2001 — On the morning of September 11th, the United States watched in horror as two passenger planes crashed into the World Trade Center. Another crashed into the Pentagon, and a fourth went down in Pennsylvania when civilians on the aircraft retaliated against the hijackers.
As the nation reeled from the damage, the administration searched for those responsible. First indications pointed to Al Qaeda and its CIA trained mastermind, Usāmah bin Lādin. Within hours of the attacks, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld gave the orders: “Best info fast. Judge whether good enough hit S.H. at same time. Not only UBL. Go massive. Sweep it all up. Things related and not.” The reference to Saddam Hussein foreshadowed a later expansion of the War on Terror — a war announced by U.S. President George W. Bush with the support of NATO Article 5 and Article IV of the ANZUS treaty.
In October, the war began in full in Afghanistan with bombing campaigns followed by infantry insertions, with the stated goal of eliminating Al Qaeda, capturing or killing Usāmah bin Lādin, and overthrowing the Taliban from the region.
(Ten years later, Usāmah bin Lādin was found and killed in Pakistan, having narrowly escaped his hideouts in Afghanistan.)
The Euro gained 25% against the USD, and changed the global investment scene. Iran responded by switching its entire central bank reserve funds from the USD to the Euro. The flood of dollars onto the market further damaged the US economy, but was not heavily felt in the ramp up to and beginning of war time production.
2002 — The United Kingdom, with all its holdings, hit peak oil production.
North Korea began to carry out all commodity trading, not just oil, in Euros. China started to buy up massive amounts of the dollar, a move promoted as a friendly overture in the West, despite the obvious strengthening of Sino financial markets by the new holdings.
In April, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela headed an OPEC meeting in Spain. The possibility of switching oil commodities held by OPEC members from USD trade to Euro trade was discussed, among other measures.
2003 — Citing known false intelligence that Saddam Hussein was actively working on nuclear weaponry, while using the media to promote a likewise false connection between Hussein and Al Qaeda, the United States launched Operation Iraqi Freedom in March. This established the second front of the War on Terror as the Hussein loyalist forces were quickly routed and broken up into guerrilla fighting groups. An influx of terror organizations over the next decade turned Iraq into as much a hotbed for insurgency and anti-Western Islamist thinking as Afghanistan or Pakistan. A U.S.-friendly government was put into place in Iraq.
2004 — U.S. farms produced one calorie of food for every two thousand calories of fossil fuel input into the agricultural process. Nitrogen fertilizers, global reliance on refrigerated transport, and genetically modified crops only further skewed the ratio. Many activists rallied to solve this global hunger emergency before the world began to starve, but media and press glossed over the issue, attempting to portray it as a problem only in famine-struck foreign lands.
Colombia hit its peak oil production.
2005 — In May, Saudi Arabia hit its peak sweet crude oil production, the most sought after and easily refined form of petroleum. With Saudi Arabia as the world’s foremost oil producer, this translated to the global peak production point of easy oil. In order to avoid loss of investor confidence, the Saudis supplemented their petroleum production with increased heavy sour crude supplies. This dirtier oil was less desirable, especially in industrialized nations, due to increased refinement costs.
As Saudi Arabia began offshore drilling in admittance of their dwindling supply of easy oil, many other nations started looking to alternative energy solutions, or new attempts at petroleum reclamation. Internationally, many plans and facilities were approved quickly in order to gain political favor in respective constituencies; however, most proved to be a zero sum gain in actual production of usable resources. Though seemingly opposite of the direction most governments should have been moving in, many saw it as a way to maintain a sense of normalcy in the face of an overwhelming issue with no clear solution.
Classic examples from the time period would be: a number of offshore drilling rigs that required more petroleum input in the exploration phase alone than could be brought up from an impossibly ideal oil field; ethanol fuel replacements that required more oil input through pesticides and fertilizers than refinement to gasoline would cost; unsafe drilling practices that could cause massive environmental devastation, or in some cases, even threaten to release methane bursts that were capable of causing extinction events; ‘clean’ hydroelectricity that created flooding and destabilized local ecosystems; expensive solar panels with low yield and poor storage implementation.
Media suppression of outcries at these policies were the norm as it became more and more taboo to mention the economic and strategic rationale of political decision making. As speakers and activists warned against wasting resources trying to capture “dwindling deposits of the last hours of ancient sunlight”, the general population was kept in the dark to the issue by sharply increasing subsidies on global fuel and food prices, as governments ensured that media and press pushed the idea that business was carrying on as usual.
2006 — The worst solar storm in recorded human history began. The radiation was expected to easily trump that produced by the 19thcentury’s worst storm, and have a major effect on technology on Earth. While the aforementioned storm in the 1850s blew millions of miles of telegraph line and even electrocuted telegraph operators and set papers on fire, the newest bursts from Sol were expected to reach into the high X class, marking it as an incredibly powerful storm likely to, at best, disrupt many Earth and space-based communications systems. More probable was that many such systems would be outright destroyed. As there had not been a storm of this magnitude since the introduction of modern wireless technology, scientists were unsure about the full extent of the damage that would be done. The storm was predicted to last for many years, and expected to peak in 2013.
