Resiliency & Peak Oil

by Joshua on July 19, 2010 · 8 comments

Something I have been thinking a lot about lately is resiliency, both personal and communal. It’s a main topic in the book of the month, The Transition Handbook, too. What is resilience? It is the ability of a system to absorb or adapt to external changes and shocks. Essentially, it’s the ability to roll with the punches. This seems to me to be an incredibly valuable trait to have as a strong, independent human being. More importantly, it’s something we should instill in our communities and the systems upon which we rely for sustaining and enriching our lives.

We seem to be talking a lot about climate change lately, yet we should be just as worried about peak oil. I am begining to think we should worry a bit more about it, actually. Oil is in everything. Either directly or indirectly, oil rules our lives and touches everything we rely on. So what happens when we run out? Well, it’s not as important as what happens after the peak. After we cross the point of less supply yet increasing demand.

After the peak prices go up, quickly. The rise in oil prices will result in a rise in food prices, clothing prices, transportation costs, and just about everything else. This wave of cost increases will make it very difficult for everyone who is not extremely rich, especially those of us in the middle class, and even more so for those near or just under the poverty level.

Watch this little video and think about how your community. Are you fostering resilience? Perhaps you should investigate the Transition Movement, too.

Oh, a site note: I am officially a licensed professional engineer. I passed my exams. Cheers!

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

@maximi1ian July 19, 2010 at 20:48

I like that you’re speaking in a dialect of adaptation and resiliency, Joshua. So many people these days talk about ‘sustainability’ out of some kind of emotivist fear of decay, ungrowth, and inevitable controlled collapse. I’ve thought for a while that aspiring to harmony in change is the more pragmatic alternative to the untenable notions of stasis and total control that come packaged with the ‘sustainable’.

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Joshua July 19, 2010 at 21:00

Thanks, Max! Yea, I think that there are many in the sustainability crowd that are just as much pragmatic as they are idealistic (myself, for instance), yet there is definitely a contingency of fear. This is usually grounded in a fear of failure – that climate change is going to destroy us all – or out of guilt, perhaps? I don’t know.

Even I have a worry in the back of my mind that the hard road of societal breakdown might be looming. However, building resilience can be a very positive response to the challenges we face. It is one that improves our personal and/or communal well-being as well as providing security for a more prosperous future. Because, if you can roll with the punches, you can be more assured that climate change and peak oil do not necessarily mean the end of your society. Plus, all the things that build resilience also seem to make life better.

I’m glad I put the Transition Handbook up as my book of the month, it’s been a great read and very inspiring for me. Thanks for your comment!

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Nick Palmer July 21, 2010 at 15:40

Hi Joshua.

A side effect of Peak Oil will be that, as the price of oil derived energy rises, it will inevitably surpass the cost of renewables which will then instantly be the favoured choice of everybody without legislation, coercion, publicity or appeals to altruism.

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Joshua July 21, 2010 at 15:48

Nick,

I want to agree with you, I really do. However, I have a feeling that because nearly everything in modern society comes in one part or another from oil, including the production of said renewables, this process won’t be so cut-and-dry. I think that you’re probably right in regards to power generation, but even with renewable energy – it might be cheaper to use it, yet more expensive to produce, ship, and build without cheap oil.

However is plays out it will surely be a good idea for us to work now to become less dependent on cheap oil.

Cheers,
Joshua

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Nick Palmer July 26, 2010 at 04:57

Joshua,

There’s an initial barrier to widespread replacement of fossil fuels with renewables. The extraction of materials, fabrication, transport and installation of renewable technologies, right now, is mostly powered by fossil fuels – so bean counters could point to simplistic Life Cycle Analyses (LCA’s) and play down the economic and environmental benefits, or long term value, of making the switch.

I think we should adopt a “build it and they will come” (Field of Dreams) approach to investing in production of renewable technologies. At some point the resultant renewable energy going into the grid will substitute for fossil fuelled energy and, at that point, the LCA’s will start to “flip” and both the economics and environmental aspects will transform themselves in a snowball effect.

Peaked fossil fuels will also be getting more expensive/less available during this time, so we will have an expanding virtuous circle.

I’m optimistic that the above will happen, I just have reservations about whether it will happen in time to fend off unstoppable positive feedback climate change, let alone what is already in the pipeline.

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Nick Palmer July 26, 2010 at 05:28

Oh, BTW it was your colleague Scott’s post about

Stuck on the bus – a ref to “Speed”(with Keanu Reeves) that sparked off my “Field of Dreams” ref…

Like much of what we have to do to get to a sustainable, resilient, durable civilisation, our initial strategies won’t always make complete sense measured with the yard sticks of success that we currently use.

I’ve often said that things like incineration with energy recovery, which are often touted as a green way of dealing with waste, are rather like jumping 6 feet over a 20 foot wide crevasse, on the other side of which is “sustainability”. For a while you’re heading fast towards the other side but you inevitably end up broken at the bottom. Maybe a better strategy is to go backwards for a while to get a “run up” (the French call it “reculer pour mieux sauter” to redesign stuff so that the gap can be cleared in one big jump.

Alternatively, one could take a long sideways detour around the crevasse. What we need to guard against is the siren voices that offer quick fix “six foot jump” solutions because, unfortunately such ideas are very attractive to most bureaucrats, planning and government types who only think in “jobsworth” terms of box ticking, five year strategies and electoral terms.

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Joshua July 26, 2010 at 13:32

Nick,

Excellent! I love your 6-foot jump over a 20-foot crevasse – that is a great way to describe these green-washed “solutions” like burning garbage to generate power or finding “clean coal” (the ultimate green-washing, I think we’ll find perpetual motion before we create clean coal).

I think you’re absolutely correct with the “build it and they will come” mindset for creating our renewable energy future. I just hope we can overcome the shocks of oil and still maintain the ability to transition to a renewable, sustainable system. I would prefer we did it before the peak oil really creates problems. If not, hopefully the casualties will be few.

Cheers,
Joshua

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