Less oil, more local generalists?

(Colin Bell)

The latest excerpt from Richard Heinberg’s forthcoming book The End of Growth is out here. From what I’ve seen, the book looks like a must-buy. Just a shame it will make it out only just before the conference, if at all.

In this excerpt he discusses the (relatively obvious) point that our trends towards increased specialisation and globalisation in manufacturing and agriculture have been dependent on cheap energy and as oil prices rise, economic forces will inevitably push things back the other way, whether we like or not. People are going to have to become “local generalists”. Which suits people like me, who prefer to work that way anyway!

Clearly this will have an effect on the way societies work, since we will have to interact more with local producers. The interesting question is what will happen to the more knowledge-focussed aspects of work, and personal relationships. Provided (and this is not a given) we retain the internet, mobile telephony and related technologies, there is no inherent reason why many companies cannot retain similar working practices, albeit with more teleworking in most cases. Similarly, the kind of long-distance relationships maintained over Facebook and the like can continue.

The issue of course is that manufacturing the appropriate equipment involves some of the longest and complicated supply chains, some of the most challenging resource issues, and some of the greatest specialisation in physical manufacturing. So it is amongst the hardest to localise in the way that would appear necessary.

The logical conclusion of this is a situation where our modern economy survives in the technology/communications sphere, providing computer/phone equipment at a higher cost than today,
but with almost every other industry changed in forms. This could feel a little schismatic – but then too would a society in which most things are local but we still have global communications.

On the other hand, a world where we rely so much on the Internet and then it starts to fall apart – that really is apocalyptic… Interesting times.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Less oil, more local generalists?

  1. Kristin Brænne

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