Peak Oil and El Nino – what do our presidentiables have to say?

In the “breakfast talk show” I catch every morning as I prepare for work, one of the guests was a guy talking about Peak Oil. Relying on my stock knowledge on that term (not being able to google it for now) I recall that Peak Oil is a concept that refers to the looming simultaneous cresting of both (1) humanity’s energy consumption and (2) output capacities of known viable petroleum reserves. The theory there is that the decline in both will happen at the same time — as energy supply declines, its prices rise, which then triggers a decline in overall consumption. That decline in consumption induced by that energy supply squeeze will then wreak havoc on economies premised on perpetual growth.

For the last 150-odd years, we as a species have built an entire lifestyle around fossil fuel powered efficiency. The thinking that underpins this flavour of “efficiency” is that we place a premium on the cost of human capital employed to do work over the cost of non-human resources consumed in the same process. This simply means that we have locked ourselves into the following prisons:

(1) an inclination primarily to consuming whatever volume of non-human resources it takes to reduce the amount of human work required for a task;

(2) reliance on a financial and monetary system that keeps an incomplete score of what the above inclination is actually costing us; and,

(3) dependence on “economic growth” as the key underpinning to maintaining what we see to be the standard of living we are “entitled” to.

The trouble with all this fundametally lies in how we consume rather than capitalise or save much if not all of the efficiency gains we’ve achieved over the last century and a half. For example, when we mechanised transport, what did we end up doing? We travelled more. When indoor plumbing freed up time we would have normally spent hauling water in buckets from the community well, we used that extra time to, say, watch movies; which, in turn, created a bigger and bigger market for cinema production. More commercial activity created more jobs and raised incomes. More income coupled with more time in our hands gave us more opportunity to consume.

That exponential increase in a parameter (in this case, consumption) due to a cycle of increases spawned by preceding increases is what mathematicians and physicist call a positive feedback loop. And indeed, as with consumption, the more we consume, the more we increase our capacity to consume which, in turn, further induces consumption.

Where or when will it all end?

That’s easy — when someone pulls the plug. There is pretty much only one ultimate fuel that powers our species’ entire way of life — petroleum. Everything that allows us to do stuff fast and cheap is powered by one form of petroleum-based product or another. Petroleum, of course, will not simply “run out” over the next 100-200 years. Rather it will become harder to extract. There are petroleum deposits all over the planet, but the reason those little desert kingdoms are such hot real estate at the moment is because Persian Gulf oil reserves are the most easily accessible deposits. The North Sea, for example is said to be home to petroleum deposits that utterly dwarf those found in Arab-controlled parts of the world. The trouble is North Sea oil is less accessible given current technologies. But then Persian Gulf oil is being depleted (not to mention being fought over in increasingly destructive petroleum-consuming wars).

For much of the technological world, it then simply becomes a race between our efforts to develop better extraction technologies and processes and the rate at which Persian Gulf oil is being depleted. Given the advanced world’s track record of facing big challenges, it is very likely that there are measures already being taken to at least reduce the effects of the coming crisis. Add in efforts to develop non-petroleum energy sources and machines and devices that can be powered by those and we can still make a case for a bright (and well-lit) future as far as maintaining our current way of life is concerned.

But here’s the thing. All roads lead back to how well the Philippines is positioned to meet those challenges head on. We are a net importer of fuel and food. We’ve never exhibited a strong inclination to plan and prepare for even foreseeable catastrophes and as such, it is a bit of a stretch to expect our lot to be prepared for long term threats to our way of life.

Already, the wrath of the beginning of the next El Nino cycle is already being felt as crops begin to fail across the Philippine archipelago. Far from being food-secure, the Philippines is pathetically dependent on foreign food for survival. Not only do we import the rice that we eat we also import the grain that we feed the animals from which we source our meat.

[The above video was produced at the time the Philippines reeled from astronomical rice prices. Not much in the way of permanent solutions have been implemented since.]

Indeed, the immediate threat to the Philippines is not even the energy shortage I described above although that could likely lead to the supply chain that puts food on our tables grinding to a halt. The immediate threat for now is a shortage of our staple food itself. But you see, a truly great people see their prospects of prevailing in the face of huge challenges as a collective undertaking. There is still time to step up to greatness — and it begins with choosing the candidate who can facilitate the process of us collectively coming up with the right solutions over the next six years.

