Forty Years of Decline
Effects and Conclusion
The Effect of Energy Decline on the World's Population
World Population Estimate
Figure 15: Actual and projected World Population Growth, 1985 to 2050
The Effect on Average Per Capita Energy
Figure 16: Global Average Per Capita Energy Consumption, 1965 to 2050
The Effect on Countries
The Growing Divide Between Rich and Poor
How many ways are there to say the world is heading for hard times? Losing most of our oil is bad enough, and losing most of our gas as well borders on the catastrophic. Combining these losses with the exponential growth of those nations that can least afford it is nothing short of cataclysmic. The ramifications spread out like ripples on a pond. There will be 7 billion people who will need fertilizer and irrigation water to survive, but would be too poor to buy it even at today's prices. Given the probable escalation in the costs of fertilizer and the diesel fuel or electricity for their water pumps, it isn't hard to understand why the spread of famine in energy-poor regions of the world seems virtually inevitable.
In normal times the poor would appeal to the rest of the world for food aid. However, these times may be anything but normal. Even the shrinking population of the rich world will see its wealth eroded by the drop in energy supplies and the increasing cost of producing the energy they do have. This decline in their wealth will in turn erode any surpluses they might otherwise have donated to international aid. In any event, there will be over twice as many hungry mouths crying for that aid, with less and less of it available.
This assessment doesn't even consider the converging and amplifying impacts of the other problems I mentioned above: the loss of soil fertility and fresh water, the death of the oceans, rising pollution, spreading extinctions and accelerating climate change.
The solution to this dilemma, if solution there may be, does not seem to lie in some Deus ex Machina or in a technological revision of the parable of the loaves and fishes. If the dark visions outlined in this article come true, we will be faced with a world in which the only way forward is to accept that Mother Nature does not negotiate. We must use our considerable intelligence to figure out ways to live within the ecological budget we have been allotted. More than that, we must change our values away from our current paradigm of growth, competition and exploitation to one of sustainability, cooperation and nurturing. The longer and tighter we cling to our present ways, the more damage we will ultimately inflict on ourselves and the world we live in. For many, the time for such a change has already passed. For a fortunate few there may yet be enough time to move toward the new ways of living and being that will be required in this brave new world.