After reading a blog post by Noah Raford I was awakened to the fact that visions of the future are typically commissioned by the wealthy and as such are horrendously narrow in their vision. How will the the glittery sustainable technology we all wish for change the world?
The shift towards a near zero crude oil society in rich countries will probably occur as a reaction to oil prices. This rise in oil price could come from either legal frameworks such as a tax, or it could be a physical constraint brought on by the depletion of the convenient oil sources. Time and money from the state and corporate bodies will be invested in vast amounts to refine low oil technologies to a viable state, reshape the country infrastructure to be compatible with these technologies, and advance new societal norms that are in harmony with the behavioural demands of the new infrastructure. Much of these new powerful technologies will be held under patents licenced at prices that are based on models trying to emulate the returns of the good old days of oil.
On the other end there are the poor countries with oil based infrastructure. Running up to this point their economy will be crippled by having to pay high oil prices. They do not have the money to invest in a low oil infrastructure. Following this there may be a short period of cheaper oil due to low demands. The sharp drop in oil demand combined with the high production price will mean the existing oil producing countries and companies’ existing practices will have to drastically change or end entirely. In the end the oil production industry will drastically shrink and supply to demand will return to recognisable levels. Some companies will die. Others will attempt to become industry leaders in green technology.
What happens to the old oil production and delivery facilities and infrastructure? Offshore oil rigs, tankers, pipelines? As the old companies file for bankruptcy, downscale or re-focus these facilities will fall out of use. The smaller size of the industry means that there will not be a significant market in the resale of equipment. The cost involved in scrapping decommissioned facilities and equipment would probably see many sites abandoned but still capable of operation.
It is not too far fetched to imagine the organisations that operate in blackmarket goods would now take advantage of these still facilities to expand the blackmarket for oil. Somali Pirates, the FARC and unscrupulous Chinese companies bringing drilling sites back into operation. They are able to operate here because of the lower regard for regulations, overhead and labour costs that make such ventures unprofitable in legal circumstances.
Poor countries will be unable to immediately make the transition to low oil technologies. Corruption and the high prices associated with legal oil and the patented green technologies will mean many governments will resort to questionable oil supplies. This maintains a healthy blackmarket oil supply that will last for a long time. It will still always be a small fraction of the previous global oil consumption and may result in a second peak oil cycle brought on by failing equipment and growing attempts of government crackdowns.
These new oil wars will replace the horrors associated with national military and private military professional conflicts with the horrors of the resource wars seen around African minerals. Rival groups of informal fighters, child soldiers and associated atrocities.
- On Glass & Mud: A Critique of (Bad) Corporate Design Fiction, http://news.noahraford.com/?p=1313