The Hirsch Report and “Social Costs”

Risk management is prominent in the peak oil Hirsch Report of 2005, but what I found interesting were two quotes about how far the expected impact goes.

…if peaking is imminent, failure to quickly initiate mitigation will impose large near term economic and social costs on the world.

The costs won’t be only economic, there will also be social costs. The only direct mention of what kinds of social costs might be involved appears in the conclusions and summary section, item XI.8.

Intervention by governments will be required, because the economic and social implications of oil peaking would otherwise be chaotic. The experiences of the 1970s and 1980s offer important lessons and guidance as to government actions that might be more or less desirable. But the process will not be easy. Expediency may require major changes to existing administrative and regulatory procedures such as lengthy environmental reviews and lengthy public involvement.

That’s pretty vague. Allusion to price controls and rationing are there, but it’s not clear what the recommendations are. Is this the extent of the social changes expected? In Hirsch’s interview at, he states:

[People] do not recognize that if we don’t take action on the impending oil decline, populations are going to suffer beyond what most can imagine.

Suffering beyond what most can imagine–That’s several magnitudes worse than price controls and rationing in my mind. (Maybe I’m just less of a capitalist or have a more debased imagination than most.) With genocide in the news repeatedly since 1994, it would seem the imagination has some vivid examples to work with. So, Hirsch is saying either post-peak oil social costs will be worse than genocide, or we are collectively ignorant of the dangers of peak oil. Or both. In any case, if I put stock in this person the government selected to report on this issue, I have to re-examine what the social costs of post-peak oil might be.

It should make for interesting personal risk management considerations.

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