 2,500 million metric tons of C02 (MMtC02) every year.”

In addition, coal and gases that can be converted into power supplies are not endlessly abundant. So, in light of our energy dilemma, what can be expected in times ahead?

According to Thomas Wheeler in “It’s the End of the World as We Know It,” “The consensus is the suburbs will surely not survive the end of cheap oil and natural gas. In other words, the massive downscaling of America – voluntary or involuntary – will be the trend of the future. We are in for some profound changes in the 21st century. The imminent collapse of industrial civilization means we’ll have to organize human communities in a much different fashion from the completely unsustainable, highly-centralized, earth-destroying, globalized system we have now.

There will need to be a move to much smaller, human-scale, localized and decentralized systems that can sustain themselves within their own landbase. Industrial civilization and suburban living relies on cheap sources of energy to continue to grow and expand. That era is coming to an end. One of the most important tasks right now is to prepare for a very different way of life.”

Nonetheless, Obama, Trump and their cohorts have recklessly decided to try to extend our period of dependence on oil for “business as usual” instead of using a significant portion of it, along with a lavish amount of federal funds, to establish a firm foundation for alternative energy provision and the massive, societal changes that are on the way. In other words, they are still trapped in an all-out effort to support globalized industry (including its offshored job market and gargantuan transportation network) instead of their preparing the public for post-peak oil lifestyles, in which human welfare and regionalized community development are emphasized.

Assuredly, facilitation of such a constructive switch would help America across the board. The reason is that the redirection of wealth away from horrific resource wars, macro-scale business and pernicious corporate bailouts toward the creation of robust decentralized economic bases would yield many benefits. The action could generate jobs, serve to protect the raw materials and the natural environments on which communities rely and curb fossil fuel use since many products would be created and used locally. It could, also, lead individuals and groups into gaining the necessary skills and understandings to create assorted merchandise, foster developments of co-ops and other innovative organizations like the cooperative Simple Gifts Farm in western MA, as well as strengthen the US economy at the grassroots level.

Moreover, their backing of transnational corporate agendas is plainly ruinous for environmental well-being and multitudinous societies across the globe. It, also, ensures that the most affluent class continues to make staggering financial gains at the expense of others. As such, many people face increasing deteriorating circumstances while, in tandem, their surrounding natural world falls apart due to resource plunder and environmental disasters.

As Bruce Sterling indicated, “No civilization can survive the physical destruction of its resource base.” Indeed, closed resource and energy systems have built-in limits to growth regardless of whether there are increases in population, resource consumption or energy demands.

The results of exceeding the constraints are undeniably clear. They include armed invasions and resource grabs from populations least capable to defend their assets and lands from aggressors, dwindling supplies of critical commodities as thresholds are reached and, ultimately, diminished economic gains, anyway.

All the same, any government employee who advocates for a cutback in energy use or globalized trade would be committing political suicide. He would, also, face a hostile public, including industrialists and farm owners, along with his being shunned by lobbyists and re-election campaign contributors alike.

Simultaneously, it is apparent that “revolving door” politics among corporate executives, politicians and bureaucrats with whom global-scale moguls sometimes collude do, in fact, exist and even lead, in some instances, to regulatory capture. The overall outcome from such a pattern is unchecked corporate exploitation, deceit and power mongering, during which time nations’ general populations become progressively destitute. Meanwhile, the über-class, without meaningful regulatory brakes on free market enterprise, obtains ever greater control over worldwide resources and the financial wherewithal to seize even more control over time.

Likewise, the overall arrangement leads to multinational business owners seeking ever-cheaper labor wherever it exists and even if it involves young children or unsafe practices, ever new consumers and an endless supply of raw materials from developing regions with lax (if any) conservation regulations. They, also, abandon countries in which coveted materials, when not already commandeered, are protected by stiff environmental laws. Concurrently, jobs continue to drain from nations if their standard minimum wages are not the absolute lowest to be found or there are no new stores of resources to tap.

In relation, Jan Lundberg indicated, in “The People of the Brook Versus Supermarket Splendor,” “Social relations are defined today by tolerance of tyranny: of harmful industrial profit schemes, unfair ownership of huge property holdings, and astronomical financial wealth. As soon as the post-peak oil house of cards topples, ‘new’ social structures will be (re)established. There’s a growing number of people already welcoming the end of false wealth’s tyranny and of civilized arrogance.”

Clearly, our choices in terms of the future that we want to create will in time be largely determined by limitations in oil and other resources. It stands to follow that we can either have a last-man-standing orientation in which only the most affluent and powerful people have lavish supplies of expensive energy and material goods or we can foster deglobalization, which leads into equitable sharing of resources, job creation, strengthening of community ties, assurance that local resource bases are not exceeded and creation of a social foundation that does not increasingly divide the world between the rich and the poor members of society.

