black gold – black future

it is not as far fetched a metaphor as one might think to refer to oil as black gold. more and more people, politicians and scientists come to realize that the current standard of life can not be sustained in a world that suffers from a reduction of international fossil energy resources. and this world is soon to be ours.

numerous articles, books, and documentaries paint a dark vision for the future, yet there seems to be a strong resistance within people to accept these predictions. this reaction seems more than understandable considering that there are numerous articles predicting exactly the different outcome to energy cuts or deny the energy shortcut all along.

as a political scientist who is dependent on the data gathered by other people specializing in the field of oil, resources and geology, it is not for me to judge the correctness of either dataset. what i’d like to add, though, is a warning to look for who publishes which statistics and reflect critically upon which interest each party might have by presenting a certain point of view.

i for one have to coincide with the prediction of a future energy shortage, for the evidences are manyfold and predictions from ten years ago (“the party’s over” by richard heinberg (2003)) have come true already – from the financial crisis to the uprisings in energy poor or utilized countries. so, taking it as a given that a shortage of the current energy level and resources will happen sooner or later and that this will effect, in one way or another, the way we are living today, the question that comes up is how this change will happen.

it seems to be the natural job of politicians to lead their countries and people through the stormy weathers of the road of transition. yet, and this is where political sciences come in, knowing about the habits of people and even more importantly about the constituency, this scenario is very unlikely to happen.

for a first, people tend to prefer easy-cut solutions; simple to understand and cheap to be executed. yet the case with energy is a big, global and dynamic system where one needs to start acting on several levels, hoping that each little drop will somehow create the waterfall necessary to turn our situation around smoothly. we are talking about the environment, we are talking about renewable energies and the energy needed in order to produce what is necessary to access renewable energies. we are talking about traffic, about cars and airplanes, but also about electricity, heating- and cooling systems and the everyday amount of plastic we use from shopping bags to the packagings of medication. with this enormously complex issue it will be very hard for any politician to make people understand the importance and the measures that are necessary, let alone to lead them along a path that will mean a reduction of their current living standards.

secondly, since there are no easy-to-explain and cheap-to-execute solutions to this case, it will be very unlikely that any politician who needs to be legally elected every four to five years and work together in a parliamentary democracy with other parties and other interests, will risk his or her position just to tell the constituency an inconvenient truth they do not want to hear.

so if politicians will not be the ones to lead our transition period, it leads us to, thirdly, the question of who will? i for one consider the biggest potential to be on a very local level. if towns or even smaller communities join forces to discuss future energy shortages and every little thing that can be done in order to make their life easier in such a case – from a proper isolation for the house, to growing some food themselves, to actively thinking about how much and which energy one uses a day and to reduce it to the necessary minimum, etc. but the first step into this direction is to realize, that government and politicians are not suited for this job.

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