You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘isthisnotagame?’ category.

Warning symbol showing a fuel gauge on E“Oil prices raise cost of making range of goods . . . Hard choices all over . . . profits suffer, prices rise, workers’ hours are cut . . . airlines, shippers and car owners are no longer the only ones being squeezed . . . companies that make hard goods are watching their costs skyrocket . . . unpleasant choices . . . the sense that many companies may be hitting a wall is palpable . . . cutting jobs at an accelerating pace . . . more dire action may be in store . . . since last spring, the average profits of the nation’s corporations have declined at an annual rate of nearly 6 percent . . . ‘starting to be confronted with unprecedented price increases’ . . . ‘these surges in energy prices are just one surge too many’ for companies to handle. More news that sounds eerily like World Without Oil, from a front-page above-the-fold article today in the New York Times.

Advertisements

by Robert WhitlockSo said Peter Carroll, a representative for the trucking industry in the UK, about fuel prices, shortly after he parked his big rig on the A40, closing that major artery into London. The blockades are beginning again in Europe, in a manner prescient of the Petrol Wars of 2000, which pretty much shut down France and the UK at that time.

The problem is this: ordinary citizens can adapt to rising fuel costs by using transit or cutting back miles driven. But truckers, fishermen etc. have no such elasticity to their lives, and now that diesel is near $10 a gallon they’re not about to suffer alone.

Which brings up the question: when can we expect renewed blockades and truckers’ strikes in the US, where truckers are similarly stretched past the breaking point? Expect no warning, as these events, loosely organized by CB and cell phone, are classic flashmobs.

Photo by Robert Whitlock via Flickr

People surging into cars in a transit stationThis just in from Jane McGonigal (otherwise known as mPathyTest) who’s in New York for the Stories From The Near Future conference: an article in the New York Times titled “Gas Prices Send Surge of Riders To Mass Transit.” Apparently, gas prices are motivating people to take transit in record numbers, catching transit planners by surprise. “Nobody believed that people would actually give up their cars to ride public transportation,” says the executive director of the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority. “The whole NYT article reads like a KalWithoutOil report,” Jane says.

The biggest surges are occurring in metro areas in the South and West – the very strongholds of American driving culture. The article says Denver ridership is up 8%, for example, and several routes now run at capacity at rush hour.

Now this is no surprise to WWO players. Player Ararejul explicated this very situation in her video posted from Denver, titled “Is Public Transportation Ready?” Posted over a year ago, I might add. “This was the first thing our players predicted and documented when gas hit $4 a gallon,” Jane notes. “Dude, WWO seriously worked as a forecasting device.” One that looked not to the past for answers, nor to experts, but to the future and the collective imagination.

Photo by caribb via Flickr.

….possible within two years, says Sachs Goldman via Bloomberg and widely reported. Folks, less than a year ago “$200 a barrel” was shorthand for catastrophe. Witness our fellow simulation, OilShockwave, which in September 2007 posited a global geopolitical crisis precipitated by oil at $150 a barrel.

Here they are again: real-life headlines that look as though they come right out of World Without Oil. I don’t want to see headlines like these. The question is: is the WWO game helping people adjust to the new economic reality they describe? And – is the game helping to create other realities as well?

Recent Headlines Ripped from WWO

photo by Lex in the City, via Flickr. Thanks Lex!An article by John Wilen in the Business section today talks about how airlines are slowing down to save fuel. Meanwhile, Gary Richards, our local reporter on commute and traffic, advises his readers to stop whining about fuel prices and slow down – by his calculation, dropping one’s speed from 75 to 60 mph is like paying 30 cents less per gallon at the pump.

These articles bring out another finding of the World Without Oil game – that oil = speed. Americans consume an inordinate amount of oil largely because we don’t like to wait – for the bus or the train, for example, or for that cool new weight machine we ordered online. 747s fly everywhere loaded with cargo that could be sent vastly more efficiently by boat or train.

