Wolfgang Wiebach's Light Musings on Heavy Subjects

    The End

    The oil on the planet Earth will run out in the year 2029.
    While it should be perfectly clear to everyone that the oil supply, like all other treasures in the Earth's crust, is limited, most people carry on as if it weren't, and never spend a single thought in their whole life on the possibility that it ain't and about what will happen thereafter.
    It is ironic that geologists still are not sure where the oil came from. While it was assumed at first that it had a biological origin like coal, the opinion is now taking hold that the source is geological. The good planet had stored it for eons as a surprise gift to mankind when it reached the age of scientific awakening, and it changed mankind's life in a way never seen on the planet before. Never in the human history did so many people live as comfortably as with oil: well fed and dressed, in luxurious dwellings, warm in winter and cool in summer, surrounded by all sorts of mechanical helpers that make life easy and afford tons of leisure time which is filled with a multitude of pleasures ranging from the laudably dignified to the exorbitantly frivolous. Fast, reliable transportation to the furthest reaches of the planet, unimaginable just a hundred years ago, has become commonplace, and instant information access and exchange is at the fingertips of every citizen on the planet. Truly, with the discovery of oil, mankind's golden hour broke on.

    Alas, fundamentally, life remained "business as usual"; in poetic terms: love and war; frankly and precisely: making babies and killing each other. Just the balance between these favorite activities shifted. Although the exterminations have been nothing to sneeze at (and wasted a lot of precious oil), they were vastly exceeded by the procreative bedlam, resulting in a population explosion unseen in the history of the planet. Of course, it has shrunk the naturally short duration of the oil period further, so that other energy sources could barely be developed.

    Mankind did discover atomic fission, and an observer from another planet would assume that power plants exploiting this process are being built expeditiously all over the Earth. This may be true in China, but not in America and Europe although their inhabitants discovered all of the advanced science and invented the resulting technologies. They also became accustomed to a particularly high energy use, which should spur them on fervently. The conundrum, which the alien observer may not readily comprehend, has a twofold root: (a) the degree of mental enlightenment of all Earth people is characterized by a Gaussian distribution with the masses in the center still pretty much in the carnivore animal stage (as we have seen in regard to "love and war"); (b) yet these countries elect their governments by popular vote - i.e. one vote per person. As a consequence, the limited mental horizon of the majority of the populace, their superstitions and fears and their often illogical way of thinking is manifested and actually concentrated in their government leaders.

    Our alien observer would find it hilarious that these Western people are afraid that a few thousand might die in an accident of a nuclear power plant yet do give a second thought neither to the tens of thousands dieing each year in automobile accidents nor to the catastrophe certain to come upon us when the oil runs out. They always cite the explosion of the Tschernobyl reactor in the Ukraine yet forget that it was caused, in a typical Soviet fashion, by an inept management overseeing poorly trained operators of a faultily designed facility that should serve as nothing else but a school example of how not to run an atomic power plant. They also bring up the incident at the Three Mile Island station in Pennsylvania yet overlook the little fact that there all safety measures functioned and the count of casualties was exactly zero.

    A hundred years ago the millions of people still got by eating the food raised naturally on the farms surrounding them and delivered by railway and horse cart; heating their tightly clustered homes with a little coal or wood and lighting their short evenings dimly by gas made from coal; walking to their schools and work places; weaving their clothes from wool and cotton; crossing the oceans by wind and coal; and generally working hard ten hours a day on six days a week.

    The billions of today would starve without food raised with oil-based fertilizers, harvested by motorized heavy machinery and delivered by Diesel-powered long-distance trucks; freeze without oil heat; have no light and water without electricity formerly generated by oil; can't reach a school or work place or even a grocery store, which however, are dark and shut down anyway. The highways are deserted except for an occasional Amish carriage; automobiles are rusting away and slowly sinking into the ground. The small remaining woods are being cut down for firewood that is carried home on peoples' backs; their flimsy shoes fall apart and their are no replacements. The airwaves are quiet, and everyone goes to sleep when the night falls. Crime is rampant but brings little, since former luxuries are worthless and essentials are nowhere to be found. The population wave rolls back even more quickly than it built up: people are dieing because of hunger, exposure, fights and sickness; there are no medications anymore that were derived from oil; the dead cannot be collected and buried quick enough; pandemic plagues thought erased for good come back with a vengeance.

    Mankind's golden hour is over.

    Everything was squandered in a hundred years.
    An enlightened government would prepare for the end of the oil boom before it is reached. Atomic power plants would be erected at a grand scale to assure plentiful sources of electricity that must, in the near future, power everything. Storage bunkers for radioactive waste would be expanded and readied. The automobile fleet would be systematically converted to hydrogen fuel cells; to maintain farming machinery and air transport, methods would be devised and plants built to synthesize gasoline from atmospheric carbon dioxide. The railway network would be resurrected, extended and upgraded to facilitate electricity-based short- and medium-range transportation of people and goods. And foremost, an all-out propaganda campaign would be run to convince people to restrict the number of their offspring, and all means to this end would be freely offered; because, in the face of any continued population explosion, no future could be managed at all - even with oil.

    The leaders of the Western world do not exactly follow this approach. They have their own way to prepare for the future: keep eyes firmly shut.