In my last blog I mentioned that the 2007 to 2008 global financial crash, which was triggered by a short-sharp, but large rise in oil prices, was probably the root cause of the Arab Spring, and thus the freedom fighters or rebel uprising in Syria. Now to part 2, where I wanted to look at a future and how a prolonged oil crisis would play out.
In my new course (yet to be released on UDEMY – watch this space) I’ve been discussing the future of energy. Our world is dominated by oil. However, Cornucopians want to spin it, oil will not be a low cost resource forever. As my course points out: oil is a finite resource, dominant in terms of its usage across the world. It is literally the primary fuel because we turn oil into food, and food into people. Three factors limit oil production and use in the future: scarcity, a lower energy return on investment and thus Net Energy, and Peak oil, because even if oil was abundant, eventually oil must peak and decline. If we are already in decline as many oil companies suggest, then that would explain much of our current political instability, marginal growth and what appears to be increasingly economic stagnation (even the politicians want to tell you all is well).
Let’s now consider a world where we lower our use of oil and switch to battery technology, with limited effectiveness because oil will still be needed for the mining operations to extract the materials we take, make and throw-away (because although recycling is possible, few countries are doing it successfully, and waste is now a commodity that has its own black, corrupt economy.) Let’s just imagine a world with lots of more electric vehicles in Europe and China, and more in the America, though in America I would expect them to switch to a Synthetic fuel economy, firstly turning coal into oil fuels, then gas into oil fuels. Europe and Russia will have a problem. Keeping warm in a colder climate – one potential outcome of the loss of the Gulf Stream – will mean upgrading electricity and gas networks in the medium term. Then as gas becomes a problem, as more of it is turned in oil, we’ll need to solve that by investing either in lots of renewable energy systems or nuclear reactors. The best kind of nuclear reactors are fast-breeders.
This will no doubt be a slow, step-by-step, incremental, burst based development that will take time. The volatility of oil prices during this period may actually degrade our ability to switch from one fuel to another due to the ups and downs of the market, poor investments, poor political leadership, and perhaps increasingly hostile right-wing nationalism sprouting up wherever nations are faced with major economic problems. Populism tends to grow in nations undergoing stress.
This means our world will enter the 21st century with 3 types of energy economies:-
Firstly a limited Hydrogen Economy – mainly because the EROIE of hydrogen is a big problem – probably only dominant in South America where hydrogen Bio-Fuel will be a big player.
Secondly a dominant Electric Renewable Energy Economy (with perhaps some countries using nuclear power) in some locations (like Europe).
Thirdly a Plutonium/Synthetic Fuel Economy, mainly in the USA, Russia, Africa, India and China. These nations will be also militarily degraded by the sheer cost of using oil.
Since ‘all history’ is the history of war, we should also face the fact that many nations simply will not adapt to change easily. Some will be thrown in to civil war. These are already happening at this stage in Africa. Others will engage in surrogate wars or full on wars it other nations to deflect public opinion and blame others.
Africa can be both the world’s saviour and its doom. Africa has vast solar resources. This makes it a potential source for a better integrated form of intelligent energy management, where renewables are used as and when required. However, Africans have tended to be too tribal, and many leaders are corrupt, even ones that show promise. It seems as if Africa is doomed to civil wars and unrest, as Islam and Christianity battle it out. Then there is the growth in foreign troops in Africa: Americans, Russians and Chinese are on the ground, protecting their corporate investments in the minerals that help run their nations economies. Will nations actually go to war over resources in the longer-term. We already see potential flashpoints even over water! What will happen when the last drops of oil reserves are up for grabs?
From these wars the more developed nations will continue to see a tide of immigrants from the poorer nations. It is already happening, and it is likely to get worse as people seek refugee status to survive the bombings and terrorism.
The most fearful thing is that Fast Breeder nuclear reactors produce weapons grade Plutonium. What happens if this material falls into the hands of terrorists? It is technically difficult to make a thermo-nuclear bomb, but a dirty bomb is not at all a problem.
Syria is a test of the United Nations, whose mandate is totally out-of-date. It’s entire structure is based upon trying to stop humans from throwing nuclear weapons at each other. Instead, it encourages rogue nations, with evil leaders, like Vladimir Putin to wage surrogate wars against the West, along with Cyberspace War, carried out openly on platforms developed by his enemies, and utilised to put people in power who hardly understand the rules of draughts (chequers) whilst Putin continues to play geo-political Chess. Time will tell what happens when we have to face the real crisis that is only 50 years away, no time at all really…
Lastly, as Sir John Glubb’s conclusions still seem to resonate, what happens when a huge gap opens up between rich and poor, and the economy fails to plug the oil gap, oil which we turn through agricultural processes into food for the masses? For 5000 years when these two facts come together there is only one outcome: civilization enters a dark age.
I will soon be publishing a course on the Future of Energy hosted on UDEMY. I will let any subscribers to this blog or others about this course when it is available. The course will hopefully open your mind to a wealth of possibilities.