Jul 1, 2011

What Will the Peak Look Like?

As I began to learn about the science and statistics behind peak oil, it quickly became undeniable to me that civilization is in a bind.  We're all addicted to oil, and a painful "detox" is about to be forced on us by our own inability to plan for the future.  Oddly, it brought me a sense of comfort to at least see the danger that lies ahead, even as I also realized that peak oil was unavoidable.  However, a pair of nagging questions would always pop up in my mind after every article I read or interview I watched.  What will life be like as we descend Hubbert's Curve?  And when will it become obvious that the collapse has begun? The answers I discovered are what prompted me to turn from investigation to action, from just learning about the upcoming transition to taking concrete steps and preparing for it.

Minor Detour

So hopefully I've already convinced you (with the help of the articles and videos in the Reading Lists) that peak oil is real and that it will affect all of human civilization.  I'm not planning to devote a lot of time proving the theory or analyzing current events and their relation to peak oil.  Check out my list of MUST READ SITES on the homepage if you need more evidence or just want to stay abreast of recent developments.  Don't get me wrong, keeping up with the news is important, but it's not the goal of this site and there are too many other people doing a great job at it already.

My mission is to give you practical advice on changing your lifestyle and preparing now so that the shock of post-peak life won't be quite as great for you as it will be for others.  That's an area that seems to be seriously lacking online, or more accurately it's where the free information usually stops and site owners ask you to open your wallet.  Not so here.  The Dividing Line is, and will always be, 100% free.  I hope the quality of articles available here will be good enough to attract a large crowd and get some word-of-mouth going.  Again, it's not for my financial benefit - I don't even put ads on the page.  It's just my way of trying to give something back and help good people out there to prepare if I can.  But before we get to the survival skills, we need to answer those nagging questions.

The What

I need to be clear right from the start:  I don't know what specific events are coming.  If you hear anyone claiming "X, Y, and Z are guaranteed to happen, and they will occur in that order or on this date", it's safe to remain skeptical.  What we can be sure of is that cheap oil is running out and that certain generalities will apply as we cross that threshold.  

The most obvious phenomenon we can link to peak oil will be an increase in the price of oil itself.  Expect gasoline, kerosene, motor oil and other refined products, as well as natural gas to become more expensive from here on out.  This is not to say prices will go straight up from here.  There will be ups and downs as always, as supply and demand fluctuate due to natural, economic or political factors.  And as the world awakens to peak oil, this price volatility will become more pronounced.   However, a long-term trend of higher prices year over year is a solid assumption to make.

Also fairly straight forward to predict are price increases in oil and natural gas-derived products including plastics, medications, fertilizers, paints, cosmetics, inks and adhesives.  As manufacturing costs rise, retail prices will follow eventually;  this is simple economics.

Third-order effects are where the real heartburn sets in.  When food and vital medicines start to become much more expensive and even unavailable for short durations, calling peak oil a "theory" will be a small comfort to the masses.  At the same time, money to buy even essentials will be a vanishing commodity itself as our economic machine sputters and stalls.  Unemployment, homelessness and poverty will all reach record highs.  Consumer credit will either be abused out of necessity until it implodes or will simply be denied to the majority of the populace.

Walking hand-in-hand as always with misery and despair we'll get an unhealthy dose of anger, frustration and violence.  From peaceful, organized demonstrations to riots and heavy-handed responses, we'll see the full spectrum of people on opposite sides of the dividing line fighting each other.  Crimes of nearly all types will rise as people lose their civilized ideals in a literal fight for survival.

Police and military forces will most likely be granted sweeping new powers to address the chaos, but this will only make life more perilous for the average citizen.  Americans will be forced to choose between holding onto an "illegal" firearm for protection and possibly being arrested, or handing their guns over to the state and leaving themselves vulnerable to criminal attack.

Finally, once the oil decline begins in earnest there will be deaths on a scale that is presently unimaginable to most people.  Many will choose to end their lives in despair or sheer terror of what they see unfolding around them.  Millions will be killed during violent conflicts with the "authorities", criminals or even their own friends and neighbors.  And perhaps most depressing, a staggering number will die from starvation, disease, accidents or exposure to the elements.

Wars will erupt over resources and the world will be thrown back from the global "utopia" we currently enjoy to a more ancient time of fierce nationality, armies of conquest, and wholesale slaughter of enemy populations.  The end of oil has the serious potential to undo centuries of progress in human civilization within the span of a single lifetime.  As I said earlier, I cannot predict whether all of these events will come to pass.  Mankind has both good and evil in our nature, so there will also certainly be acts of kindness and love.  But given a world society that will soon exhaust it's most valuable physical energy resources, my unfortunate prediction is that the negative may vastly overwhelm the positive, at least for a few generations.

The When

So how much time do we have left - 5 years, 10, 20?  I'm sad to say, that this is a loaded question with a false premise.  It's a question people in situations of comfort, such as my own, ask because they are unaware that the world is flashing warning lights as we speak.  The system has been cracking under the weight of demand overshoot for years already, but the world is only now feeling the effects trickle down into daily life.  Like Wile E. Coyote when he runs off a cliff and hangs in mid-air for half a second, we're all attempting to deny reality until sooner or later we look down and notice the ground is a mile below...and fall.

Consider that economies of the world are a good reflection of oil supply and demand.  As I explained in the previous post, nearly every facet of modern financial systems are based on supplies of cheap, abundant energy.  As the supply becomes more expensive and harder to obtain, the financial house of cards built on the foundation of oil must fall.  We can use this cause and effect relationship to confirm the supply shortfalls that appear to be forming (see chart below) and know that the potential for devastation is real.

What I see nearly every day is evidence that the global economic "recovery" has failed despite trillions of dollars spent to ensure its success.  What does that tell me?  As I stated previously, debt has continued to grow at an exponential rate over the past decade, while oil production (the life blood of the world economy) has not.  We are witnessing the beginning (or possibly the middle if you look at the crash of 2008 as the beginning) of the end today.  The answer to the question of "When does it start?" is "Yesterday".  

For that reason, I'll get right into what you can do to prepare for the collapse in my next post.

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