December 3, 2010

The Peak Oil Cycle: Crash and Burn

Heinberg on the gyrations in price that will accompany resource scarcity:

Many commentators who understand the essence of the Peak Oil dilemma have tended to assume that, as petroleum and other resources become scarcer, commodity prices will simply escalate in a linear fashion. What we saw instead was a rapid rise in prices (driven by rising demand and falling supply, and then exacerbated by speculation) precipitating an economic crash, followed by collapsing oil prices and curtailed investment in oil exploration—which, in due course, will provoke another rapid price rise. The cycle begins again. Each time the cycle churns, it will likely have an even more devastating economic impact.

The same will happen with natural gas as conventional gas grows scarce and the industry is forced to rely on quickly depleting and expensive-to-produce shale gas; and the same will happen with copper, uranium, indium, and rare-earth elements. Meanwhile, we will puzzle over the fact that the economy just doesn’t seem to work the way it once did. Instead of having plenty of energy with which to mine gold from seawater, we will find we don’t have enough cheap fuel to keep the airline industry aloft. Alternative non-fossil energy sources will come on line, but not quickly enough to keep up with the depletion of oil, coal, and gas. Prices of energy and raw materials will gyrate giddily, but the actual amounts consumed will be dropping. In general, labor costs will be falling and raw materials prices rising—the exact reverse of what occurred during the 20th century; but the adjustments will be anything but gradual.

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