Global Warming: Blessing in disguise?

A contrarian rant, to be taken with a grain of salt:

History tells us that when a civilization runs out of some critical resource, the result is usually the collapse of that civilization. Only the most adept and flexible civilizations can avoid this fate.

Our civilization’s critical resource is petroleum, and it is going to run out some day. Not all at once – rather, what will happen is that oil will become increasingly scarce as the years go by, with the price per barrel rising higher and higher each year. Many experts have said that if we have not already reached “peak oil” – the historical moment of maximum oil production, followed by a downward slope – that we are very close to it. The nations of the world – many of which have an increasing demand for oil – will find themselves squabbling over slices of an ever-decreasing pie.

This will no doubt lead to increasing international tensions, and probably war. Whether or not you think that the current US involvement in the Middle East is motivated by oil, the fact is that as the price of oil increases, the possibility of war becomes ever more likely. Especially given the relationship between oil and food prices, you can well imagine that a world leader, faced with a crashing economy and a hungry populace, might choose a military solution.

Everyone alive today has been blessed with the fact that they are living in a golden age – an age of unprecedented peace and prosperity. Although we have a tendency to focus on the miseries of current events, the fact is that world has been getting steadily better (with occasional fits and starts) for the last 700 years or so.

But all of that could come crashing down if we run out of oil. 

But what about alternatives – Nuclear, solar, wind, geothermal, and so on? The question is how quickly we can make the transition. National infrastructures aren’t built in a day, and if recent history is any guide, they aren’t built in a decade either.

Take for example the auto companies response to higher gasoline prices: They knew that it was coming, yet they continued to maintain production lines for gas-guzzling SUVs until the very last possible moment, when it became clear that they simply could not sell them any more. And now they are frantically trying to retool to build hybrids, but they can’t switch over quickly enough.

There’s no reason to believe that we as a society would be any less short-sighted. We would continue to ignore the problem until we absolutely had to do something about it – and by then it would be too late.

But suppose – what if there were another factor in the equation – something that would create a powerful incentive to reduce our use of oil before became scarce? Something that would motivate us to stay ahead of the increasing price curve, so that instead of reducing supply, it would reduce demand? It would need to be a strong motivation, on the order of a threat to our survival and prosperity, otherwise we would (again) dismiss and ignore it.

I think by now you can see what I am (ahem) driving at.

16 Responses to “Global Warming: Blessing in disguise?”

  1. red craig Says:

    Your pessimistic outlook could be too optimistic. The world has known for decades that burning fossil fuels kills people by the many thousands, attacks plant life, and poisons the soil and water in all its locations. That should have been ample reason to turn away from fossil fuels. Those harms have been immediate and direct, while global warming is still moderate and indistinct. It’s hard to see how the threat of climate change could be more effective than the actuality of pollution.

  2. Basalt Says:

    Actually the point about ‘pollution’ supports Talin’s argument. The immediate effects of pollution were bad enough to cause a switch to less polluting engines, even though they are more expensive.
    What makes Global Warming different is that C02 is a fundamental element of the use of organic fuels, so fixing that pollution will require switching fuels. Even if it’s more expensive.

  3. Tim Schultz Says:

    Truly a positive take on the situation. I would like to think that now is the time for innovation. America is a strong nation because we usually come face to face with these situations and excel. Mostly because our free market attracts brilliant minds. I just saw that Google put up this Project 10 to the 100 (http://www.project10tothe100.com/index.html) that seems to push the theory that our free market will do what it can to get over this hump. Tesla Motors have shown a viable battery solution. Hopefully their 60k car and 30k car will come out sooner than later and push the auto market into breaking their long ties with the gasoline companies. Of course then they may team up with Edison and other power companies to start feeding the green eyed monster there.

    P.S. You used to know my father Gary Schultz. I was playing Faery Tale Adventure a year or so back when I had a Amiga enulator working on my OSX machine. Still a fantastic game. Love that witch and the golden lasso. Found your site very randomly through a valleywag.com article. Hope you are doing well and still have that bastard knife I have dreamt of owning since I was 10.

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  14. Deus Says:

    “Everyone alive today has been blessed with the fact that they are living in a golden age”.

    Are you serious!? What planet are you on!?

    The oil cartel(s) have(has) ensured that the planet has remained in a stunted state of development, perpetuating dirty energy, resource (wealth/power) wars etc.

    Nikolai Tesla (and others since) offered humans an alternative to all of this and it was denied to everyone by exceedingly evil, greedy persons.

    For you to be going on about the ‘peak oil’ scenario is quite ill informed.

    I can perceive that you like to consider yourself a very enlightened intellectual, but I’m afraid you are going to have to work at it a bit more, or go back to game design, you’re excellent at that.

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