Aftermath: World Without Oil

I recently was looking for music videos and found a documentary made in 2010 which looks at peak oil (quite out of place in that section of the well known video site).  It does so from the unusual and extreme perspective that all the oil left in the ground vanishes overnight.  At first I found this premise unrealistic and annoying, its more reminiscent of the plot of a feature film or sci-fi novel.  However, as a means of pointing up our addiction to the black stuff it works quite well once you have got used to the idea.

The film looks at the world (mostly America) a few days, weeks, months, 10 years and forty years after the sudden disappearance of the oil.  I won’t go through the scenarios as they play out in case you do want to watch it- but pull out of the broad themes.   What is surprising is how much it gets right.  I know I shouldn’t be surprised but I am.

For example we cannot substitute biofuels for oil in sufficient quantities to provide for all  transport.  In addition a choice has to be made between eating and driving.  In the end algae is used to provide biodiesel for essential transport and a limited number of vehicles run on electricity.  This is broadly what we say in our book.

The issue of growing food without oil is addressed reasonably well.  At the end its not clear how the food system does plow and distribute food although its made clear that every house with land is growing as much as they can and streets, carparks and buildings look like the hanging gardens of Babylon (some good CGI work here).

World Without Oil also captures the change in culture well with globalisation over and food and power distribution failing people are collecting and recycling anything they can get their hands on to trade and moving to a very localised economy.  The oil dependency of everything in everyday use is shown.  Natural gas is used as a substitute to make plastics (for medical supplies), but along with coal by the end of the film is starting to run out-leaving questions about how to replace them.

There are some things left out.  Whilst there is mention of much reduced pollution, there is mention of climate change throughout.  There is no mention of renewables (or nuclear) throughout.  A big problem for conventional power plants is that most of the means of getting fuel to them involves oil.  This includes nuclear which as we point out in our book is highly oil dependent (the person who put the comment on Imdb saying nukes in Florida would not be affected is wrong).  However, the purported power cuts would have been mitigated by renewables to an extent in the US and some countries wouldn’t have noticed much in terms of electricity (Norway).  There is also no mention of micro-generation in the 10 and 40 years scenario.  This is surprising since it would offer people a way out to an extent from higher prices and bring some energy security.  No mention of how and how well the worlds economies function (apart from Saudi Arabia which doesn’t).

The final thing left out is how community would be built.  Small groups of friends are shown cooperating on various schemes (one involves stealing) and there is implied community action in the urban farming but it would have been nice to see more on this vital area of surviving peak oil.  This is where the church could really score.

Of course the oil is not suddenly going to run out.  The effects are insidious.  But the early signs are there.  Higher prices, volatile prices of oil, gas, food etc.  Globalisation starting to go into reverse. The question is are we going to ignore the signs or cooperate and find a way through.

Neil

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