Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Suburbia's looming fire-sale

On the forthcoming energy crunch Jim Kunstler argues,

”Many of the beliefs and accepted dogmas of the late 20th century will fall
away as a new and very different reality asserts itself.”

One of the reasons a great many people, policy makers and leaders find it impossible to face the issue of peak oil is because it challenges the very beliefs that we argue are a priori truths about industrialised western societies, without requirement for justification, our fundamental birth-rights.

These beliefs, that the society our children will inherit will somehow be richer, more open and peaceful and economically more prosperous. That technology and coming generations will solve the collective global problems we face. We truly believe in the fallacy of endless substitution. That we will discover and liberate energy sources cheaper and more productive as existing ones run out. In New Zealand many of us favour leaving such issue’s to the “market” to sort out. After all, the stone-age didn’t end because we ran out of stone.

An acute understanding of the fundamentals of energy and its intrinsic relationship with society instructs us differently however. The post-globalist, post-cheap-oil age will seriously challenge our deeply seated assumptions. We don’t have to run out of oil for life to be up-ended. We merely need to experience a supply squeeze and a reasonable price spike for all the mechanisms that support our modern life to be seriously destabilised. This situation is quickly approaching. The world is currently experiencing growth in oil use that is stretching available supply to the absolute limit. This is occurring when the global production of oil is about to move over it’s all time peak, after which it will be in permanent and increasing decline.

The public of New Zealand are about to get the shock of their lives. Currently there is no national leadership in regard to this issue. It is entirely likely that an aggrieved angry public will lash out as the instant erosion of lifestyle is paralleled by increasing fuel prices and shortages.

The resultant disorder will require an urgent downscaling of virtually all the activities in New Zealand. The suburban lifestyles many of us have invested our life’s earnings in, represent arguably the largest misallocation of resources since the Second World War. We will be forced to live closer to work, within walking or cycling distance.

As national and international supply chains are affected by disrupted oil markets the days of driving your 4WD to the Warehouse for some recreational shopping will quickly come to an end. The emergence of such massive discounters and franchisers was seen as a huge boon to mass consumerism however many of us failed to notice the losses incurred to society as the demise of localised retail systems followed. Such centralised national chains are ultimately dependant upon an infrastructure both local and international, that require heavily oil reliant distribution channels to be operationally seamless.

We will need to re-establish interdependent localised communities based on moving merchandise including food and produce shorter distances. Rail systems will have to be developed to replace defunct long-haul trucking systems.

Our agricultural systems face similar restructuring. Many of our food products are mass produced hundreds of kilometres away from cities and trucked to New World’s and Pack & Save stores country-wide. The re-emergence of market-gardens and localised agri-business will be necessary. Interdependent multi-mode distribution and transportation channels will have to be re-established if we are to feed ourselves. Farming will be performed on a much smaller scale. Access to fossil-fuel based fertilisers and pesticides will be tenuous and rather than a trendy luxury, small scale organic farming will become a necessity.

The changes we face, the end of globalisation bought about by the emerging dysfunction and peak in world oil production will not be pleasant. We will be forced to change our living arrangements in ways that we never envisioned in the golden years of the 1990s.

Suburban life has no future!

In fact many people will find that their lifelong financial investment in this car-dependent living arrangement becomes worthless almost overnight. Kunstler argues that we could well see a mad scramble to “get-out” (of suburbia). Unfortunately history reminds us that we are likely to cling to the tragic delusion that somehow “things will get back to normal”. The defence of the suburban way of life will become a bizarre yet futile exercise. It is very likely to precipitate appalling political situations. As it becomes increasingly evident that it is impossible to maintain our suburban utopia communities will likely turn to fanatical politicians preaching a “business as usual” message.

Whether we like it or not we are on the road to an extended harsh period of austerity and consequent re-adjustment. The sooner as a nation we face up to this dilemma the less the shock will be.


PowerLess NZ

Monday, August 30, 2004

New Zealand: In 15 Years Time

In 15 years kids will be kicking battered rugby balls around on multilane highways and sifting through wastelands, sitting amongst rubber tyres, the discarded detritus, the smouldering embers of yesterday.

Rich people still trying to buy very expensive petrol at the few remaining outlets will be subjected to attacks by marauding groups of resentful vigilante's, the baseball bat will emerge as the natural enemy of the SUV.

