The Future is Now - the end of cheap oil Part II

Category: Americas, Life & Society Views: 4503

Part II Ships of state running on empty

Peak Everything

Similar warnings as Kunstlers, just as forcefully stated, just as strident, are found in Richard Heinbergs Peak Everything:

The recent fossil fuel era has seen so much growth of population and consumption that there is an overwhelming likelihood of a crash of titanic  proportions.  This should be glaringly obvious to everyone. 

Realistically I think we can expect to see some of the worst excesses of human history.

The next few decades will be traumatic.  The slow squeeze of economic contraction will probably be punctuated by dramatic weather-related catastrophes, resource wars, and regional instances of social collapse.

[For global warming and carbon equilibrium in the atmosphere] if that [carbon reduction] translated to a 60 per cent reduction in energy consumption, it could mean anything but economic ruin for the world. 

Enough doom and gloom.  Heinberg is at least slightly more positive in his presentation but in the end asks if he thinks a transition can be made successfully.  His answer, after much thoughtful reasoning (in comparison to Kunstlers much more dramatic presentation of future scenarios) is Frankly, its not likely.  Is it possible?  Yes, just barely.  Just barely does not leave much space or time for action. 

Heinbergs writing is more readily accessible than the first two works.  The book is a collection of essays, each with their own theme - rather than chapters progressing through a theme - sometimes bringing in some quirky ideas (Urinetown?) that in hindsight actually make the work more readable.  He is capable of very clear and concise summaries of the background material he needs to work with, from his history of farming, to the adaptations made by the neocons to Straussian philosophy, or to a summation of the ideas of Malthus. 

There is an underlying voice that says we can survive this, if we act now, if we are prepared to make a paradigm change.  Unfortunately he sees that happening only if there is a mass mobilization of thought based on empirically verifiable, survival-based necessity otherwise it would amount to crass manipulation worthy of a Karl Rove or an Edward Bernays.  He believes that we can shift behaviors in a matter of months or years but with a large caveat in the idea that such an effort would require an enthusiastic participation of the advertising, public relations, and entertainment industries, as well as organized religions and all major political parties. 

Oh great.  Many religious institutions are not noted for forward looking thinking, and those on the apocalyptic right are no doubt welcoming the hard times ahead as a sign of the coming rapture.  Public relations and entertainment are in the hands of big corporations, and combined with our political institutions and their various entanglements are all what created the mess in the first place.  Not very reassuring.

Crossing the Rubicon

The final work in this series of horror stories is a rather large tome on the theme of what really transpired with 9/11, not just the event of the attack on the towers, but all the manipulations that preceded it, and all the manipulations that followed.  In short Michael Rupperts theme is that either there were thousands of coincidences within the people and groups concerned, or there has been and is a much larger plan: 

Although the apparent crisis is about terrorism, the real one is about energy scarcity. An incisive account of the energy issue also explains the real functioning of the worlds economy and who controls it, and how this shapes so much of our daily lives.

Knowing the history of Bush and Cheney in entering into the war in Iraq, Ruppert states no one can rationally say that the Bush administration is incapable of lying.   From that he asks can we afford to not question the multitude of contradictions, lies, falsehoods, and cover-ups surrounding the events of 9/11?  Good question and the writing that follows from it is well documented and covers most topics about 9/11 with equally discriminating questions. 

What is significant for my perspective here is his starting position on the limits on the one resource that has propelled the human  race to over expand and upon which the species is now dependent: hydrocarbon energy An increasingly rapid stream of data and experience is ushering in what may be the most significant event in human history; the end of the age of oil. 

He touches on the topic of economic growth within the capitalist system which is really something else predicated on debt and other poorly understood financial systems, requiring that there must be limitless growth into infinity for it to survive.  Growth is not possible without energy. There is nothing on our horizon other than wishful thinking that can completely replace hydrocarbon energy.

He touches upon common themes on oil supply, that if demand remains unchanged, the world will run out of conventional oil within thirty-five years.  Given that demand is increasing, conventional oil is limited to perhaps 20 years.  His statements are succinct:

Oil pervades our civilization; it is all around you.

Oil is critical for our food supply. 

Currently committed to endless growth One way or another, the have-nots must become customers [consumers].

Peak Oil will likely turn human civilization inside out long before global warming does.

The catastrophe made inevitable by these limits is beginning now.

Whoever controls the oil in the Eurasian continent, which includes the Middle East, the Caspian Basin, and Central Asia, will determine who lives and who dies, who eats and who starves.

Ruppert discusses the lack of alternatives, recognizing as the others do that new technology may help but cannot fully replace the facility with which oil has energized our society.  His main example is electricity, beginning with the basic idea that electricity is not a primary energy source, but merely a carrier of energy produced by some other source, and ending with the idea that Electric vehicles are an illusory solution.  

Americas production of oil peaked in 1970.  Global production has or will peak, by most best estimates, sometime between 2005 and 2010, but we wont know for sure until it has already passed.  The per capita production of oil peaked in 1979.  

As seen by Ruppert, the future is now, the end of cheap oil is upon us as well as the resource wars that will determine who is to be the last to turn out the lights on our oil based civilization.

