Hitting the Peak … will we know it when we’ve done it?

One key challenge related to Peak Oil is whether we’ll know it any other way than looking in the rear mirror.  At this time, in addition to hard numbers about falling productivity at key oil fields, oil discoveries continually being outpaced by usage, and questions about reserves, what the world (or at least the small portion who understands this issue) is doing is watching the comments of key people … well, another one has spoken and the words should scare …

 In the just published essay The Century of Roots, A.M Samsam Bakhtiari — a senior Iranian oil executive who retired in 2005 and has long studied peak oil issues — starts

The 21st century is still young as there are another ninety-three years to go. So it might sound over-ambitious to claim that ‘The Event of the Century’ is already behind us. But I’ll gladly take the risk; for I seriously believe that the peaking of the global production of crude oil — commonly know as ‘Peak Oil’ — has occurred in 2006 [1] and will be ‘The Event’ bound to dominate the history of the 21st century: one of those ‘Historical Inflection Points’ [2] which abruptly change “fundamentals” in the course of World History. I cannot foresee any other ‘Event’ coming to eclipse ‘Peak Oil’, not even the World Wars which might be unleashed in the Peak’s aftermath and further fueled by widespread resources’ scarcity. Unless, of course, humanity decides upon collective suicide with the massive use of weapons of mass destruction; but such an annihilating ‘Event’ would spell the word ‘End’ for most, if not all, of Mankind…

Somewhat terrifying, no?

After some 147 years of almost uninterrupted supply growth to a record output of some 81-82 million barrels/day [mb/d] in the summer of 2006, crude oil production has since entered its irreversible decline. This exceptional reversal alters the energy supply equation upon which life on our planet is based. It will come to place pressure upon the use of all other sources of energy — be it natural gas, coal, nuclear power, and all types of sundry renewables especially biofuels. It will eventually come to affect everything else under the sun…

 According to The Hirsch Report examining mitigation of Peak Oil impacts, starting significant mitigation efforts 20 years in advance would mean that peak oil would have minimal disruption to the world economy. But, less than 20 years out and, well, not good things.

Mitigation efforts will require substantial time.

  • 20 years is required to transition without substantial impacts
  • A 10 year rush transition with moderate impacts is possible with extraordinary efforts from governments, industry, and consumers
  • Late initiation of mitigation may result in severe consequences.

Just so that we all understand, serious mitigation has not started around the globe (and absolutely not in the United States).

According to Bakhtiari,

‘Peak Oil’, however, is now in the past and we are presently left facing the ‘Post Peak’ era. 

And, well, Bakhtiari’s prognosis about Post Peak are stern and, again, rather terrifying:

In ‘Post Peak’, all of our Systems of Habits are in mortal danger. …

This “mortal danger” is heightened due to the extreme energy illiteracy worldwide, where the concept of “peak oil” seems to be just penetrating the discourse of some of the elite.

at present, the global masses seem totally unprepared for the two shocks which will inevitably occur in ‘Post Peak’ …

What are the twin shocks:

1. A Material Shock;
2. A Psychological Shock.  

A “Material Shock” in that our entire economic and social system world-wide will be stressed (if not broken). And, this is not just transportation as oil has so penetrated every aspect of the modern, industrialized world.

And, “A Psychological Shock” since so few people and so few societies have any idea what the world will go through …

So that the twin shocks are now inevitable on a global scale, as there is no time left to prepare public opinion for ‘Post Peak’ sequels. The shocks will first surprise, then jilt and finally entangle swaths of people worldwide. Those better prepared will be less inclined to react in a disorderly way and panic when the shocking truth will be unveiled…

Well, readers of this are among those “better prepared” in terms of knowledge but what is truly “better prepared” in terms of lifestyle? There are those who have created communities, preparing for post-peak. Most of those aware of peak oil’s implications have, however, remained caught within lives that inhibit any real concept of “preparing”, of retreating to a subsistence agricultural life not dependent on massive fossil fuel use for life.

Now, in many ways, Bakhtiari is more optimistic than Hirsch in terms of the economic impact.  While Hirsch states that starting mitigation at the point of Peak Oil would mean 20+ years of 1.5-2.5% negative GDP growth per annum, Bakhtiairi writes that

Due to the benign decline gradient in crude oil production during the early ‘Post Peak’ period — only 3 mb/d over the first transition period spanning 2007 to 2010 — the Material Shock will not pose insoluble problems and accommodation will prove possible with minimal gradual pain. Moreover, sizeable amounts of wastage in most developed societies will provide a welcome cushion for the initial cuts to be made

In other words, the economy (especially the United States) is so wasteful that the initial ‘shock’, a cut Bakhtiari of roughly 12 mb/d (or, roughly 15%), could be absobed through cutting waste. And, one would hope, the shock of this reality would shift investment and lifestyle choices to foster adjustment to ever dwindling oil production.

But, the psychological?

This shock, in stark contrast, will be electric and abrupt. Stress, fear, depression, despairs and nightmares will be the order of the day — as people come to face the not-so-palatable facets of ‘Post Peak’.

Now this, Bakhtiari concludes, will drive people back to their roots, almost in Medieval revivalist concepts. This, however, seems an overly optimistic assumption … will the psychological shock drive jingoism … demands for military action to ‘seize’ oil … other destructive demands on political leadership …

Bakhtiari is a voice meriting listening to … we can began taking actions to mitigate against Peak Oil’s worst impacts now, when some choice remains, or the reality of decreasing oil production will drive us into changes against our choice … and, from everything that I can see, the time for choice is dwindling. Rapidly …

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