Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Peak Oil Crisis: Perspective

While waiting to see how the Iranian nuclear confrontation and the various Eurozone crises sort themselves out, there is time to step back and look at the interaction of the major forces that will shape our future. While the problems of oil depletion are already upon us, shrinking resources are only a part of global dynamics currently.

There are at least six major forces moving civilization in the world today: 1) population growth: 2) economic growth; 3) political stability; 4) technological innovation; and more recently 5) resource depletion and 6.) climate change. There are, of course, other less obvious change-producing forces at work in the world – theology, geology, and culture to name a few--but these six look like a good place to start thinking about the interaction of change. Our six forces are intertwined so that significant movement in one will eventually result in feedbacks affecting some or all of the others.

In the last 200 years a combination of better health technology and services, more productive agriculture, and improved transportation has allowed the world population to grow seven-fold. Although in some areas societal and even political measures are keeping population growth in check, as a whole the world's population is on course to increase markedly before the century is out. In a finite world this has, and will continue to have, serious implications for our other major engines of change. First is simply the need to grow and distribute food for the 78 million people that we are adding to our population each year. If one includes clothing, shelter, education, medical care, and a better-than-subsistence life style for the new arrivals, you can see that that the global economy needs to do some growing or at least rearrange the way resources are distributed.

This steadily growing population will add to resource depletion – fossil fuels, vegetation, and minerals -- for at a minimum all those additional people must eat and drink. If they are going to eat warm food or stay warm in the colder climates, they are likely to be adding to the atmosphere's growing concentration of greenhouse gases and the pace of global warming. The search for a better life is already resulting in mass migrations from poorer to richer regions which in turn is already contributing to political volatility. More


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