An Overview Of The Collapse 3
“I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.”
The second half of the 20th century saw amazing economic and technological growth, literally fuelled by the access to cheap energy and transportation afforded by oil. But oil was always a finite resource, so what was going to happen to that growth when the oil began to run out? Experts had been warning for some years that “peak oil”, the point at which more than half of all oil reserves would have been extracted, would be reached sometime around 2010. Other experts, usually employed by big oil companies, countered that new techniques for drilling and new oil field discoveries could push “peak oil” out, perhaps as far as 2030.
As it turned out, the truth lay almost exactly between those extremes. In 2011, the world was consuming 89 million barrels per day, by 2030 that was 105 million. The difference amounted to 5 new Saudi Arabias. While such reserves existed, notably in tar sand deposits and processing natural gas into fuel, production from unconventional oil fields was never able to ramp up fast enough to replace declining production at aging conventional oil fields.
Already, in 2010, analysts knew that a more important landmark had already been reached – the era of cheap oil was over. As the shortfall between production and demand grew ever larger, prices rose to and stayed at the magic figure of $90 dollars a barrel – where the price of oil for transport and energy generation is so high that it prohibits economic growth. When that harsh reality – and the reality of “peak cheap supply” in many other major resources, including tin, copper and iron – intersected with the world economic collapse of 2016 and the growing turmoil created by climate change, things got ugly quickly.
Corporations hanging on to wring the last red cent from high oil prices before changing to alternates, and hamstrung governments, failed to act anywhere near in time to head off a crisis. Nuclear power failed to deliver on many promises – safety concerns over sites following the Fukishima tsunami and meltdown of 2011, then the Indian Point, New York, earthquake and leak of 2018, meant that nuke plants never could deliver more than 2% additional energy before 2045 and the advent of fusion, exactly as M.I.T. had predicted back in 2010. Solar and other renewables didn’t see the massive investment needed util well after the effects of Peak Oil were felt, and solar in particular had to wait for the development of more efficient industrial-scale capacitors and batteries before it was a real contender.
The world’s “green revolution” agriculture model was based upon cheap transport, to move food from where it was grown to where it would be eaten, often overseas, and on cheap production of fertilizers and pesticides which were often petroleum based. The power for the pumps that moved increasing scarce freshwater to fields also too often came from oil-fired power plants. The agricultural system that had so well served the late 20th century, already under huge strains, simply failed. In the two decades to 2030, the cost of staple foodstuffs more than doubled, causing food riots and insurrection worldwide. Only post 2040 has the world‘s ability to feed all of it‘s 7 billion population begun to recover, with urban “vertical farming” facilities for the elite and new innovations in gene-tailored algae and soy bean texturing for the poor.
Transportation also saw a fundamental change. The Western ideal of commuting to work from the suburbs in your own car and the late 20th century corporate ideal of shipping goods produced cheaply in one place to another where they could be sold for maximum profit became far less attractive, even for the rich. Suddenly, it was more cost effective to do administration work from home – for the new, small, almost fully automated factories producing goods locally for local markets, with “just in time” delivery and minimal warehousing.
Even as alternative fuels like methane, methanol, hydrogen and electricity came online fully at last, many of those technologies also relied on oil in their manufacturing process. In the corporate-controlled zones and ‘burbs that were being created in the First World’s partial post-Crash recovery, mass transit was the norm rather than the exception. In the long haul transport industry, dirigibles and hybrid solar/wind powered ships, albeit hi-tech ones looking little like their predecessors, became an attractive option for some.