Some commentors have asked us in recent days: What’s next for when the elections are over? The answer to that is staring us in the face. The next six years will see us needing to step up to challenges the natures of which fly right over the heads of even our most revered social commentators and the Media Oligarchs that employ them. Given our sorry track record of focusing on the petty, the irrelevant, and the small, it’s time we choose the right medium via which we take our politicians to task. steps up to that role as a real alternative to the traditional Philippine Media that had consistently failed us on many counts.

Look no further than today’s “campaign”. Some of our more poetic “experts” will have us believe that the biggest challenge that lies ahead involves a continuation of the Aquino clan’s nebulous Laban (“fight”) initiative.

I don’t think so.

Above in this article one will find one of the bigger and more real challenges that our hapless nation faces. How can we be a true sovereign nation when control over our fuel and food supply is in the hands of foreigners?

Any answers Messrs Aquino, Villar, Gordon, Teordoro, et al?

I’m not holding my breath though…


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6 Responses to Peak Oil and El Nino – what do our presidentiables have to say?

  1. ChinoF says:

    We sure could ask what they have to say about WORLD affairs… it’ll show whether these blokes are given to ethnocentrism or not. The Philippines is not the only world around anyway, and what happens in the world will affect us.

  2. Homer says:

    Countries with the most access to natural resources wins.

    There’s a “bigger picture” concerning the state of our nation that traditional media has ignored for the longest time. Either that, or they simply won’t touch the topic. WHY?

    That huge U.S. military base in Mindanao for example…why does no one ever talk about it?

    Too bad…..some light could be shed on the REAL score concerning U.S. hegemony in the Philippines. I can almost sense that the truth (and the whole truth) about this would be shocking to some.

  3. BenK says:

    We had what seemed to be the first of the “scheduled brownouts” this morning; two hours seems like a LONG time when you can’t make coffee, turn on the computer, or take a leak (our well pump is electrically-powered). Unlike some issues that may seem a bit abstract to people, food and energy security are problems that will inevitably make themselves very easily understandable by everyone, unfortunately.

  4. benign0 says:

    Well, the Philippines was actually rich in natural resources. But that is only true if we consider it from the perspective of 1960’s population level. Trouble is we grew our population without a commensurate growth in productivity levels and without a commensurate growth in our capital base.

    But regardless, most of the world will in the foreseeable future have to somehow change lifestyles. The trouble is, the Philippines does not seem to be in a position to absorb any further change. It’s pretty much leading a precarious existence. A small tip in the global market for rice or small blips in the price of oil pretty much pushes it to the brink of economic catastrophe. A more protracted change in the supply and dynamics of those commodities could push it over the edge.

    There are no state-controlled transport systems to absorb any failures in private-sector controlled mass transit. State food agencies such as the NFA consistently fail to stabilise the market for foodstuffs when shortages and price volatility erupt. The Philippine economy is a free market, but it is like a small dingy floating in open seas and is in no real position to weather the sort of storm that economies analogous to big ocean-faring ships are built to slice through.

    Perhaps this ‘bigger picture’ awareness amongst the rich is evident in the way they routinely squirrel away significant chunks of their assets out of the country and park them in banks and property overseas, or the way they purposely go to, say, the U.S. to give birth in order to secure future residency for their offspring. They’ve got private security forces within their enclaves and are themselves personally armed to the teeth with high-powered weapons stored within their own homes.

    I believe the rich are already prepared and have Plan B’s for their families in the event of catastrophic collapse or violent civil unrest in the Philippines (much the same way as some elite families had passport to the arks in the movie 2014). After all, the Pinoy rich are a tough breed of entrepeneurs. They managed to make it big in the volatile and high risk business environment there. So I’ll bet they’re not as complacent as ordinary people are made to believe.

  5. FreeSince09 says:

    I get this nagging feeling that will be fighting for food, oil and water in the very near future. Like that Mel Gibson movie in a post-apocalyptic world.

    Just a thought

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