There will be a massive rush to get out of the suburbs as the middle classes realise all their investment in such lifestyles is worthless, many will remain in denial, desperately clinging to the hope that things will get better as their towns begin to resemble the Minsk ghetto. Things don't get better.

Feudal middle age style villages will begin emerging in rural areas, heavily protected and defended by those that heed the warnings early. Hoards of people will blame the government, totalitarianism will begin to emerge in place of democracy, law and order will become the primary occupation of the Government. Military coups are entirely possible.

Civil disorder, confusion, crime, rape, looting and fear will reign over wide sectors of society. Society will revert largely to a survival of the biggest and strongest. Racial violence will become rife as fringe groups like the National Front grow dramatically in size and assert their authority. People will view certain ethnic groups in society of having no place in NZ. As the fabric of society is eroded essential services will become increasingly unreliable, highrise buildings, sections of airports, The Warehouse, K-marts all will become squatter's quarters as they empty of businesses, unemployment will soar.

Child poverty, disease and malnourishment will escalate. Infant mortality rates will increase. Queues at what used to be supermarkets will be commonplace as transportation and supply lines are increasingly disabled.

The Government will initiate rationing, curfews and pass laws restricting all manner of behavioir, desenters will be severly punished. Hospitals will resemble war time field hospitals as funding drys up.

Suicide will rise dramatically as over committed heavily debted people find nothing left to live for. Universities will close down departments, many schools will close - massive downsizing will be the inevitable result of lack of funds.

Regional and city councils will be unable to maintain essential systems, water,waste and sewerage systems will suffer as rate's funds begin to dry up. Current market oriented business investment to upgrade and maintain electricitysystems will be nonexistent, black outs will be common. Government will be forced to spend money it doesn't have to procure such assets back in a futile effort to regain stability.

City streets will begin to resemble filthy third world cities, complete with beggers, thiefs, touters, hawkers and gangs. Alcoholism and child prostitution will increase.

All non essential funding for the art's, grants, research, subsidies, DOC and environmental projects, etc will dry up. Possum numbers will increase dramatically - that's good, we'll need them for food. Ecological diversity will suffer - but no one will really care.

There will be a necessary harsh adjustment away from our totally unsustainable lifestyles to one that resembles the latter part of the 18th century, but with 4 million mouths. Class divisions will begin to emerge. The debt heavy middle class will disappear overnight. Hundreds of thousands of people will lose their homes a month or so after they lose their jobs. A whole generation will be displaced.

New Zealand will descend into a totalitarian dystopia.

Life will become a bitch.

Long before we begin dreaming optimistically we need to face this reality. Because unless we begin preparing now this is what life in NZ will be like in 15 years - and that's probably an optimistic view.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

ClusterFuck Nation

This is the title of Jim Kunstlers excellent blog. But I think his philosophy equally applies to our country (NZ). People are in for one helluva big shock. The world production of oil is peaking - that is demand is almost outpacing supply. Once this event happens, unless we begin to prepare ourselves now, basically we're screwed.

Our world is gonna change - simple as that. This governments claims that they are planning to increase tourism, spending on road infrastructure, work on further global trade deals. It's all a fucking waste of time. In 20 years we'll be burning tyres to keep warm. By next decade kids will be playing rugby on the motorways - expensive cycle and bus lanes - if there are buses running.

People are deluded if they think the way we live can continue indefinately. More suburban sprawl and housing estates, DVD's, LCD screen TV's, never ending ships with full of imported Cherokee Jeeps... this is all gonna end - soonish.

The days of sitting in your big fat gas sucking SUV chugging down KFC are drawing to a close. The global supply lines that provide the Warehouse and K-Mart with everything from cheap tacky Chinese made ornaments that clutter the mantlepiece in your energy hungry suburban McMansion to kids action figures to plastic toilet seats will falter as demand for oil outstrips the available supply.

Don't take my word for it. BP's global figures verify it.

Go and check out Jim Kunstlers ClusterFuck Archives... and get clued up.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Peak Oil 101. For the benefit of Dr Cullen.

Oral questions in the house yesterday

Jeanette Fitzsimons: What does the Minister understand by the term
"peak oil", and when does he expect it to occur?

: I have to confess that, for once, the member has floored me; I do
not understand what is meant by the term "peak oil".

