25 April 2007

Event of the Century

The 21st century is still young as there are another ninety-three years to go. So it might sound over-ambitious to claim that 'The Event of the Century' is already behind us. But I'll gladly take the risk; for I seriously believe that the peaking of the global production of crude oil --- commonly know as 'Peak Oil' --- has occurred in 2006 [1] and will be 'The Event' bound to dominate the history of the 21st century: one of those 'Historical Inflection Points' [2] which abruptly change "fundamentals" in the course of World History. I cannot foresee any other 'Event' coming to eclipse 'Peak Oil', not even the World Wars which might be unleashed in the Peak's aftermath and further fueled by widespread resources' scarcity. Unless, of course, humanity decides upon collective suicide with the massive use of weapons of mass destruction; but such an annihilating 'Event' would spell the word 'End' for most, if not all, of Mankind…

After some 147 years of almost uninterrupted supply growth to a record output of some 81-82 million barrels/day [mb/d] in the summer of 2006, crude oil production has since entered its irreversible decline. This exceptional reversal alters the energy supply equation upon which life on our planet is based. It will come to place pressure upon the use of all other sources of energy --- be it natural gas, coal, nuclear power, and all types of sundry renewables especially biofuels. It will eventually come to affect everything else under the sun…

Take, for example, population. In the 'Post Peak' era, population growth will gradually decrease before becoming stagnant (following crude oil) and passing a Peak of its own --- my early projections show a 'Population Peak' occurring some time around 2025 (a twenty-year lag respective to oil) at a global level of around 7.5 to 8.0 billion people. There is little doubt that crude oil is our world's 'Master Domino': when it thrives all other dominoes flourish, and when it tumbles it does topple all of the others too. Thus, interestingly, 'Peak Oil' will not usher in a revolution, but rather an evolution 'en sense contraire' ('in reverse gear').

'Peak Oil', however, is now in the past and we are presently left facing the 'Post Peak' era. There is little doubt that in this brand-new period, massive changes are bound to occur. The usage of relatively cheap crude oil has invaded every nook and cranny of our modern world economy --- sometimes without the wasteful invasion being fully realized. Moreover, the ubiquitous oil products have created addictions (especially in the transport sector) which will be extremely difficult to uproot. And, not only is the addiction to motor cars common throughout the developed world, but it has also begun making deep inroads in China, Russia and even India: a very dangerous development indeed because as American physician and poet Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894) judiciously remarked:

"Man's mind, once stretched by a new idea,
never regains its original dimensions" [3]

It is not only addictions that the decline of crude oil is threatening but ultimately what Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), the genius turned historian, called 'The System of Habits' --- the whole fabric underpinning Society:

"Without such a System of Habits… in a word, fixed ways
of acting and of believing… Society would not exist at all.
With such it exists, better or worse. Herein too, in this its
System of Habits … lies the true Law-Code and
Constitution of a Society" [4]

In 'Post Peak', all of our Systems of Habits are in mortal danger. Due to the relative cheapness of crude oil (in relation to other, more expensive daily needs), people don't exactly realize the pivotal role played by its products in their daily routines --- as these products has invaded every nook and cranny of our modern life. It is only when the brakes will be pulled (as they inevitably will have to be), that the general public will come to gradually realize the critical importance of 'Black Gold' --- which currently provides no less than two-fifths of world energy --- and of 'Energy' in general, in their living habits.

Thus, at present, the global masses seem totally unprepared for the two shocks which will inevitably occur in 'Post Peak'. On the one hand, no major institution or medium is willing to inform them seriously on the not-so-palatable consequences of 'Post Peak'; and, on other hand, specialized institutions (such as the 'International Energy Agency' [IEA], the 'Energy Information Administration' [EIA] and OPEC) as well as some major energy consultancies (e.g., the 'Cambridge Energy Research Associates' and the Edinburgh-based 'Wood Mackenzie' research outfit) will go on denying 'Peak Oil' by issuing rosy future oil output predictions.

So that the twin shocks are now inevitable on a global scale, as there is no time left to prepare public opinion for 'Post Peak' sequels. The shocks will first surprise, then jilt and finally entangle swaths of people worldwide. Those better prepared will be less inclined to react in a disorderly way and panic when the shocking truth will be unveiled...

For example, according to my personal research, the country best prepared to cope with the 'Post Peak' shocks seems to be Australia because three major institutions have led the way to boost public awareness:

A. The 'Australian Broadcasting Corporation' [ABC] --- on both its TV and Radio networks --- has exposed its audiences to the 'Peak Oil' phenomenon (always trying to remain impartial by presenting both the pro and con views). A remarkable decision by ABC's top management which will soon prove to have been very wise indeed.
B. The Australian Senate has issued a 'White Paper' on the subject, and also a plethora of enlightened regional ministers, politicians and experts (sometimes acting together in ad hoc committees) have endeavored to encourage the diffusion of the 'Peak Oil' paradigm into the general public (with the Gold Medal clearly going to the 'Western Australia' Cabinet of Ministers).
C. The local NGO groups which have been active since 2003-2004 as they became aware of the impending 'Peak', and have since taken giant strides in preparing their constituents for the coming shocks.

