Thesis and Antithesis

Well, it’s a few weeks later than I would have liked, but I did finally find a satisfactory minority report on peak oil.

It may not seem like it, but I very much proceed in a dialectical fashion in my reasoning. I practice flipping from one extreme to another, and seeing what survives each flip to the other end of the spectrum. Usually, when I hit a wall with resource issues, I go to something like kurzweil and the ‘law of accelerating returns’, which has been profitable in the past. But when you get right down into the data, you do need a coherent counterargument, not just an opposite one .

So anyway: peak oil debunked doesn’t actually debunk peak oil. In fact, it affirms the existence of the peak, and even acknowledges we might be past it. What this blog really does is radically redefine what is usually thought about these things. If you wanted to summarize the novel contributions, you could really say that this fella is arguing for efficiency and technological progress as trans formative factors in conjunction with peak oil that will change our civilization. In many ways he’s a technological trans humanist who acknowledges oil peak. A rare bird indeed.

What really gets debunked is ‘doomerism’, which is just another word for apocalyptic fatalism. There are, as of this writing, 366 numbered points; some are spurious, some are faulty logic, some are character expos e’s of some of the malthusian, fascistic, and racist elements in the peaking movement, some are outright yellow hit pieces. But mixed in there are some real gems which spin things in some interesting directions.

For instance, we can now point to some instances of countries where demand for energy has actually contracted without destroying the economy. “Peak demand”, is an interesting idea, but it raises some questions for sure. When you talk about efficiency, the fundamentals that drive increasing demand, ( growing population, drive for rising living standards, etc) aren’t going away. So what’s going on in the areas where demand is contracting? It could be a couple things: one is true technological progress, where you do pretty much the same with less energy input, and the other is what’s called orderly demand destruction. That is, you price people out of the market for certain things, or squeeze them so hard in some areas they can’t keep spending in others.

Now it’s not really clear what’s happening in sectors where demand is flat or even shrinking, and it’s reassuring to see that the economy in these places isn’t behaving like a bird flying into a jet engine (yet). But you have to wonder what the mix here is, between true innovation and controlled austerity. Given how artificially inflated economic numbers are, it’s pretty much impossible to get an accurate gauge of true standard of living measured against net per capita energy use.

In systemic terms, what worries me is that we are not really making the system more efficient in a true sense, but merely stripping out the buffer. What I mean is, when you’ve squeezed people to the point where they’ve shed all their non-essential expenditures, all that’s left is the essential ones. When you don’t go to the movies, or drive for fun, or take yoga classes anymore, or buy luxury foods, all you have left is rent, heating, and your staple foods. If this is what we’re calling efficiency, then we’re not actually making any progress, or even mitigating damage. If we keep contracting the liquid fuels supply or squeezing net energy in other ways, eventually the shocks will become too large to offset, and there will be no extraneous expenses left to shed.

You would reach a crossover point where the system gets too brittle to endure any further shocks, and it is very hard to predict where that crossover point might be. Obviously there is a price point where energy expenditures as % of world GDP bring everything to a halt. Eventually the equation stops working, and in a resilient system where you can’t distinguish efficiency from stripping out the buffer that makes it resilient in the first place, you might not have much warning until you’ve already gone over the edge.

Cannot be Serious

Let’s face it; the greatest failing of the human race is that there is so much we can do, but choose not to do. There’s really no reason at any point in our history we couldn’t have fed the starving, housed the homeless, eradicated most epidemic diseases, raised universal education  to an acceptable level, and brought the whole world up to a sustainable level of economic development. Similarly, the technology for the evolution of consciousness is well enough understood, in most every culture, that we could have blanketed the earth in enlightened people by now.

But we didn’t.

And why not? Certainly such things are thinkable. Certainly they are achievable, given sustained effort. So what’s the explanation then, for not doing something that is thinkable, achievable, and undoubtedly profound?

I think it’s connected to another thing, that I’ve seen again and again in my research, particularly into these collapse related matters; people who don’t want to own up to their own ideas. Who don’t take their ideas seriously. People who apparently don’t even take themselves seriously.

And I don’t mean in an anal retentive, control freak kind of way. I just mean, acting consistently with what you believe. Committing to your ideas enough to examine them fully.

I mean, how many times now have I seen the same kinds of figures, where, for instance, within the next five years the natural gas supply to north america will probably be one half what it is now? I realize that natural gas is only a small bit of electricity generation, but it is huge in home heating, and that’s a major fucking crisis in certain places when it gets cold. I recall reading an article not long ago where the governor of the state of maine basically says that if fuel oil prices continue to go up as they have been, the place will be largely uninhabitable in a few years. He’s serious. But he’s one of the few.

And what blows my mind is richard heinberg (not to name names) if anyone has the figures in the palm of his hand, it’s this guy. And yet I’ve heard him give these lectures more than once, and trot out these figures and then say that we could have a real problem in twenty years or so.

I mean, WTF? Is this guy taking the piss? What is his definition of a ‘major crisis’? Marauding fucking cannibals driving SUV’s powered by biodiesel rendered from human fat( I have no idea if you can actually do that, and I’m not sure I want to plant the idea in anyone’s head…)? Realistically we’ve been in an energy related die-off for some decades now, and it’s probably ramping up to mind-numbing levels as we speak. Is this guy serious? Or is he just trying to sell books, and encourage people to backyard garden?

Or Jim Kunstler, who thinks he can roll out 19th century pastoralism, in the midst of millions of people, probably armed, decanting onto the land to flip over rotten logs in search of grubs. Just one more guy pushing his agenda, who thinks he can draw personal lines around something of this scope. Not serious.

And it goes on and on. I mean if you’re not sure about your numbers, then check them again, and if you’re still not sure, then check them again, but if you’re going to open your mouth, then at least be honest about what you see. And these are the guys who are sounding the alarm for humanity? Even the alarmists are not serious.

And really, I’m not much better, if at all. I won’t deny pushing my own personal agenda, but I can at least own up to the fact that the scope of the situation may indeed trump my considerations. But being a spiritual activist, I’m used to history trumping my considerations. It’s not quite so bad anymore.

But still, I can look at myself in the mirror and know that I have the means at my disposal to complete the path as I understand it. There’s no doubt about that whatsoever. So what am I doing now?

Not serious.