The upside to higher energy prices and catastrophic climate change: Trade de-liberalization
Wishful thinking or apocalyptic doom forecasting? Fred Curtis, an economist at Drew University, has put together a mashup of peak oil, global warming, and patterns in global trade liberalization and arrived at the principle of “Peak Globalization.” (Found via Globalisation and the Environment.) A double whammy of higher energy costs and extreme climate events will disrupt global transportation patterns, reversing the historical trend towards greater and greater levels of global trade and forcing a process of “relocalization” — “The major implication is that supply chains will become shorter for most products and that production of goods will be relocated closer to where they are consumed, although this will happen neither quickly nor easily.”
And there’s nothing we can do about it.
Based on melting arctic ice and other evidence, it is clear that global warming has begun and existing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will lead to further temperature increases. The timing of the global peak of oil production is less certain, although there is a growing view that maximum production will occur within the next decade. Global climate change and the global peak of oil production will undermine the economic logic and profitability of long-distance, global supply chains of imports and exports. They will lead to a condition of peak globalization, after which the volume of goods traded internationally (measured by ton-miles of freight) will decline. While policies designed to reduce oil depletion and greenhouse gas emissions may work to delay the onset of peak globalization, it is the conclusion of this paper that they will be unable to prevent it.
Curtis doesn’t come out and say so directly, but given the fact that his paper appeared in the journal “Ecological Economics” and ecological economists, as a rule, tend to take a dim view of globalization and its assorted capitalist depredations against the environment, one assumes that he’s not all that unhappy about the prospect of relocalization. When Curtis writes that “The economic logic of the comparative advantage of global supply chains will be overcome by both increasing transportation costs and interruptions and delays in the transit of freight,” he doesn’t sound too broken up about it.
But there are some fairly mighty assumptions in his opening paragraph, not least being the imminence of peak oil, the certainty of catastrophic climate change, and human inability to do anything meaningful about either or both of these threats. Additionally, Curtis sees climate change and peak oil working in concert — but they could just as easily work at cross-purposes.
For example, we’ve already seen rising oil prices contribute to a global recession, which, in large parts of the world, has led to drastic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. The economic impact of peak oil, in that sense, may actually postpone, or delay global warming.
There’s also an implied presupposition that technological innovation has, for all intents and purposes, stopped. As energy prices climb, not only won’t we find new, renewable cost-effective sources of energy, but we also won’t devise more efficient ways to use what we’ve got — freighters and airplanes that consume less fuel, for example. Curtis believes that “Offsetting technologies and policies are very unlikely to be implemented in sufficient magnitude or with sufficient promptness to counter peak globalization.”
He could be right. The hitherto unstoppable advance of the Industrial Revolution could be reaching its high point right now. Curtis doesn’t prove this will happen in his paper so much as he lays out the “pathways” that could lead us there. But whether wrong or right, the fascinating thing is that the answer to the question could well be provided during our lifetimes.
More Related Stories
- Is the Environmental Defense Fund ruining environmentalism?
- Top 5 investigative videos of the week: "Winning" Afghanistan
- Jester clowns Westboro Baptist Church
- GOP: Party of crybabies
- Developers evict historic women's shelter to build luxury hotel
- Guantánamo prisoner on hunger strike cries for help on Twitter
- 3 possible solutions to international tax avoidance
- “I just want the U.S. to send my father home”
- Army weapons engineer tied to white nationalist organizations
- Ted Cruz against the world
- David Vitter's hypocritical, punitive, horrible new amendment
- Louie Gohmert: Women should be forced to carry nonviable pregnancies to term
- Could hackers destroy the U.S. power grid?
- Democrats may be even worse than Republicans at regulating Wall Street
- Eric Holder versus journalism
- A progressive defense of drones
- There's no substitute for government disaster relief
- Holder signed off on search warrant for reporter
- Mississippi could begin prosecuting women for miscarriages
- Mike Judge: "Bowling for Columbine" made me pro-gun
- Closing Gitmo is not enough
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11