Economist’s View: Life after Peak Oil

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Study of the long economic history of the world suggests two things, however. Cheap fossil fuels actually explain little of how we got rich since the Industrial Revolution. And after an initial period of painful adaptation, we can live happily, opulently and indeed more healthily, in a world of permanent $100-a-barrel oil or even $500-a-barrel oil. …

Many people think mistakenly that modern prosperity was founded on this fossil energy revolution, and that when the oil and coal is gone, it is back to the Stone Age. If we had no fossil energy, then we would be forced to rely on an essentially unlimited amount of solar power, available at five times current energy costs. With energy five times as expensive … we would take a substantial hit to incomes. Our living standard would decline by about 11 percent. But we would still be fantastically rich compared to the pre-industrial world. … Our income would still be above the current living standards in Canada, Sweden or England. Oh, the suffering humanity! At current rates of economic growth we would gain back the income losses from having to convert to solar power in less than six years. …

The ability to sustain such high energy prices at little economic cost depends on the assumption that we can cut back from using the equivalent of six gallons of gas per person per day to 1.5 gallons. Is that really possible? The answer is that we know already it is.

Endgame? Even with oil at $500/barrel, the impact on the United States would be minimal at best. More compact living and conscientious energy consumption (as in cheap solar or nuclear energy) is the key.

I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of a workplace that was one’s home… no driving to work, just the Internet and a home computer (and whatever tasks that lay ahead). Of course, some jobs simply require manpower… but with time, perhaps that can be resolved by technology and a transition to a different economy?

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