Monday, June 26, 2006


Some problems with the Olduvai Post Industrial Theory

In reading some interesting stuff while browsing the web, I came upon a site with the Olduvai Theory of a Post Industrial Stone Age. Yes, I do believe there will be some economic and socio-political consequences of Peak Oil, but that everyone will go back to living in stone age conditions is a bit exaggerated. There are two major problems to the Olduvai Post Industrial Theory as it neglects to account for technical improvements in energy efficiency and sustainable energy (wind, solar) and resources (materials recycling). Yeah, a guy in 1970 might use more energy than a guy in 2000 per capita. But if the guy in 1970 is using 100w incandescent lightbulbs and the guy in 2000 is using 13w compact flourescents, the guy in 2000 is making more effective use of his per capita energy consumption. If technology trends continue, the guy in 2015 will be lighting his house with 4w LED based lighting, and still managing to get by at the same comfort level on even less energy. Likewise the other problem with the Olduvai Post Industrial Theory is about raw materials. Recycling from pre-processed materials usually takes less energy than from raw materials, and can be sustainable. The real problem isn't with overall sustainability of resources, but with stupidity involved in unsustainable and uncontrolled population growth. (Thus less per-capita available resources.)

Yes, there will be areas of the world that do return to a more primitive state (most likely those that have most recently left it.) Yes, there will be difficulty in sustaining population growth as petrol based agriculture and trade will have to make extreme changes. But there will still be pockets of fairly well industrialized areas which will make use of non-fossil resources and recycling. Trade can adapt by making use of electric power for freight rail, wind for ocean shipping (like the old days of sail, but think of huge kevlar kites doing the pulling.) Air travel will seriously cut back, but existing propulsion technology should be easily convertable to bio-fuels. Veggie oil will probably replace JP-whatever, as well as diesel. However other transportation based infrastructure will have to change, as distance commuting for the individual will no longer be economical. Likewise the current global productivity model of economics will fail, as it becomes cheaper to produce goods on-site, as shipping them will eat up any cost benefits of manufacture in a cheaper labor market. Mass transit will make a comeback, and if the electric car doesn't make a big jump - the bicycle will again be the personal vehicle of choice.

Humanity won't go back to the stone age, it will maintain a civilized technical infrastructure of more limited means. (Unless there's an unforseen energy breakthrough.)

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?