2007 — The International Energy Agency released a report estimating that oil demand would reach approximately one hundred and sixteen million barrels per day by the year 2030. Several oil executives responded with alarming honesty when they made joint public statements that global oil production was unlikely to ever exceed one hundred million barrels per day. This caused a slow-building shock in the financial markets as more industries reeled from the speculative pricing based on these now-public admissions, especially given the oil magnates tendency to exaggerate optimistically about the availability of oil and the cost of its retrieval. Even by the most hopeful estimates, the situation was increasingly dire.
2008 — Oil surpassed one hundred dollars a barrel. By autumn, the U.S. economy began to buckle, and many major corporations and banks, most considered friendly to those in power, were bailed out from failures that were caused by their own over-speculation and abuse of financial laws. An overhaul of the financial system was promised, but no major changes were ever truly seen. Many of the companies responsible for the crisis were at best given a free pass to continue their ways, and at worst received massive bailouts for being ‘too big to fail’, an economic concept from the corrupt Aldrich era. All over the world, countries that relied on America’s status as a super power felt the effects of a weakened U.S. economy when their own unemployment rates began climbing and rashes of bankruptcies took the globe by storm.
Shell and BP released reports that since 2003, they had spent approximately one billion dollars each on alternative energy research. For comparison, the combined 2008 net incomes of both companies’ European branches alone totaled over twelve billion dollars, six times the amount they had invested in alternative energies in more than five years.
As a result of those reports, they were cited by governments around the world as leaders in corporate responsibility and lauded as having given back to the global community.
2010 — Two months into drilling operations started in February, the Deepwater Horizon — a semi-submersible oil rig operated by BP in the Gulf of Mexico — experienced a jolt from a seawater geyser that erupted from the marine riser onto the rig. This was followed by a release of mud, water, and methane gas, the last of which combusted, creating a cascade of secondary explosions that resulted in a massive firestorm, oil spill, and the sinking of the rig.
Litigation from the disaster was discussed in terms of a twenty year timeline, as was the case of the Exxon-Valdez spill, primarily due to the unprecedented scale and corresponding lack of accurate measurement regarding the full scope of the disaster. By the time the well was officially sealed in September, the oil spill covered over sixty thousand square miles of the planet and could be seen from orbit.
2011 — In March, a major earthquake along the Japan trench created a tsunami that caused devastating damage to Japan as a whole, but especially to the Fukushima nuclear power plant. This incident was responsible for a minor collapse in the Japanese economic machine, but worse were the predictions made by many economists: Japan would not recover from the disaster. Infrastructure damage combined with a high debt-GDP ratio meant that the Land of the Rising Sun would continue to struggle for financial independence for its remaining years. Seismologists warned that a quake of similar or possibly greater magnitude was likely to occur along the Sagami Trough in the near future. This threatened the safety of the rest of the nation, still recovering from a triple meltdown at the Fukushima facility. Market confidence in Japan sagged, and the effects were felt throughout the world.
In the Middle East, revolutions toppled governments only to be replaced by either weak and unstable coalitions of rebel forces, or puppet governments of other regional or global powers. Libya became another destabilized African state while Western nations manipulated events in Syria to further stoke the Shia / Sunni conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia, aware that both states had been knowingly engaged in proxy warfare for decades.
Iran’s meteoric rise in regional politics forced other local dynasties and global superpowers to remember the multiple Persian empires, and tensions continued to build along the Persian Gulf. While the Arab Spring brought a promise of change, fanatic groups and militant factions did all they could to make sure that the only real change was more power in their hands — the common man was still under-represented, if represented at all, and many in the West feared Islamist takeovers of otherwise legitimate revolutions.
The U.S debt rating was lowered as dramatic cuts and prioritized payments undermined global confidence in the dollar. Iran, China, and other countries began trade that bypassed use of the USD currency and most UN sanctions through currency exchange or barter, further damaging the United States’ odds of recovering from the economic disasters brought upon it by the nation’s debt. Rioting in several European countries led to an outbreak of conservative political movements revolving around ‘home first’ thinking, many times with anti-immigrant undertones.
Most citizen movements of the era functioned similar to the American ‘Occupy’ movement, designed to be a leaderless and persistent presence in and around major population centers. The leaderless nature of the protesters, however, caused major splits on several issues, making it easier to marginalize and silence the movements.
While most national governments worked to maintain global politics and economics, many local populations were concerned with financial well-being as homelessness and unemployment rates reached record highs in most first world countries. Increased global conflict, aggressive political rhetoric, and underhanded subterfuge mixed with an environment of revolution and desperation drove home the sense of dire times worldwide.