Avoiding The Olduvai Slope Part 2: Avoidance Strategies

Implications of Olduvai

As earlier stated, modern civilization is justly proud of its technological achievements and thinks itself different from its precursors. The trouble is that human behavior really hasn't changed much since the dawn of recorded history. Consequently, if care is not taken,human society is headed directly at disaster. Data speaks true through the ages irrespective of the whims, caprices and conceit of men and if the premises of the Olduvai theory cannot be faulted, then, there are unavoidable conclusions that must be drawn, such as;
Present day industrial civilization based upon the consumption of fossil oil is very unsustainable, just like the less technologically advanced pre-modern societies. The world urgently needs a to get away from the dependence on fossil fuel consumption.
Although, Olduvai theory threatens the entire world community, however, the impact of the Olduvai collapse on specific societies, will be determined by a number of factors such as;
- the level of industrialization of the society,
- the level of awareness and preparedness of contingency plans by the society for
this eventuality (Olduvai collapse),
- the amount of resources available to the society to effectively deal
with this eventuality.
It is therefore possible that the most industrialized countries, those comprising the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) may fare better in responding to the Olduvai collapse because these countries have the technology and other resources necessary to cope with the Olduvai collapse.
At the lowest end of the industrialization spectrum, it is worth noting that Olduvai collapse may not be extremely disruptive to those societies (relatively few) that are still struggling at pre-industrial levels of subsistence. Many Sub-Saharan African countries will be found in this category.
As Oil shortages begin to hit harder and costs of this resource increase, the societies most vulnerable to the impact of the Olduvai collapse are those newly emerging or recently industrialized. Many of these countries have achieved a reasonable level of industrialization, but have not devoted considerable resources to the "greening" of their societies. This category includes many countries in the Asia-Pacific (APEC) region, the Middle East and some Latin American countries.
Limitations of the Olduvai theory

Luckily, Olduvai theory is not all encompassing and it has limitations because;
It does not attempt to predict a future in which per energy demands are augmented with alternatives to fossil fuel. There is therefore an underestimation of human ingenuity and a false assumption that societies have learnt nothing from the past.
Civilizations do not generally collapse as a result of a single causative factor. Generally speaking, it takes a combination of many factors to bring about the demise of a Civilization. This matrix of factors may include war, disease/pestilence, climate change, natural disasters and a host of other possibilities.Alternative sources of energy Although alternatives to fossil fuels include Solar, Wind, Tidal, Geothermal, Hydroelectricity, Nuclear, Fuel Cells, Biomass and Mechanical Flywheels options, obviously, for political and technical reasons, not all these alternatives are easily adoptable in the African Environment.However, taking Nigeria as an example, by using certain rating criteria, Nuclear energy could be considered the worst possible option because the state of the technology is relatively unsafe and the problems of disposal of the waste product- radioactive isotopes with a half life of thousands of years is something no one has been able to satisfactorily contend with.On the other hand, solar energy could be considered the best alternative energy source; sunlight is regular and abundant, it is renewability and has absolutely no operational emissions. It is readily installed at the point of utilization, thereby avoiding the need for laying of power lines and its modular nature makes scalability easy. Additionally, the technology is relatively well established and has low risks. At a latter date, this author will be examining more recent developments in this Photovoltaic technology including the emerging technology of electrophotochemical and nanocrystalline dye sensidised cells.Another high contender is the spring loaded mechanism or mechanical flywheel - an old, low tech but very attractive option, which has been resuscitated because it offers the possibility of providing a simple wind up spring and flywheel mechanism for some devices as a means of storing energy and slowly releasing this for powering purposes. For instance, the Baylis radio recently commercialized by Dr Trevor Baylis uses this approach and has become quite popular in South Africa. It is unlikely that one single renewable energy alternative would replace fossil fuels. A more realistic scenario would be the emergence of several combinations of the above listed renewablesThe avoidance strategy action plan
Though imperfectly, modern society has hopefully learned lessons from Easter Island and present ominous rumblings from the American government about exploitation of natural resources in pristine environments not withstanding, there now appears to be some awareness that the assimilative and/or resource supply capacity of the environment is not infinite. No amount of Alaskan oil will suffice to stop the inevitable. New Oil fields are not a final solution to anything; instead, development of renewable energy options is the final the answer.Knowing the above, therefore for the prevention of the eventual catastrophic collapse of industrial civilization after Alaskan, Arabian or any other new oil fields have been depleted, the following is a list of goals that must be pursued, the timeline and the agencies of change that must be mobilized.Actions:
Actions that need to be taken can be itemized under three broad categoriesReduction in energy requirements. Increased usage of renewable energy resources.Reduction in populations
Agencies:
The agencies that will be involved in implementing these actions consist of: Individuals
Corporations
NGOsGovernments and others (Schools, Hospitals e .t. c)
Timeline:The time to act starts from now. Since the collapse is supposed to occur around to 2030, there is at least a time lag of twenty-five yearsBelow is a detailed enumeration of the actions and their hoped for effects that should be sufficient to guarantee avoidance of the Olduvai collapse;
ActionsEffectsAction by main agent of Transformation
Reduction in energy requirementsSupply and demand can be viewed as opposite sides of the same coin. If the demand for a commodity is reduced, even if supply is not increased, it will be possible to prolong the life span/availability of that commodity. This means that even on current world reserves of fossil fuels, the lifespan of industrial society can be significantly increased The main agency of change in this case is Government with others playing a minor role. Governments have the best potential of affecting the way society uses energy in the following ways
-Introduction of energy taxes and tax exemptions-Introduction of Energy Subsidies
-Introduction of new Urban planning and transportation standardsThe above measures will have the effects on the other agencies of transformation (Individuals, Corporations/Businesses,) of reduction in unnecessary wastage of energy resources, help focus on making cities more friendly to alternative means of non energy intensive transportation, housing and lifestyles
Reduction in populationThe effect of a reduction in world population includes likely reduction in energy needs through reduced consumption and reduced wastes/pollution generation. Individuals have to be persuaded of the benefits of this as in democratic societies, Governments have little coercive powers in this area Individuals have the ultimate responsibility in this area. Any actions taken by others are only facilitative Governments may attempt an innovative concept such as the introduction of a kind of family head tax that may be imposed upon family sizes. The legal and ethical implications of this would have to be debated by society.
In less democratic countries, Governments may attempt to coerce societies into involuntary birth rate reduction.
Increased usage of renewable energy resourcesThe increasing use of renewable will have the effect of pushing back the Olduvai collapse date. If in conjunction with the two actions listed above a world energy requirements can be met in this manner is then the Olduvai collapse would have been avoided altogetherThis is by far the most critical factor. No matter how much energy requirements or world population is reduced, if this third action fails then all would be in vain and the Olduvai theory will in some form or the other come to pass.Collaborative effort will be required between Governments, Business, NGOs and even academic institutions. Governments and businesses will need to fund research and provide infrastructure to aid the transition from conventional energy use to renewables
Problems

