Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Peak Oil as a Key to Our Times

Peak Oil is a term used to describe the event where the production of fossil fuels reaches its maximum, where approximately half of all available oil has been pulled out of the earth. Aside from those who believe in the abiotic theory of oil (which is implausible for many reasons) it is widely accepted that fossil fuels are a limited, or non-renewable, resource. As someone put it, there aren't any new dinosaurs.
Some believe that we will continue to make new oil finds to offset the peaking production from existing oil fields. That peak oil is a real phenomenon is easy to see on a national level... the US, for example, hit peak oil production around 1970. The UK hit peak oil production around 1999. Many other nations have peaked as well. Increasingly, we are reliant on middle eastern sources of oil and new, harder to get oil. That we are even discussing the extraction of oil from Canadian tar sands is evidence of how close we are to the end of abundant oil.
The dates for worldwide peak oil have varied. You will often hear 2006 as the date when oil peaked. Many have said we will see peak oil in 2012-2015 or even 2020. The difficulty in identifying peak oil is a result of overinflated reserve numbers from oil producing nations as well as the lagging economic consequences of peak oil. Peak oil will only be obvious in hindsight.
If we are alert, we can see the signs. Oil is the lifeblood of our economy. It is used as fuel for transportation, energy generation, and heating. It is used to create all manner of petrochemical-based products such as medicines, paints, plastics. Fossil fuels in the form of natural gas are used to create the fertilizers which grow our food. So then when our economy outgrows the supply of oil, oil prices skyrocket, and the economy goes into recession or depression. Oil prices drop in response. The economy recovers, and then begins to grow again. Oil prices skyrocket again, and again the economy goes into recession or depression. This occurs because the peak of oil production becomes a plateau for a while as the economy goes through one adjustment after another. At some point, the economy enters an indefinite, never-ending period of wrenching stagflation since the production curve is dropping too much to permit any recovery at all. It's the 1970s all over again--ten times worse, ten times longer.
Much more could be said about Peak Oil but I want to get to my main idea. Peak Oil theorists seem to take it for granted that once we past Peak Oil, it will be obvious and everyone will wake up, only too late. If only! It will not be so. US foreign policy in the middle east has and will continue to be about sustaining America's dominance as it relates to the petrodollar. The Carter doctrine will be taken to ever increasing extremes and times get tougher. The American people will be given new and different villains to hate.
Follow the money, but this time, I encourage you to follow the oil! Iran will continue to be a convenient enemy as proxy for Islamic fundamentalism across the middle east. We will never invade Iran, but we very well may use Iranian-backed meddling in other middle eastern countries as a pretext for invading countries we would never invade otherwise. So here it is, my friends. I predict that by 2020, the US will occupy Saudi Arabia. Post-2015, only Saudi Arabia promises enough oil production to offset the wrenching economic downturn that will occur by then as a result of peak oil-influenced contraction. The war will be sold to us as a means to save Saudi Arabia from Islamic fundamentalism or Iranian control. But it will, like Iraq, be about oil.
A little more about my timeline. We are in the midst of a new normal, economically speaking. After the downturn of 2008 we came up a bit then settled back down, but consistently higher than our lows. We will grow again; indeed we are growing now and have been since June 2011. By the summer of 2012 it will become apparent that things are improving. We will continue to grow (at what rate I cannot tell) until 2014/2015, at which time we will approach the production limit of oil and prices will spike, resulting another market crash in late 2015. The step down effect of this crash will make THAT crash MUCH worse than 2008, resulting in mass unemployment, major bankruptcies, and societal unrest. I do not look forward to 2016 at all.
The timeframe between 2016-2020 will be very troubled, but will most likely include the US occupation of Saudi Arabia as a matter of securing the oil supplies necessary to maintain legitimacy at home and power abroad. It will likely be accomplished under the hand of an extremely nationalistic Republican president who will be elected in 2016. And America will support it and him.
2020-2023 will be the coalescence of a new world order around US economic and military dominance which will surpass even what we have seen until now. Turkey and Japan will rise in stature significantly on the world stage. De facto annexation of a willing Canada by the US is also a possibility due to geopolitical concerns and the oil situation.
My predictions past 2015 could be up to one US presidential term early but more than likely not.

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