But of course, paradoxically, we also don’t like to be forced to rush all the bloody time. WWO people were quick to pick up on this silver lining to the dark cloud. Here, listen as Avantgame explains it in a phone call from Berkeley – recorded during Week 17 of the Oil Crisis of 2007. Or download the MP3:

The Upside to Slowing Down, by Avantgame

Photo by Lex in the City via Flickr.

He bent the locking cap, but it held.Varin (who some of you know as Illiana_Speedster, or maybe his daughter) told me about fuel thefts in Indiana. I had just seen an article here about fuel thefts in California. So I Googled it. Not surprisingly, with diesel well over $4 a gallon and gasoline also in many places, there are reports of fuel thefts all over. Not just gas-n-gos, either, but pretty major stuff: Pump reprogramming. Tank drilling. Fleet and storage tank drainings. The sort of stuff, I’m thinking, that never appears in official scenarios but which impacts people’s lives hugely, the World Without Oil experience tells us. So I’m off to the store to buy locking gas caps, if any are still in stock. As Varin says, “It’s like we’re playing the game all over again.” 😮

On the left, the World Without Oil fiction; on the right, the realityNina Simon works on cool museum stuff (like the Spy Museum [cue theme music]) and posted a thoughtful post-mortem on World Without Oil some months ago in her richly ideated blog, Museum 2.0, pointing up the game’s educational side. She’s presenting museum-quality newtech ideas at a museum conference this week and sent me the slide above with this note: “Your pic on the left. On the right, cellphone pic we took yesterday in SF. Using it in upcoming presentation. Sometimes I wish games didn’t have to be so real.”

Suddenly everyone’s talking about it: rice rationing in the USA. Coming seemingly from nowhere, although that’s just a bit of American myopia. The faulty rationales behind food-based fuel have been apparent to some from the start, and WWO player GailTheActuary laid them out pretty clearly in this post back during the game. But it’s still strange to see this sort of unintuited ramification of oil addiction burst onto the scene – it’s in eerie parallel to the World Without Oil game itself, when this sort of thing occurred every day. As we approach the first anniversary of the start of the oil shock, it’s preja-vu all over again. (Thanks Marie)

Was this not a game? Was World Without Oil indeed a look at the shape of things to come?

This article by Jacob Adelman in today’s paper tells of farmers in America who have seen the cost of fertilizer jump 20% a week in recent weeks. “We’ll get four or five price increases in a single day,” says a fertilizer distributor. In 50 years in the business, “I’ve never seen anything like this.”

“It’s like there’s no end in sight. It’s very scary,” one farmer says. The cause? Competition for fertilizer from China, India and other rapidly growing countries – and the rising cost of petroleum energy, which in turn is diverting natural gas from fertilizer manufacture into (more profitable) use as fuel. As we’ve already seen with corn-based ethanol, our demand for energy won’t stop even if it means less food for the table.

Instability growing as food prices jumpAnd make no mistake, there is less food for the table. “Global food prices surged 57 percent last month from a year earlier, according to the United Nations, and the World Bank warns civil disturbances may be triggered in 33 countries,” reports Bloomberg.com.

“Recent weeks have seen Philippine authorities scramble to augment rice stocks in the country, Indonesian officials warn of possible social unrest due to skyrocketing prices for basic foodstuffs, irate Egyptians protesting bread shortages, and international food aid programs unable to buy enough goods to meet their food distribution targets for vulnerable populations,” Voice of America reports. “This is the world’s big story,” said Jeffrey Sachs, director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, reports CNN.

Doesn’t this sound like WWO? The alarming dependence we have on oil in order to grow our food was one of the major themes of the World Without Oil alternate reality game, and explored in depth by our players. We use oil to plant our food, to fertilize and pesticide it, to harvest it, refrigerate it and transport it great distances. We use oil to truck in its pollinators and pump in its water. Irrigation lines, row cover, and other essentials of the farm trade are made from oil. In the game, when the price of oil jumped up and its availability went down, the price and availability of food inexorably followed.

What to do? Get educated, especially about local sources of food. One of the WWO Lesson Plans can help.

Meanwhile, oil hit $117 a barrel, and experts say oil prices may remain high even if demand begins to fall. Photo by mattlemmon via Flickr.

