Sharp, Extreme Loss of Energy Resources: What If?

Very interesting post at Here’s taste and a link to more.

This is a guest post by Dr. Joerg Friedrichs, University Lecturer in Politics, University of Oxford.

In a recent article (found here (PDF) and at Science Direct), I have investigated how different societies have responded to sharp and rapid cutbacks in their energy supplies. These responses may give us some insight into what might happen as our energy supplies shrink in the future.

In the examples I looked at, I found the following results:

North Korea, 1990s: Response was totalitarian retrenchment

Cuba, 1990s: Response was mobilization of local resilience

Japan, 1940s: Response was predatory militarism

My case studies lead me to formulate the following three hypotheses, which I state upfront here to facilitate discussion. However, please note that they are actually developed from the cases.

In addition to my three cases, I also looked at the South of the United States after the Civil War, where the abolition of slavery led to sharp economic decline and a full century was needed for recovery.

The Oil Drum

Optimist – Pessimist

Contrary to what most of my friends think, including my number one suporter, my wife, I am not truly a pessimist. Given what the world brings us in fact I am quite optimistic. I believe that, and have acted as if, we can do something about the murderous chaos we live in, after all.

On most days I remember how to smile. John Prine speaks for me when he he sings, “The scientific nature of an ordinary man is to go on out and do the best he can.”

I do have my days though.

Contrary to the received wisdom, people do not think and then act. They act and then rationalize. New data from the environment is routinely plugged into existing mental hardware (like entering a number into a spreadsheet), which is then followed by an appropriate thought. Since people have no wiring for “peak in oil and gas production”, news of the present energy crisis cannot generate the appropriate thought. Only prolonged reflection can grow the required mental hardware to place this critical piece of news in perspective. Unfortunately, only a few people can invest the thousands-and-thousands of hours necessary to see both the energy and evolutionary aspects of the human condition clearly.

Each passing year tells me how true the first two sentences are.

This snippet is from a longer “farewell” piece [read down a screen or two] written by Jay Hanson to the readers of his website when he went on to other things in early 2003. Read it. The piece above is on the sweet side of things. Essentially, he argues, there is no saving us. We are programmed by our genetics to lie, cheat and steal — whatever it takes to give our genetic template advantage over others. The only respite — that is, peace– is when expansion of energy use is possible.

[By the way, this belief is built into the American founding. I’ve been re-reading William Appleman Williams “The Tragedy of American Diplomacy,” and it is true in spades. The Panic of 1893 (500 banks, 15,000 business failed, 4,000,000 unemployed) was solved by a nationwide agitation for over-seas expansion: hence, Hawaii, Cuba, the Philippines, the beginning of all we have today. Labor and Business, Dem, Repub and even many radicals believed that without expansion the nation would collapse. ]

Since expansion of energy use is NOT possible as stored up energy has generally reached it’s peak exploitation, and since alternative energy sources CAN NOT replace fossil fuels (the math doesn’t work) the future — in Hanson’s view — is terrible, ongoing war until population and energy use reach equilibrium with energy availability.

He’s still around and growling about not being understood. You can catch up with him at the oildrum after he pays a visit to one of the contributors there, thelastsasquatch. You can search through his postings from time to time if you are interested and I haven’t posted the latest.