Tuesday, May 03, 2005

WHEN THE OIL RUNS OUT

It won't be the end of the world. On the other hand, it will be as severe an economic crisis as that of the Great Depression. The coming crisis won't be exactly the same as that of the 1930's. The price of oil will rise quickly once the oil peak is reached, but this will still take some years to accomplish. The economy will not collapse suddenly like the stock market crash of 1929. But it will mean the end of the ultra-consumer society and hopefully the end of trans-national corporate capitalism, both of which have been maintained by the artificially low price of energy. However, this won't mean a Third World existence, it will be more like living a contemporary version of the 1940's.

You wouldn’t want to have a large debt when Peak Oil arrives. The suburbs will be finished, so will energy-consuming monster houses and gas-guzzling SUV's. There could be as little as 5 years left. Sell your suburban house and gas-guzzler now. Eliminate any large debts. Get rid of any stocks and mutual funds. Rent an allotment or put a vegetable garden in your back yard. Install a wood stove. The people who will suffer the least will be those in the country who can cut wood and grow food, people in small towns who can walk everywhere, and people in the city centers with public transportation.

Mass unemployment will result as the multinationals go under. Air lines and trucking companies will collapse. There will have to be mandatory work-sharing, rather than having one group that works and a mass of unemployed who live on almost nothing. Work-sharing will create solidarity rather than division among the work force. We must start RIGHT NOW to promote the notion of work-sharing so it does not seem like a radical idea when the time comes.

At a certain point the price of gas will get so high that alternative fuels become competitive. Vegetable oil, alcohol and coal oil can all be used as fuels in automobiles.
Wood gas is a possible source in rural areas. Such vehicles will out of necessity be high-mileage and low power. Electric cars will be used in the city. This transition could occur quite rapidly as the technology already exists. But whatever the method of propulsion, there will be many fewer automobiles than now, due to high energy cost.

Flying will be out of the question for most people. Long distance travel will be done by rail and water. There is plenty of coal in the ground, so look toward new advanced forms of steam technology for trains and boats. Here the transition will be much more difficult as an entire new technology will have to be introduced and much infrastructure (new rail lines) built. Public transit will increase rapidly. Where will the capital come for this, given that the economy will be in depression? Perhaps those who destroyed public transit ought to pay.

The generation of electricity will be another problem. For countries like Canada that have huge hydro-electric resources, this will not be much of a problem. Even so, there will be a strain on the system as a switch is made from petroleum to electricity. Where will the extra electricity come from? Once again, as with gasoline, alternative sources of electricity will become viable once the price of regular electricity goes up. Home sized wind chargers, photovoltaics, coal-oil powered generators, for example.

Even a sharp reduction in the use of electricity is not the end of the world. Say you had to get by with a wind charger (1000 watts) You could still have a radio, TV, computer, sound system and a couple of light bulbs for areas where strong light is needed. Fridges can be run on propane, and though I don't know if they are manufactured or not, they can also be run on anything that will produce a steady flame, such as alcohol or coal oil. Back in the 1950's you could buy a washing machine that ran on a little gasoline motor, there is no reason these could not be made with alternate fuel powered engines.

Expensive energy means products will be made to last. Products will be repaired instead of being thrown out, and repair shops will open everywhere. Home deliveries will return and doctors will make house calls. Schools will be small and local so students can walk or cycle there. As in Europe where villages have daily bus service, in the rural areas people will start cooperative busses or jitneys to cut the cost of transportation. One positive off shoot will be that people will be in better physical shape. Obesity will be a thing of the past.

Farming and agricultural pursuits will revive. The end of cheap petroleum means the end of the over-mechanized and chemical based agro-business. Farms will be organic and labor intensive and will produce for local markets. Food will be more expensive, but of vastly better quality and the "multiplier effect" will revive the countryside. Energy farming will be of major importance, as farmers turn to hemp for the production of oil from the seeds and alcohol from the leaves and stems. (There is already an automobile powered by hemp.)

Far from disappearing, as some alarmists claim, communication technology will thrive. It takes little power to run a computer, radio or TV, and hardly anything at all for a telephone. The infrastructure is already there, and in a world where long-distance transportation is difficult, relative to today, the Internet will be a boon for the ordinary person.

No longer subsidized by the state and artificially-low fuel costs, much international trade will disappear. Local production for local markets will return. Economic decentralization will be the new reality. Much of the economy will be in the form of cooperatives and community-owned businesses. Not needing to pander to the needs of global financial markets with all their ups and downs, we will enter the era of the "steady state economy". We will look back upon the era of untrammeled corporate capitalism with almost as much disgust as we now look upon the slave and sugar economy of the 18th Century.

1 Comments:

Blogger Kevin Carson said...

I like your analysis. On the technical side of survival, RV and travel trailer supply catalogs might be worth checking out. There are small, energy-efficient refrigerators designed to run on DC current, that are suitable for using on a solar/wind system.

For people who can't live without air conditioning, there are evaporative systems that run on low enough levels of power to work on solar; they lower temperature maybe 15-20 degrees in low to moderate humidity, but don't do so well at higher levels.

6:48 PM  

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