Thursday, March 14, 2013

Crisis of Civilizaton.6

I put on a reasonably successful screening of the Crisis of Civilization film/documentary last week. Afterwards, despite my notes, the conversation went everywhere. People were very passionate but it was hard to stay focused on a given crisis for very long. Eventually, I started asking the question: despite all the issues, which we should explore, what kind of life do we WANT to live? I tried to turn it from a negative question to a positive question. I'll need to follow up by email and with another event soon.

Now I'm in the heart of the oil and gas headquarters of the world as my job brings me to Doha, Qatar. It's a beautiful city, but it breaks my heart to realize the people and the resources exploited to make my 10 days here almost magical.

To the book:
Nafeez says that the U.S. meets up to 70% of its oil needs through imports. Mexico has provided about 14% to date, but they're going to stop exporting soon. China's gonna start importing more soon, too as their demand increases. Where is our oil independence supposed to come from again? Without reducing consumption in one way or another (or, more realistically, in a dozen ways), we're gonna run out really fast. High oil producing country after country are reaching their peaks, and even with the economic crises, demand continues to rise worldwide. What's next?

Friday, March 01, 2013

Crisis of Civilization.5 Energy Scarcity

"Over-dependence on hydrocarbon energy exploitation is a defining features of modern industrial civilization" (61). Eventually, we'll turn to other, more truly efficient means of acquiring and spending energy, but at this rate, we won't do it until it's economically in our best interest, and even the other options already discovered aren't as renewable as we think, according to Physics Nobel Laureate Robert Laughlin (the last link is to a radio interview with Laughlin about powering the future). Or socially (which includes military or other coercion-based intervention). Some (tough, broad) ways to bring the economy around a little faster (this list compiled by friends, other sources, and personal research and logic) include:

  • eliminate oil and food subsidies in the U.S.
  • include externalities in pricing structures
  • think long term
Cool people like former Sierra Club president Adam Werbach suggest some ways to supplement our dependency on the traditional U.S. economy with a more community-based economy. He can feel which way the wind is blowing in terms of the big picture, but he's not willing to give up yet.

So, it is possible we'll find other ways to live, but with climate change happening as drastically and rapidly as it is, it's more likely civilization will die first. This chapter's about energy scarcity, though. Let's dig into that.

By 1995, there were 40,000 transnational corporations (TNC), which Ahmed argues exist to concentrate technologies and pour resources into the Northern (Western) core countries so we can manufacture and produce and grow wealth and economies, all the while pulling our raw materials (organic agricultural-based and inorganic minerals-based) from the 'Southern periphery,' or traditionally 'third world' countries (62-63).

TNCs don't have to be inherently evil, but if you look at the history of monopolies and the adage that absolute power corrupts absolutely, and if you've looked at history at all, you might see how this trend is something to pay attention to. "Today, 51 of the largest 100 economies belong to TNCs - the other 49 are countries. TNCs [which elude national laws because of the free trade agreements out there right now] hold 90 per cent of all technology and patents worldwide and monopolize 70 percent of world trade" (63).

The Hirsch report says basically that peak oil has probably already happened, and because we didn't plan for it ahead of time, the fall is gonna suck (67). Cheap oil is a thing of the past, and the foundations of civilization are going to be pretty badly shaken.

That not enough for you? Even the Army Corps of Engineers says we're running out of oil, and fast. What about other sources of energy? According to their and many others' (including Laughlin above) calculations, nuclear (from relatively cheap uranium) will be spent in roughly 20 years, and natural gas and coal will be caput in less than 100 years (68). What other energy sources do we got? Again, even the Army Corps of Engineers says that we have to look at the consumption, the demand side of things, and not just supply. 

Politically, even suggesting that we consume less energy is anathema. It's bad for growth. And economic growth is the only thing that matters. But growth is not sustainable. Not if we look at the limits imposed by reality, nature, and the laws of physics. I dare you (or anybody) to come up with truly renewable sources of energy that will not contribute to climate change and the otherwise impending end of all life on this planet. There is still hope. Becoming more efficient is a good thing, but it's not sufficient. We have to choose to live differently. And yes, I believe that a great number of us choosing to do so is the best and possibly the only way. This is why I do the research and I talk with friends and I make embarrassingly small and slow changes in the way I live my life. This is why I try to find the balance between exposing what is wrong with the way we live while at the same time promoting a Positive Alternative. Not just a way out of the crisis but a way into a better world.