The fact that our Minister of Finance is completely and utterly unaware of the “peak oil” issue is absolutely astounding. By inference one can only conclude that this ignorance clearly demonstrates the current Government’s Energy politics are in total disarray.
It is clear from Cullen’s admission yesterday that the Labour Governments knowledge in regard to the very serious global energy issue of peak oil and all it’s geo-political complexities wouldn’t fill a rice-bubble.

Dr Cullen should resign immediately and the job should go to someone that is acutely aware of the geopolitics of energy – our entire existence as a nation depends on such knowledge.
Our global energy system, a massive complex network of production and distribution designed to meet the needs of the industrial world is failing. Production is only just meeting demand. As the developing world, transition economies like China, India, South Korea and Brazil continue to industrialise at a staggering rate no one, including the oil companies themselves have any idea how energy will be delivered to these countries. As OPEC’s president Purnomo Yusgiantoro commented recently “there is no more supply”. The OPEC nations are producing at peak capacity.

This ever widening gap between global demand for energy and our ability to meet it is beginning to emerge as a serious threat to global stability and will shape most certainly shape the future. Energy security goes well beyond sabotage and dirty bombs, it is the ability to meet immediate energy demand.

Yet the emerging supply demand imbalance is only the beginning of the peak oil problem. According to the latest BP statistics* the world is already losing a million barrels of oil per day to depletion, twice the rate of two years ago.

For the benefit of Dr Cullen, global peak oil is the point at which maximum global production of oil is reached. The production curve looks like a bell curve, once at the top of the curve we move into downside. On the down side it becomes more expensive and less productive to pump oil out of the ground. Prior experience in the US (peak 1971) the UK (peak 1999), Australia (peak 2000) verifies this trend. The world is currently at the peak of the global production curve.
How the Government can possibly plan an infrastructure, an economy, a future for New Zealand without this knowledge beyond belief. The desire to continue with plans to spend billions of dollars on road systems, including $415 million to improve Wellington roads PowerLess NZ repeats is an economic atrocity, for which those responsible for such gross wastage of public funds should be held fully accountable.

*A summary of the BP Statistical review of World Energy can be found http://www.fromthewilderness.com/free/ww3/082304_million_depletion.shtml

PowerLess NZ 25 August 2004
PowerLess NZ is a growing group of scientists, energy analysts and concerned citizens whose principle objectives are to alert both Government and the general public to New Zealand’s looming energy crisis. Our aim is to support development of renewable energy resources at both a private and public level, as well as encourage a firm move away from dependence upon fossil fuels. More information about global peak oil and resource depletion can be found at http://www.oilcrash.com/

Monday, August 23, 2004

A crisis forms a lethal positive-feedback loop: the worse our problems become, the more likely we are to act instead of think. The less we think, the worse our problems become. Jay Hanson, 1998.

The vast majority of New Zealand politicians currently resemble a rabble of knee-jerking hillbilly square dancers. The reason for this is in part because New Zealand, in fact Western democracies by and large are obsessed with reification, tradition and habit. It is better to act than it is to think. Take for example the oxymoronic term, the so called “knowledge economy”. Remove the rhetoric and hype behind the term and one quickly realises it for what it is, a drive to merely exploit finite resources at a even quicker rate in order to promote economic growth. It seems the term wisdom has long since parted company with knowledge.

The enormity of New Zealand’s imminent energy problem and it’s associated social and economic repercussion’s exacerbates the bias Jay Hanson describes above. As the situation becomes increasingly dire politicians barrel down the path of farcical adhocery.
The desire to build a gas-fired electricity power station just as the Maui gas-field is about to run out is the consummate example. This gross mistake will eventually result in either escalating reliance on expensive imported energy or a white elephant. As the world faces the prospect of moving into the depletion side of the fossil fuel production curve, New Zealand politicians are intent on ignoring the problem and continue to build and plan a multibillion-dollar fossil fuel dependant infrastructure.

PowerLess NZ argue that the underlying cause of Beehive delusion is the unquestionable doctrine of continuous and unlimited economic growth. New Zealand politicians believe they can fix the problem of poverty with growth, apparently the answer to some people’s inability participate fully in a consumptive market is more consumption. Growth is a substitute for equality of income. It is a flawed dogma that provides a convenient smoke screen for weak politician’s inability to answer the unpleasant questions. So long as there is growth there is hope for the cattle-class.

