The last drop of oil will have dripped away in forty years, according to a recent report in the Wall Street Journal. Of course, that doesn’t mean we actually have until January 1, 2046, to change our oil-consuming ways. It won’t work that way.
As the production in the great oilfields of the Middle East and the Americas starts to diminish in earnest, the price of oil will continue its present climb upward. Recent price increases have more to do with political events, wars, accidents and royal screw-ups, such as the erosion and shutdown of BP’s Alaska pipeline. Such jumps in price are reversible.
The irreversible increases will be those set off by declining production from the old fields and the impossibility of finding new fields to replace them. That new, never-ending increase in prices can begin anytime now.
If America were like the little pig who built his house of bricks, the nation would be getting ready for the post-carbon world. But we are the pig who built his house of straw, scoffing at the existence of the wolf of scarcity who is coming to blow our house in.
At some point in the not-too-distant future, we will be blindsided by such titanic jumps in the price of oil that only the rich will be able to go on living in 50,000-square-foot houses and riding on energy-voracious private jets.
So what is it like when the oil flow becomes a molasses-like dribble? The energy faucet was turned off on North Korea and Cuba in the early 1990s, when the Soviet Union disappeared. With it went the relatively cheap oil it had been supplying both Communist countries. In the face of the crisis, though both were centralized dictatorships, they reacted in different ways.
Just how each country reacted is discussed by Dale Allen Pfeiffer, on the From the Wilderness website, in two articles that will make any sensible person pause for a minute of sober thinking.
North Korea, with is malignly insane, hereditary dictatorship, could not cope. This once-industrialized nation collapsed. Steel and concrete production dropped by two-thirds. Pfeiffer tells us that “North Koreans turned to burning biomass, thus impacting their remaining forests. Deforestation led, in turn, to more flooding and increasing levels of soil erosion. Likewise, soils were depleted as plant matter was burned for heat, rather than being mulched and composted.”
With tens of thousands of tractors immobilized for want of diesel oil, more people were needed to grow food and fiber. But lacking calories to sustain hard labor, productivity dived and the food situation worsened until starvation set in.