Crossing the Threshold

I subscribe to a newsletter produced under the auspices of an organization called Peak Prosperity.  The group is an offshoot from the book authored by Chris Martenson entitled, Crash Course.  In the most recent letter, Martenson revisits the data pertaining to energy availability and raises pertinent questions about what happens when we in the U.S. cross certain inevitable thresholds in our near future.  Consider just a portion of this scientist’s conclusion from the November 19 column:

I continue to regret the degree to which the western media has gone out of its way to portray the energy predicament as nothing more than a problem which can be easily addressed through a program of investment and being ever-more clever.

Instead I wish we could simply note that oil has no scalable substitutes, we support billions of people by growing food with it, and that every political, financial, portfolio, and institutional entity has the same underlying assumption; the next twenty years are going to be exactly like the past twenty years.

Somehow, magically, more oil will be there, it will be affordable, and nobody will have to make any adjustments to their main habits of spending more than they have, and consuming more next year than this year.  We can just keep borrowing more than we earn forever, and therefore current stock and bond markets are reasonably priced.

Martenson speaks from the perspective of a North American in sharing his sobering data, but as I continue to digest the implications of some very convincing realities about energy, the economy and the environment, my mind cannot help but move in the direction of Nicaragua.

As demand for fossil fuel resources continues to increase while supply continues to decrease, there is only one inevitable end in sight.  Denied access to this currently indispensable key to economic viability, national economies across the globe will begin to grind to a halt, starting with the smallest and least able to leverage their demands with oil-producing countries.

Nicaragua currently enjoys a “sweetheart” deal with the government of Venezuela for a great deal of its oil needs, an aftermath from the days of that country’s late president, Hugo Chavez.  But there is no known agreement or promise to assure that such an arrangement would or could survive oil supply impingement across the globe.  At least one likely scenario is that Venezuela would become forced out of its own economic necessity to back away from what was once a political strategy.  Along with other smaller and less influential economies, Nicaragua would appear to be vulnerable long before and deeper than larger nations, especially those which are capable of some level of self-production.

When that moment occurs in Nicaragua, available oil resources are not likely to be made available to rural cooperatives or other small producers. Big business in Managua will likely control the majority of supplies, as will be true in other societies.  The have’s will find a way to access needs and the have not’s will be the first strata of the population to feel the effects of true scarcity.  If the pain implicit in such a scenario would be uncomfortable for those of us in wealthy countries, try to imagine the conditions of the rural people in Nicaragua.  A difficult existence becomes, suddenly, untenable.

Within the U.S., faced with sudden and unexpected compromises in daily life, many of us will encounter a drastically altered existence, as well.  It’s something that most of us have never had to endure.  The new circumstances will create the need for conservation, prioritization, deferral, denial, self-sacrifice, and even sharing.  I wonder what happens if we discover that we aren’t good at those requirements.  Chris Martenson offers a compelling viewpoint and a question:

To a scientist like myself, the energy story is everything.  If you get that, you are armed with the information you need to understand the general direction of things.

The only thing we don’t know is what our respective cultures will choose to preserve as we are forced to jettison various unproductive habits and livelihoods. 

I suspect that it will be change which we will not handle with particular grace and patience.  In that instance, maybe we’d be well off studying our Nicaraguan counterparts.  After all, they’ve had to make do with almost nothing as a matter of course.  They’ve had a lot of practice and, ironically, they just might be pretty good at it….

 

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