ConsumerismEconomicsFood ShortagesPeak Oil

Jeff Rubin – $225 p/barrel Oil in 18 Months and the End of Globalisation

Jeff Rubin, former chief economist at CIBC World Markets and author of the book Why Your World Is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller: Oil and the End of Globalization, was the keynote speaker at the Business of Climate Change conference in Toronto a few months ago. The clip below is the excellent presentation he gave, one that bleats the same message I’ve been sharing for a few years (see some of the links in ‘Further Reading’ section below, for example). Mr. Rubin predicts $225 p/barrel oil within months, and with it a forced relocalisation as long distance globalised trade becomes an economic impossibility. In it he talks about the insignificant scale of new oil finds in comparison with increasing demand from developing countries in tandem with the annual declines we see with our older fields. He talks about the absurdity of saddling our grandchildren with debts they can never afford to repay, just to bail out automotive industries that have no future in a world without oil anyway. He goes on to talk about the failures of Kyoto and the need for financial mechanisms that could speed a transition to a low carbon, relocalised platform.

Have a watch, and let us know your thoughts.

Most permaculturists are quite familiar with the peak oil scenario we’re now in. Permaculture and peak oil concepts are intimately linked. Indeed, it was the OPEC-induced oil shocks of the early 1970s that gave birth to the movement in the first place. Unfortunately our politicians and economists – specialists that they are – are failing to see the big picture. Rather than seeking to build stability and resiliency into economies, their focus is still, stubbornly, on ‘restoring economic growth’. Studies have shown that even with a World War II type mobilisation, it would take decades to transition western society away from oil, if you want to do so without major social upheaval and suffering. Yet, even this late in the day, there is an almost complete failure on the part of our leaders to see the consequences of what will happen if they achieve their economic growth ambitions – that being an increasing demand for a declining resource, bringing another surge in oil prices, and thus cycling us back, and deeper, into recession again. With crop failures on the increase worldwide, I anticipate food shortages to be even more acute this time around than they were in 2008.

Further Reading:



  1. Hi Craig, Happy New Year. I agree that oil will again hit prices that will change everything. The re-localization of our economy and and our lives is the answer. He talks about how the outer suburbs will become uneconomical because of gasoline and other energy costs. He states that this will lead to more food being grown locally. I agree with this, I just wish that he would have mentioned that this would not mean large monocultural farms that would also be rendered uneconomical by high energy costs. The way he said it, it sounded like he meant that business interests would be getting into farming more around cities in Canada.

    Thankfully these same high fuel prices will mean the end of the large export oriented monocultures that have been created throughout the third world. One of the jobs for us permaculturalists is to help these people return to their sustainable ways of farming and restore the landscape.

    Yes, jobs will come home, but it wont be like rewinding the clock to before the first big downsizing in manufacturing of the 1990s. It will have to be clean manufacturing as well. This is where the tough domestic environmental laws come in. He mentioned as well about how much water is used in oil sands production. Last year, Prime Minister Steven Harper and his Conservative minority gov’t passed changes to waterways protection acts which had been in place for decades. They weakened these laws so the oil and mining companies can pollute the environment in Alberta and waste, in a disgusting way, the most precious resource on earth, clean water. Steven Harper is from Alberta and this is where his power base resides. Being a Canadian, I am ashamed of this man and do not consider that he represents me or most of the people I know in any way. Tough emissions laws need to be applied immediately to the oil sands as well as they burn off huge quantities of natural gas.

    Corporations need to be made to pay for their use of water at every stage in the process. To pollute a litre of water should be an especially costly venture. Although I believe that water should be paid for, it should never be privatized in any way, shape or form. This needs to remain a public, LOCALLY CONTROLLED resource. Locations that inherit control of polluted water should be compensated retroactively in order to remediate the situation.

    In the video, Rubin states that if we want to get China on board with emissions reductions, we must first create tough regulations at home and then apply carbon tariffs to imported goods. He says this will create the incentive for them to close coal plants to avoid tariffs. In a somewhat contradictory way he then says that the high fuel prices plus the tariffs will lead China to not need the US or the West anymore and that it will trade locally and domestically. He says the Chinese economy will no longer be geared towards stocking the shelves of WalMart. So, we are still left wondering how to get China and India on board to seriously deal with emissions now.

    Although high oil prices will lead to a resurgence in local and domestic economies initially, is this a sustainable long-term trend considering that prices will likely continue to rise? Or will it more likely lead to a localized society that does with a lot less flat screen TVs? Rubin says that higher prices lead to higher demand because there is more money in the OPEC countries for oil guzzling projects. That sounds like a scenario where all of a sudden, and soon, we can’t afford to burn oil. Right now, we basically eat oil, so what are we going to eat? We have to eat food that hasn’t been grown with oil.

    If you haven’t taken a PDC yet, I would suggest you do so and start to grow as much food around you as you can and help as many others as possible to join in.

