Thursday, September 01, 2005

the end of the beginning

I have postponed this first posting as I haven't known exactly where to start. I've decided not to let that fact deter me any longer.

When I was ten years old I first asked myself a question who's answer now seems so obvious. The answer however came with its own set of dreadful recognitions. The question arose from a reading of the book "Watership Down". To put it simply, I began to wonder why humans had so dramatically increased their numbers and their influence over this planet in such a short time. Humans had been kicking around this ball of rock for 10,000 years and just suddenly, in one century jumped from a little over 1 billion in population to just a tad over 6 billion? Surely pure numbers alone can not explain this explosion?

At first of course the question was crudely formed in my young mind but it stuck with me and refined itself over time. I continued to read and studied land planning at University. With this education came an explanation of past civilizations and their organizations. Lacking was any focus on the ones that had collapsed or more specifically why they had collapsed. We are all familiar with the fall of Rome. But I never studied the Norse, the Anastasias, the people of Easter Island or the others. The focus was always on past progress and how our civilization in its current form had come to be. For sure the arithmetic of steady growth played a part, described quite eloquently by Dr. Albert Bartlett, but I began to piece together other bits of information that pointed to the massive role that petroleum played in the rise of this our civilization. Never before had man been able to harness such an incredibly energy source like the one first drilled for by Mr. Edwin L. Drake in Pennsylvania in 1859.

With this new energy source available the number of farmers in the United States of America decreased. In 1890 the census showed a little more than 40% of the population was farming for a living. That number had dropped to less than 2% by 1990 and don’t forget the increase in population to feed. Tractors and pumps power by oil and fertilizers and pesticides created from oil meant fewer humans were needed to produce the food. That left quite a few individuals to think up things like internal combustion engines and such. This is but a single example among many of the pieces of information that began to answer the question that had so long vexed me.

Oil is the cheap, easily recoverable, highly transportable, energy-dense fuel on which the current boom of human population and this age of technology are based. But with my epiphany came a horrible realization. This finite resource is about to reach the peak of its production. This means that for the first time since its discovery, there will be less oil available than oil demanded- for physical reasons, not political ones. Our society will follow oil production in a downward trend and slowly implode or even possibly burst and suddenly crash. In less than 100 years we will live again (with some exceptions) as we did in 1901. Fasten your seatbelts; the ride will be very bumpy.

This will be my place to come and vent my thoughts and feelings, ideas and anxieties concerning this historic shift in the direction of the path of human beings of this our planet Earth and the aforementioned bumps. Feel free to join in.

Graph: The Energy Curve of History?
Source: Community Solution


Anonymous said...

Minor point, humans have been here longer than 10,000 years.

Have you read Ishmael?


nulinegvgv said...

i was talking about the movement of humans and not their start date as a species. 10,000 years ago corresponds roughly with the end of the last ice and the exposure of a land bridge believed by some to be the route used by the humans that first traveled to north america.

but point taken, the phrase could have been better worded.

and no i haven't