photo: escher_47/Creative Commons
There's been a lot written lately about more and more people in high places recognizing peak oil isn't just something cranky ex-petroleum geologists and environmentalists reading too much Jared Diamond go on about. In fact both those groups have probably been right all along about peak oil, and it increasingly looks like we are either already in the downward slope from Hubbert's peak or we will certainly be soon. But how steep with the path down from the peak be, and will everyone be effected similarly?
A new piece over at The Oil Drum has an interesting insight, based on the notion that oil production could well be hit by economic and geopolitical constraints that limit what is actually pumped:
An economy needs a certain level of energy just to keep its infrastructure (roads, bridges, schools, medical system, etc.) repaired and working, and citizens educated. So energy resources, to really be useful, need an EROEI significantly higher than 1 to maintain the system at its current level of functioning. [...] If the average EROEI available to society is falling because oil is becoming more and more difficult to extract, an economy with a high standard of living such as the US would seem likely to be affected before an economy with a lower standard of living, such as China or India or Bangladesh, because of the higher EROEI needs of the more extensive infrastructure. Ultimately, though, the world is one economy, so problems in one country are likely to affect the economies of other countries as well.
Read that last part again and move focus out to other resources as well. Basically it means that those places with high levels of energy use and resource consumption, though better off now in the short term, in a world where oil is more scarce and more expensive, where other resources are likewise constrained, the effect can actually be greater as the base energy needs and base expectations of energy use are so much higher. There's greater dependency on oil, so when it's taken away the withdrawal symptoms are greater.
We're already seeing this when fuel prices rise, it's not likely to get better in the long run as long as our nation is developed around the automobile.