Remember those cartoons where Wile E. Coyote is chasing the Road Runner and he runs off of a cliff?
Wile E. Coyote by Wikipedia.org
For a frozen moment he just hangs there in the air looking progressively more surprised and alarmed? Then gravity takes over and it's down, down, down to a hard landing! I believe that this is a nearly perfect metaphor for the status of our civilization at this exact moment.
We have just experienced about 500 years of explosive growth. From Columbus "discovering" the New World in 1492, through the early colonial world empires, the world economy consistently expanded. It really picked up steam (so to say!) with the beginning of industrialization in the mid 1700's. By the late 20 th century industrialization had spread across the planet. All of our civilization's assumptions about reality: political, economic, social, even religious are now predicated upon this most unusual 500 year blip of time--compared to the long ages which preceded it and which are yet to come--being "normal."
In other words, we've just bet absolutely EVERYTHING--our lives, our fortunes, those of our children and of all generations to come, along with the future existence of this planet as a life sustaining abode--on the assumption that since industrial civilization is "normal" we can assume that it will continue indefinitely. Unfortunately, I believe that this assumption is dead WRONG.
Economic expansion has gone on now for so long--about 500 years, that we assume that it MUST always continue. However, close scrutiny of the facts shows that the first 250 years of this period saw economic growth in the "core" European economies because superior technologies were used to subjugate the rest of the planet. The human and material resources of these lands were then plundered with reckless abandon by these Europeans--and their descendants.
Next, with the rise of industrialization concentrated sources of energy--coal first, then oil and other fossil fuels--were utilized to perform far vaster amounts of work than was possible using only human and animal muscle power which had provided an ultimate limiting factor for all previous civilizations. By the 20 th century not even the sky was the limit for our industrial civilization!
All of our present day belief systems--political--economic--social, etc. are based upon the unexamined assumption that this expansive reality we've experienced for the past 20 or so human generations, that it IS reality, and so will continue forever. Yet close scrutiny shows this growth to have been based upon first, exploitation of limited human and natural resources, and then based also upon exploitation of finite supplies of energy rich fuel. Only if this exploitation can continue at ever growing rates, utilizing ever growing quantities can this assumption be valid. Do you begin to see the problem here?
All of the money on the planet today is based upon debt. If you buy a house a bank lends you the money--that's your mortgage. Where does the bank get this money? They create it, quite legally, out of nothing. Your promise to pay in the future is used to justify the creation of money in the present. Since this money must be paid back with interest, there is an assumption that there will exist more money in the future, than existed at the time the mortgage was created. In other words our money can only have value today, if and only if, there will be more money tomorrow than there is today. In other words, the economy must continuously expand if it is not to collapse precipitously. For 20 human generations this assumption has been valid. This is so long a period that we have conflated it with eternity.
Our planet is finite. As such, it possesses only so much in the way of material resources. Moreover, for the past 150 or so years, economic growth has been closely correlated with increasing energy consumption.
Nearly 40% of our planetary energy (well over 90% of our transportation fuel) comes from petroleum. Yet world petroleum production has plateaued since 2004--did you know that? Orthodox economic theory posits that as price (of oil in this case) goes up, supply is maintained, even increased, by entrepreneurial activity finding additional supplies. Yet supply has flatlined for about eight years even though price has been MUCH higher throughout this long period. As substitutes for oil have not been found, it follows that economic assumptions are being violated. In plain English: We're in deep sh*t!
No amount of technology can intervene to stop oil production's impending DECLINE. How can I assert this so unequivocally? Because in order to produce oil you must first find it. It takes decades for major oil fields to reach full production moreover. If we look at past oil discoveries, year by year, with respect to oil consumption we see this pattern: