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Thursday, July 24, 2008

The North American Energy Diet

Been catching up on my reading (things have been awhirl back at the lily pad) and -- is it just me? - or is the news kind of...depressing? Are they hiding the good news somewhere in a different newspaper?

I'll have some of what HE'S reading!

For instance, this link on The Oil Drum says that fossil fuel consumption in the G7 nations has peaked and is unlikely ever to get any higher, because the oil won’t be there to LET it get higher. That means the prices of oil, natural gas, food, coal, etc. will skyrocket, and go increasingly to the wealthy while the poor starve and freeze. Heating shortages are projected in the next couple of years – the first hard winter, we’ll be in trouble.

Former subprime mortgage holder makes do after giving up last paycheck to help bail out Fannie Mae.

Of course, there are many opinions expressed around the pond; the cormorants are incurable optimists, whereas the water-striders tend to alarmism and the koi are all gloom and doom. But as I listen to conversation after conversation about how our energy crisis could be solved by new efficient solar cells, or third generation nuclear power, or T. Boone Pickens’ wind turbines, or concentrated solar energy from space, I feel more and more like the truth is that we’re about done. I think we’ve built pretty much everything that’s ever going to get built, give or take several thousand wind turbines or a few solar thermal farms in Djibouti. On the scale of planet Earth – and on the scale of the energy loss we’re about to experience - I think these last few additions will be just a drop in the pond.

So the message seems to be: We’re there. Time’s up.

The little skull on the left is Mayan for "peak oil".

That means we need to start thinking about how to get by on the energy we’ve got right now, less whatever we’re about to lose. And what we stand to lose pretty quickly is the stuff we're importing. The Cantarell field in Mexico is about used up. The Saudis may end up using all their new production to keep their own teenagers happy. And China and India are ready to buy up all the leftovers. If North America - the US and Canada - had to get by on just what's in the fridge, we'd all be on a combined diet of a bit less than 11 million barrels/day, as opposed to the 23 million barrels/day we use right now. What kind of life can we have on 11/23 the oil we’re using now?

I think we’re going to find out pretty soon.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Society's to Blame

As oil climbs above $140/barrel, and the mainstream media tentatively starts to stick its toe in the idea that peak oil might be more than a "theory", we'll start to notice that society as a whole is acting, well, a lot like we act in our personal lives.

Evolution - just a theory.

For instance, if our pointy-haired boss decides to give away the store to a rich and powerful customer, leaving nothing for our future job security, do we raise a stink and go over his or her head to get the rascal thrown out?

No, really, I have an open door policy. Just put the bag over your head and come in.

No, we just keep our eyes on the floor and hope the company doesn't go out of business till we retire, leaving the problem for future employees. Thus it is with the Security and Prosperity Partnership, which threatens not only to leave Canadians without the energy they need to live, but could put Canada on the next-to-invade list (after Iran) if we say no to the fixed percentages of our oil and gas that we have to export under the terms of NAFTA.

Let's hope they run out of gas before they reach the border!

And how about that new car? Sure, gas is going over $4 a gallon in the US, and $5 a gallon in Canada, but hell, we've worked hard - don't we deserve to get that shiny beauty we've been dreaming of for years?

It gives me a great view of on-coming Botswana!

So it is with the shiny goodies that our cities, provinces, states and countries have their eyes on. Here in Vancouver, we're expanding our airport, even when the airlines are cutting flights, jet fuel costs are (ahem) skyrocketing, and the number of major North American airports is about to drop from 330 to 30 or 40 in the next two decades. But honey, it's got a sunroof, and Seattle is getting a nice new runway - don't you want to impress the neighbors?

We made ours nice and wide for the new FatPlane 3000!

And how about losing that last 10 pounds? OK, the treadmill was probably a waste of money, but this is definitely the year I'm going to start going to the gym. Just as soon as I fix the rain gutters, and plant that veggie garden. And I've always wanted to learn to read Egyptian heiroglyphics. I can definitely get all that done.

Oh, also, note to self, create Life.

For society, the favorite never-to-be-finished project (besides Iraq) has to be the freeway. Our favorite here in West Igloo is the Gateway project, a massive freeway-bridge combo planned when gasoline prices were about half of what they are right now. Sure, costs will go out of control, as the cement, steel and energy to build it spirals in cost. Sure, the number of cars on the road will plummet long before its finished. Sure, it uses up billions of tax dollars and puts nothing in place for the future we're actually going to have. Sure, it'll probably never be finished, leaving us with our own bridge to Nowhere. But we can't stop now - we've got contracts. You want us to get sued? Best to just keep on doing what we're doing.

With some good signage, nobody'll notice.

Because, really, there is no "society" -- there's just us. Politicians are obviously using the same brains (or lack of them) that we are. We don't really want to deal with all the bad stuff we know is going to happen, and neither do the world's governments. Everybody knows that all change is bad, and worse than that, changing actually requires us to change. You don't hear Obama bringing that up. The only kind of change we really want is a change back - back to before email overload, back to cheap gas and lots of legroom in Economy, back to that sweet spot in between Vietnam and Iraq 1 when everything seemed to be going OK and you could get rich without instantaneous live news feed of every poor suffering shmo in Wherever-The-Frig to make you feel guilty about it.

God, life was good.

Well, a change back is coming. A big ol' boomerang called Overshoot is about to give us a ride down the biggest one-hill rollercoaster in the history of civilization. And if we act fast, it's possible that we'll end up with sunshine, fresh air, clean food, free time and more friends than we can shake a potlatch at. A big new world is in a box on our doorstep, but it's going to be tougher to put together than that treadmill. Start reading the instructions.