Agriculture, Malthus and Trauma

In all these works, except Klares more politically correct interpretation of events, the idea of civilizational trauma and catastrophe are frequent.  The concerns around peak oil contain a system of worries rising demand, lowering production, war, pollution and environmental changes, increasing population, a non-negotiable lifestyle, and above all agriculture.  Without oil based fertilizers and transportation and storage, how are earths six billion plus inhabitants going to feed themselves?

In simplest terms there are too many people and there is not enough energy to support them, particularly in a manner that sustains a growth oriented capitalist society. 

Malthus re-enters the picture two centuries after his Essay on Population postulated that food supply would be the check on population with famine being the means of affecting that.  Heinbergs excellent summary of Malthus position concludes that taking into account the inevitable, now-commencing winding down of that brief incomparably opulent fossil-fuel fest, it may be better to say that Malthus wasn't wrong, he was just ahead of his time.

He is fully supported by Ruppert as Malthus was certainly correct but cheap oil skewed the equation over the past hundred years while the human race has enjoyed an unprecedented orgy of non-renewable condensed solar energy accumulated over eons of prehistory.

Even within that opulent era, humanities problems of population, energy, and food were evident in many areas that suffered from regional famines, diseases, and wars.  The era ahead of us is certainly bringing in a new era of globalization an era of resource wars and energy wars of trauma - that will see no winner. 

IV - Solutions are not easy

Answers, as seen above are limited.  There is no easy way out of an easy energy source that is rapidly coming to its end.  If the American way of life is truly non-negotiable as indicated by Bush and Cheney, then it most certainly is on life-support and now being sustained by cruelty, brute force, and lies. If the American way of life, and western civilization are negotiable, then immediate action needs to be taken in order to prevent the worst of the trauma of transition to a new paradigm.

For years conservationists have been advocating many personal level responses and actions that could help the environment.  More recently, corporations are greening their image by supporting those ideas and other ideas that appear to help the environment, but are still heavily dependent on consumption and oil energy.  Neither will be sufficient as we move into an oil-free energy era.

Responses need to be twofold, at the level of the individual consumer and at the broader societal level.  But will corporations stop advertising for consumption?  Will consumers willingly submit to a minimalist existence (forget Christmas shopping, holiday trips to the tropics)?  There are many considerations about what could be done which I will not get into here.  It is painfully obvious that we need to negotiate and then act our way into a more minimalist life style, while somehow maintaining a decent transportation and agricultural system based on new technology that can also serve to decrease the global population level to a sustainable level in a humanitarian way (birth control), a comfort level and not at a survival-starvation level.

The future is now 

There are many current events topics that on the surface may seem to be distinct items, but most newsworthy events of a truly newsworthy status are all related to the capture of energy resources.  Russia has already seen a part of this when their economy collapsed after the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991.  The Russian population dropped significantly as did the statistical life span and the quality of life.  Only recently under the tutelage of Putins watch has Russia been able to stabilize itself for the short-term future.  The many ongoing little battles around the world the drug wars in Columbia, the famine in Darfur, the wars in the Congo and its neighbors, the rebellions and insurgent attacks in Nigeria are all part of the resource wars.  The whole of the Middle East is the center of the resource wars:  Iraq is occupied and several large scale military bases are under construction; Afghanistan is undergoing its habitual battles with foreign occupation and interference; Pakistan, always an influence in Afghanistan, an integral part of the situation, is balancing precariously between American desires and its own ethnic relations with its neighbors.

Israel/Palestine presents a frightening mix of religious absolutism and imperial extension.  Heinberg makes no mention of Israel without affecting his themes, which do not delve into geopolitics.  In its political correctness, Klares work mentions Israel only in passing, leaving it without significance in the geopolitics of the resource wars (again significantly weakening his presentation).  The other works are very strongly worded and give much more significance to the Israeli role its spy networks throughout the world, its clandestine arms dealing, its strong lobbying group (AIPAC in particular) that has U.S. presidential hopefuls kowtowing before it to try and ensure their election, its military and economic presence in the Middle East.

Ruppert gives full credence to Israeli participation/awareness within the overall picture of 9/11 and the global resource wars. Along with many other references, two full chapters are devoted to Israel, one on Israel itself with a follow up titled Silencing Congress.  His summary of the Israeli role is strongly worded:

Israel is positioning itself to occupy the position of executive vice-president in charge of Middle Eastern affairs.  As it does so, the financial and military powers of what has become an almost openly fascist world order continue to drive humanity toward the brink of destruction.

Palestine is mentioned somewhat indirectly, with a paragraph on Ariel Sharon outlining his war crimes for a 1982 three-day orgy of killing and rape at the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps that occurred when he led an invasion of Lebanon, his charges of human rights violations in the Jenin and Nablus townships of the occupied territories in Palestine, and in post 9/11 incursions, many were killed, houses were bulldozed, and people were left homeless    and without food, water, or medical supplies in areas totally surrounded by Israeli Defense Forces.

