Societies Beyond Oil: Oil Dregs and Social Futures
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This groundbreaking book, from a distinguished sociologist, examines the profound adjustments required to live in a world where oil is no longer an easily-available energy source. It considers what societies that are powering down would be like; what lessons can be learned from the past; will rationing systems or the market allocate scarce energy? Can virtual worlds solve energy problems? What levels of income and wellbeing would be likely? Urry analyzes how the twentieth century created a kind of mirage of the future that is unsustainable into even the medium term and envisions the future of an oil-dependent world facing energy descent. Without a large-scale plan B, how can the energizing of society possibly be going into reverse?
of powerful high carbon systems came to be unleashed. Four clustered systems had major consequences for the contours of the last century.22 First, systems of electric power generation and national electricity grids meant that most homes were lit, heated and populated with electricity-based consumer goods and that Fordist factories were powered up. Such power generation involved a mix of coal, oil and gas. Increases in the generation and consumption of energy led to the USA being the most
those who can afford them.4 Almost all goods in the world are shipped in this intermodal system of containerization, including objects and people smuggled across borders. Third, there are ‘friendship and family miles’. These are the many miles that have to be travelled by car, rail and air around key events in order to sustain friendships, romances and family relations. These relations are often managed over substantial distances and stem from people migrating to or being educated within, or
future development of the field. Tough oil There are some unconventional sources of oil, sources in part made possible by new technologies. These dregs of oil are very difficult and costly to exploit and yet they need to come on stream on a vast scale in order to compensate for the decline in easy oil. The first is the deepwater extraction of oil, especially in the Gulf of Mexico, Alaska, Nigeria, Brazil and ultimately the Arctic. These deepwater wells are made possible by significant
thing as a free lunch.41 This is a crucial point about energy, that there is no energy free lunch. Replacing one global system with another is an immense undertaking involving vast supplies of material resources, especially with increasing consumption, urbanization and population. Even so-called renewable energy requires minerals that are in increasingly short supply and whose manufacture generates substantial GHG emissions.42 Again there is no free lunch – this book in no way seeks to argue for
Weather Makers (London: Penguin, 2007), p. 262. 8. See for detail, Kingsley Dennis and John Urry, After the Car (Cambridge: Polity, 2009), ch. 4. 9. UK Parliament, House of Commons, Cars of the Future: Seventeenth Report of Session 2003–04 (HC 319–I), House of Commons Transport Committee, London, 2004, pp. 1–54. 10. Richard Heinberg, PowerDown (London: Clairview, 2004), p. 129. 11. Joseph Romm, The Hype about Hydrogen (New York: Island Press, 2005). 12. Brian Arthur, The Nature of Technology