So let me lay out my hypothesis. I think it's possible that the leading risk to global civilization in the medium term is the following chain of events:
- Rising oil consumption in the developing world, particularly Asia, particularly China, meets limited supply as the world reaches the point were it cannot increase global oil supply much further.
- This leads to a series of oil price shocks (the one of 2005-2008 being just the first in a series).
- The easiest and fastest supply side response to that is biofuels made either from food, or crops grown on land that would otherwise grow food.
- Since the energy content of the global food supply is much smaller than the energy content of the global fuel supply, this can cause major food price increases.
- Middle class drivers can afford fuel much better than poor residents of developing countries can afford food, so arbitrage between food and fuel leads to a "Starve the Slums" scenario, primarily in the developing world.
- This destabilizes various (mostly poor) nations in ways that are fairly unpredictable in detail, leading to revolutions, civil wars, inter-state warfare, etc.
- This in turn leads to less resource availability from the countries in turmoil, driving further spikes in food/fuel prices, further exacerbating the problem, till it starts to lap at the shores of the developed world too.
I emphasize the word risk above, since there are many things that could intervene to prevent things playing out this way, either accidentally, or as a result of deliberate policy choices (possibly even wise and far-sighted ones - hey, I can hope, can't I?).
So pretty much all my activities on this blog are researching various aspects of this scenario trying to understand what the main drivers of the risk are, what might mitigate it, what might exacerbate it, how likely it really is.
So for example, I see the al-Shahristani plan as something that likely has a dual effect: it delays the risk, by giving another interval of oil-shock-free global development, just like the 80s and 90s, but ultimately worsens it, because when the world finally does meet the oil capacity limits, it will do so with a larger population of mouths to feed, and of car owners wanting to drive, and perhaps fewer alternatives developed in the meantime (my mental model is that development of alternatives to oil and conservation in the use of oil are largely contingent on high oil prices).