Melanie Gosling / Cape Times – 2005-05-11 23:31:09
(May 3, 2005) — With the rapid decline of global oil supplies, the United States is heading for an economic crash unlike anything since the 1930s. And the collapse of the dollar will affect every nation on earth.
This is the chilling warning from academic Richard Heinberg of the New College of California. Heinberg is in Cape Town this week to share his views on what governments and societies need to do to mitigate the imminent global crisis after world oil production peaks.
“It’s too late to maintain a ‘business as usual’ attitude. What is required is to manage the change that peak oil will bring in a way that causes the fewest casualties. This must be done at an economic and geopolitical level, to fend off resource wars. The US invasion of Iraq is clearly a resource war,” Heinberg said yesterday.
Global oil discovery peaked in the 1960s and oil production is likely to peak as soon as 2007. With a world economy based on fossil fuel, the economic and social consequences will be dire.
In his most recent book, Power Down: Options and Actions for a Post-carbon World, Heinberg describes the options available to avoid catastrophe.
Oil Collapse Means Martial Law
Wearing a T-shirt that read: “Wake up! You are here,” with an arrow pointing to a graph of a peak in oil production, Heinberg said world governments were aware of the pending crisis. The US Department of Energy had commissioned a report on the probable impacts of “peak oil”, the point at which global oil production will no longer meet demand, which was released in February.
“The report was compiled mainly by ex-CIA people. The CIA has always kept a close watch on resources. They found that peak oil would provide the US and the world with an ‘unprecedented risk and management problem’.
“They say if they have 10 years to prepare, the economic and social chaos could be minimised. But if it’s less, the US will face a serious problem and the government will have to manage it without public input. For that, read martial law. The report found oil price volatility will increase to unprecedented levels,” Heinberg said.
The US response is not to cut oil consumption by making major lifestyle changes, and scale back on economic activity, but to use the military to maintain control over oil in the Middle East.
“The long-range plan is for the West to control the Middle East by the military so it can control the price of oil.”
Pentagon’s Designs on Middle East Oil Began under Jimmy Carter
This was formalised as far back as 1979 by former US president Jimmy Carter, in what became known as the Carter Doctrine, which stated that America would use the military to maintain access to the oil reserves in the Middle East.
Clearly we need to find substitutes for oil, says Heinberg, but the available energy alternatives are not reassuring.
Natural gas extraction will peak a few years after oil, extraction rates for coal will peak in decades, nuclear energy is dogged by unresolved problems of waste disposal and solar and wind energy will have to undergo rapid expansion if they are to replace even a fraction of the energy shortfall from oil. And the enthusiasm about a hydrogen economy comes from politics rather than science, he said.
“Our real problem is that we are trapped in a perpetual growth machine. As long as modern societies need economic growth to stave off collapse (given existing debt-and-interest-based national currencies), we will continue to require ever more resources yearly. But the Earth has limited resources.
“The energy conundrum is thus intimately tied to the fact that we anticipate perpetual growth within a finite system,” Heinberg said.
The Four Options
• He sketches four main options available in response:
• Following the US leadership in competing for remaining resources through wars;
• Wishful thinking that the market or science will come to the rescue;
• Assuming that we are already in the early stages of disintegration, devoting our energies to preserving the most worthwhile cultural achievements of the past few centuries.
• “Powering down” – reducing energy resource use drastically through economic sacrifice, reducing the population size and developing alternative energy sources.
“The sooner we choose wisely, the better off we and our descendants will be,” Heinberg said.
Published on the web by Cape Times on May 3, 2005.
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