A little over one hundred years ago, humanity won the lottery.
Or, more accurately, we found a fossil fuel lottery buried under the Earth and proceeded to extract and burn it with reckless abandon. The energy we obtained from this lottery allowed us to shatter all population records (going from 1 to 6.7+ billion people) by drenching our harvests with fertilizers and pesticides, let us make gasoline-fueled transport popular and affordable, and transformed our homes with unheard-of electrical conveniences.
Here we are, a century later, beginning to notice that we have become completely and utterly dependent on a lottery payment that is now declining.
In another hundred years, in true Hubbert bell-curve fashion, we may be producing only the amount of oil and fossil fuels that we did one hundred years ago. We will have spent the bulk of our geological lottery. And after all the processing, and burning, is over, what will we have left of enduring value to our great-great grandchildren? Will they think the burden of clean-up was worth what they inherited? What will be left of our massive infrastructure build out and production/consumption economy?
To get a glimpse of what our world might look like as we have less and less energy, money and materials to maintain our crumbling infrastructure, take a look at The World Without Us. The author, Alan Weisman, describes how the world would transform if all of humanity suddenly disappeared. I fear, and hope, that parts of the transformation will occur quite similarly as we just don't have enough resources to pave the roads, clean up after the nuclear disposals, and rebuild after tornadoes, hurricanes, and other disasters.
Nature reclaims her domain, plants and animals return to their ecosystems, and rivers begin to run clear. Meanwhile, dams burst from lack of maintenance, radioactive waste seeps into the groundwater, skyscrapers eventually fall, and plastics persist into the next millennium.
But after peak oil, we will still be here to maintain our works. The question is, can we choose wisely what to maintain as energy becomes less and less available? Can we choose to keep the best inventions, information, and achievements and let the insignificant things, which may seem so important now, slip away? Let the skyscrapers fall, but keep antibiotics? Let the highways crumble, but preserve our knowledge and literature in libraries? How will we decide what is truly worth maintaining for a thousand years?
Or will we piss the rest of the lottery away in a vain attempt to keep the Happy-Motoring lifestyle and economy on life-support, and leave nothing of value to our great-grandchildren?
What would YOU choose to bequeath to the next generations?