But, in the large majority of countries, no one has prepared (or wanted to prepare) the general public to the Historical 'Peak Oil' Event and to its momentous consequence in their daily lives. Thus, most probably, the popular masses will be directly exposed to two main types of shock:

1. A Material Shock;
2. A Psychological Shock.

Due to the benign decline gradient in crude oil production during the early 'Post Peak' period --- only 3 mb/d over the first transition period spanning 2007 to 2010 --- the Material Shock will not pose insoluble problems and accommodation will prove possible with minimal gradual pain. Moreover, sizeable amounts of wastage in most developed societies will provide a welcome cushion for the initial cuts to be made.

Not so for the Psychological Shock. This shock, in stark contrast, will be electric and abrupt. Stress, fear, depression, despairs and nightmares will be the order of the day --- as people come to face the not-so-palatable facets of 'Post Peak'. When confronted with this series of unknowns, with the trauma of Change, people will try to protect themselves by automatically reverting to their past, to the known, to what they believe to be "real and true" --- in a word, to their reassuring 'Roots'…

I define the overall concept of 'Roots' as a mixture of traditions, language, art, festivals, monuments, academies, museums, institutions, religion, creeds, legends and myths --- and God knows that myths are always infinitely more attractive than reality. Or still, 'Roots' could be said to be

"Past Excellences that have withstood the Test of Time"

Every living society on Earth --- be it a community, a city, a region, a country or a continent --- has its very own set of pell-mell 'Roots'. Some rather primitive, some extremely developed. Interestingly, there is little correlation between a society's 'Roots' and the present status of the 'Tree' it supports and nourishes --- the former being in the Past, and the latter in the Present. But, interestingly, the Future will come to depend more on the Past than the Present…

Soon, the attraction of 'Roots' will prove irresistible, and woe to those societies who have little or none, and to those who had some but have cut them off (for example, by changing their language or alphabet), and also to those who have failed to properly tend their valuable 'Roots' over time.

Some, like the Belgians, have already begun their historical 'Return to Roots' by trying to live in the Middle Ages (a glorious period for their small country as its trading centers of Bruges and Antwerp were then dominating the world). In Belgium, this return to the past

"has become a national passion… with groups of medieval
enthusiasts such as the 'Order of the Hagelanders' and
the 'Gentsche Ghesellen' [Ghent's Companions] having
sprouted up over the past two years" [5]

Across the country, a growing number of Belgians "are trading in their jeans for suits of armor... they are rubbing stones together to make fire, eating their dinners out of cauldrons, re-enacting heroic battles… and, in their medieval life, appreciate the value of everything they do".

In Europe, Belgium is only the top of the iceberg. Soon many others will follow suit --- countries such as France, Germany, Spain, and Italy. Especially Italy which is definitely 'Number One' in the world (by miles) for her magnificent 'Roots' --- which reach deep in all times and in almost every possible domain, with the Churches of St. Peter (The Vatican) and that of St. Francis (The 'Porziuncola' at the Basilica Santa Maria degli Angeli near Assisi) as two of her Unique and Universal Beacons.

As usual, it will be the masterminds who will be showing the way leading to their nations' collective 'Roots'. It makes sense that Men of Excellence will be those pointing back to past Excellence. How they will manage to do so (through the major institutions at their fingertips) might prove of utmost importance for the future wellbeing of their own society.

And, let us end with the verdict passed by one of the great masterminds of the 20th century, French thinker Andre Malraux (1901-1976), who paid the greatest possible homage to 'Roots' by advancing that:

"Le seul monde qui vaille la peine d'etre sauve est le monde des statues"
["The only world worth saving is the world of statues"]


[1] See paper 'Peak Oil: The End of The Modeling Phase' (March 2007)
on the website www.samsambakhtiari.com

[2] Taking the basic idea from the expression 'Strategic Inflection Point'
coined by Andrew Grove, the former 'Intel' CEO (1987-1998) --- in
his book entitled "Only the Paranoid Survive" (Doubleday, 1996).

"A Strategic Inflection Point is defined as: a time in the
life of a business when its fundamentals are about to change"

[3] 'Wikipedia' at http://en.wikipedia.org --- Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

[4] Thomas Carlyle, "The French Revolution", (New York, The Modern
Library, 2002) p.33.

[5] Dan Bilefsky, "Pining for power, modern Belgians return to the
Middle Ages", in the 'International Herald Tribune', April 3, 2007.

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