Redesigning for Peak Oil

A little reminder that design isn’t just about good looks. The world is facing a future of depleted oil reserves, which (baring the discovery of a viable alternative fuel, still nowhere in sight) means the end of the petroleum-based paradigm of infinite economic growth driven by frenzied mass-consumerism. The alternative we face is the ‘3S economy’ geared towards (if we’re lucky) Survival, Subsistence and Sustainability.

The only rational response to the end of the cheap oil is to redesign all aspects of our lives [Bulent Gokay, Professor of International Relations, Keele University]

No more flying mangoes halfway round the world to satisfy the tropical fruit cravings of Norway, or assembling cars in Mexico to be sold in Singapore from parts made in China. Globalization was premised on cheap oil, the future is Local (or at most ‘Glocal’, where information crosses borders via the Internet, but anything physical stays at home). The future is also likely to use less plastic, because most plastics are petroleum-based and energy-intensive, and will cost a lot more. Designers will have to think harder about how products are made, what they’re made of, and how much (of what kind of) energy they consume. In others words, designs will have to survive the demands and rigours of the 3S Economy. More about that in this article, Past Peak Oil: Life After Cheap Fossil Fuels by Bulent Gokay. For the audio-visually inclined, here’s a video [courtesy of incubate pictures, I’d take the title with a pinch of salt]. There’s also a nice flash presentation on the topic here by the Club of Rome, in the larger context of global resource depletion.

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