I’m in Phoenix, looking for WWO-worthy headlines in the Arizona Republic, and finding them. Front page box item: “Gas prices continue to top records.” The box blurb mentions an Iraqi pipeline bombing and cutbacks by refiners as causes for the inexorable march of gas prices, but of course that’s hogwash (the pipeline will be fixed in the next day or so, and the cutback by refiners is due to shrinking gasoline demand in U.S. local markets). $4 a gallon gas in Menlo Park, CAThe article itself (top story, Business section) barely mentions the true cause: oil prices still over $105 a barrel. They spend a whole paragraph talking about the refinery cutback, terming it “troubling,” but why? Refineries cut back when local demand lessens, nothing sinister about it. World demand isn’t decreasing, not if China has anything to say about it, and as long as that’s true the fundamental price of oil will stay high.

The rest of the article is quotes from drivers, and it’s all pure WWO: “Gas prices have really impacted our budget.” “We might not be able to take a vacation this year.” “I’m taking the bus and riding my bike more.” “I used to go back to Chinle, my hometown, every two weeks – now with higher gas prices, I only go up once a month.” Is this not a game?

Ouch Ouch OuchRevealing AP article today by John Wilen, highlighting the trouble that US consumers find themselves in today: gas prices are going up, no matter what. And increasing fuel costs mean that the price of everything goes up, no matter what. Under price pressure from all sides, US consumers are “combining errands, sharing rides, eliminating pleasure trips and using public transit more” in an effort to control the cost of fuel on their budgets. But what’s not happening is any decrease in fuel prices commensurate with the decline in fuel usage. Gas usage is off by 1% in the past 8 weeks, instead of its usual 1.5% growth (to keep up with population growth). But gas prices have only retreated by a few cents in recent days. The result: a father in Pleasanton, CA, is considering cutting swim lessons for his kids. Which may not seem like much, unless you’ve played World Without Oil and recognize that this is how it all begins.

Not discussed in the article: the Tata Motor Company, which seems set to buy Jaguar and Land Rover from Ford. Tata is famous these days for the Tata Nano, a marvelously inexpensive car that seems destined to escalate India’s oil consumption at a rate commensurate with its economic growth. Why would cutting oil demand in the US reduce prices, when demand is increasing elsewhere? World oil consumption is expected to grow by 1.3 million barrels a day in both 2008 and 2009, according to the EIA update of March 11. (photo by goatopolis)

late March, 2008Real Life headlines from just the past week. Thisisnotagame?

…the price of gasoline in the U.S. broke records, pushed higher than it’s ever been by the high cost of oil (now at $110 a barrel) and the ever-weakening dollar. “Analysts see little reason for the dollar to stop falling, or for oil and gas prices to stop rising, any time soon.” “Strong global demand for oil will keep prices high despite a downturn in demand in the U.S., two prominent forecasters warned.” Was this not a game?

Price of a gallon of regular gas in Gorda, California: $5.19 a gallon. I’m just sayin’!

Now if the oil-producing nations of the Middle East began to invest in alternative energies, would that signify anything, do you think?

Listen closely to the reason that Tom Petrie gives for why he thinks oil prices will decline in the next months: “Look, this economy can’t take $100 a barrel oil right now.” Which might be compelling to oil sellers, if we were the only buyer in town. Isthisnotagame?

Thanks to Leanan for posting the video.

$4 a gallon - coming to your neighborhood soon!Presented without comment, from the front page of the San Jose Mercury News.

Uh-oh. Fuel surcharge surpriseThis is what happened in WWO: as rising fuel costs impacted businesses, they passed them on to consumers, often with very little warning. (More and more consumer contracts today have a fuel surcharge clause in them somewhere)

Silicon Valley Hummer - runs out of gasPresented without comment.