  2. Dear Editor,
    If this article is correct, then why is the Federal Govt not fostering our “Bio-diesel industry?”
    The subsidy has been reduced for Refinery’s and in 2011 Australia will import 100% of our “Diesel?”
    Paul H. Stewart

  3. The one thing I’m really wondering about now: There is not so much fuss about Peak Oil at the moment as there recently has been about Climate Change. Considering that (a) Climate Change Denial only really showed up once the issue of doing something about AGW seriously was on the table, and (b) it is *very* curious to observe how so many in the “AGW is a myth” camp don’t seem to bother that others in the same camp cling to explanations that are in direct conflict to their own (which tells me that this is not so much about finding truth, but to a very large part [not totally, maybe] about a psychological evasion/coping mechanism), will we soon see “Peak Oil is a Myth” ideas having a massive popularity boost…?

    One might almost expect so. In a certain sense, one could almost hope for it, as it would very clearly show two things (for those who have a gift for seeing through self-deception, that is): (i) what the actual mechanisms are that have stifled progress towards less fossil fuel intensive approaches in the past [as the mask comes off] and why we have been mostly barking up the wrong tree considering the question how to most effectively address our problems, and (ii) how blatantly primitive the root cause of our biggest environmental problems seems to be: the human ego not being able to stand feedback to have been badly wrong.

  4. Hi Isaac – I understand your concerns re globalised industrial agriculture merely shifting to localised industrial agriculture. Such a shift could place significant strain on local lands (as now the true cost of our monocrop diets are externalised – we destroy lands far away as they’re happy for us to do so in exchange for a few crumbs under the table by way of hard currency in exchange for polluting and depleting their soils and water tables).

    The shift to intensifying industrial agriculture locally will certainly happen if we don’t step up to the plate and liberate our lawns and wherever else we can.

    Whilst Jeff Rubin’s talk is excellent, it is still of course from a specialised perspective. I’m sure Jeff hasn’t studied soil science or permaculture, which might have given him a more holistic understanding of the interconnectedness of the economy, energy and biology. I’m at least happy that his specialisation isn’t just reduced to ‘the economy’, and that he’s factoring in energy aspects. If we can just get politicians to make the full connection between these and natural systems, we could make some speedier progress.

    The BIG NEED now is for governments to make it attractive for people to start returning to the land as small scale stewards, and facilitating the education needed to make this transition as smooth as possible (it will never be smooth – but the longer we delay this, the rougher it will become).

  5. Craig,

    By and large, the problem with politics is that our politicians still have not grasped the issue that in the past, our economic system ran on resource valuation inability. Not oil, not coal, but the stupidity of not being able to understand their true value.

    How many slave-hours of mechanical labour are in a liter of oil? (Answer: about a full work-week.) How is it priced in comparison to this? (Answer: off by more than a factor 100.) The day exploration did fall behind production, the rules of the game changed. If someone commutes to his office workplace six kilometers each work-day, then even factoring in new finds, just in doing so he destroys more than two work-day-equivalents of hard physical labour just so he can work one day in the office. No economy that works according to such stupid principles can last long.

    A key point in discussions with economists, and an important reason why it is so difficult to get the right systems established on the land is the issue of the “cost of opportunity”: If you use a resource – land in this case – for purpose X (food production), while it could generate much more profit if you used it for purpose Y (say, build a plastic toy factory on it), then it will be very difficult to get X if this is considered a sinister act of sabotage against the Great Plan for society to get Rich as fast as possible through everybody just following their inner greed.

    What has to be noted here: Cost of opportunity not only applies to land, and whoever starts reasoning like that should be made to answer a few serious questions on the “opportunity” lost by burning oil for under $30/barrel, as our economy did for such a long time, if the very same oil could also have been used to generate value well beyond $300/barrel – where many of the stupid things we used it for would be totally unprofitable. Who is to be held accountable for that massive destruction of economic value? Mind you, oil burned in an engine no longer can be used to produce chemotherapy drugs.

    The key issue is: the sooner we correct that error, i.e. the more oil we use according to its proper economic value, the better off we are. Our resource valuation approaches have been seriously flawed in the past, and this must be made visible to all people as soon as possible. It won’t come from our economists – they never could overcome the serious ego problems they would run into if they had to face the fact they’ve been talking – and worse: believing – so much nonsense for so long.

    If we just leave this to collapse on its own at the latest possible point, when reality forces those unable to admit the serious flaws in our past economic thinking to eventually see the truth, there will be nothing left to set up a quick response. I could well imagine a scenario where for every extra year we fail to force our decision makers to answer to society on why so much value was destroyed by past mechanisms which evidently failed to determine appropriate prices, we prolong the bounce-back and rebuild of a saner energy infrastructure by a decade.

    Note that that skewed “cost of opportunity” thinking which compares against other uses of finite land, but does not take into account the same reasoning for finite fossil energy involved in such decisions is behind so many problems. Hence, I think it’s high time to give our economists a good slapping that really teaches them about “opportunity costs” right *now*.

  6. The headline is Way off. Obviously a simplistic understand of the supply/demand curve does not make for good predictive powers. Then again economics has a history full of total failure when is comes to predicting the future, so I’m not exactly suprised.

    As an economist Rubin claims the workings of finance will somehow “speed a transition to a low carbon, relocalised platform.”

    Exactly how low carbon, and localised is Mr Rubin’s platform I wonder? I’m no saint either, just saying that in the real world, real change will not happen until there is no other option.

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