Tuesday, August 17, 2010

We Will Kill for Oil

Honesty is so distasteful.

We'd so much rather see WAR IS NOT THE ANSWER, even if this sweet homily seems sort of hollow when affixed to the back end of something that weighs 6,000 pounds and gets 12MPG. Do these people think that there is no connection whatsoever between the 20% of our oil we import from various hot spots in the Middle East and Africa, and our 65-year-involvement and multiple wars there?

Was there ever any other reason for our cozy relationship with major human rights violator Saudi Arabia?  Or for our presence in Iraq, which is expected to displace Saudi Arabia as the largest producer and exporter of oil over the next decade? Or Afghanistan, of great strategic importance in accessing and securing the estimated $12 Trillion in oil reserves projected to reside in the Caspian Sea.

And how many people here want to reckon with the consequences of a sudden, drastic reduction in available oil supplies? So far, there is no indication that our local leaders even consider the possibility, let alone how it would cascade through our systems to produce critical shortages and major system failures. Chicago has no emergency plans in place, and instead of making the improvements necessary to our critical transportation and utility infrastructure necessary to keep the city intact and functioning with decent levels of safety and sanitation in the event of a prolonged emergency, are searching for more paths by which to divert tax revenues from essential public needs to the back pockets of corporate cronies while starving our increasingly decrepit and inadequate public transportation. To date, I have not once heard the term "peak oil" pass the lips of Obama , who prefers to talk about "reducing our dependence on foreign oil", as though there were any other kind, especially since it has become glaringly evident that offshore drilling is not likely to offset the fading production of the super giants, and neither are the tar sands of Calgary,which require staggering quantities of fresh water and natural gas to work, which means that the oil from the sands is not only partially subsidized by Canadian taxpayers and would have a negative EROEI without that subsidy, but comes at the expense of natural gas supplies, which are subject to rapid and irreversible depletion just as oil is.

Iraq and Afghanistan were Bush's Wars, then became Obama's Wars, but they're really our wars, and they probably will not end until every last drop of oil has been extracted from every last well, or at least until the cost of extraction is a barrel in for a barrel out. That time may come sooner than we think as it is. Obama's promise to end these conflicts, so quickly reneged on, is being flung in his face by foes and former supporters alike and will no doubt be used as a major wedge in the 2012 election by the next pandering con artist who runs on promises to accomplish the impossible, but anyone who believes that we'll withdraw from these conflicts anytime soon is probably someone who believes in perpetually self-renewing abiotic oil, or that we can run our economy on wind turbines, used restaurant grease and corn liquor.

It is probably useless to consider that our resource wars are only hastening resource depletion, or that all combatants will eventually lose, for the oil will deplete remorselessly no matter who controls it. But in the meantime, we probably have no choice but to soldier on, since we are still in stone denial concerning our extreme dependence on petroleum and are in no way prepared to make the adjustments and arrangements that would enable us to withdraw from the Middle East and lose access to the bounty of Iraq, or the Caspian sea. Nor is the rest of the western world, which relies upon the U.S. to do the dirty work of securing the oil supplies for other western nations, and any political aspirant who suggests that we confront the inevitability of resource depletion and consider these wars already lost, and learn to live with much less energy, is committing career suicide.

So what it all means is that we will continue to kill and be killed for the oil in the Middle East, and Africa, too,  just as we have for decades now, because the alternative, a rapid withdrawal with the possible sudden loss of 20% of our usual supply, would mean incredible chaos and violence, and random death on a mass scale,within our borders, as the systems we rely on to deliver electricity and clean municpal water and vaccines and medication and cheap, abundant food, all start to wobble and fail for lack of the necessary energy imputs to run them. It's an alternative that I'm personally not willing to accept if there is any way around it, and I'm sure you aren't, either, but I'm not holding my breath waiting for our leadership and general public to embrace the only alternative to "the war that will not end in our lifetimes", as Cheney  put it, which is to downscale and rearrange our systems and our lives to enable us provide for ourselves at a decent level of modern comfort and amenity in the absence of copious quantities of oil.


