Tom Whipple on how the energy crisis might unfold

The Peak Oil Crisis: An Announcement

June 1, 2011.

There are far too many people in nearly every country of the world that are dependent on a very complex supply chain to bring them the necessities of modern life – food, shelter, clothing, medicine, education, and some form of entertainment and recreation – to make a return to 19th century practicable.

There are simply too many people and not enough arable land left in the world.

This implies that for the coming decades, the best solution for the world’s peoples is to shelter-in-place.

While there may be limited opportunities to migrate, these will become increasingly difficult to find. Oil-fueled transportation will become expensive and governments will be taking whatever measures are necessary to stem unauthorized cross-border migrations.

Some intra-country movement will have to take place as regions become uninhabitable for most due to climate change.

This raises the key issue of the next few decades – What will be the role of government in holding society together during the transition to the post carbon age? A corollary issue will be how well current systems of finance, industrial organization and capital formation will function during what is likely to be a prolonged period of economic decline as fossil fuels and then many other resources become scarcer and much more expensive.

As people naturally prefer to stay with accustomed life styles and ways of doing things as long as possible, there will inevitably be a period of political controversy between those who have come to recognize that major changes in our civilization must take place if society is to survive in a recognizable fashion and those who will cling to the familiar until overcome by events. Indeed, the opening rounds of this debate have likely started already in the controversies over global warming, jobs, taxes, deficits, and sovereign debts.

In the United States a great political debate is taking place on 20th century terms with discussion focused on reviving economic growth, cutting federal deficits, and stimulating spending. In the 21st century, an era of depleting resources, much of this debate is no longer relevant. Efforts to create jobs in traditional ways in what will soon be a steadily contracting economy will need to be rethought and new ways of creating new kinds of jobs will be necessary to keep complex societies functioning. Whether the lead will be taken by free enterprise or will fall to governments by default is yet to be seen.

There will be many other issues besides the creation of jobs, and supplying goods and services in the coming transition. Some of these issues are not yet apparent and some will not be recognized for years.

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