Thursday, October 20, 2005

Bird Flu and Peak Oil
and the not so rare condition of myopic red herringism

The Ministry of Dodgy Advice, a-hem I meant Economic Development are currently very busy stirring the entire country into a hysterical panic driven frenzy over a "possible" bird flu pandemic. (from

A bird flu pandemic could strike 1.6 million New Zealanders, killing 33,000 and decimating the country's workforce

and this scenario...

Food and petrol are in short supply, and New Zealanders overseas are stranded because international travel is at a standstill.

But wait, bird flu has killed a couple of dozen people worldwide. Certainly less than recent earthquakes or hurricanes. Furthermore, bird flu currently cannot (as far as we are aware) be transmitted from person to person. Is there any evidence that the bird flu virus will mutate into a form that can be transmitted from person to person. Um, well no one knows. Probably, maybe no one is prepared to put a percentage on it. We are dealing with possibles, maybe's perhaps...

Here we have what is verging on mass panic and hysteria (in a similar tone to Y2K) over something the may or may not happen.

One thing that is DEFINATELY going to happen, and be sure it's coming to a town near you very soon is Peak Oil. The carrying capacity of the planet has been greatly exaggerated by the abundance of cheap oil. With the dawn and consequent burgeoning of the industrial era we have become accustomed to rapid technological advancement. People live decades longer than they did a hundred or so years ago, medical science has advanced in parallel with our ability to extract oil and use it to power the global industrial and financial monster.

The population of the world has literally exploded six-fold as we learnt to use oil to turn hand tended gardens into a global agricultural industry. We have all but eliminated famine as globalisation and mass transportation feeds the world.

However as western financial systems teeter on the brink of insolvency (the Euro zone, UK, the US and New Zealand are all running frightening trade decificts - the western world is living well beyond it's means as we cash in the fiat capital in our over priced houses to buy everything from Hummers to Fijian holidays) we will be faced within a few short years with an overall global decline in oil, followed shortly by gas. Although seemingly benign the decline of about 3% per year of oil will effectively mean that the oil economy based up on endless economic growth will be in permanent decline.

Borrowing and lending will quickly dry up, a massive surplus consumer goods will result. Followed quickly by recession turning into depression. One that we will never emerge from, until their a balance is restored. That balance will eventually see the deaths of a few billion people world wide.

If we can't continue ploughing billions of barrels of oil into the globalised agricultural industry we can't feed the world anymore. The current population of the world is an artifact of cheap oil. In fact the life expectancy of the industrial civilisation according to Richard Duncan in geological terms is horridly short. Duncan argues in his Olduvai Theory, that the peak point was 1990. It seems we have been very lucky to have lived in the best of all possible times.

Industrial civilisation will not have a cycle. Once we move beyond the maximally harvestable amount of fossil fuel, the exponetial rise of this great age will have a corresponding equal and opposite exponetial decline. Simply unsustainable, a one shot affair as Duncan describes it.

For those seriously concerned about the bird flu. It's Friday, get yourself a bottle of wine tonight and relax. Then tomorrow read Dr Richard Duncan's Olduvai Theory - panic then.

Have a happy weekend.

1 comment:

rach said...

Here's an interesting little tidbit about the whoel bird-flu thing...