Thursday, September 2, 2010

More info on that German peak oil study

Robert Rapier at The Oil Drum has obtained a translation of the main points in that report (not the entire document, but I imagine we'll see that eventually). Here are some highlights:

Overall, higher volatility and loss of trust are seen as possible outcomes in a world where oil supplies are limited, increasing the need for “oil related diplomacy” and thus increasing the risk of moral hazard among all actors, which in turn decreases overall global supply security.

The report then refers to already existing actions of the German government to tie close economic relationships with energy suppliers, and to the tendency of consuming countries to reduce oil dependency, trying to steer clear of risks of future supply shocks.

The Middle East is identified as a very dangerous region with high external involvement from many players and thus a very unstable overall situation.

Overall, the report expects a reduction of the importance of “Western values” related to democracy, and human rights in the context of politically motivated alliances, which increasingly are driven by emerging economies such as China – likely leading to double standards. Emerging economies are equally expected to receive higher recognition in international organizations, particularly those with strength in resources (such as Russia).

That sounds bad. This sounds worse:

In addition to the gradual risks, there might be risks of non-linear events, where a reduction of economic output based on Peak Oil might affect market-driven economies in a way that they stop functioning altogether, leaving the possibility of a relatively steady downward trajectory.

Such a scenario could develop through an initially slow decline of trade and economic activity, combined with higher stress on government budgets from lower tax income, higher social cost and growing investment into alternative technologies.

Investment will decline and debt service will be challenged, leading to a crash in financial markets, accompanied by a loss of trust in currencies and a break-up of value and supply chains – because trade is no longer possible. This would in turn lead to the collapse of economies, mass unemployment, government defaults and infrastructure breakdowns, ultimately followed by famines and total system collapse.

Will it actually come to this? Maybe. Of course, this is a bit vague as to where those famines would occur; would they happen in the developed world? Not out of the question, and if it comes to that a lot of other bad things could happen as well. The biggest question is the matter of widespread international conflict. Some examples:

4.6 Growing conflict potential concerning the Arctic Circle

Germany might have to take positions in case of an upcoming conflict regarding resources in the Arctic Circle, where multiple countries (including Russia) have open claims for accessing oil and gas fields. This requires further research.

4.7 Nuclear technology proliferation

The risk for nuclear technology proliferation and thus more countries with the potential for nuclear weapons (and the risk for terrorists having access to nuclear material) is growing due to the proliferation of nuclear technology for energy generation. Equally, risks for terrorist attacks and accidents on German soil are rising. Both scenarios require more surveillance, intelligence and preventive action.

4.8 Higher conflict potential regarding critical infrastructure

Energy delivery infrastructure for all sources including electricity will have a higher importance in an oil constrained world, thus, securing its reliability, security and availability becomes mission-critical. International cooperation is needed to secure large international supply paths (pipelines, sea routes).

Scary stuff. The Doomsday Clock currently stands at six minutes to midnight, but it could get a lot worse in the next while as tensions over diminishing resources increase.

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