Imminent Oil Industry Disruption? Norway May Soon Help Us Test the Hypothesis

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CC BY-SA 2.0. David Villarreal Fernández

When I wrote about disruption to the oil industry being much closer than we think, I mused about the various unpredictable, non-linear ways that our infrastructure will change once oil demand dips below a certain point (and it doesn't have to drop that much to impact economic viability). From disappearing gas stations and auto repair shops to a growing number of electric charging points, I suspect many factors will contribute to an overall "tipping point" where internal combustion engine (ICE) cars no longer make sense.

We may get to test this hypothesis out soon, because Norway is showing every sign of reaching the tipping point early. Consider these headlines which didn't make it into my previous oil disruption post:

37% of passenger cars sold last month in Norway were plug-ins
—Oslo is offering residents up to $1,200 incentives to buy an electric cargo bike
—Let's not forget also that Oslo is aiming to ban cars from the city center and halve carbon emissions in just four years, while the country invests $1bn in bike superhighways

If these measures don't result in a serious shift in oil demand, then we environmentalists have our work cut out in figuring a path forward globally. However if they do, as I suspect, contribute to a tipping point of sorts where oil-free transportation becomes the norm, not the exception, then we'll be seeing both a glimpse of the future and some signposts of how to get there.

Sure, government incentives to buy an electric cargo bike might be an easier sell in social democratic Scandinavia than it would be in deep red Mississippi, for example, but there's something for everyone in Norway's multi-pronged approach. And because the oil industry is global, collapsing demand in Norway will impact economic viability elsewhere. So every country, every city, every community, everywhere, will eventually have to grapple with how to move beyond oil.

This could get very interesting fast.