Apr 6, 2014

A Gentle Introduction to Peak Oil

Recently I picked up this book "The Third Curve - The End of Growth as we know it". The book is written by Mansoor Khan, an alumnus of IIT Mumbai, Cornell University and MIT, Boston. For those of us smitten by celebrities, he is the director of two of my favorite Hindi movies: QSQT & Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar. 

The book explores Peak Oil in detail and how it impacts our lives. Very simply put:

  1. Growth based economies of the world demand Perpetual Exponential Quantitative Growth (PEQG).
  2. Growth is directly or indirectly related to Oil and its byproducts which are a finite resource. 
  3. World Oil production has peaked around 2008 and from there on, the amount of Oil we are able to extract from the Earth has been declining. 
  4. Just because we are at half way mark does not mean that we have many more years before Oil runs out. Our consumption rate has increased exponentially so if we continue the same consumption pattern, Oil will run out in 3 to 5 decades. Remember the king who granted the wish of one grain of rice on one square of a chessboard and doubling it on each square until the entire chessboard is full - only now, its the reverse: we started from abundance and are consuming exponentially towards 0. The book has a quote on this by Prof. A.A. Bartlett, University of Colorado who says The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function.
  5. Alternative energies such as Solar also depend upon Oil for setup and maintenance and do not provide us the byproducts, e.g. plastic, fertilizer, etc., which our economies rely on. Also alternative energies are not as energy-dense as Oil and other hydrocarbons. 
  6. Summary: Growth based economy, as we know it, is not sustainable. 
Source: http://www.thefuture.net.nz/peakoil.htm

The book confirmed a few of my theories and also opened up my eyes to a few facts which I was not aware of. Always used to wonder at the wisdom, or lack of it, of transporting common vegetables, fruits and flowers across large distances. Never understood complex financial instruments. Always thought we can survive without oil or reduced oil by reducing consumption and using alternative energies - definitely not possible considering our reliance on oil byproducts. 

So, where do we go from here? Is it all doom and gloom? 
Fortunately no. There is a better and more wholesome world out there but it does require us to change our outlook drastically. It has to be back to grass roots - local as against global and community as against individual. We have to rebuild the social capital which we so far have been systematically destroying for achieving growth. 

There is some historical proof of this as well. The dissolution of Soviet Union in 1991 led to a severe economic crisis in Cuba; this period is called The Special Period. Oil imports dropped by 75% and food by 80% resulting in rationing of food and fuel. GDP dropped 34% and consumption reduced by 20% of previous levels within first two years. Cubans dealt with this crisis by developing a local system and tackling their situation with a community approach. Agriculture transformed from industrial to organic farming and local food markets. Today 80% of Cuba's food production is organic. This has improved soil quality as well as the general health of the people. 

Who does it? The governments? 
No, each of us have to build the awareness among our communities about what is coming. We have to engage our school teachers and college professors in Peak Oil discussions and enable them to educate our children and youth on the subject as part of their regular curriculum. Business and Banking community has to be engaged to make them understand that economic shrinkage is the new reality. This will then lead to involvement of the local authorities and governments. 

Scared? Interested? Want to know more?
I am sold that this is the next opportunity... one where each one of us have to play a role, it's almost as profound as providing one the Purpose of Life. The goal is how to make our lives sustainable in the post Peak Oil period. 

Awareness is the first step. Build it using the following resources:
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