The second option, also, protects against the sort of widespread financial collapse that occurs in the buoy model. In such an arrangement, a descending buoy, when additional buoys are hooked by a line to a sinking one, drags the others to some degree downward based on proximity wherein the ones having the closest connections are pulled down the most. Alternately put, guess what happens next when one’s own economy, assets, social well-being and so forth are precariously linked to declining partners. Is it a structurally safe arrangement?

All considered, it is easy to notice that some individuals and countries faring relatively well throughout the ongoing recession are ones whose economic foundations have been largely isolated from worldwide influences. Moreover, the nations mostly immune to the downturn tend to be oriented toward serving the needs of their own populations, have been largely regionalized in focus and generally have smaller, comparatively simple, manageable economies, as the US and other countries, in my opinion, should aim to duplicate as much as possible.

In the end, “Our country’s leaders have three main choices: Taking over someone else’s oil fields until they are depleted; carrying on until the lights go out and Americans are freezing in the dark; or changing our life style by energy conservation while heavily investing in alternative energy sources at higher costs,” according to Charles T. Maxwell. I would add to his perspective that our leaders and the rest of us must, in fairly short order, start creating self-reliant, ecologically healthy communities, ones that are durable and flexible so as to reasonably withstand difficult outside forces, such as lack of sufficient oil or, in the least, the crippling, post-peak oil prices that will come to pass. Only if we successfully do so can we avoid the most dire consequences from the severe deficits to come.

With the current peak-oil interval, we have a grace period when oil is still fairly inexpensive and abundant. At the same time, we cannot expect our government leaders to help society transition off of heavy oil dependence on account of their being controlled by “big business” interests. Therefore, it is up to average citizens to create the reforms that lead into localized economic and social development. If the enterprise is not actively taken in a timely fashion, the resultant chaos, as pointed out by Dmitry Orlov in “The Five Stages of Collapse,” will be unavoidable: The Five Stages of Collapse | New Society Publishers

Sally Dugman is a writer in MA, USA.

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19 Comments on "After Peak Oil, Are We Heading Toward Social Collapse?"

  1. MASTERMIND on Sat, 1st Jul 2017 2:52 pm 

    Government leaders have tried to change our habits and convert us away from FF. That is why they have been pumping tons and tons of climate change nonsense for the last two decades. And it did not work at all.

  2. MASTERMIND on Sat, 1st Jul 2017 3:30 pm 

    The illusion of freedom will continue as long as it’s profitable to continue the illusion. At the point where the illusion becomes too expensive to maintain, they will just take down the scenery, they will pull back the curtains, they will move the tables and chairs out of the way and you will see the brick wall at the back of the theater..

    ― Frank Zappa

  3. onlooker on Sat, 1st Jul 2017 3:46 pm 

    So true Master but it doesn’t much matter anymore cause the Earth is in the process of being ruined for everyone. Then if the elites are last men standing they will be “King of Nothing ”
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V5j8lz4oD4Q

  4. MASTERMIND on Sat, 1st Jul 2017 3:56 pm 

    The imminent collapse of industrial civilization means we’ll have to organize human communities in a much different fashion from the completely unsustainable, highly-centralized, earth-destroying, globalized system we have now.

    Once the financial system collapses its game over. There will be no reorganizing anything. We wont have the resources or wealth to do that. And all the sheep will be batshit insane.

  5. bobinget on Sat, 1st Jul 2017 5:44 pm 

    Wind, Solar, Hydro, Geothermal, Nuke POWER. NOT liquid fuels.
    Next crisis, {find a (Liquid Fuel) substitute for oil’s replacement, Natural Gas}.

    For three years on these pages and elsewhere, all we hear, “Glut”, ‘Oil glut’, ‘next year’ China/India won’t needing (as much) oil as previously predicted. Few understand how ChinIndia’s six percent growth, in fewer than 10 years devours every barrel of oil drawn.

    Natural gas demand is rising on Non Weather related demand factors such as plastics manufacturing NG byproduct, Ethane is hot.

    Fuel cells use NG feed-stock. These power cells
    can cogenerate heat and electrical power for small homes, all manner of electric vehicle, or massive high-rises.

    NG can be compressed into CNG for direct use.

    In two decades parts of the US will become uninhabitable due to extreme summer heat and sea level rise. We will try to meet these challenges of massive population relocations requiring many billion tons of concrete.

    Concrete cement is a top greenhouse gas in it’s
    manufacture.

    After a hundred years of burning off (flaring) natural gas, it’s getting R-E-S-P-E-C-T .

    IMO, it’s once again China and India moving the world off oil into NG and renewables.

    The next two ‘black swans’ ? ARAMCO caught wearing only a jock strap and plastic flip-flops.

    America wakes up to China controlling world oil prices out of US back door Venezuela.

