Response to recession as the oil economy fades
Medium term and transition to Long term responses.

summary   details of fading hydrocarbons   price spikes   timeline   recession overview   response to recession

There is no 'quick fix'.
The scale, duration, and impact of recession should not be underestimated.

Slow, long time-frame, but essential steps

Aggressively promote energy efficiency
While many countries have already 'cemented in' energy efficiency regulations since the 1979 - 1980 second oil shock, some gains can still be made. Reducing electricity demand helps conserve gas and coal to power electricity generation plants. Extremely electricity-energy intensive industries taking a disproportionate share of national power may need to be closed. While savings overall may be relatively trivial, public attention to energy saving helps innovation in energy saving devices,  planning, and mind-set. This helps public acceptance of dramatic measures, such as establishing hydro plants in national parks.

Aggressively promote small scale, widely dispersed energy generation
Small scale micro-hydro schemes, wind farms, wave energy generators, small scale supply to the national grid from domestic photovoltaics - these and many other initiatives have to be worked on. Some will require major changes to energy distribution - for example the change from transmission via AC current grid lines to direct current grid lines (requiring much thicker lines) - but create a huge potential to enable local, distributed, generation.

For example, reserachers at Oxford University estimate that intermittant power supply from wind (important in high-demand winter and at night), from high tech "domestic combined heat and power" (dCHP) boilers (important at night), wave power (important as it is strong in autumn and winter), plus daytime 'smoothing' from a relatively small amount of daytime solar power
could ultimately substitute half of UK's current and evolving electricity energy needs. The big proviso is that the power sources must be a highly distributed network, not concentrated in a few area.

Aggressively change the power distribution grid to both deliver and receive energy
Widely distributed micro-power generation from wind and sun will need the ability to feed excess power into the national grid as well as draw from the national grid. For example, a household with photovoltaic cells on the roof may feed power into the national grid during the day when the occupants are out and not using power, and draw power from the grid at night when the sun is down. Those households with small wind turbines would have a different pattern of supply to the grid, but similar patterns of draw.

Without a grid that can both deliver packets of energy to the household user and draw packets of energy from that same user to be delivered elsewhere, distributed renewable power supply cannot work.

If you don't have them, build a small fleet of state-owned LPG carriers to guarantee supply
Demand for oil tankers probably won't change much - it may reduce - but demand for LPG tankers is likely to increase. It is all very well to convert domestic fleets to LPG, but if specialised tankers are unavailabe or unreliably available, supply cannot be assured. A combination of on-shore storage and independant and flexible community-owned shipping helps manage risk of running out of gas.

Coal management
While coal liquification to create a synthetic petrol is "an established technique for producing clean substitute fuels from the world’s abundant coal reserves", it is very inefficient. Every calorie must be extracted for use, not wasted in inefficient conversions to pander to the driving public. Coal is a one shot. It represents millions of years of solid sunshine. It does not renew itself. It may be better to begin directly applying coal to efficient transport by converting diesil trains to sophisticated steam engines, and commence the expansion of public transport by train. Long term, train, inland waterways, and coastal shipping will be the backbone of both commodity commerce and mass transport, so the time to start the long slow conversion is now.

Change to energy efficient vehicles
For many countries (and particularly the USA) it is too late, and will have too little effect. There are more than 200 million cars, light trucks, vans, and gas-guzzling SUVs in the USA today. One estimated the cost of replacing even half the nations vehicles with smaller engined and more efficient diesel versions at over 2 trillion dollars [1]. Who would loan a deeply indebted US government this sum is not explained. The same authors conclude that the transition to this more efficient fleet would take 15 years. Given the greatly increased unemployment, and the greatly increased aversion to risking loans, it is likely that conversion would take a great deal longer. In fact, of course, fifteen years from now oil supply will be even less than today, and prices for oil, at least, may well be even higher.

In the medium term, every possible advantage should be given to technically sophisticated diesil cars, as they are by far the most truly energy efficient vehicles on the road.

Change to gas
It is sometime pointed out that there are enough gas reserves - mostly in the Middle East - to substitute for current automotive oil use to last about 45 years. What isn't pointed out is that there is intense competition for gas to power industry and electricity, and it is very inconvenient to ship, unlike crude. Gas is viable as a transport fuel in the medium term -
But if gas is found locally, contract for it to be supplied locally, even when world prices have to be paid. This maximises the 'step-through' time available for when the gas fields are effectively exhausted, and food prices are very much higher.

Move people closer to ports and rail lines. Re-vitalise small towns with local public-labour infrastructural (meaningful) work. Encourage 'managed poverty' in rural small holdings not too distant from small towns.

Change farming practises
The price of natural-gas based nitrogenous fertilisers will make them expensive. (Nitrogen is the 'mission critical' component needed to grow grain and nearly allother crops. Nitrogen is extracted from the nitrogen gas present in air, and made solid in conjunction with natural gas used as a feedstock. Every tonne of nitrogen fertiliser uses about half a tonne of natural gas.) The use of large farm machinery will be expensive. Growing maize seeds to feed to cattle will be far more expensive than grassland farming.
Build a 'Sustainable Living Culture'
Measure economy by its ability to sustain healthy people in healthy work far into the future. Recycle, repair, improve, devise, conserve, re-grow, re-think, adapt, attempt, revise, revalue.

There is little that can be done until long-term projects such as new hydro power, 'solarisation', port and rail expansion, decentralisation, and huge public works to 're-jig' and localise infrastructure start to bear fruit. The changes in attitude and values through public education and social responses will be the determinant of success or failure in the long run. Humans are vastly resourceful and intelligent, so long as they use their intelligence and don't slip into reactive child-like blaming behaviours.

The long-term successful transition will be immensely painful. But people will adjust through a thousand small and large changes.

1. Hirsch, R.L., Bezdek, R.H, Wendling, R.M. 2005. Peaking of World Oil Production:  Impacts, Mitigation and Risk. Management.

© Copyright 2005 version 2
A Sustainable Living Organisation Publication