The End of Civilization?

I just read a future prediction regarding the collapse of civilization, apparently written by the same oil-industry analyst Jan Lundberg who formerly wrote the Lundberg Letter, “the bible of the oil industry.”

Be forewarned it is a dark, disturbing read in the beginning. The end of civilization as we know it is accompanied by a huge population die off, and how that may play out as a result of the end of oil is explored. However, I have to remember while reading it that this is just one person’s sight-into-the-future.

“The fall of the U.S. may be the swiftest empire collapse in world history. It is obvious that the U.S. population and the nation’s infrastructure is heavily petroleum dependent. The U.S. peaked in oil production (extraction) in 1971. The world may be peaking now, as some evidence indicates, or in a few short years. As a severe energy shortage is on tap as soon as the gap between supply and demand is felt by the market, and the Earth gives noticeably less oil than just recently, there will be a cascade of impacts on the economy and people’s lives.”

Although not mentioned in the linked quote above, Lundberg’s particular views of a hydrogen ‘economy’ are curious, in the article’s English use he/she put the quotes around hydrogen as well as economy. She/he appears to completely discount any future for hydrogen as an energy source or storage medium.

There are promising developments in the direct conversion of sunlight and water into hydrogen without the use of “generated” electricity in the process. Older processes such as the electrolytic separation of hydrogen and oxygen using anodes and cathodes that many of us saw demonstrated in science classes and which were powered by wall-outlet electricity are being pointed to by detractors as a reason why solar hydrogen is not economic. Often, the phrase “solar hydrogen” is framed to mean photo-voltaic cells that produce electricity that in turn powers anode-cathode separation processes, and which isn’t as efficient as it could be: remember, baby-steps are taken first, walking and running come later. Newer technologies surpass these prior limitations, but detractors point to older processes as proof for why they will never work.

In other words, solar hydrogen without a carbon cycle is just around the corner.

Fossil-fuel free solar hydrogen has already been produced in small quantities. From Australia we learn about their solar hydrogen contributions, a conceptual solar cell that produces hydrogen directly from sunlight and pure water. “This is potentially huge, with a market the size of all the existing markets for coal, oil and gas combined,” says Professor Janusz Nowotny, who with Professor Chris Sorrell is leading a solar hydrogen research project at the University of NSW Centre for Materials and Energy Conversion. Lundberg fails to mention these types of solar hydrogen.

It is clear to me that our current society is economically rewarding mostly corporations; therefore, an ‘economy’ based upon hydrogen would likely be a continuation of the same exploitation by corporate entities whose bottom line (money) reigns supreme over ‘all other considerations’. In the years that I’ve been alive, it appears that social welfare concerns such as environmentalism have been minimized by energy corporations and corporate welfare is increasingly legislated over the course of many more years. Lundberg reminded me of stories I’ve read elsewhere about how General Motors destroyed the electric trolley services that many cities had earlier in the 20th century, which was an obvious benefit for the petroleum and automotive industries.

What Lundberg is describing is one phenomenon of corporatism, how environmentally sounder technologies were forced out of existence by the greedy corporate machine. Cut-throat competition that forces mom & pop businesses to close is another manifestation of concentration of capital, the dangers of which are well known to historians.

The obscene pay of many CEOs is a different kind of corporatist phenomenon that is a sickness in our society today, it is one which increases the financial stress on all the rest of us. This is a market-distorting, relative-pay disparity problem versus the lowest paid worker, and is an abnormal concentration of capital: one of the reasons Will Durant, author of the acclaimed Story of Civilization series, teaches us that prior great civilizations historically fail. In the corporatist system, the CEOs want us to believe they deserve this financial welfare: in the same system the poor and even the middle class don’t deserve much, and whatever they do manage to earn will be a laborious task that is also of primary benefit to the overall corporatist system.

How just is it that poor people must now often work two full-time minimum-wage jobs just to pay their bills? There sure isn’t much time for the working-poor to be politically active after cooking their food and doing their laundry and working their jobs, they certainly don’t have money left over to contribute to political campaigns. In contrast, the pay of CEOs grants them ample leisure time if they so desire, and generous campaign contributions are routine in their pay-to-play political action system. Today this is all part of the corporatist system.

I digressed a bit. A question that Lundberg’s article brings to mind: Would it ultimately be good if the greedy’s support structure were removed from under them?

If Lundberg’s scenario comes to pass, it will be a painful transition, one that will be just as hard on the poor as the wealthy, but the society that might emerge from the chaos he/she describes promises survivors much more fulfilling lives.


To provide a little balance to the chaotic, dire scenario of Jan Lundberg, the Houston Chronicle published “Boring fact is oil not soon tapped out” by Scott Tinker, apparently the state geologist of Texas. (Via Peak Oil News)

“If there is an important peak of oil, it actually occurred in the early 1980s when oil consumption as a percentage of total global energy topped out just shy of 50 percent” and which he claims is now at 40%. The energy transition trend is consistent and well underway.

Hydrogen isn’t directly mentioned in this article, but at least it isn’t disparaged as in Lundberg’s article. I’m reminded of an old saying that goes something like, “It’s not what they’re telling you that’s most important, what they’re not saying is.”

The bright side of Tinker’s perspective, if it can correctly be considered bright, is that our New World Order corporatist society will keep ticking along, and he believes “investment” will be required. One question I have for Tinker is how will our corporatist society treat the poor if they don’t have money to “invest”?

I hope I helped to fill in a couple of blanks with this short rant, but please remember that my crystal ball is likely broken.

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