I started this blog with a vague idea that oil would run out and that technology would have to scale in response. I imagined a split where high technology might be the best option for some problems, and older methods would be better for others. I called the later process downgrading.
It seems to be now that the post oil future is much closer than I imagined as I’ve found in my research on peak oil. Oil is a finite resource and behaves like all other finite resources: after extraction has been in earnest, the more you extract, the harder it becomes to find any more. Oil wells decrease in their ability to produce when they mature.
This is a relatively easy concept to understand. What I hadn’t understood until quite recently was the phenomenon of peak oil. Essentially, real trouble starts not when you get all of the oil out (as I previously imagined) but when you get half of the oil out. This is because at this point, you can’t get oil out any faster.
This means less supply and coupled with surging demand means higher prices. In the short term this means high gas prices, prices that don’t go down without a serious blow to demand (a recession). Is it any wonder gas prices spiked in 2008, dipped during the worst parts of the recession, and has started to return to now near 2008 prices?
In the longer term it means a redefinition of the whole economy, an economy whose health is measured by growth. Economic growth has gone hand in hand with increased energy inputs. Without an increase in energy consumed, we may be entering a period where economic growth is no longer possible.
That’s a bold statement. Economic growth powers today’s current economy. (why else would economists fuss over it so much?) It’s anathema to suggest it might go away, especially since lack of growth seems to fuel recession and growth equals wealth. But after all, when a car runs out of gas it really can’t go any further. The challenge is creating a future that is livable but with less stuff.