  6. ALCIADA-MOLE on Sat, 1st Jul 2017 6:22 pm 

    That is why they have been pumping tons and tons of climate change nonsense

    Thanks master. At some point in the past I was good at digesting double talk but I abandoned my idea that climate change is peak oil because I couldn’t keep ideas contained in my head. I also took vitamin a to control acne and couldn’t deal with mood swings.

    I get it now. I’ve been a sheeple

  7. ALCIADA-MOLE on Sat, 1st Jul 2017 6:48 pm 

    Mast financial system crash how. Rich people don’t want just like every other penniless sheeple. For that reason the system we will be in maintained

  8. Theedrich on Sat, 1st Jul 2017 6:59 pm 

    In an interesting YouTube Podcast with Dr. Joseph Tainter of 2017 June 25, biologist Chris Martenson presents a good summary of the declining net energy profile and decline per capita.  In 1940, U.S. produced oil and gas at an Energy Return On Investment (EROI) of 100:1, which (and not Anglo-Saxon “moral superiority”) made it possible to win World War II.  Now, however, EROI is 15:1.  The trend is irreversible.  Increasingly and ineluctably, more complexity is constantly required to get that hydrocarbon energy.  Concomitantly, poverty is increasing — starting, of course, at the demographic bottom.  Internationally, the economies of oil importers, such as those of the PIIGS in Europe, are slowly worsening.  Temporarily, hydraulic fracturing has given us in the U.S. a reprieve, so that we theoretically have a small amount of time to develop a more rational modus vivendi involving renewable energy production.  But solutions to our problems are constantly being postponed by deviant politicians of both parties accumulating unpayable debt (“kicking the can down the road”) and “solving” today’s problems by taxing the future, a typical governmental ploy for designing an inflation bomb to explode in the future.

    Ideally, we would start with early childhood education, teaching children worldwide to think responsibly about the global environment and about human evolution.  Unfortunately, that is not going to happen.  The Preamble to the Constitution of the United States (signed 1787 September 17) declares that “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Bleſsings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”  Over two centuries later, this goal has been utterly frustrated and perverted by corruption of every type.

    This is because the first, though unstated explicitly, premiss of the Constitution is the survivability of the United States.  Today that survivability is more precarious than ever before.  Robert Gleason, a long-time researcher on the threat of nuclear terrorism (53 minutes) and the possibility of nuclear annihilation, points out that it is quite easy to steal nuclear explosive material and set it off in an American or other nation’s city.  There are 53 countries which have bomb fuel.  In Pakistan there are over 50 jihadist groups trying to destabilizing the government.  (Pakistan and its bribable bureaucracy/army are in fact the horror scenario of the world.)  In Indian Point, New York, all a terrorist would have to do is blow up the cooling pumps, and the fuel rods would overheat and poison an area the size of Pennsylvania.

    Nuclear reactors everywhere are the problem;  they are, moreover, immensely expensive, costing $25 billion to build in the U.S. or Britain.  But we — and the world in general — are building them as if there were no tomorrow, because the politicians and builders make huge profits doing so, since governmental, taxpayer subsidies (not private capital) pay for the plants.

    As the cherry on the cake, we might mention the American government’s approach to the above-outlined likelihood of a nuclear Ragnarök.  This is painstakingly detailed in Garrett M. Graff’s Raven Rock:  The Story of the U.S. Government’s Secret Plan to Save Itself — While the Rest of Us Die.  It is about the bipartisan Swamp’s 60-year-long project of building safe havens, well-stocked caves in granite mountains, and flying command centers to keep the lords of the realm safe and happy amidst the fires of nuclear hell.  Of course, this project is insanely unrealistic, especially as planned for the U.S., but that is the nature of a system that cares only for the survival and well-being of its politicians, not its people.

  9. ALCIADA-MOLE on Sat, 1st Jul 2017 7:37 pm 

    Master race Theedrich when u said eroie is dah winnar. I’m guessing Fuhrer was using wood gas to run panzers? I though he had access to Romanian oil fields.

    And what about the big deception at Normandy. The breaking or enigma and the brilliant commands of generals Montgomery dessert fox and Patton

    I’m a tard I only trust my thinking on simple stuff and I’m sad to report the eggs spoiled. I think I needed to reboil every month.

    You are an assured thinker. People love a bold man. When you and president clog as part of foreign SS defend a mount of dirt in Europa. I’m confident it will hold

  10. deadlykillerbeaz on Sat, 1st Jul 2017 7:49 pm 

    The US is a defacto military dictatorship, has been since way back when.

    It should not be a big surprise.

    Arms dealers make sure bombs sell.

  11. MASTERMIND on Sat, 1st Jul 2017 8:09 pm 

    Theedrich

    if the elites want to go down into coffins. who cares let them. I would rather go out with the people! Live free or die!