In order to fully make the transition from fossil fuels to the use renewables, many problems including political, technical, costs, inertia and lack of vision, will have to be overcome. Progress

Nevertheless, as a matter of necessity, interest in renewable energy alternatives is becoming stronger and the alternatives are already being pursued in some form or the other worldwide. For example the Republics of China and India already has a vigorous population reduction policy.
Worldwide and many countries have aggressively embarked upon renewable energy initiatives. The city of Calgary, Canada, has plans to replace many high-energy intensive electrical lighting with low-level ones. And the European Photovoltaic Industry Association suggests that grid-connected rooftop solar systems could account for 16 percent of electricity consumption in OECD countries by 2010.In Germany, the Renewable Energy Act of 2000 offers citizens preferable loan terms for purchasing solar systems, and gives them a guaranteed price when feeding excess energy back into the power grid. As a result of such support, the growth of the German Photo Voltaic industry is projected to triple by 2004Costs are perhaps the most critical problem. The cost of electricity from solar cells remains higher than from wind or coal-fired power plants for grid-connected customers but it is falling fast due to economies of scale as rising demand drives industry expansion. Government subsidies may be a necessary solution to this problemAlthough government subsidies and taxes will help in promoting the adoption of renewables by industry, however, this can only go so far. Much of the research and associated developmental costs will have to be borne by the private sector. In order to get the private sectors involved at least three critical financial barriers must be overcome: high transaction costs for small projects, high capital costs, relative to traditional alternatives, and inability to capture life-cycle cost savings for instance, over a period of 30 years for hydroelectric projects and 20 years for solar ones.ConclusionsOil and high oil prices will not last forever; therefore societies must come up with some contingency plans for the inevitable so that an industrialized society that is based upon sustainability principles can emerge in one form or the other after the eventual exhaustion of today's energy resource base.
The Olduvai tragedy is not inevitable and since there is already a good awareness of this danger by other societies, the Nigerian society must also begin to plan for this eventuality and emerging "green" paradigms in energy usage must be encouraged not only in industrialized societies but also in pre and newly emerging industrial communities worldwide. This would require deliberate coordinated collective actions by society on a global level.
Intelligent species that solves problems are the ones that survive, the question must be asked, what will happen to Nigeria when Oil begins to run out. Are we preparing for this or just basking in the temporary euphoria of high oil prices?
Without realizing it, the current all time high of oil prices is not necessarily good news for Nigeria as it signifies nothing but the start of the Olduvai cliff and the end of the Oil era. Olduvai is already unfolding before our very eyes. Twenty-five years from now, we will feel its full impact.
Contrary to popular belief that seems to be prevalent in many developing countries, the "greening" of society or investment in the development of renewable energy is not a luxury. Failure to do so now will be costly in the future.References
World Energy Production, Population Growth, and the Road to the Olduvai Gorge
Dr Richard C. Duncan http://greatchange.org/ov-duncan,road_to_olduvai_gorge.html
The simple economics of Easter Island: A Ricardo-Malthus model of renewable resource use
James A Brander
, M Scott Taylor. The American Economic Review. Nashville: Mar 1998. Vol. 88, Iss. 1; pg. 119
Sales of solar cells take off
Bernie Fischlowitz-Roberts. Appropriate Technology. Sep 2002. Vol. 29, Iss. 3; pg. 29
The Future of Energy Policy
Timothy E. Wirth, C. Boyden Gray, and John D. Podesta. Foreign Affairs. New York: July/August 2003. Vol. 82, Iss. 4; pg. 132
The pessimistic perspective: Does civilization flicker out?
William Calvin, What's NEXT, Exploring the New Terrain for Business :Perseus Publishing 2002; pg 269
The World in 2020, Power, Culture and Prosperity.
Hamish MacRae, Harvard Business School Press Boston 1995.
Social Evolution and Urban Systems
Robert Woollard and William Rees, Communities,Development and Sustainability across Canada: UBC Press Vancouver1999; pg 27.
The Company of the future
Francis Cairncross Harvard Business School Press Boston 2002.
Lessons From History: Factors Implicated in the Collapse of Civilizations and the Relevance of Environmental Science.
Dixon Thompson and Susan Glover
The University of Calgary Archeological Association, Calgary 1993; pg. 297


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