Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Peak Oil Update

Most of my readers are probably well versed in Peak Oil. I always smile somewhat sadly, when I hear someone call something the defining issue of the time, like campaign finance, growing economic inequality, or even the erosion of individual liberty. Those of us long immersed in the Peak Oil scene, know what is, even if most of us are confused really, as to what to do with such knowledge. Especially as word from the media is trumpeting American energy independence, desperately inflating the next bubble, convincing a public that doesn't really need much convincing that there's no need to worry, despite what is staring us in the face. Anyone otherwise well versed in the language of EROEI - energy return on energy invested, the exponential function, and the difference between conventional drilling and deep water, shale and tar sands extraction, knows full well the whole mess is doomed, and sooner rather than later. Admitting that to oneself is hard enough, though. Communicating it is something different entirely.

Climate scientists have mostly failed in this regard, when it comes to climate change. Just as Peak Oil, the climate science is in, and it's conclusive. Obvious really, only confirming what one should be able to comprehend even without it. But so far, belief has plummeted, in favor of whatever will not blame us for it, or in outright denial of the science. Scientists don't get it, why the public doesn't get it. They just assumed, if we show them the numbers, they will understand. It reminds me of Timothy Leary back in the sixties, assuming everyone would just take LSD and all would be peaceful. Neither anticipated the establishment backlash, nor the people's refusal. Who knew that the climate numbers wouldn't matter to so many, that so many people would believe only what they wanted to hear? Who fully grasped the extent to which Americans would favor an emotional message, a narrative, and the reality of it wouldn't really matter as long as it confirmed one's ideologically driven world view?

There's a great implausibility of ever convincing Americans about any of the science behind Peak Everything, the exponential function, and climate change. You can't really argue for any kind of benefit, when the core of your argument is that everything is about to go to hell. Not any benefit that most Americans can conceive of, who have lost so much sense of any relationship to the Earth. I mean, how really are you going to communicate to someone bitching about economics and the welfare state, and the flaw in subsidizing either the poor or corporations, that the fossil fuel energy consumption of the average American is something like equal to the labor of about 160 slaves, who work without pause, who don't question your authority? In a sense, hardly a one of us truly earns the life we have grown accustomed to. Oh, and by the way, those slaves are about to be re-distributed in a way that is going to reduce the support for most of us. And this is why that is good for you!

People may not want to hear it, but connecting the economy, energy and the ecology of climate change, makes for a powerful narrative, hard to deny. Few are building this narrative better than Nicole Foss, Ilargi and Ashvin over at The Automatic Earth, John Michael Greer, @ The Archdruid-Report, Chris Martenson with his Crash Course*, Sharon Astyk on her farm, the many who contribute to the Post Carbon Institute and their Energy Bulletin, and the Oil Drum. There are myriad others, and it's encouraging to see, wherever some hyper-optimistic speculation about oil supplies appears, there are plenty who appear with literate comments to correct it. Citi-bank would have you believe that you never have to worry about oil ever again. So would the Motley Fool, who would make an unsuspecting one out of you, as if propaganda were somehow worthy as a tool of macro-economic punditry. By god, the Wall Street Journal had more sense, hinting at least, that claiming peak oil as dead is actually dependent on all that fancy technology accounting for a 12 million barrel a day shortfall in domestic supply vs imports, and not bankrupting the economy in the process.

It doesn't look like there is going to be the capital to make it work. The whole argument on technology and capital overcoming any finite limits, depends on some very dubious attitudes: first, denial that world oil supply has been flat since 2005, despite high prices; second, denial that economic growth is stymied by a flat oil supply, and a grossly over-extended economy in which far too much capital is swallowed up by interest payments on debt; third, pretending that throwing more and more capital at energy extraction and preparation isn't taking money from elsewhere in the economy; fourth, ignoring that upward ratcheting demand worldwide is putting severe strains on supply; fifth, denial of the evidence that all that new shale and tar sands play isn't nearly as productive as it has been made out to be by the industry; and sixth, denial that all these new non-conventional oil resources are exceptionally detrimental in every aspect, ecologically.