Petroleos de Venezuela SAOil prices up over $2 a barrel, to $93 or so, upon tumults legal and illegal. In Venezuela, Hugo Chavez reacted with threats when a British court ordered over $12 billion in Petroleos de Venezuela SA assets frozen (PDVSA is Venezuela’s state-run oil company). In the Niger Delta, unidentified attackers fired on a vessel escorting oil workers, killing a sailor, and furthering fears that Royal Dutch Shell will lose yet more production in Africa’s largest oil-producing nation (an earlier attack on a Nigerian pipeline has already taken 130,000 barrels of oil a day off the market, possibly for months). To WWO players, this all seems familiar, as players forecast similar events in Venezuela and Nigeria during the game . . . especially since the nationalization of a multi-billion Exxon-Mobil facility in Venezuela (the action that caused the British court order), occurred in real life on Day 2 of WWO.

Continuing a theme I started in January – is the WWO scenario coming true, but slowly? In the news today: retail sales sink as consumers wrestle with rising fuel and food prices; GM announces gas-guzzler incentives to try to move stock in the face of an industrywide slump; major airline shakeup brewing, in the wake of plunging share prices due to skyrocketing fuel prices; and the foreclosure crisis in suburbs continues. These are all headlines pulled right out of the events in last year’s World Without Oil oil crisis scenario.

Also today, Congress approved an economy boost package of $152 billion. Compare that dollar figure with the estimated economy drag of last year’s oil price hikes – $150 billion, as reported earlier here. In other words, the  boost is calibrated to counter the  damage being done by last year’s oil prices. What will happen this year? Sooner or later, we’re going to stop being able to spend our way out of the problem, and will need to address the underlying causes.

Summerfield, Texas, 020XXOver at the sceptical futuryst, futures researcher Stuart Candy is posting a new WWO photo series, and he and Jake Dunagan mull over what characterizes an image that gives us the long view. It’s fun to envision things that will work better in the future (ref the futuristic duds in Back To The Future, if anyone remembers that old movie), but more useful perhaps to foresee what won’t work out so well (Los Angeles, 2017, if anyone remembers that old movie). And one of the ideas driving World Without Oil was indeed the idea that the future, like the present, is never anyone’s idea; it’s what happened while we were making other plans.

The price of oil surged over $100 a barrel today. That’s not really news, since it’s been hovering near there for weeks. A report questions OPEC’s ability to meet the world’s long-term demand for oil. That’s not really news, since various reports have been doing that for years, except that this report comes from OPEC itself. And airlines are pulling out the stops to save fuel, even to the point of lightening drink carts (how long before they start doing away with drink carts altogether?), because fuel costs have risen from one-quarter of airline operating costs to one-third in less than a year. The high fuel prices are starting to pull airlines into bankruptcy.

I can go on, citing growing violence in Nigeria, record unanticipated petroleum stock depletion in the US, unexpectedly high oil demand in China – but WWO players already get the point. It’s like the World Without Oil scenario is coming true, but slowly, slowly, so as not to wake the frog dozing uneasily in its overwarm bath.

“Oil futures rose Thursday after the government reported larger-than-expected declines in crude and heating oil inventories… Inventories of distillates (heating oil, diesel fuel) fell by 3.3 million barrels, more than the .8 million expected… Oil supplies have declined more than expected for several weeks running, exacerbating a perception that supplies may be inadequate to meet winter demand… ‘Stocks are just plunging’…”  Pre-echoes of WWO as reported in today’s San Jose Mercury News.

A good catch today by Gracesmom (Marie Lamb): Thieves take truck, gallons of oil in the Kennebec, Maine area. Eerily reminiscent of many reports we got in WWO…

“CHINA has urged local governments to set up an early-warning system to ensure sufficient oil supplies at filling stations, which face shortages across the nation, the state-run Xinhua News Agency has reported…” So says The Australian, here. Is this not a game?

Or so reports the Wall Street Journal today, here. Subscription required to read the whole story, but I found the first sentence pretty much says it all: “A growing number of oil-industry chieftains are endorsing an idea long deemed fringe: The world is approaching a practical limit to the number of barrels of crude oil that can be pumped every day.” And: “Plenty of energy experts expect sky-high prices to hasten the development of alternative fuels and improve energy efficiency. But evidence is mounting that crude-oil production may plateau before those innovations arrive on a large scale. That could set the stage for a period marked by energy shortages, high prices and bare-knuckled competition for fuel.” Sound familiar?

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.