The Announcement

The deeply held moral and political convictions of both left-leaning and right-leaning politicians evaporated completely within five years after the first formal announcement. The announcement came at the conclusion of what became known as the “survival summit.”  A joint statement, signed by the heads of state of the 180 countries represented at the event, was distributed shortly after the summit.

FairmontChateauLaurierBefore the signed statement, and within minutes of the closing gavel of the summit, the summit’s host, Canadian Prime Minister Cynthia Alburton, addressed the news media in the Ballroom of the Fairmont Château Laurier.  The Fairmont is an elegant hotel draped in a rich history, steeped in the institutions of Canadian government and high society.  Built in 1912, its immense spires and stately appearance exude pomp and tradition.

Despite its heritage and its pedigree, the Fairmont Château Laurier was, ultimately, simply an asset, as its sale  for $143 million in late 2013 illustrated.  Shania Johnson’s father, Turner Johnson, had purchased the hotel from Ivanhoé Cambridge, a real estate company that is a subsidiary of the pension fund Caisse du dépôt et placement du Québec.  It stayed in Turner Johnson’s hands until July 27, 2048, five years to the day after the summit concluded.

The Fairmont sits directly across Rideau Street from the Government of Canada Conference Centre, where the summit was held.  Rideau Street is six lanes.  In the middle of the street is a raised curb separating traffic going in opposite directions.

There is no crosswalk between the two buildings, so when the Prime Minister exited the front doors of the Conference Centre, her entourage had to escort her a half a block southwest to the crosswalk, where members of the Ottawa Police Service stopped traffic to allow her to cross.   Watching the procession from behind the glass front door of the Conference Centre, Clement Hotchkiss remarked to Maximilian Färber, “If the President of the United States wants to cross a street, he crosses the street.  He doesn’t go to an effing crosswalk.” Färber didn’t respond, but he remembered the comment later, when he made a relevant point to an American friend.

Prime Minister Alburton’s remarks had been written for her approval before the summit had officially ended, but after all the decisions had been made.  Once she signaled her approval, her assistant sent the approved text to the virtual teleprompter synched with the Prime Minister’s eyeglasses.  Though the technology was not new, Alburton remained in awe that she could read an entire speech simply by looking through her eyeglasses.  She stepped up to the dais, crossed over to the lecturn, looked at the assembled members of the media and began:

“Good afternoon. Thank you for your patience for the last four days.  The sensitivity of the subjects under discussion made it imperative that the participants have the freedom to speak frankly and honestly, without concern that their comments might be taken out of context and released prematurely.  It was for that reason, and that reason alone, that the media was not permitted to witness, nor to record, the meetings we have held this week.

“I was chosen, as head of state of the host country, to make these summary comments here today.

“We have known for generations that there is a limited supply of petroleum buried beneath the earth.  In response to that knowledge, governments and industry have made considerable headway in reducing our dependence on petroleum products and in finding alternative sources of energy and alternative components to the many products that rely on petroleum for their manufacture.

“However, during the last five years, earth scientists including geologists, seismologists, and others, have been increasingly worried that previous estimates about the levels of available petroleum reserves were overly optimistic. Within the last two years, especially, many of the world’s most prominent scientists have raised the alarm and called for taking emergency steps to avoid catastrophic collapse of energy supplies. More recently, as you will know from highly-publicized announcements by scientists around the globe, these concerns have grown louder and more intense

“In response to these increasingly urgent calls for action to address the crisis on the part of world governments, the leaders of 180 countries around the world, representing more than 98 percent of the world’s population, convened in Ottawa for the last four days to receive the latest reports from the scientific community and to consider what  must be done to avoid a collapse of supplies and the ensuing chaos that would bring.

“What we learned during these past few days is nothing short of mind-numbing.  While there is no reason for panic, there is reason for deep concern and immediate action.

“If the governments of the world…not just those of the large and prosperous countries but those of the smallest and least prosperous…do not take immediate action, we can expect our supplies of petroleum to essentially disappear within ten years.  Needless to say, that would spell the end to our way of life, so heavily dependent on petroleum for energy and on products that require petroleum.  Immediate and dramatic emergency steps are required to avoid that outcome.  The leaders gathered here this week have identified the steps required now and in the future to avert a catastrophe of truly global proportions.

“The first step is to implore every person, worldwide, to take whatever steps are possible, to avoid using petroleum products.  That means, today, do not drive your car unless it is absolutely critical.  Take mass transportation, if you can, or ride a bicycle or walk.  If you must drive, make every effort to combine needed travel into a single trip to minimize the use of petroleum products.  We are asking employers, worldwide, to take immediate steps to make it possible for their employees to work from home so they do not need to drive or even take public transportation.  Every drop of fuel we save will extend the available petroleum reserves.

“We must admit to ourselves that the shortage of petroleum is severe and permanent.   We cannot manufacture more.  We must acknowledge that fact and devote ourselves to finding other ways to supply ourselves with the energy and the products petroleum has heretofore provided.

