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The Peak Oil Crisis: The Time of the Demagogues

Public Policy

The transition from 200 years of cheap and plentiful fossil fuels to an era without will go through many phases as it gradually dawns on the body politic what is happening.

A few weeks ago Virginia’s U.S. Senator Mark Warner noted that the global warming debate was not so much a scientific one as it was religious. On one side were the apostles of science and on the other was the “American way of life.”

When Election Day came, it was no contest – the American way of life won hands down and numerous veteran politicians were sent packing. In state after state, “cap and trade” was widely perceived as the implacable enemy of all Americans hold dear – prosperity and economic growth.

Now it shouldn’t take long for one to figure out that the good times we have enjoyed for the last 200 years or so were based on cheap energy.

If one takes some and eventfully much of the energy out of the equation, then the coming decades are simply not going to be prosperous in the conventional sense. The bottom line is that most of us will be making do with much less stuff and certainly a lot less fossil fuel powered mobility in coming years.

The trouble, of course, is that most of us don’t want to hear this and many will embrace any prophet that will say drastic changes are not in store and that we can return to the life as we have always known it. Reality of course is that, unless you are among the handful that are still hunting and gathering up a remote Amazon tributary, you are going to be hurting soon. For many this has already happened.

In America, and many other places for that matter, in the last 100 or so years we managed to move much of our rapidly increasing population into cities and suburbs and find some means for them to earn a living there. This transition was underwritten by prodigious amounts of cheap fossil energy that supported people in increasing abstract occupations such as law, finance, analysis or government.

Without the cheap fossil fuels, there will simply not be enough energy to maintain the jobs and lifestyles for many, many millions of us.

Nearly half of all Americans report that they are already hurting in some fashion from what they believe is a recession, but in reality is the beginning of the transition from one age to another less prosperous one. Give the large numbers already hurting financially, there is little wonder that so many are willing to follow voices saying they can make life better.

A simple example is the American attitude toward global warming.

A few years ago most of us were willing to accept the abstruse science that concluded that not only was global warming caused by man-made emissions, but mankind had also started along the path to wiping itself out.

The general acceptance of the idea that we had better do something to control emissions was widespread until there arose the demagogues preaching that the science was false, global warming was a natural phenomenon, the consequences of temperature rises were far in the future, and that efforts to control emissions could cost you your job or the hopes of ever getting one.

Given arguments like that, concerns for the as yet unborn great -grandchildren quickly melted and a majority of Americans now believe that controlling emissions is not a priority when compared to creating jobs.

History, unfortunately, is replete with large numbers of people willing to follow prophets to disaster. The last millennium or two has abounded in holy wars that resulted in the death of millions and the demise of many civilizations.

In our lifetime the German people followed a prophet of prosperity that resulted in the destruction of much of the civilized world. Closer to home we only have to go back 150 years to a time when hundreds of thousands died fighting for a belief that their economic well-being depended on the indefinite continuation of slavery.
At present America is abounding with demagogues professing an answer to the current economic difficulties and a restoration of the jobs and prosperity that is the American birth right.

Restoring “prosperity” in the conventional sense of acquiring more and fancier things and ever increasing real incomes will, of course, be impossible as liquid fuels become more and more expensive. As this fact of life in the 21st century is not yet widely recognized, the demagogy will continue for a while and many will be elected to public office on platforms that are simply impossible to fulfill.

The heart of the problem is that there are no simple and painless solutions to transferring mankind from an abundance of cheap energy to scarcity. So long as the false prophets of prosperity are in the political ascendency, rational efforts to prepare life in the decades ahead will be impossible.

Although the path ahead is far from clear, serious and possibly expensive efforts to make substantial reductions in energy consumption before we are forced to do so by a combination of cost and scarcity would seem an unlikely course.

As long as enough people are willing to believe that free enterprise and market forces will bring us through the coming transition through substitution of other forms of energy nothing is likely to happen until unprecedented economic pain sets in. Then perhaps we as a nation will stop trying to return to the good old days and will focus on real solutions to the pain we are all about to suffer.