Nudge said...

Laura, good catch on president Obama never uttering the phrase “peak oil” but instead mouthing things about reducing our dependence on foreign oil. Unfortunately our presidents have been doing that same ritualistic phrase-slinging since the early 1970s while doing nothing (or as close to nothing as possible) to reduce our actual consumption of fossil fuels. No doubt to them and their cliques and the DC politicians and the friends & families of said politicians and the rich people/corporations that curry their favor, it would be ghastly and unthinkable to consider giving up some of their FF-supported perks & wealth.

Remember how the executives of the auto companies flew in separate private jets to DC to beg for money, and how they had to be /told/ not to flaunt their wealth so openly while trying to play the “we're so poor” card? The executives in question were displaying a trait very prominent among Americans – they were not even remotely entertaining the idea that someday we might be living on less oil than we are now.

People in western Europe live on a third (or less) of the energy & resources that Americans do, yet they enjoy comparable lifestyles, better health, longer vacations, and longer lifespans. They are already doing this “less oil” thing, yet still they try to improve the situation by making automobile use/ownership more financially onerous, along with other forms of conspicuous consumption.

Nudge said...

Dear Laura:

Hope you're having a nice quiet day. It's raining here now. I was out visiting some friends earlier and am hoping to have a quiet afternoon.

Over on CounterPunch is an article (Mike Whitney: the economy is in big trouble) that predicts the Democrats will have a tough time in the midterm elections. To take that conclusion to one of the next logical steps: our political structure will have a tough time when enough people realize that flopping votes from party A to party B (or vice versa) brings us no closer to any improvement of the basic situation about our debts vs our income, our lifestyle expectations vs our realistic means of support, and the costs of maintaining our complex built-up infrastructure vs our budget allocations for the same. Not sure how much longer it will be possible for either major party to maintain the fiction that everything is the fault of the opposing team, or that they and only they have got the way out of this sticky wicket.

By the time the elections take place, it will be even more glaringly obvious that TARP was a complete failure, a laughably shallow attempt to “smooth over a rough spot” which we were told was just a temporary interruption to business-as-usual, but which in fact was just the leading edge of a very large abyss.

In the news I read that Japan is considering yet another stimulus package “to revive the economy”. As smart as they are, the Japanese have been doing this failed-stimulus activity for decades now and should realize that it doesn't work. We're just beginning the same voyage down into the pit, but without all the advantages that Japan possesses, and with far larger liabilities stacked against us. We'll probably reach the bottom of the pit before they do. Stuff like this is what convinces me (utterly, unfortunately) that we should not expect much (if anything) from our government in the way of measures that could make things better in any real sense. It seems our government is too busy tilting at windmills to notice what's happening.

The real pain is not upon us yet, but it's coming. Can you imagine what will happen once the ranks of the 99ers are growing by half a million every month? Every one of them represents a failure, on the part of our socio-economic system (whatever you wish to call it, crony capitalism, oligarchy, the American way of life), to make use of an expensive human resource.

It is not that there is not a lot of money in this country or a lot of very worthwhile things that need to be done urgently .. it's merely that our system cannot or will not allocate resources to cover our present & future needs. People will be sitting at home unemployed while old railbeds don't get cleared, bridges don't get fixed, dams and embankments don't get the necessary safety upgrades, electrical lines don't get maintained, water & sewer systems don't get maintained, trash doesn't get collected, parks are closed, and more. Monies will be denied to education and public health and sanitation and emergency services and public nutrition even while monies are being showered upon war contractors, big oil, big coal, big agribusiness, big pharma, big insurance, big investment banks, and more. Houses will stand empty, locked up, and slowly degrading even as more people are homeless, living in their cars or in tent cities or in their relatives' basements, attics, and garages.

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