“The leaders of the 180 nations gathered here this week have unanimously agreed to take the following steps immediately upon their return to their countries:

  1. Urge their citizens, as I am urging on their behalf in my message today, to immediately implement steps to drastically reduce their use of petroleum products;
  2. Convene their governing bodies to develop and implement, on an urgent basis, policies and laws that will codify the requirement that reliance on petroleum products be dramatically and permanently reduced;
  3. Take steps to significantly increase the financial burden on users of petroleum products and progressively increase that burden with increased use…this will penalize users who do not take steps to reduce consumption;
  4. Take whatever steps are necessary to enlist the support of business and industry to facilitate citizens’ reduced reliance on and use of petroleum products;
  5. Secure support, both political and financial, for an emergency global initiative, which we have dubbed “The Energy Collaborative,” to find and develop alternatives to petroleum.

“The Energy Collaborative will be a truly global effort which will bring together the best minds from every country on earth, with the objective of finding, selecting, and developing practical and readily achievable alternatives to petroleum within five years.

“The challenges we face are immense and will require considerable sacrifice worldwide, but the problems we face are not insoluble. We can and will do within the next five years that for which we have not heretofore had the political will.

“Although the crisis is severe and deeply troubling, it makes obvious to every world leader who participated in this historic summit that there is absolutely no room to allow for the continuation of wars and conflicts which sap our energy.  And there is no room to waste precious energy in products and processes that are superficial and contribute little to humankind., yet contribute significantly to pollution and global warning.  So, our efforts to resolve this crisis will undoubtedly have some positive results.  We expect to see a dramatic and immediate reduction in global conflicts.  We expect to see a cleaner planet.  And we expect, within five years, to have a solution to the crippling effects of a rapidly dwindling supply of petroleum.

“Again, thank you for your patience.  There will be no additional comments from the participants until they return to their home countries and address their own nations.”

As one would have expected, there was, indeed, panic at the Prime Minister’s announcement and subsequent announcements worldwide by the heads of state.  There was chaos in world economic markets.  The call to reduce consumption of petroleum products met with mixed success.  In countries like Sweden, whose population was already attuned to the need to minimize energy usage, the response was swift and positive.  But in Pakistan and Bolivia and Darfur and other struggling economies, there was rage, rage at being asked to sacrifice for the sins of rich countries which had reaped the rewards of cheap and plentiful energy but now were expecting the rest of the world, especially third-world nations, to forego their opportunities for prosperity.   There were some who questioned the legitimacy of the claims that petroleum supplies were running low, but they were greatly outnumbered.

In spite of Cynthia Alburton’s suggestion that the petroleum crisis would end violent conflict between nations and between factions within nations, conflict continued, albeit at a much reduced level.  Britain moved relatively quickly to cede ownership of the Falkland Islands to Argentina.  The few remaining U.S. troops in Mexico, North Korea, Chile, and Uraguay were withdrawn in a matter of months, though bases remained open and troops remained stationed in 101 other countries, including five in which the U.S. had been engaged in armed conflicts in one way or another.  The ETA separatists in Spain fell silent. Israel withdrew support for several settlement in the Gaza Strip.  And  Venezuela recalled its forces from Columbia. But little else changed.  Other conflicts were scaled back, but not eliminated. Beneath a tense calm there continued to smolder embers of violence that periodically flared into violent flames, only to be doused by threats from the military wing of the United Nations.

Only three months after The Announcement, the United Nations effectively absorbed the Energy Collaborative as the petroleum crisis had become its primary focus .  The UN’s peacekeeping force essentially became the military wing of the Energy Collaborative, as it was to be deployed only to curb conflicts where either petroleum supplies were threatened or significant petroleum wastage was likely due to conflict. There were early, and obvious, signs that the United Nations was morphing into a new World Government, but suggestions to that effect had long been ballyhooed in political conversations. Now, though, those who vehemently objected to such a thing were shouted down and treated as lunatics who didn’t understand what was at stake.

The U.S. followed the lead of Sweden in transportation policy.  The newly-elected Republican president, Shania Johnson, who only months earlier had decried the previous administration’s approach to governance as “big government gone awry,” changed her position on the role of the Federal government versus state governments.  She quickly signed into law a Republican-generated bill that required permits to purchase fossil fuel.  Permits were given only to those who could prove, to the satisfaction of the new Fuel Acquisition Administration, that fuel was needed for medically-necessary travel or for legitimate commercial purposes involving an economically-necessary business.  Trucking companies were among the first to get the permits, though only companies that transported food and medical supplies were given open-ended permits.  Others had to go through a laborious renewal process bi-annually.   Police departments, fire departments, and medical first-responders also were given permits, but only in connection with the use of official vehicles.  To discourage misuse, the Fuel Acquisition Administration promulgated rules concerning the types of emergency and non-emergency events for which responses in fossil-fueled vehicles were permitted.  Burglary calls, for example, were classified as “no-fuel response” events, so officers were permitted to respond to them only on bicycles or on foot.

[I may, or may not, continue writing this story. But I probably won’t post it here. If you’re really interested in reading it, please send me $1,258 in ones and fives. ]

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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