This is blog post #2 in my "summer spillover series" (here is #1). I'm currently on vacation but this blog post is about something I "should" have written about when it happened (10 days ago) - before I went on vacation.
This blog post is about the second submission of mine to the Energy Research & Social Science special issue on "Narratives and storytelling in energy and climate change research" (the previous blog post was about the first submission).
The roots of the abstract below stretch back for more than two years but this is the first concrete outcome of the project "Consider Half" (with the exception of the blog post I wrote last month). I do however promise that plenty more is to come, with additional articles slated to be written in 2016 and 2017 (as outlined in the abstract below).
As apart from the previous submission (proposal) to the special issue, this is a bid for writing a full paper (6000-10000 words) and we will find out if we are invited to submit it to the special issue three weeks from now (at the end of the July). We have, if our proposal is accepted, a lot of work in front of us between August and mid-October, but I would very much look forward to it as it has been a long time coming!
On the effects of the early 1970’s global peak in oil productionDaniel Pargman, School of Computer Science and Communication, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm Sweden
Joshua Tanenbaum, Department of Informatics, University of California Irvine, CA, USA (more Josh here)
Elina Eriksson, School of Computer Science and Communication, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm Sweden
Mikael Höök, Department of Earth Sciences, Natural Resources and Sustainable Development, Uppsala University, Sweden
Marcel Pufal, Department of Informatics, University of California Irvine, CA, USA
Josefin Wangel, School of Architecture and the Built Environment, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm Sweden
Project and paper outline (instead of an abstract)Our full paper proposal for the ER&SS special issue on “Narratives and storytelling in energy and climate change research” takes as its starting point the contrafactual (Ferguson 2000) statement “what if there ever only was half the oil in the ground when we started to use it 150 years ago?” E.g. what if there ever only was 1.5 instead of 3 trillion barrels of oil available in the ground back in the 19th century (Deffeyes 2006, Campbell 2013)
Taking that statement as a starting point, an interdisciplinary group of researchers spanning literature, futures studies, design fiction, social sciences, systems analysis, history and natural resource research have embarked on a project to envision what a contrafactual post-peak oil world could look like. The goal is to construct an alternative present where peak oil happened in the early 1970’s and were we now (2017) have lived with the consequences for more than four decades.
The first step will be to construct a scenario in terms of natural resources, e.g. a “baseline natural resource scenario.” What is, according to the best of our knowledge, the shape of the production curve that describes present, past and future oil extraction in our world? What would that curve look like in world where only half the oil ever existed? What would be the history of that world seen through the lens of petroleum geology, oil exploration and development options? Which half of the oil that did exist in our world would be missing from that world and how would that affect that world’s global oil production curve? The aim of this step is to develop a set of reasonable ground parameters and we will do so primarily based on geological, physical, and mathematical models for natural resources.
The next step is to tease out the geopolitical implication of the new distribution and volume of oil, e.g. a “geopolitical reference scenario.” With only half the oil present, the North Sea oil would for example be totally or for the most part absent in that world. Norway would thus not be the affluent country it is today but rather a second-rate fishing nation.
The next step is to use theories and methods from historical research, narrative research, futures research, science fiction research and design fiction to describe (imagine, design) a scenario that depicts the state of the post-peak world of 2017 in terms of social, technological and economic factors, e.g. a “social science reference scenario”. This will naturally be the most difficult part of the project.
Each “step” above corresponds to a full paper and the first paper, containing the baseline natural resource scenario is slated to be written during the fourth quarter of 2017 with the next two papers slated to be written in 2018. The full paper we propose to write for the ER&SS special issue will be a “prequel” that describes the whole project, including the thinking about the project goals, purpose, audience, parameters, variables, challenges, solved issues, open issues etc.
One example is that “half the oil” could mean very different things; it could mean half the oil in each place (in each oil well) where there was oil in our world or it could mean the first half of all oil that we have discovered in our world. We have in this case chosen the second option and an important part of the content of the article would be to highlight and justify this and other choices made by us. Another example is the fate of other fossil fuels (coal, gas) in that world. The topic of the ER&SS article will thus be the project itself and the text will also act as binding input to the work with, and the article about the baseline natural resource scenario.
The project as a whole has several goals, but a primary goal is to engage with the pedagogical problem of explaining the effects of peak oil by placing it not in the present (or the near future), but in the past. Since “Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future” (Niels Bohr), we believe that however difficult the task we have here set ourselves, it is much much easier for us to discern the global effects of peak oil in a world where oil production peaked in the early 1970s than what it is to predict the future of our world for decades ahead. Some have already used historical cases to identify possible trajectories for countries faced with an energy shortage (Friedrichs, 2010)
This work partly comes out of the community that has congregated around the workshop (conference) on “Computing with Limits”, where the second workshop(1) was held recently (June 2016). Many papers that were presented at the first (2015) workshop have been published in a special issue of the journal First Monday(2) and the proceedings from the second workshop are available through the ACM Digital Library(3). Computing within Limits “aims to foster discussion on the impact of present or future ecological, material, energetic, and/or societal limits on computing. [...] A goal of this community is to impact society through the design and development of computing systems in the abundant present for use in a future of limits and/or scarcity.” There is thus a strong affiliation between Computing within Limits and the 1972 “Limits to Growth” report (Meadows et al. 1972). The year 1972 incidentally happens to be at or near the peak of oil production in the proposed counterfactual scenario.
1. See further: http://limits2016.org/
2. See further: http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/issue/view/460/showToc
3. See further: http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=2926676&picked=prox