26 May 2011

Doom and Gloom

I was reading the Energy Bulletin and I came across an interesting article and blog on mathematical analysis of the coming Oil Crisis. I was particularly taken with an article on the Oil Shock Model. Sadly my mathematical skills are very rusty, a long time since I've done any convolution analysis. Still very interesting.

However, I wonder if all this Peak Oil analysis will miss the fact that the transition and descent will be chaotic and turbulent in the social, economic and mathematical senses of both words. Think of a turbulent little stream and throwing a leaf onto the water. You can tell how far down it will eventually go simply by the physics of gravity. But you can't describe the path. Will it get temporarily stuck in an eddy? OK, that is stretching the analogy too far, we can't get into a long lasting eddy because although the leaf doesn't need extra energy to round and round our economy does.

So what are the possible paths of transition. Let's list a few.

  1. Smooth descent of energy usage: yeah right. We are a little more complex than bacteria in a test tube, don't expect us to go quietly into the night.
  2. Stepped descent. This seems to be a popular idea. Energy supply drops, causes a 'bit' of a recession which results in demand destruction. The economy contracts, reduced energy demand, price of fuel drops, small growth or rather stable state. Meanwhile, the energy supply continues to decrease. Has some merit I think.
  3. Descent causes shortages in water, food, energy. Resource wars. Bad times ensue. Probably the worst case because wars use up a lot of energy and matériel. The last thing you want to do, and a resource war would be futile, I mean what do you expect to get out a damaged country. If you can defeat them then they probably have less resources than you. Might be feasible for water since you don't need a lot of infrastructure ... just a river. Anything else requires energy / transport investment to get anything.
  4. Nations go 'dark'. As the economy and energy distribution fail nations start to go dark. These are likely to be those with highest energy needs. This means that it would be pointless for any energy exporters to supply such nations so there will be more for others. Though how many exporters would there be when exporting nations view oil as a matter of national security? This view has been popularised by Dmitry Orlov at his blog Club Orlov.
Myself? I'm not sure. Requires more thought. As the saying goes: a trap for young players.


  1. Have you seen "Arithmetic, Population and Energy"? If not, I highly recommend watching all the segments.

  2. Thanks lemmiwinks. I have seen Prof Bartlett's video, on YouTube. Amazing and essential viewing. Sent links to some family ... not sure if they will watch but ... well that's what family is for. To annoy them with perceived wisdom. :)