Our world supply of oil is approximately one half exhausted. We still have half of it left, which sounds like we’re in pretty good shape. Unfortunately, the half that’s left is the hardest to get out and use. It’s in smaller deposits, it’s in deeper pools, it’s dirtier (needing more refining), and it’s further away from where people live. Most of us are far more dependent on oil than we realize, so the coming shortages of it will change our lives dramatically. There’s lots of information here on LettheSunWork about peak oil.
After a generation of denial, nearly everyone understands now that by pumping large quantities of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, we humans have caused our planet to heat up far beyond any natural cycle. It is now functionally too late to stop catastrophic climate change. This will cause unprecedented droughts, increase the incidence of pests and infectious disease, produce more frequent and more intense storms, and cause sea levels to rise.
During the roughly 200 years of the oil age, widespread use of fossil fuels and heavy irrigation using irreplaceable fossil groundwater has allowed us to produce and ship copious quantities of cheap food, including lots of food that’s high on the food chain like meat, cheese, and eggs. This has caused a relatively sudden quadrupling in the world’s population during the oil age, from about 1.5 billion to more than 6.7 billion today. Population continues to grow exponentially. Now that cheap energy is coming to an end, the productivity of mechanized agriculture is sure to fall. What will become of all those people when food shortages develop? How will this fit in with the obsession in the developed world about growing crops for biofuels?
For two generations, medicine has waged an escalating war with infectious disease, using antibiotics of steadily increasing strength and specificity. But the microbes on which we have made war are prolific and nimble. Each time we develop a new chemical we think is more effective at killing germs, strains develop that are resistant to it. In general, we have proven ourselves more adept at wiping out beneficial microbes than at preventing the harmful ones. Consequently, we enter the 21st century with meaner bugs all around us and fewer good bugs to help us.
Each of these individually is cause for concern. It’s only when we synthesize this Triple Threat (petroleum and resource depletion, catastrophic climate change, and over-population) that the danger becomes so apparent. Catastrophic climate change will cause sea levels to rise significantly during the 21st century, perhaps even during this generation. This will displace many of the roughly 60% of the world’s population who live close to an ocean, river, or lake. Think Katrina on steroids.
We will do our best to accommodate these displaced refugees in an already overcrowded world, but we will do it with a dwindling supply of increasingly expensive fossil fuels, less food, less water, and in an environment where infectious disease is getting the upper hand.
Who can help? Unfortunately, with a few exceptions, the help will not come from politicians, because all the challenges we describe here on LetTheSunWork are past the current term of all publicly elected officials, and if it’s not going to happen within their term, it’s just not important. The help will not come from our corporate media, who have a deep and pervasive goal in all their coverage: to keep all of us content and consuming. It will not come from the much-discussed creative class, who will have their attention rudely and painfully re-focused for them onto their own survival and that of their families.
So how will we cope? And as we prepare, how will we change the minds of those around us so they can get ready too?
That’s the focus of LettheSunWork. There’s no silver bullet, just a collection of strategies, innovations, and cultural adjustments that will help some survive and thrive. Perhaps those who do can then help the others who have denied there’s a problem until it’s too late.