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A Cloud Over Their Heads

I should be more hopeful, I guess, for a smooth transition to alternative fuels and a sustainable planet, if such a thing is at all possible. I’ve got two kids you see, and they’re just young, almost innocent on a good day. They are certainly innocent from understanding exactly what it is that previous generations are likely to leave them to deal with.

Is it fair? Not at all. Is there anything we can do to improve the situation? Barely.

To those of you who don’t know me, or haven’t read my previous work, you might consider that I am bordering on depression, or perhaps just a really negative person. In fact, these are far from the truth of who I am. I dearly love my family, I love life, I love my job, and I love God. But what I don’t love is the outlook for the future – and what that could mean for my kids.

Peak Oil

Hubbert peak graph showing the world's oil pro...

As a generation, they will come to see and understand the realities of peak oil. This is not a doomsday scenario or some other crackpot conspiracy theory. Scientific consensus rests on the fact that there is a limited remaining supply of oil left in the ground, and that the remaining reserves are typically those that are more difficult and hence more expensive to extract. The pattern of extraction globally has continued to rise, however in many countries, including the United States, the peak rate of production has dropped for many years. At some point in time, this will happen globally, the maximum oil extracted per day will begin to drop. It won’t be the smooth bell shaped curve that many peak oil “enthusiasts” (if there really is such a thing) display. Rather there will be a continual market adjustment of price, consumption and production that – after a few years – looking in the rearview mirror we will be able to identify clearly that as global consumers of oil, we will have reached peak production.

At this point demand will outstrip production.

During the 1973 oil crisis, coupons for gasoli...

Are we at the peak? Will we in a few years look back at the bouncing price of oil at this time as a sign of instability, the market forces succumbing to realities beyond it’s control?

Will my kids witness global conflicts over the last remaining reserves of oil? Or will they witness the birth of renewable fuels and alternative power technologies that replace our oil dependence. As of November 2008, there is no technology on the horizon that can even come remotely close to replacing oil and all of the derivative products that support our lifestyles. I, and many other people have written elsewhere about the changes that we face as we break away from our reliance on oil to support our consumer driven lifestyles.

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Pause for a moment and consider your surroundings. Almost nothing you are touching or surrounded by has been grown, produced, transported, marketed, sold, or purchased without the assistance of oil. None of the technology we are surrounded by would have been possible without the extreme energy available from oil. None of the plastic products, including the keyboard I’m typing on, would be possible without oil.

How did we get to this point of complacent belief in the never-ending supply of oil? Now that’s a story in itself, and one of the best authors on this topic is James Howard Kunstler in his book from 2005, The Long Emergency.

What Should We Teach Our Children?

In light of these future scenarios, what should we teach our children? Will education as we know it survive the impacts of Peak Oil? Will we be too busy surviving for our children to attend schools and universities?

Many hard fought liberties that have flowed out of North America and the age of post-industrialization such as health care and education may have only been possible with a continuous river of black gold flowing and underpinning every societal construct that appears to be the normal, expected way of a community operating in a Western culture. Life is going to change as we progress through an energy descent – our whole lives and lifestyles rely on products that are only possible in quantity by growing methods, production and transportation that all relies on oil.

Our children will be the ones to suffer if we do not start adapting our society to an impending change that will include food production that is almost entirely local in nature, revising our methods of transportation to ones that can run on cleaner power, and encouraging massive changes in urban planning principals that have dominated our landscape for the past 50 years – back to smaller scale localized economies.

Your thoughts?

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Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of UrbanWorkbench.com and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada. If I post something here that you find helpful as you navigate the world of engineering, planning and building communities, that’s wonderful. But when push comes to shove: This is my personal blog. The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.

3 thoughts on “A Cloud Over Their Heads

  1. Yup. Things will be changing. A little hardship can be beneficial for society, though. And won’t it be grand to be rid of plastic!

    Without much thought, but appreciative of yours,
    Brandy

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