Transition Whatcom

Peak Everything

(this page borrowed from TransitionUS.org, which borrowed this excerpt from Richard Heinberg’s article at http://globalpublicmedia.com/richard_heinbergs_museletter_peak_everything)

Fossil fuels are not the only important resource rapidly depleting. In this century we will see an end to growth and a decline in all the following areas:

  • Population
  • Grain production (total and per capita)
  • Uranium production
  • Climate stability
  • Fresh water availability per capita
  • Arable land in agricultural production
  • Wild fish harvests
  • Yearly extraction of some metals and minerals (including copper, platinum, silver, gold, and zinc) )

The general picture is one of mutually interacting instances of over-consumption and emerging scarcity. We are today living at the end of the period of greatest material abundance in human history.

It is no happenstance that so many peaks are occurring together. All are causally related by way of the historic reality that, for the past 200 years, cheap, abundant energy from fossil fuels has driven technological invention, increases in total and per-capita resource extraction and consumption (including food production), and population growth. We are enmeshed in a classic self-reinforcing feedback loop:

Fossil fuel extraction
--> more available energy
----> increased extraction of other resources, and production of food and other goods
------> population growth
--------> higher energy demand
----------> more fossil fuel extraction (and so on)

Fact: growth in population and consumption cannot continue unabated on a finite planet.

If the increased availability of cheap energy has historically enabled unprecedented growth in rates of the extraction of other resources, then the coincidence of peak oil with the peaking and decline of many other resources is entirely predictable. Moreover, as the availability of energy resources peaks, this will also affect various parameters of social welfare:

  • Per-capita consumption levels
  • Economic growth
  • Easy, cheap, quick mobility
  • Technological change and invention
  • Political stability

AAll of these are clearly related to the availability of energy and other critical resources. Once we accept that energy, fresh water, and food will become less freely available over next few decades, it is hard to escape the conclusion that, while the 20th century saw the greatest and most rapid expansion of the scale, scope, and complexity of human societies in history, the 21st will see contraction and simplification.

The only real question then is whether societies will contract and simplify intelligently or in an uncontrolled, chaotic fashion.

Addressing the economic, social, and political problems ensuing from the looming peaks requires an enormous collective effort. That effort must educate and motivate people at a massive scale, and the motivation must come from a positive vision of a future worth striving toward. Most of the peaks that are before us cannot be avoided, but there are many things we can do to navigate down and around them so as to enhance human sanity, security, and happiness. The Transition Movement provides a model and process for this, through unlocking the creative genius of our communities, and working together to collectively begin the great task of navigating a soft landing down from the peaks.

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