Falls Church News

8 Comments on "The Peak Oil Crisis: The Time of the Demagogues"

  1. Rick on Fri, 24th Dec 2010 5:02 am 

    Good article.

    I know a lot of people who like things the way they are, and think the world (America) will return back to the good old days. That’s a real problem.

    Next, I also know folks who think Peak Oil is a scam, a lie, whatever. And by the time they figure out it’s real, it will be too late for them, their kids, etc. Same goes for Climate Change.

    America, the world is in transition, the party is over, for everyone. Some are still too drunk to see what’s happening, now. Not 10, 20 or 30 years from now.

  2. cusano on Fri, 24th Dec 2010 8:30 am 

    Ronald Reagan promised to the voters a return to the American way of life. Jimmy Carter spoke about the realities of our energy future. We all know what happened there. Dick Cheney said that the American way of life was not negotiable..or some such nonsense and the masses bought into it. The demagogues have been here all along and the people will follow them. They’ll continue to listen to their word, and wanting to believe them…right to the end. This form of human nature repeats itself over and over. It won’t be different this time.

  3. Kenz300 on Fri, 24th Dec 2010 9:16 am 

    Each countries economic and national security will depend on it’s ability to transition to clean, sustainable alternative energy.

    Local goods and energy produced with local labor. We can provide the jobs and the energy needed to run our economies in the future.

    The oil and coal industries have a vested interest in slowing down any transition to clean energy and they have spent heavily to influence public opinion and politicians.

    As the price of oil keeps creeping higher the impact on the economy becomes more severe. For average working people money spent on energy means less money to spend on food, shelter and clothing.

    Bring on the bicycles, mass transit, electric, flex fuel, and hybrid vehicles. In a world of limited resources we will need contributions from wind, solar, geothermal and second generation biofuels to keep our economy moving.

    Next year the world population will surpass 7 billion people just 12 years after world population passed the 6 billion mark. Limited resources are coming head to head with ever increasing population growth.

  4. Simon in BC on Fri, 24th Dec 2010 11:54 am 

    Did this wasteful consumerist lifestyle (and I choose “lifestyle” over “life” deliberately) even make anyone happy or give anyone’s life meaning? And the jobs we have concerned ourselves with so much were mostly in the end without meaningful result, just part of the consumer process.

  5. Harquebus on Fri, 24th Dec 2010 1:23 pm 

    There is no such thing as “clean, sustainable alternative energy.” Renewable energy generators are can not generate enough energy to replicate themselves and are manufactured using the energy fossil fuels.

  6. BOB on Sun, 26th Dec 2010 5:54 am 

    this can only end 1 way and the war over oil will destroy most of what we know iam an old man but i worry about the future of those who come after

  7. Kenz300 on Mon, 27th Dec 2010 10:24 am 

    The oil and coal lobbies are rich and powerful. They spent a lot of money on campaign contributions to politicians.
    They also spent a lot on public relations, and front groups to spread their message of disinformation.

    They have been subsidized for years and are now afraid that alternative energy will get a foothold in their business.

  8. Bernd1964 on Tue, 28th Dec 2010 3:22 am 

    The decline of global oil production and other key resources of modern civilization will clearly lead into a new Dark Age for humanity. We stand today at the threshold of an age of bitter scarcity, hunger, wars and even genocide. All known alternative resources of energy can’t replace what abundant cheap fossil energy enabled us to do.

    The age of abundance in the West was controlled by super rich banker elites, which had arisen from the British Empire. The power of money creation was stolen from the peoples by evil feudal elites using hidden political strategies. The citizens of Western civilization truly live today as tax paying serves of private banker elites.

    I believe that the end of resource abundance equals the end of fiat money which could actually reduce the power of evil feudal elites (globalists) in the future and open new possibilities for self-determination of independent local societies.

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