Robert Hirsch was the lead author of a Department of Energy report commonly called "The Hirsch Report," otherwise known as "Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation, and Risk Management." Published in 2005, it is a frank public and scientific acknowledgment of imminent worldwide peak of oil production, and is the most significant single piece of evidence that the U.S. government is aware of "Peak Oil." Hirsch's report was one of the first "mainstream" acknowledgments of the phenomenon of peak oil, one that has begun to be more widely publicized by more of the mainstream press, even if the vast majority of Americans still are wholly unaware of a drastically different future.
Recently Robert Hirsch gave an interview at the annual meeting of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil, which met a short while ago in Houston, Texas. His words should be heard and pondered: while he is not an alarmist, his account is deeply sobering. First, answering a question about the impact of peak oil on the economy, he answers that peak oil will result in "peak economy," with the likelihood of annual economic decline between 2-5%. The impact of an ongoing negative growth economy in a society that is premised upon ongoing and permanent growth will be catastrophic. Everything we assume about the future would change. Few jobs, few bank loans, difficulty providing goods and services (including food), shrinking numbers of college educations, the evaporation of our national wealth, declining levels of research and innovation across the board, no retirement accounts, the decline of the middle class and devastation of the lower classes, etc.
In answer to a question whether "peak oil" will occur as a gradual plateau or a sudden and drastic decline, Hirsch points to the high likelihood of increased resource nationalism (a phenomenon we are already witnessing around the world). He notes that private oil companies no longer control petroleum resources; national companies do. As awareness of peak oil spreads, there will first be a further spike in oil prices and a growing inclination of resource-rich nations to hold their remaining oil in reserve for domestic production and in expectation of further rises in price. This response will, of course, only accelerate and deepen the crisis.
Hirsch foresees the likelihood of gas rationing as a reactive answer to our current inability to begin cutting back our consumption. Nature will exact her price, whether we are willing to pay for it significantly now or drastically in the near future. Our techno-optimists tell us that technology will come to the rescue. The nice thing about holding this position is that no one has to act responsibly or like an adult. It was once the case that adults acted with prudence, awaiting not the best case scenario but preparing for the possibility of a worse. Our liberals and conservatives alike tell us that technology will save us, but mark my words, when TSHTF they will be the first to blame someone else: the Saudis, the Iranians, the Russians, Hugo Chavez, you name it. Our impressive military will be called upon to secure our vital national interest, wherever it might happen to be buried. And at that point no one will be able to suggest that perhaps we have ourselves to blame, because we did nothing when intelligent but obtuse people knew what was coming at the end of our wild ride down Sunset Boulevard.
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