Kunstler sees the Israeli-Arab conflict as a mask over the much graver contradictions of the west's ever-growing dependence on the oil resources of nations in the Middle East. 

The religious parameters of the conflict are not explored, although in the human psyche, with the triad of religions each containing some element of apocalyptic futures, is quite capable of over-riding purely geopolitical concerns for a conceived larger purpose.

Ruppert stays with the artificial prosperity of oil wealth, with Israel

being a creature of the industrial era and as dependent on oil as any  industrial society, may not survive the fossil fuel crisis of the coming decades.  The exploding Palestinian population itself might be the ultimate weapon that would overwhelm the experiment of a modern Jewish state, but as the oil runs out, the region will probably not support continued population growth by any group.

If any area is ripe for a self-fulfilling apocalyptic war, Israel and the greater Middle East are certainly well positioned for that.  That would of course do no one any good, and the only twinkling of the rapture would be the many molecular constituents of the bodies being turned to pure energy by nuclear weapons. 

Leaving that grim scenario behind, the picture is, from the combined thematic emphasis of these authors concerning the end of oil - grim.  Look at Gaza.  Is it the future, present now?  Will the West Bank soon look the same?  What course of action will Israel take as the absolute end of oil nears?  Reconciliation?  Total domination?  Accommodation?  Genocide?  Expand that outwardly through the Middle East, on to Africa, Asia, South America, finally to come home to me here in North America. 


The reader may be now as thoroughly negative about the situation as I am.  I would be exceedingly happy if all these predictions were in error and that none of this would happen.  It would be a cause for celebration if someone did find the techno-fix for the loss of oil that everyone seems to talk and marvel about without producing any concrete results.  Unfortunately, there is too much valid information to deny the end of oil.

But the end of civilization?  I would similarly be exceedingly happy if somehow, someone in a powerful enough position was able to look at what is happening and say enough is enough, instead of putting our last valuable resources into a bitter harvest without a solution, lets turn those last resources intellectual, scientific, humanitarian, religious into an immediate search for an alternate society. 

A society that is often given lip service to humanitarian, compassionate, existing within the bounds of the ecological limits of our finite planet, existing within a harmony that sustains life and culture without destroying the environment.  We need to use our current knowledge and resources to deconstruct our current society and create something that will sustain humanity, before not only the technology but the knowledge as well, disappears.

Parts of the world will survive, those areas still isolated enough that the oil based technological society that gives the minority of us such wealth at the expense of others has not fully intruded upon - the meek shall indeed inherit the earth.  Perhaps they deserve it more than the rest of us. 


Diamond, Jared.  Collapse.

Heinberg, Richard.  Peak Everything Waking Up to the Century of Declines. New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island, B.C. 2007.

Klare, Michael T.  Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet The New Geopolitics of Energy. Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Company, New York, 2008.

Kunstler, James Howard.  The Long Emergency Surviving the End of Oil, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century.  Grove Press, New York, 2005.

Ruppert, Michael C.  Crossing the Rubicon The Decline of the American Empire at the End of the Age of Oil.  New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island, B.C.  2004.

Jim Miles is a Canadian educator and a regular contributor/columnist of opinion pieces and book reviews for The Palestine Chronicle.  Miles work is also presented globally through other alternative websites and news publications. please visit

  Category: Americas, Life & Society
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Older Comments:
I feel that the oil price will go done in future


Thankfully the embrace, practice & spread of Biblical Christianity does not need a drop of oil. Of course you all know that Biblical Christianity will continue to grow as times get harder.

Assalamou Alaikoum,
A little 50 minutes illustration with this documentary: Oil, Smoke & Mirrors.

The answer to the energy crisis is the embrace, parctice, & spread of Biblical Christianity.

The latest food crisis, economic and political crisis we see or foresee it in the near future is human made and is most likely intentional. By the many for the few.
The American civil war was a part of it. And these people are dangerous. But has been some good effort from true patriots like Ron Paul and Alex Jones. The secrecy of Federal reserve Operations are in question and more transparency demanded by Rep Ron Paul and many others.

Peak oil is already here, but not equally distributed. Asia and Africa has seen the peak oil -- food riots, fuel shortages for trains and busses (forget about cars); shiiping costs rising rapidly.

West is seeing Peak Oil through higher (but yet affordable) prices; pretty soon, it will be cold homes in New England and Midwest; then they will really feel the Peak Oil. Then the airline industry collapses (Good bye TSA and security checkups). In a few years, only very rich will be to afford heat homes; the rest will have to wear 6 layers of clothes. Forget about cars and SUV's. Life will have to be be simple for people to survive. Need I go on.

Am I worried? No. I am too old to worry. Let the young, and not so young and the middle aged people worry about; when things really go bad, I will be gone by that time.

Enjoy while it lasts. Unfortunately, praying is not going to produce any more oil (If it did, even an athiest like me will start praying to some God, and I mean any God).

Who will survive? Only people who are not currently dependent on fossil fuels like people in Papua-New Guineau or the Beduoins. Capitalist (and Communisttic) way of life will be extinct. One will have to go back to the old way of warfare -- horse, dagger, bows & arrows, and swords.