[NOTE: This series (first one here) spins off from a recent series of posts in which I’ve discussed the need for all of us to move in a new direction as we anticipate the challenges to be confronted as a result of declining oil production in the years to come. The impact will be felt by all of us in one degree or another (a separate series, which began here and was re-established more recently here, addresses some of the day-to-day impacts.) It’s time to turn our attention to what the New Direction might be….]
“We have designed and built the infrastructure of our transport, electricity, food, and heating systems to suit the unique characteristics of oil, natural gas, and coal; changing to different energy sources will require the redesign of many aspects of those systems.” 
Of the many great challenges to be faced as we enter a future with at best uncertain energy supplies, perhaps the most significant one of all is the one so clearly expressed by Richard Heinberg above. Nothing about that process of redesign—start to finish—will be easy, simple, quick, or inexpensive. But the statement encapsulates the full scope of what we face. Daunting to be sure, with prospects for success not guaranteed by any means. Only the most delusional will fail to recognize what’s at stake and what must be dealt with by all of us. If you depend in any way—as producer or consumer—on infrastructure, transportation, electricity, food, or heating, Peak Oil will touch your life.
We can give in to the fears that this is simply too overwhelming a task for us. That’s a choice. Another option is to recognize that these challenges afford us the most opportunity for progress, change, some semblance of continuing growth, and prosperity. Plan for a great deal of trial and error. The more of us who choose to become involved, the greater our chances of successfully meeting, overcoming, and adapting successfully to the changes Peak Oil will impose.
It should go without saying, but sadly does not, that curtailing investments in education and research and infrastructure, while doing all that we can to remove the federal government from playing any role in our lives going forward, is just about the dumbest choice we can make. Re-read the few paragraphs above once again if you think that there is some easy and quick solution for this, or any rational solution at all, that can or will be successfully implemented at any level without a greater emphasis on education and research and infrastructure spending, all and only made possible with the federal government supplying us with the framework to make any of this possible. Best of luck to you if you think so.
The onset of Peak Oil has been a long time coming. Not that we can afford to do so, but if we are looking for someone to blame, we all need to look inward. The warnings, ephemeral as they may have been, have been with us for decades. But we did not want to alter the pace of progress and prosperity in order to reflect on where we were going and how we were going to get there, and we have now traveled a good long way down a path of prosperity and progress that will not lead us to any good places at the end of the road.
The farther we continue to travel down that path which relies on fossil fuels to sustain us rather than on a new one marked “new future with new and necessary alternatives”, the longer and more difficult will our backtracking be. What supplied us on the front part of the journey will no longer be there for us on the ride back. We’re going to have to create entirely new systems and infrastructures and modes of production and transportation—or at the very least re-build extensively—in order to adapt to new sources of energy. So relying on current conditions and practices and customs and tinkering only along the edges simply won’t work because we are going to be dependent on entirely different energy resources.
And as I noted several months ago: “Just to keep things interesting, the transition from an oil-based industrial economy to Whatever-Plan-B-Will-Be will have to be achieved using that same declining measure of supply to design and construct and transport and put into place the infrastructure we’ll need to support and maintain this as yet unidentified and not-planned-for-yet Plan B, thus making less available to us for all of our ‘normal’ demands and needs, creating its own set of problems. We’re talking about using a lot of declining energy supplies that’s a lot more expensive, over the course of a lot of years to put into operation a lot of new industrial and economic and civic foundations to (we hope) enable us to maintain some semblance of growth and prosperity—all while using new energy resources that simply will not be as efficient or inexpensive or dependable as oil has been.”
Do we really want to wait even longer so that we make the transition that much more difficult and painful?
A few hundred thousand cities or towns, or several million businesses, or a few hundred million people trying to figure out what to do on their own … not such a good strategy. We cannot isolate bits and pieces of living and producing so as to improve this set of conditions or that lifestyle or this region or that interest group. Everyone and everything will be affected by the decline in conventional oil production and a reliance instead on less efficient unconventional or alternative resources. Without an overall strategy and purpose for what we need do, constrained as we will be going forward, we provide instead a certain recipe for failure.
If nothing else, we’ll need to recognize that, like climate change, Peak Oil is not some event looming on a distant horizon. Peak Oil is happening now. We may not be seeing its effects inside our own home—today—but the impact is being felt, and it will only get progressively more intense as time passes. Not next week or next month or even next year will its impact be obvious to all but the most rigidly delusional, but make no mistake, all the supply and demand factors which contribute to the slide down the other side of that peak in production rate are now in place. We may not notice a handful of snow as it begins its slide down the mountain, either, but we can’t miss it once it’s picked up unstoppable momentum farther down the slope.
So addressing concerns that will get us through just the next few years is not enough, either, and ultimately will be a greater waste of even fewer resources (Can you say “Drill, baby, drill?”). We will have limited resources as it is. Do we use them up in band-aid fashion to deal with what we have to deal with only in the moment, thus creating perhaps unsolvable problems in the years to come? Putting us that much further behind at a time when we will be least able to afford it is not a viable option. (Sounds better than the more direct: “… is an incredibly dumb option.”)
Leaders will need to lead, and so too will we need to pool our own talents and resources and creativity to make the process work. We can minimize the fear and panic that may well up for some who now feel so powerless, and the best antidote will be collective effort beginning at the national level and extending all the way to our own local communities. We’ll need to always maximize efficiencies and utilize economies of scale so that we’re not perpetuating ineffective policies and practices by lack of coordination and planning. The more we all participate and share in the vision for a better future, the better off we’ll all be.
We either take the lead and devote our massive abilities and talents to revitalizing our nation and what we’ll achieve and be in this century—predicated on new rules with new resources and new objectives and new adaptations—or we retrench and insist on business as usual because we’re exceptional….
Back in November and shortly after the mid-term elections, New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote an interesting piece on a “National Greatness Agenda.” His suggestions and inspirations then ring just as true today—perhaps more so:
“I’m optimistic right now. I’m optimistic because while our political system is a mess, the economic and social values of the country remain sound. My optimism is also based on the conviction that serious, vibrant societies don’t sit by and do nothing as their governments drive off a cliff….
“[Y]ou can organize [a movement] around a broad revitalization agenda, and, above all, love of country….
“It will take a revived patriotism to motivate Americans to do what needs to be done. It will take a revived patriotism to lift people out of their partisan cliques. How can you love your country if you hate the other half of it?”
A good and important question. Let’s find our best answers. We’re going to need a lot of them.
[NOTE: on vacation next week. No postings]
 http://old.globalpublicmedia.com/memo_to_the_president_elect; Museletter : Memo to the President-elect on Energy Realism and the Green New Deal; December 2008