One of the unpleasant questions as yet wholly unanswered by New Zealand politicians is “how do you propose to address the issue of natural resource depletion, in particular the issue of peak oil which will kick in within the next few years?”. Unfortunately neither the market economy nor technology can answer this question. PowerLess NZ urge all New Zealanders interested in their futures to ask your politician this question.

Of course politicians will tell you economic growth is the panacea for such problems. A truly bizarre hypothesis. Economic growth equals increased demand, increased demand results in resources (such as oil and natural gas) being depleted at quicker rate. The problem of natural resource depletion cannot be solved by depleting the resource at a quicker rate. We urge all New Zealand politicians to think carefully before they act.

Powerless NZ
23 August 2004

PowerLess NZ is a growing group of scientists, energy analysts and concerned citizens whose principle objectives are to alert both Government and the general public to New Zealand’s looming energy crisis. Our aim is to support development of renewable energy resources at both a private and public level, as well as encourage a firm move away from dependence upon fossil fuels.More information about global peak oil and resource depletion can be found at http://www.oilcrash.com/

Monday, June 14, 2004

The end of the world as we know it...
The economic Holy Grail for western nations including New Zealand is growth. Our lifestyles and living conditions, education and health-care all supposedly improve when growth is positive. What fuels growth literally is energy. Without energy there would simply be no growth, apart from human input, energy is both entirely sufficient and necessary for economic growth.

Accounting for almost half of all New Zealands energy use is oil. However there is an emerging realisation that the growth in demand for oil is almost at the point where the supply cannot keep up. The age of fossil fuels is about to peak after which production will slide into irrecoverable decline. I’m not talking about oil running out any day soon, what I’m saying is that the exploding global demand for oil is about to outpace supply with dire consequences.

The Peak Oil problem as it is termed is well supported by scientists, geologists and a few brave politicians. US Vice President Dick Cheney some time ago confirmed a two to three percent annual growth in demand contrasted conservatively with a three percent decline in production from existing reserves. John Anderson, Australias deputy Prime Minister only last week claimed on national radio, it is likely that in the next few short years global oil production will peak. Dr Colin Campbell founder of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas suggests that conventional oil production will peak about 2005, followed by all oil about five years later.

If Dick Cheneys figures are correct and there is plenty of evidence to suggest they are, by 2010 the world will require somewhere in the region of 50 million more barrels per day. Unfortunately there is currently no 50 million barrels extra and it is unlikely that we will find the shortfall.

There simply have been no significant oil finds since discovery of the large Middle Eastern fields in the 60s. In fact we are globally consuming oil at a rate of almost five barrels for every one discovered. So what can New Zealand expect as this scenario unfolds? Any economist will tell you the result of demand exceeding supply is simple, the price will increase. With an expectation of growth in our economy we can expect to wear a one to five percent shortfall in oil before we begin experiencing a recession. A five to ten percent shortfall will see New Zealand descend into economic depression. At current rates of global demand within 10 years we conservatively might see shortfall of about twenty to twenty five percent assuming a peak around 2005.

Of course the social and economic impacts of this event occurring are profound. The age of industry fuelled by cheap energy it seems will begin to recede into history and life is likely to become, to borrow a phrase from Thomas Hobbes, “poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

One might wonder - why aren’t our politicians discussing this, why isn’t something being done? The reality of facing peak oil and its impacts involve a significant rearrangement of our belief systems. It is likely that politicians find it just to difficult to face, they are simply ignoring it hoping it will go away. Aldous Huxley reminds us however “Facts do not cease to be facts simply because they are ignored.” Or perhaps as one politician said to me and I quote

“The point is not that the events will not occur, but that the kinds preparations and precautions that a democratic government can take before the risk becomes so imminent that everyone recognises it, are so limited as to be a waste of time or worse.”

Being an eternal optimist I disagree. Iceland’s people and their Government have made the commitment to become independent of oil within a couple of decades, any preparations we make now will pay off in the future. New Zealand could be well placed to weather such a storm but only if we first acknowledge the problem. Preparations from there on in will involve re-arranging our society such that it is not dependent on oil. The last thing we should be doing of course is committing billions of dollars to roading systems that in all likely-hood will empty of drivers around about the time they are completed. Of course discussing the issue and raising public awareness will allow a debate to begin, the sooner the better. Whatever we do, we certainly ought to heed Dr Campbell’s solemn warning, “deal with reality, or reality will deal with you”.

c. Steve McKinlay, 2004