The word “unsustainable” has probably been mentioned in at least half of my 272 daily blogs. Sustainability is the “capacity to endure,” something that our typical Western diet does not have — for a number of reasons. But today, I want to focus on the energy requirement of producing that diet, specifically as it relates to the availability and steadily escalating prices of oil.
History will record the brief 150-year period (1900 to 2050) when humankind almost totally exhausted the several trillion barrels of oil that it took Nature 4 billion years to produce. The history books in the year 2200 may read something like this:
Living a wildly wasteful lifestyle, the humans of the period from 1900 to 2050 learned how to extract crude oil in great quantities from miles beneath the ocean, as they blindly exploited this finite natural resource. They wasted this cheap energy source in every aspect of their lives — behaving as if it would last forever.
But along about 2015, they realized that they could no longer find oil fast enough to keep up with demand — no matter how deep and how fast they were drilling. And that’s when, things started to change in a big way. Now realizing that crude oil was a finite resource, the laws of supply and demand kicked in and prices rose sharply to unprecedented levels.
Those sharply higher prices forced people everywhere to make some big changes in the way they were living, particularly in the way the wealthier one-third of the world was eating. Forced to return to the natural diet for our species for energy reasons, they were delighted to find that their overall quality of life improved as well. Gradually, from 2020 to 2070, when virtually all humans shifted back to plant-based, some unexpected benefits appeared. Among them, people became much healthier and just as the fuel prices increased rapidly, the cost of health care started coming down.
Another benefit for all of us alive today, is that the global environment, that had suffered so much damage during the previous century, began an almost miraculous comeback. Looking back, we can now see how fortunate it was for the future of humankind that there was an end to the era of cheap oil that fueled a wildly harmful and wasteful lifestyle that almost destroyed the world as we know it.
Now that’s the good news and all is well that ends well. Now for the bad news. We’re still in 2011, still using oil as if it will last forever and still living the wildly harmful and wasteful lifestyle described above in the history book. And we are the ones who must begin the inevitable change. In an earlier blog, I stated my premise about our inevitable return to the natural diet for our species; with the only uncertainties being “for what reasons?” and “how quickly?”
The end of cheap oil may be our friend; for without it, we would possibly continue down the same path of ill health, environmental damage and starving people. But as we begin to understand what we must do in the aftermath of cheap oil, we will be better equipped to manage that change — and hopefully minimizing the chaos, pain and violence that we will suffer.
The more we learn about the “end of the era of cheap oil,” the better we will be able to manage the transformation into a world without it. We’ll still have oil, but it will be very expensive and will no longer be feasible to use in such wasteful processes as our Western diet of meat and dairy three meals a day. So I pulled together four articles on this topic from the past six months; hopefully they may be helpful in our collective process of learning more about what lies ahead.
1. High gas prices — the silver lining…As difficult as it may seem, there is a great deal of good news when it comes to rising gas prices — there is also a great deal of pain. But this post is all about the good news. Happy … Continue reading →
2. The future of food; must we be forced to change? This Thursday evening (May 12, 2011), I will be part of a three-person panel at a local community center in Stonington, CT. Our topic is the “future of food.” The other two panel members are a local organic farmer and … Continue reading →
3. Finite Fossil Fuels…3 ways to make them last longer We know they’re finite…but we’re using them as if they will last forever. The residents of New York City are among the most energy efficient of all citizens of the United States. They achieve that distinction by being exceptionally efficient … Continue reading →
4. Peak Oil — Food Supply — Global Economy. All connected? In addition to automobiles and airplanes, oil has a great deal to do with our food supply and the unsustainability thereof. Since beginning this blog in February 2011, I have featured the “peak oil” phenomenon in a number of my … Continue reading →
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