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Peak Everything

Peak Oil, Peak Everything

Found this well-titled article in GQ about peak oil. For those unfamiliar with the term, it’s the (inevitable) moment when the supply of oil hits its peak and then starts to decline. Although it seems like it would be an easy moment to recognize, it’s not: Britain’s North Sea oilfields, some of the best managed in the world, hit their peak in 2000, and it took the oil field managers about a year to realize what had happened. The data are even more confusing when you’re talking about global oil production, and thus you have a debate raging right now as to whether we are approaching peak oil worldwide or whether we have in fact already passed it.

The peak oil bell curve is often taken for an ironclad rule, and in many ways it is, but it’s useful to remember that its curve essentially plots human behavior. Hubbert’s curve defines how humans extract oil in a relatively free market. Humans can modify the shape of the curve, and there’s some evidence that through advanced extraction techniques, we have been pulling oil forward and extending the top of the curve a bit. What IS ironclad about the bell curve, however, is the area underneath it: there is only so much oil. If you pull oil forward to ease today’s curve, it creates a sharper drop ahead.

The term peak oil is shorthand for the abrupt change caused by the shift from an upward slope, when the system encourages people to use more oil, to a downward slope, where the system takes oil away from people, when every day less and less oil is available. What worries people is that, psychologically, this is a potentially devastating transition for humans and societies to undertake with something as fundamentally useful as oil.

Easing this psychological transition was what the World Without Oil game was all about. A serious game is the perfect way to broach matters that we’d otherwise put out of our minds. It asked “what if?” and let people imagine what the first temblors of change would feel like. People played for the reasons that Sharon Astyk puts forth in her excellent blog, Casaubon’s Book, and emerged from the game better able to understand where we are, what has happened to Sleeping Beauty, and what we need to do now.  Photo by Ben+Sam via Flickr.

photo by bogers via FlickrI’m traveling, slowly making my way to Stockholm for Stockholm Challenge Week next week, noting the irony as gallon after gallon of petroenergy turns to vapor in my wake. Looking for something to do to while away the hours while our fully loaded plane sits idling on the tarmac for hours, I look in the seat pocket for a magazine – nothing.

So I find a flight attendant and ask her if there are any extra issues, and she says no, they get one per pocket these days and nothing more. Any other magazines? No, they were the first frill to go, she tells me, way back in 2001. I make some sort of sympathetic noise, about how it must be tough to try to do her job with less and less, and now with oil prices rising so fast, and suddenly her guard goes down and I see how terrified she is. She practically grips my arm.

She knows that soon she is going to lose her job.

The thing is, I know this too. It’s right out of World Without Oil. If only she had played the game, I can’t help thinking, she would at least be more ready for this, might feel less alone. She and OrganizedChaos might have really bonded. As it is, all I can do is tell her not to worry, I’ll scrounge up my own magazine.

(photo by bogers via Flickr)

Finalist, Stockholm Challenge 2008!Cool beans. The Stockholm Challenge has selected World Without Oil as a finalist in its 2008 program, in the “Environment” category (subcategory: Energy and alternative technologies). The Stockholm Challenge is all about using Information Communications Technology (ICT) to help counteract social and economic disadvantage. If you look at the finalist list (and you should) you’ll see two main areas: groups that are extending known technologies into underdeveloped regions (often in innovative ways) and groups that are coming up with new technologies or approaches for serving the public good (WWO is in this second area). Here’s the WWO brief at the Stockholm Challenge.

I find three other game approaches among the finalists, both in the Health category: Freedom HIV/AIDS,which uses mobile games to raise awareness in India, and Reach Out Central (Australia) and SmartUs – Games in Motion (Finland), both aimed at health awareness. This is a good showing for serious games, folks, showing their rise globally. I look forward to meeting all the finalists in Stockholm during Challenge Week, May 19-22. The Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) does select winners in each of its six categories, but it seems the real prize is to meet and share ideas and aquavit with some really innovative and dedicated people from all over the world.

It was the world's first serious alternate reality game, a cooperative pre-imagining of a global oil crisis. Over 1900 players collaborated in May 2007 to chronicle the oil crisis with their own personal blog posts, videos, images and voicemails. The game ended after simulating the first 32 weeks of the oil shock, but its effects continue, as game designers analyze its unique gameplay and we all watch the continuing drama with global oil prices and supply.