[Note: This is a World Without Oil post.]
We may outlive the Internet. To everyone blogging and podcasting about a World Without Oil, I admire your efforts, but I also must ask: what's your Plan B for when the power goes out? This energy crunch will not just be about gasoline and driving. The electrical grid is vulnerable, too.
"In fact, severe power shortages and rolling blackouts will now become a daily occurrence around the country over the next few years, according to NERC, because the antiquated power grid will be continuously stretched beyond its means - mainly a result of electricity deregulation, whereby power is sent hundreds of miles across the grid to consumers by out-of-state power companies instead of being sent directly to consumers by their local utilities, which is what the grid was designed for."(link)
Suppose you have off-grid electricity -- you have solar panels or windpower, or your own backyard wood burning steam engine connected to a generator. Maybe you even have a hand-cranked laptop. Cool! You're still ready to browse the web! But has your ISP made similar preparations? What happens if these disruptions cause them to go out of business? Where will your net access come from then?
So far most people treat the oil shock like it is "the" crisis, but in truth it is only "a" crisis, one of many, and unfortunately it is the one that will multiply all the others. For example, we know consumers feel the shock to their budgets at the gas pump. But some at the same time will face rising mortgage payments from their subprime ARM loans. Maybe they could have handled one of these problems at a time, but not both at the same time.
Here's another one: if the honeybee die-off takes a heavy toll on America's crops, we get the double whammy of reduced supplies of food at the same time as higher costs to transport it. One or the other of those would have been bad enough, but both? The oil shock creates a multiplier effect on other problems.
Finally, what about our aging population? Younger people might be able to use bicycles instead of their cars, and they may well benefit from the extra exercise, but what about senior citizens? Is grandpa, who can barely walk up a flight of stairs, going to suddenly jump on a mountain bike and start pedaling 20 miles a day? I don't think so.
When I say we may outlive the Internet, I realize those are strong words. I do think that in the future there will still be computers -- for those who can afford them, at least -- and some of those computers will still be networked together. I suppose there will still be web pages, too, but there will be far fewer people reading them. The Internet as the powerful social and cultural force that we know today may be dead. Easy, frequent, reliable access to the Internet by huge numbers of people may be a thing of the past.
We will need other tools. And we will need some other form of entertainment, one that does not depend on electricity. Better start building those Thunderdomes.
[Update: July 7, 2008. It appears that there is now some evidence that the food supply is being impacted by the lack of honeybees.]