Is Zimbabwe the First Casualty of Peak Oil?

From the Falls Church News-Press (which may well be the single best source of information and thought on peak oil) comes an overview of Zimbabwe’s recent economic troubles, which include severe oil shortages. While writer Tom Whipple makes clear that this African country won’t likely serve as a model for circumstances that lead to peak oil, with a truly “dysfunctional government” imposing bizarre economic policies, the results may provide a picture for what oil shortages could look like:

By last week, nearly all buses and commuter taxis in the capitol, Harare , had stopped running, forcing tens of thousands to walk to work. While there are still a lot of private cars on the road, they are being fueled with $36 a gallon black market gasoline. Municipal services have stopped. There are no trash collections, no ambulances, or operating public works vehicles. Only one fire truck has any fuel left. The police immediately commandeer any fuel they come across. Clean water and electricity are available sporadically. Hospitals are out of supplies and the staff is fleeing. What was once one of the cleanest, most modern cities in Africa is nearly finished.

The long-term effects on the Zimbabwean economy are equally dire. The only sugar refinery is shut due to a lack of coal caused by a lack of fuel for the coal-transporting railroad. Production of tobacco, a major export crop, is already down to 30 percent of pre-land reform levels. It now appears that only about five percent of the normal crop will be planted this year.

Large numbers of Zimbabweans are fleeing the county in the midst of what is clearly an economic death spiral. Famine, mass movements of peoples, and political turmoil cannot be far behind.

I don’t want to add fuel to worst-case scenarios proposed by some peak oil thinkers, and should again state that Zimbabwe is unique because of its levels of political corruption and it’s woefully mishandled economy. At the same time, it’s certainly useful to think about what severe oil shortages could mean for any of us. I heard, for instance, that officials in Houston are concerned about gas shortages as they try to direct hundreds of thousands of people back into the city after Rita. It will be interesting to see how that scenario plays out…

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