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Jeff Rubin
Jeff Rubin


A coming world that's 'a whole lot smaller' Add to ...

Until two months ago, Jeff Rubin was the audacious chief economist and chief strategist at CIBC World Markets, a high-profile pulpit from which he preached his unconventional and occasionally controversial views on economic matters for nearly two decades.

His blunt talk and bold predictions didn't always win him friends, but his penchant for being right, more often than not, had won him international respect - and made him CIBC's most public star.

But when he informed his employer that he had already written and was about to publish Why Your World is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller- a new book on the socioeconomic ramifications of rising energy prices, which hits bookstores today - he says his bosses weren't happy, with either the surprise or the subject matter.

CIBC declined to discuss its concerns with the book or Mr. Rubin's departure.

"I never asked for permission and they never gave it," Mr. Rubin said in a recent interview. "I had a choice. I could continue doing a job that I thought I had been reasonably successful at for the past 20 years, or I could publish my book. For me, it was a no-brainer," he said.

People have to realize that this is not a shock, it's a permanent set of conditions that we have to adapt to. Jeff Rubin

So what was so important that walking away from a two-decade career at CIBC was a "no-brainer"?

Only his prophecy of how ever-higher energy costs will fundamentally change the way each and every one of us live our day-to-day lives - from where we work to what we eat to where we lay down our heads at night, and everything in between.

Mr. Rubin has taken his long-standing forecast that inevitably declining production and rising demand will send oil prices inexorably higher - over $200 (U.S.) a barrel by 2012 or earlier, just for a start - and imagines how the world will have to change to adjust to such a reality.

"This book is not about how to make money. It's [about]how you change your life," he said. "What car you drive next, where you live, what are the industries where you're likely to get a job, what are the industries where you're likely to lose a job. Where are you likely to go on your next vacation, where are you likely never to go on a vacation again. What kind of changes are you going to make to your diet. Those kind of things."

By Mr. Rubin's own account, his deep interest in the big-picture oil puzzle had increasingly moved him away from the typical day-to-day research of an investment bank.

"I think the kinds of things that I was working on, and where our research had gone in the past couple of years, maybe an investment bank wasn't the best platform for that kind of research or those kinds of messages," he said.

I think, ironically, it's going to be a return to the past ... in terms of the re-emergence of local economies. Jeff Rubin

Like many oil crisis prophets, Mr. Rubin is a disciple of "peak oil" theory - the concept that world oil production is near its peak, and is destined to a long, slow decline, as existing low-cost oil fields dry up and new supplies become harder and more expensive to unlock.

Less than 10 years ago, the theory was so little known and held in so little regard that, when Mr. Rubin gave a speech to Calgary's Petroleum Club explaining it, he was met with a mixture of disbelieving stares and dismissive guffaws. That was before $140-a-barrel oil awakened the world to the peak oil threat.

"People have to realize that this is not a shock, it's a permanent set of conditions that we have to adapt to," he said. "I think that's a lot easier sell than when I first started articulating this message eight, ten years ago."

But unlike many previous peak oil books, which typically don't get much past "we're in big trouble," Mr. Rubin's conclusions are refreshingly optimistic. His world of the oil-starved future, at least for Western societies, looks a lot like the bygone years of our fond memory, where people work and vacation nearer to home, eat locally grown foods and buy locally produced goods, and suburban sprawl is replaced by revitalized cities.

"I think it will really restructure the economy in ways that people haven't even begun to imagine," he said. "But I think, ironically, it's going to be a return to the past ... in terms of the re-emergence of local economies."

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