Peak Oil And Dunbar’s Number

Published on Countercurrents.org, Peak Oil And Dunbar’s Number, by Peter Goodchild, 29 December, 2007.

Within modern capitalism there is no solution to the problem of oil depletion. Oil energy cannot be replaced with the equivalent amount of “alternative” energy in the required time, so the consequences of oil depletion will be disastrous. Those disastrous consequences are beyond the range of the normal or acceptable issues of political debate. No political contender can win votes by saying that the world is coming to an end. The “end” may be real, but there is no political mechanism to deal with it in the over-crowded and overly complex modern state.

As the twenty-first century progresses, urbanization will increase, and most people will live in about twenty or thirty mega-cities, although the very rich will live in fortresses with armed guards [3]. These very rich will be trying, more or less successfully, to insulate themselves from the coming economic troubles. During this era, however, “oil wars” will continue to devastate the Persian Gulf, Central Asia, the Balkans, and elsewhere, as the great powers try to control the oil-producing regions and the pipelines.

There is nothing newsworthy about the above; the problem of oil depletion [2] has been described in detail for at least the last few decades …

… Humans were not designed to live in groups of such immense size as we see today, nor were they given the physiological equipment to deal with the over-stimulation of crowded living-spaces. It is also true, for various reasons, that the sight of green trees is more pleasing than that of gray machines. It is not just a platitude to say that we are out of touch with Nature.

To the extent that empires have formed vast cycles, one can compare present-day America to a world of many centuries ago.

In the year 731, the Venerable Bede wrote his Ecclesiastical History of the English Church and People, describing the world of the Heptarchy, the Seven Kingdoms of Kent, Wessex, Essex, Northumbria, East Anglia, Mercia, and Sussex. Bede was a monk in the monastery of Jarrow in Northumbria, and his History is dedicated to Ceolwulf, the king of that land. In the final chapter (”Chronological Recapitulation”), Bede tells us that “in the year 409 [actually 410] Rome was brought down of the Goths; from which time the Romans ceased to rule in Britain.”

Yet the end of one world is the start of another. When Bede was writing, the Roman Empire was still slowly turning to rubble and dust, but England’s “Dark Ages” were filled with light, as the monks scratched away in their scriptoria. In his penultimate chapter, Bede tells us that in that year 731 there was “the pleasantness of peace and quiet times.” On a planet so primitive that even such basic problems as war, overpopulation, and government have not been solved, like Bede we can keep alive the miracle of reading and writing. (full text).

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