What is the scariest aspect of the end of oil?
In my opinion? Food. Our just-in-time food delivery system depends entirely on petroleum. Starving people may not remain pleasant people, especially not when they live in the concentrations of today’s urban centers. England’s little glitch back 10 years ago that resulted in the “nine meals from anarchy” talk gave us a hint of what may well happen at the start of such an event.
|Daniel Chase photo via Wikimedia. Before Hurricane Sandy
But food delivery isn’t the only facet of the food system that requires petroleum. Tractors and other farm machinery, tractor tires, insecticides, fertilizers...all require petroleum. Indeed, it was the industrial revolution and petroleum products as applied to farming that resulted in crop yields that caused the world population to explode from 500 million to over 7 billion in just a couple hundred years.
We need to pause from time to time and think about that. 500 million people is probably the carrying capacity of the earth absent petroleum. That is, this lovely, diverse, rare planet can support/feed only a half a billion homo sapiens. So when oil is gone, there will be at least 7 billion extra starving people (probably 15 billion or more by the time it happens, though drought or disease may have killed several billion first because we have other potential problems that stem from overpopulation).
So imagine: Fertile land and deer and fish for half a billion, with 15 billion clamoring for food. You can see what’s going to happen. People are going to starve to death...but a few will not do it quietly and politely, darn them. They will kill you to get your food, and if your food is gone, some will kill you to use you as food.
I'm working toward food self-sufficiency myself, and if a lot of people do this--including urban gardeners, who can use abandoned lots, roof gardens, median strips, and much more--that will mitigate the problem. Kudos to those who are doing just that. But of course, sufficient people will not do the work, and certain arid places (Phoenix, Las Vegas) are not in climates where that much food can be grown, and we'll end up in a bad situation at some future point.
I don't think I'll live to see it, honestly, but if I had grandkids, I would be working to teach them how to grow their own food and fish--that's for sure.
A foreign war triggers the end of oil in your books. But don’t Iran and Saudi Arabia get along really well?
Not according to what I read. I read several foreign policy papers (rather boring research for me, I confess), and of all the local neighbors who might attack Saudi Arabia for its oil in the future, Iran seemed the most likely. Again, I can’t guess at a date, but one day, surely current tensions will come to that. Its impact on oil exports? That I would not begin to try and predict in the real world. Worst case scenario for the reader more than likely, is Russia backing Iran (as they likely would) and winning and gaining control over the Saudi Arabian oil fields. The British/US invasion of Iraq was ill-considered and wasteful and got us almost no oil. Our entering this hypothetical Iran-Saudi war, if Russia is a major player, to protect our access to Saudi oil? Absolutely necessary. It’ll probably be couched in some typical lie to appease the masses--WMDs or religion or “evil” leaders or whatever--but it will be entirely about oil and, if we want to keep living as we do, if we want to keep eating, not so much a choice as an imperative.
However, much more of the US's oil comes from Canada than from the Middle East at this point, so in our real world, this wouldn't be so much of a crisis.
more next week