Are we now in the “interesting” future of a world without oil?

The alternate reality game A World Without Oil began in a fictional world where gas prices just broke $4/gallon. Everything goes downhill from there. (See the Salon article.)

As you can see at GasBuddy, gas prices in real life have now broken $4/gallon in some parts of the country, especially California.

One interesting thing that A World Without Oil got wrong is it has gas prices significantly higher than diesel, which wasn’t a bad guess a few years ago. Diesel was historically always cheaper than gasoline as far back as my dad can remember. Reality turned out differently, however. The fact that diesel is more expensive in real life means that certain parts of the economy will be hit harder than others, perhaps in a different way than the game predicted. I wonder if it is a significant difference?

7 thoughts on “Are we now in the “interesting” future of a world without oil?

  1. It’s not a good parallel in many other ways. The main one is that AWWO’s imaginary crisis is a supply shock — it’s caused by oil actually running out globally.

    The current economic crisis has a lot of causes, but a lack of oil *itself* is not one of them. Oil prices are going up because the price of *everything* is going up — because the monetary value of the dollar is in decline.

    So the main assumption of AWWO — that the world has passed its “peak oil” point and that the lack of oil will be a permanent brake on the economy — is not true here. There is plenty of oil waiting to be purchased if and when the economy recovers from the fallout of the current crisis, which was mostly precipitated by the real estate market and has little to do with oil. In the face of that, any sweeping changes in energy policy seem unlikely.

    • Good points! I guess I didn’t/don’t know enough about why oil/gas is currently expensive… probably should read up on this more.

      Incidentally, Tim Burke thinks Speed Racer doesn’t suck, maybe we should have seen it after all… oh well, I enjoyed seeing House for the first time.

    • Oil Supply

      I don’t think you can say with assurance that “the lack of oil itself” isn’t one of the causes of today’s situation. The truth is, production has been flat (but demand has not). Look around and you’ll find plenty of articles noting that the normal dynamic where scarcity sparks supply is not working here. Look around and you’ll also see that oil wells are in decline, some of them steep. Look at Cantarell in Mexico, for example. Where will the oil come from to offset these declines? Certainly not from wells that haven’t been started yet.

    • There’s about a dozen stations and counting over $4 in the Philadelphia area, mostly on the Main Line. Most stations are camped in the $3.90 range.

  2. I was one of the participants in WWO, roleplaying a white-collar suburban character based mostly on myself, who I gave the uncreative handle of baltpiker. I got sick of it about halfway through, because it was a deeply flawed exercise. In addition to nifty stuff about how, since everything in the economy is reliant on transporting *something*, an oil shock can ripple through the economy fast, WWO became a vehicle for everyone’s pet fringe cause, whether that was Western Australia separatism, Canadian paranoia about an American invasion of the Alberta oilfields, or American paranoia about relocation camps and the USAF bombing Los Angeles (I kid you not). Many of the problems stemmed from the puppetmasters not really grokking what it was they were trying to simulate. An actual permanent supply interruption would lead to much, much faster rises in prices than was depicted. effects on America would be slow, since first we’d outbid the developing world for the remaining supply, before the economic pain forced very slow change on the landscape. Mostly, though, the pain would be of the death by a thousand cuts variety, which makes for boring storytelling, so of course plausibility got the short end.

    If you want a very rich story that isn’t crazy, I recommend , a character approaching the world from the perspective of a teenage girl living in Bristol, England.

    I’m guessing that diesel is high because of the chilliness of the spring here in the Northeast, which has delayed the onset of the transition to summer mode at the refineries. That means that cheaper but more volatile blends of gasoline are still out there, and that the fractions that make up diesel are still going, to a small extent, to home heating oil (which is mostly the same stuff). Railroads still get 427 ton-miles to the gallon, so I wouldn’t worry about WWO-style shortages just yet, but anything relying on long-distance trucking had better either reconsider or is going to be passing on the costs.

    • Replying to myself, ew…

      The plural of “anecdote” may not be “data”, but as it turns out I’ve got both to back up the idea that people are changing their habits, where they have the choice. Transit agencies are reporting that ridership is up, often by double digits over last year, all over the country. Anecdotally, I was on a SEPTA bus route that I took occasionally last year and the year before, that I hadn’t since moving to Manayunk. Back then, this bus would be nearly-empty on the segment I rode; yesterday, it was over half full.

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