My name is Ale Fernandez. I live in Barcelona, Spain and I'm Chilean and Italian.
I am a web developer, artist and technical researcher.
I've lived in Scotland, Italy, Spain and England and career-wise I am interested in distributed systems and their applications to improvised performance and ecology.

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4/19/2006

Reactions to peak oil

Is this the answer to peak oil?


I've spent the easter weekend enjoying children and festivity and friends in Bristol, sometimes coming out of my little happy hole to look out and see really upsetting headlines - another oil price hike, unrest and mad violence at oil sites etc, and a very good documentary on more4 last week which pushed me to finally unite my family's dreams of moving on somewhere permanent, with the peak oil idea that the current society really risks very turbulent economic times within the next 5 years or so, and that after that most resources will dwindle in similar ways - such as natural gas and coal, and we'll be left with whatever we can take to the next level. Just like you shouldn't move to San Francisco if you don't like earthquakes, you shouldn't live in oil dependent areas if you fear recession.


The next step has to somehow keep some of what we've learnt during this time. Like the Roman times hugely influenced the middle ages, we're now going to enter ecotopia, but it will be a burnt out version a bit like the middle ages, just maybe with such beautiful inventions as online extended social networks (usually comprising extended family anyway) and long range travel, however reduced compared to now. How will we do that, and at the same time maintain a renewable footprint in all ways?


I've known about all this for a long time, since my biology teacher in high school told us that Elephants have s-shaped curves. They tend to have one or two children at a time, so their population grows by very little and very slowly, in response to changes in availability of food/etc. Fruit flys on the other hand have j-shaped curves. They see a fruit and grow and grow in population size, eating everything until there is absolutely nothing left, and they then all die. Somehow, a small amount of flies must make it to the next piece of fruit in some form or other, which might be their eggs. So our fruit has been the discovery of oil in 1850. Our egg is sustainable, carbon neutral survival. And this is not an egg that will simply get us to the next fruit, because this is not the reality that I want humanity to be in. We are not, I hope, only here to ceaselessly consume everything in our path until there is nothing left, like interstellar parasites.


More likely there should eventually be a middle way, most likely, when most alternatives have run out. Even war will probably not be very useful for oil in the long run.


Easy for people to say that we can switch to nuclear, gas, coal, rail travel etc, but these things will only work in the short term, although most predictions sound grim because they probably can't take into account the way the world is going to change as a result of this.


So it will definitely change for the worse if you maintain a capitalist and closed minded viewpoint that your children should be able to have more than you had.


And it will change for the better if you are more community oriented and even would answer "do you want more" with "no, thanks - I have enough". The saddest story in my economics education is Malthus, who realised the world had finite resources, but that human beings always want more. Unfortunately for him, he was sitting a the bottom of a big J shaped curve. It's easier to see the full picture from up here. We don't always have to want more.


In a sense, our children have always had less than we had in terms of community, social ties, values, culture etc, and this has changed probably for good as a result of the lifestyle of a lot of the western world. I suspect a lot of this will get quite decadent, and the people able to for example jet around the world and consume along a throwaway lifestyle will be greatly reduced and probably seen in a very different light.


So our social ties will be different in the future - when no centralised service will be able to provide what it has done so far, things will have to switch back to how they were before, - and perhaps with birth control or just more painfully natural selection we can get back to a reasonable pre 1900s size as a population. So communities will be important as there will be less direct contact with those far away. Technology as a practical skill will hopefully be widespread enough that more people can make use of it to power their own local lives. We can build a water heater using a wood burning stove to provide hot water, we can make a DIY solar panel to recharge batteries for small bits of expensive technology that we might be able to still buy from any remaining big industry, or to simply light our houses at night. Small electronics can also be run by cycle power - that's right! We can keep fit and still have parties with loud amplified music, and run hi tech gadgets in faraway places, using devices pioneered at raves! The only difficulty is in making the things that would be powered through it. I suspect technological gadgets will need to be able to be locally renewable or mines for the bits needed will become a really important energy resource for the next century - and maybe the states around those mines will fuel the next generation's wars, but that's only if said gadgets actually have some use or other. One use is communication - to allow us to use one other resource which we've not actually realised we have yet:


Organisation Theory: In 100 years of very large and complex, ever changing and largely competitive but also synergic organisations - we have learnt a great deal about this and can now use - as Adam Smith once dreamt, the real power of humanity to build our dreams. But not in a capitalist dumb-workforce way or a communist power to the people (with free dictator) way either - simply everyone clubbing together and using learnt organisational systems to get shit done because it needs doing - so we might all run local post services, or if we have wireless, allow packets through our networks, and we'd be in touch with the powers that be (because they have that annoying tendency to "be"), and with our neighbours. We might even, like the Andean communities where some of my ancestors came from, have festival systems for encouraging trade and good relations.


Like at any time in human history, we have a chance to shine or make this a dark time. I opt for the less violent and more cooperative way - so that my children can have more than I did at least in that way.


So, what then? A masters degree in social networks and decentralised organisational systems/IT structures? Go to the states and get some money together? Look for random ecovillages in Italy or in Bolivia (where there may be more natural gas, and there may also be war in a few years time, help - where is safe?). Or just start taking these things on much more seriously in general.


It may be urgent, but I'm going to get nowhere by reacting based on fear - I have to keep looking at the problem from my viewpoint here at the top of our J-Shaped Curve. It's a turning point for humanity. Will we be the first to intelligently adapt to our environment by switching to a type of population for whom hunger for more is no longer the fundamental life state.

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