Bob writes," The problems of getting to work that you and Glenn are
discussing are only one of the problems that the world's societies will have
to face when we run out of oil, and if no fusion or other substantial
sources of non-carbon-based energy have been developed."
You are correct in that we have only touched on one facet of a very
complex and daunting problem. My guess is that fusion will remain a pipe
dream for at least 50 years (I've said this for 25 years now and so far my
prediction has not been proven wrong ;-) ). As for non-carbon based energy
sources, other than uranium and the uranium-plutonium and thorium-uranium
cycles, there appears nothing to be on the horizon. Using MOX (mixed
uranium/plutonium (from Russian and US war heads) fuels is a step in the
right direction. The thorium-uranium cycle will extend our uranium
resources by quite a bit.
"The overall problem, as I see it, is how shall the declining stocks
of oil be allocated among competing needs in the world's societies, and who
shall make the decisions. Will the free market be the decision maker, or
will some central world bureaucracy decide who gets the oil? Or will OPEC?
Assuming that some equitable and acceptable decision maker can be arranged,
which is a huge assumption, who will get the oil?"
You know the answer as well as I do: the strongest countries will do
the getting, in one way or another. Remember the Gulf war? Western
countries will be able to outbid poorer countries and, if they don't win the
bidding war, they will resort to a war of another sort. OPEC will simply
sell to the highest bidder or to the ones with the biggest guns. Why would
(mostly) Muslim OPEC members do otherwise? If they decided to allocate
their resources on the basis of need, they would be better stewards than us
Christians! Would that put us to shame or what?
"Will farmers have first priority to run their tractors and other
equipment to produce food? Will the trucking industry have high priority
for transporting food to market? How much will mass transportation get?
Will the petrochemical industry get a large part with which to make
plastics? Will the military still claim its share? Will we still fly
inefficient airplanes? Will poor people be able to heat their homes? Will
our central city skyscrapers be heated? Will scientific and academic
institutions be supplied? Will the rich Western industrial nations demand
more than their share? Each of us can extend this list of competitors for
the declining supply of carbon-based energy."
I think that asking the questions is answering the questions. My
guess is that farmers will have to battle it out for oil and gas or go back
to horse-pulled plows and that they will have to compete with other farmers.
As for the trucking industry, in Canada some trucking companies are putting
a surcharge on their transportation bills. This may lead to some
commodities becoming more expense and the demand will drop. For example, I
can buy grapes from Chile and strawberries from California in mid-winter,
only because the shipping costs are so low. I'm sure that this will become
a thing of the past. Mass transportation will get what its customers
demand, but customers may have to fork over a lot of their income to afford
mass transit. We may see less in the way of plastic (which may not be such
a bad thing). Will the military still get its share? "Is the Pope
catholic?" We may still fly airplanes but my guess is that there will be
fewer flights because the cost of flying will go up (no pun intended) and
only the rich will be able to fly, just like 50 years ago. So, visiting
relatives far away may become a once-in-a-lifetime thing and we'll have to
make do with video conferences. Will the poor be able to heat their homes?
Of course not! At least not until they rebel.
I'd love to be a futurist if the job were not so depressing!
There is still time to change our energy spending patterns but we
won't have this time forever. As I mentioned in an earlier post, as
Christians and as appointed stewards on God's creation, we need to set
examples. Examples on how to do with less and examples on how to extend our
resources. With "doing with less" I don't mean converting an
energy-inefficient 2000 square foot house to a more energy-efficient 2000
square foot house, because that will simply push up the demand for things
like glass fibre insulation, triple glass low-E windows, solar panels, etc.
Not that I have anything against 2000 square foot houses; if you need the
space, who am I to criticize? Same way with SUVs; I'm not criticizing SUV
drivers because I don't know anything about the situation of the drivers.
But, suppose we all decided not to buy fruit that had to be transported more
than, say, 500 km and informed the supermarkets and grocery stores. How big
of an impact would this have on the use of fuel to transport these foods?
Just a suggestion. Oh but this would create a hardship for the farmers 500
km away, you might say. Maybe, but maybe the poor who live close to that
farmer would then be able to buy the fruit that they cannot afford to buy
now, because the demand pushes up the prices.
Anyway, our options are only limited by our imagination.
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