  12. onlooker on Sat, 1st Jul 2017 8:34 pm 

    Yep, a post collapse world will NOT be a pleasant one for any survivors.

  13. Theedrich on Sun, 2nd Jul 2017 12:40 am 

    Another fact: if anyone survives Ragnarök, it will not be ThirdWorld microcephalics.  And the Jesus freaks will no longer be able to spread their propaganda about how Whites should die for the sake of the darkies.  Except for America, in the West sicko Christism is already almost a thing of the past.  Once that suicidal psychopathy has been cast into ancient history by nukes, there will be no more Bibles around for the bleeding hearts to pound.

  14. Cloggie on Sun, 2nd Jul 2017 3:49 am 

    After all, no “green” substitute can even come close to the energy density obtained by their derivatives. As such, Robert Bryce, managing editor of Energy Tribune and author of the fairly newly released “Power Hungry: The Myths of ‘Green’ Energy,” and the “Real Fuels of the Future,” pointed out in “Let’s Get Real About Renewable Energy” at online WSJ: “We can double the output of solar and wind, and double it again. We’ll still depend on hydrocarbons.”

    In his view, the reason is that we can never, in a reasonable amount of time, reach the colossal scale needed to supply sufficient energy by alternative means. Likewise, “[renewables] cannot provide the baseload power, i.e., the amount of electricity required to meet minimum demand, that Americans want.”

    Utterly and completely false. This conviction is the typical consequence of the inability to think and plan decades ahead. All short term thinking. “If we can’t have it now, we will never have it.” Instant gratification.

    https://deepresource.wordpress.com/2017/06/30/china-to-install-403-gw-new-wind-capacity-in-a-decade/

    https://deepresource.wordpress.com/2017/05/16/the-enormous-energy-potential-of-the-north-sea/

  15. Davy on Sun, 2nd Jul 2017 6:03 am 

    Great reference clog, sometimes you amaze me.

    “After all, no “green” substitute can even come close to the energy density obtained by their derivatives. As such, Robert Bryce, managing editor of Energy Tribune and author of the fairly newly released “Power Hungry: The Myths of ‘Green’ Energy,” and the “Real Fuels of the Future,” pointed out in “Let’s Get Real About Renewable Energy” at online WSJ: “We can double the output of solar and wind, and double it again. We’ll still depend on hydrocarbons.”
    In his view, the reason is that we can never, in a reasonable amount of time, reach the colossal scale needed to supply sufficient energy by alternative means. Likewise, “[renewables] cannot provide the baseload power, i.e., the amount of electricity required to meet minimum demand, that Americans want.”

  16. Hubert on Sun, 2nd Jul 2017 9:05 am 

    America is already bankrupt and falling apart with 43 million people living on foodstamp and real unemployment rate that is close to 30%.

  17. bobinget on Sun, 2nd Jul 2017 10:25 am 

    Record energy use:
    Keep in mind PV hook-ups (grid-tie) are Not Counted. Since solar is quite popular in America’s SW, just imagine what the energy ‘bill’ would be without*…

    https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2017/06/30/unprecedented-heat-southwest-shatters-energy-use-records/440423001/

    *Little known.
    PV’s lose over 20% of their potential in extreme heat. Water cooling helps. But, w/o water, WTF.

  18. bobinget on Sun, 2nd Jul 2017 10:41 am 

    This is new:
    Many rigs added but US production same YOY in lower 48 states.

    it’s been calculated that lower 48 states production was at 6.87 MM barrels/day last year vs. 6.9 MM barrels/day now. This is comparison of EIA 914 data for April.

    All the rig additions have managed to keep production at the same levels.
    IOW’s no way we can operate w/o imports, our exports are just an attempt to lower Saudi imposed surplus.

    Way back in September last year, CLB said that US needs 900 rigs to hold oil production steady. Now the rigs drill many wells so the number need not be 900. US was at 758 rigs as of two weeks ago.

    The decline never stops as you wait for DUCS to be completed. And you must wait as the oil price is too low. I predict a serious correction in the upcoming STEO reports.

    http://www.corelab.com/investors/cms/docs/press_release/2016_09_20_press_release.pdf

    Grateful thanks to Kxiswan @ IV

  19. James Tipper on Sun, 2nd Jul 2017 5:47 pm 

    “After Peak Oil, Are We Heading Toward Social Collapse?”

    Try “during”

    I’m tired of the canard of inflation, things will get much much cheaper in the next 10-15 years, gas, oil, food. But unemployment will be high (real unemployment, disemployment, and underemployment are already at severe levels).

    Think of it like this, goods will go down by half. But real wages will be one-quarter of what they are now. Minimum wage now will seem like a fortune in the future. If minimum wage law isn’t removed, expect insane level of unemployment. This is not ever from a libertarian, anti-minimum age sentiment, but a real employers won’t hire people at that price sentiment.

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