What will life look like 10 years from now? Most people work on the assumption that it will resemble life today, more or less. Yaron Hochman, on the other hand, sees things differently.
"In another 10 years, mankind will be busy with one main issue - finding ways of making do without oil, but continuing to do most of the things we do today," he says. "People are constantly asking when the world oil supply will run out, but that is not a relevant question. The question is, at what point will world production rates begin to decline? That moment will arrive very soon. We received a gift of a huge energy reservoir, but soon we will have to figure out how to get along without it."
Hochman, 26, from Jerusalem, studied biology at university, but now he works in gardening. The changing point occured three years ago, when he understood how extreme the changes in our lives would be. "The climbing global price of oil is neither temporary nor coincidental," he writes on his blog, peakoil.org.il, the only blog in Hebrew devoted to the end of the oil era. "The world is about to face a historic event, unparalleled in its scope and its implications for the human species ... We are now in the twilight of the modern era."
Hochman says that these insights led him to prepare a "Plan B" for his life. "When I started to read about the decreasing oil resources, this really shook me. This was a moment of awakening," he says. "As soon as you grasp the idea that oil is being exhausted, every day you find new aspects of the change that is about to take place. Oil is the oxygen of our civilization. All the systems around us are almost entirely based on it. We all have become addicted to a lifestyle based on a resource that is being exhausted. It is better not to wait for this drug to run out, and to try to wean ourselves beforehand. Whatever we do will make life easier."
So is the oil age indeed about to end? The day when the last drop of oil on earth is exhausted still does not seem to be around the corner. However, the energy crisis will not wait for that day to come, but rather will begin several decades earlier. The real problems will arise when world oil production peaks, and then begins to drop off. At that point, the age of cheap oil will come to an end. Assuming the global economy is in constant growth, and demands an ever-increasing amount of energy, it will begin to falter, and growing sections of the world will lack energy resources.
"The rate at which oil is being discovered is diminishing, and the oil in the newly-discovered reservoirs is difficult to extract," says Prof. Shimon Feinstein, a geochemistry expert in oil and gas at Ben-Gurion University. "It is clear that the oil reserves are dwindling; the question is just how soon that will be felt."
Unfortunately, the information on oil production levels is open to any number of manipulations. The U.S. Department of Energy forecasts that oil production will peak "closer to the middle of the present century than the beginning." However, many geologists claim the peak is much closer. Some of them believe it is already behind us, and that the oil era began to decline two years ago. From now on, the price will continue to skyrocket, along with the price of food and many other products.
Over the past few months, the oil companies themselves have started to hint that a world energy shortage is about to hit us. Chevron has already admitted, "Oil production is on the decline in 33 out of 48, of the large oil suppliers." Saudi Arabia has said it simply cannot increase oil production, despite the growing demand. Two weeks ago, the chief executive of Royal Dutch Shell, Jeroen van der Veer, also warned that the demand for energy would outpace supply within seven years: "After 2015, easily accessible supplies of oil and gas probably will no longer keep up with demand," he wrote in an article on the future of energy.
A world in denial
If the oil supply indeed begins swiftly diminishing, the struggle for resources could turn into an all-out war, and nations with oil resources could nationalize them and cut off other countries.
And what will happen to these other countries?
"It is impossible to say," says Noam Segal, of the School of Environmental Studies at Tel Aviv University. "Some of countries will have oil and some will not, and this apparently will give rise to giant waves of migration. We are talking about mankind being forced to deal with a massive change. The current economic system will not be able to continue, and this requires a change in the way of thinking."
In his doctoral thesis, written under the instruction of Dr. Avi Gottlieb, Segal is examining the attitude of the political system and the media toward the oil crisis. He found that they are largely ignoring the issue.
"This is a clear situation of denial. The facts are before us. The price of oil has risen fourfold in the past few years. Britain already has admitted that the reserves in the North Sea are not meeting its demands. But the economic media constantly manages to find some local explanation - a storm in the Gulf of Mexico, instability in Kazakhstan. They never simply say that there isn't enough oil, and that the situation will simply get worse. There is a great deal of worry over global warming, which is expected to have a significant impact within several decades, but the lack of oil is a worldwide crisis that is taking place now."
Segal says the concern over the energy crisis generally is based on the assumption that somehow, a technological solution will be found to provide an alternative to oil. But, he says, "People don't know that most of the forecasts about the chances of finding alternative energy sources are pessimistic. And even if they do find a solution, it will take a great deal of time to change the infrastructure of a world based on oil."
In the U.S., quite a few communities of "survivors" are already preparing for life in the next stone age. Some of them are stockpiling barrels of oil or building isolated houses in far-off places that get their energy from solar panels. Others are learning to supply their basic needs, such as food, water and heating, by themselves or through people in their immediate surroundings.
In Israel, there are only a few people who are making preparations for a future of this kind. Most are young people who encountered information about the oil crisis on the Web or in lectures. Pavel Gosenfeld from Petah Tikva is one of them. Gosenfeld grows lettuce and two kinds of tomatoes in the garden next to his house. "I live in a building with 10 floors, and with six square meters, I grow a significant portion of the vegetables that my family eats," he says.
Gosenfeld adds: "Most people ignore the situation, because the world around us still has not changed enough," he says. "But when you realize that the oil era will begin to decline soon, the conclusion is that you have to plan together and prepare yourselves for this. You have to find effective local solutions to supply your needs, so that you not only can survive, but can lead as pleasant a life as possible. You have to get organized now, while we still have time, and set up a small community that can supply its own food. When the price of bread reaches NIS 50 per loaf, not everyone will be able to eat. But if you grow the grains yourself in the yard next to your home, you will be able to provide yourself with what you need."