Meanwhile, just as dubiously, are mainstream environmentalists continuing to parrot the idea that we can all live supported by just as many energy slaves, if we just kick the addiction to oil and switch to renewables, an idea hardly one whit less delusional and detrimental to the future of this country than the idea that fossil fuel energy is unlimited. Any kind of renewable based economy, as we understand renewables, is one that would be considerably less complex. America's suburbs aren't designed for it. Nothing of America's civilization is. Everything we know as modern is entirely dependent on cheap and abundant oil...

Contemplating it all is akin to destroying, or over-coming, or transcending the ego. It is truly apocalyptic, whatever you may believe about the prophecies of the time. How much courage does that take, to face it without being forced to by fate? And how easy is it to fall into cynicism, or mockery, as a kind of boundary between myself and the reality of an unraveling world? I've grown weary of commenting in the Huffpost, so many there exercising both cynicism and mockery, and viciousness besides. The idea that we don't really deserve to survive, as a species, is an increasingly prevalent one. Is there any greater ugliness than this, a people convinced of their own inherent shame, as if a world of connection and clarity and love were not their's by right, whatever any authority might say about it? What rights do a people deserve, who have given up on caring and concern? What rights are they going to be given?

What distinguishes the writers and websites listed above, is their choosing life. The have not thrown up their hands, saying, "It will work itself out." They recognize this time as one of unprecedented upheavals, and yet also unlimited possibility, if one is willing to let go of the ideas that are driving the culture toward oblivion. They invest in ideas, and action, about what to do in response to declining energy supplies and economic breakdown; while most of the rest of the country is too busy blaming someone else for whatever problems, without really looking at the core of why things are as they are, and our own part in it. I've been reading a lot about the Illuminati, and end times thinking, in research for a book, and most of what I've found consists in looking for someone to blame, anyone but my self, the more abstract and distant the villain, the better. Consider instead, that no one is at fault for the state of the world, and everyone is. I recommend letting go of the madness, and focusing on whatever you can do to heal, to prepare your core for the troubles ahead. There is a point, when there isn't any more you can read about Peak Oil, Peak Resources, the state of the economy, climate change, epic corruption and denial, that isn't basically redundant. That is something like the beginning of understanding. After that, there is only what I can do, to recover my relationship to the Earth.

* I was cribbing off and parasitizing Chris Martenson's piece on “Dangerous Ideas” for this post. You can find links to the above sites in the Links section, on the left-side column of this blog, though I expect a fair number of my readers are familiar with them all.


Spencer Lane said...

Well said. I feel your pain when it comes to informing others about what I suspect will be "sooner rather than later." Responses to personal Facebook postings run the gamut from hunker-down and grow your own to no need to change because I'm an Egyptian crocodile, I live in denial.

I have learned over the past year that some people hold onto the view that God would not make a planet that Man could destroy. Another equally disturbing is "research" has shown the oil fields in Texas to be filling back up because oil is like any other natural thing the Earth makes.

The issue is an honest example of the fable of the grasshopper and the ant. I hope in the future the grasshoppers that beat on my door are not carrying guns.

May peace find us all.

Thardiust said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Thardiust said...

Sorry about the bad grammar what I'd meant to say was:

What you've said reflects why phrases like, "The Powers That Be," are so disempowering. When people repeat that saying like a slogan, they give up the power inherent within themselves. Though there are individuals out there who don't have anyone's best interest at heart, constantly complaining about and labeling them siphon's people's energy into whatever they don't want to see more of rather than changing anything. Similarly, whatever exists inside of us will continue manifesting on the outside in ways we don't want until we begin understanding why whatever plagues us continues to exist.

William Hunter Duncan said...

Spencer Lane,

I've quit saying anything about it on Facebook, almost. Mostly, I don't get any response when I have - silence. Recently, a man asked, do we have to elect Newt Gingrich to get $2.50 gas? I replied that we would never see that again, and explained briefly why. The only person who responded was a woman who said, we would have $2.50 gas if we could only drill in our own country.


Complaining about the Powers That Be is too often confused as doing something. We all complain about our oppressors. Few channel that energy constructively. And fewer still transcend the need.