We all have expectations of what our future could be like, but where do these come from and how true are they? The most obvious way to see what our lives could be like is to look at our parents and their peers. This is typically filled with some sense of revulsion that we’ll turn out exactly like our folks, but also some sense of security that if they managed, so will we.

From my own experience with climbing mountains, I know that managing one’s expectations is very important in achieving success and happiness. Going full tilt at one route to the summit and making that your sole objective is a risky business emotionally, because if you fail at that objective you will be disappointed, no matter how many other opportunities or experiences could be had in the same area. A better approach is to have secondary objectives, some of which can include simply getting great photographs, forming solid friendships and just enjoying the grandeur of typical alpine scenery.

I believe that many people today have expectations that life is going to carry on pretty much as it has in the last few decades. This is a broad statement as the lives of billions of people have been utterly different, yet the overall global picture has been of increasingly liberal politics and societies, economic growth and increased real wealth for the middle and upper classes. The poor too have had increased access to goods and services, although their lives may be more crowded and polluted than those living in suburbia.

My fear is that when people’s expectations are not met, they are disappointed, and the level of disappointment is proportional to the difference between their expectations and the real outcome. We see this in service delivery complaints that have recently made news in South Africa, where the promises of the politicians have not been matched in the real world. I think a big challenge facing our society is that as energy supplies dwindle, our imagined future of abundance is not going to be realised.

So how will Peak Oil affect our expectations of the future? Essentially there is going to be less activity. Energy is the key resource for supplying all our goods and services and unless there is an absolutely immense shift towards efficiency, demand reduction and renewable energy generation, we are going to find ourselves in a tight corner as oil supplies dwindle, remaining stocks are dirtier and harder to extract, booming China and India compete for the remaining oil and coal, and military powers destabilise energy producers to keep prices down.

A world like this has been called “The Scramble” by some scenario planners. In this world, finishing university is no guarantee of employment. Working hard in a start-up company will not assure you of expansion. Taking on a big debt will be high risk. This is not to say that there will not still be plenty of economic activity, lots of jobs and new opportunities driven by environmental, communications and other growing fields, but the days of being able to make and sell stuff just because you can, are probably numbered. Sure, clever marketing will always convince people to buy some things they don’t need, and the wealthy are likely to be ever wealthier. There will still be luxury yachts and private airplanes, but it’s all a matter of degree.

More importantly, the Western dream of self-determination and making a success of yourself without considering others, leaving them to look after themselves, is likely to put even more pressure on the system. Going big when the party’s almost over, to hog the last drops to yourself, doesn’t seem like the best way forward to me.

Less greed, more sharing and lower expectations. Hard to do, given the current fantasy in most people’s heads, but maybe worth thinking about. Soon! — Roger Diamond

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Peak Oil Perspectives

Peak Oil Perspectives

POP believes that the problem posed by the imminent peaking of global oil production is something warranting serious attention. The group is made up of a small yet diverse group that brings together...

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