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Demand Destruction: Sir Bob, Bono and Peak Oil

By Bill Henderson

Al-Jazeerah, July 16, 2005

Sir Bob and Bono's Live 8 activism in building pressure on the G8 for African debt relief and development is commendable, but in the ominous context of peak oil these two entertaining wise men seem frozen on the beach watching a wave coming in promising death to millions, unthinkably even billions in the Third World if predictions of die off materialize.

The Green Revolution was primarily development incorporating the use of fossil fuels mimicking Western agribusiness. Globalization with its offer of outsourced jobs to the least costly and therefore most underdeveloped parts of the world is also based upon introducing developed world levels of fossil fuel use. Millions have only recently left poor but self-sufficient peasant lifestyles for cash cropping with fossil fuel inputs or factory life in burgeoning cities and are particularly vulnerable.

At $60 a barrel the Third World is already being priced out of oil, but recent questions asked even in wealthy Japan about oil's fungibility - whether it will be possible for everybody to be even in the market for oil - suggest a much more sinister future that requires planning attention now (which actually required understanding and action decades ago).

Economists sermonize that $100 a barrel oil will induce demand destruction. Demand destruction will occur - but mostly in those countries that won't be able to buy oil.

Demand destruction will occur in Third World farmers fields and slums. Americans and the rest of us in the developed world will eat turkey, watch football and give thanks to the Lord while millions starve, while millions starve outside a privileged world where oil is still fungible.

Given political realities and the trajectory of unilateralist policy, demand destruction will occur outside a Fortress America which will decide who buys oil and which just prints more dollars so that Americans and the rest of us in the tent can keep on using oil in the totally wasteful way we've become accustomed to.

Billions of people in harms way. Overshoot and the crowded rush as the walls narrow in E .O. Wilson's Bottleneck. Maybe Sir Bob or Bono could shout out and alert the world because the major media seems more interested in looking at the really big beach and the luxury yachts now high and dry.

There are reasonable frameworks for ameliorating all but the worst possible peak oil scenarios - Lester Brown's energy reduction policies within a wartime-like controlled and redeveloped economy, for example - but first the informed public in the West has to grasp the cause and effect and the horrific dimensions of a catastrophe dwarfing tsunamis or Horn of Africa famine.