“China is still going to run circles around us. Policymaking by the political process is no match for a command economy. To cite just a few examples: The U.S. has committed a total of $13 billion to rail development, while China is already building a $556 billion high speed rail system that will link all of their major cities in five years. The U.S. has no energy plan, while China is embarking on a $740 billion comprehensive energy plan to see them into the future, with vigorous support for renewables. China is on track to do more about its future emissions than the U.S., even while it has just surpassed the U.S. as the world’s largest consumer of energy.

“It’s time to rethink our strategy. We would do well to follow China’s model. Instead of taking a political approach, circling the wagons around the eco-warrior camp and battling the fossil fuel industry, we should be developing a serious energy plan based on science, encompassing all forms of energy, to unite all parties in an unreserved commitment to the great task of energy transition. Because oil depletion is relentless, time is running out, competition for fuels is only increasing, and we’re the most vulnerable player at the table” [1]

I mentioned in my last post that we’re going to need an energy policy—courtesy of our federal government. That is not to say that business and industry has no role. Quite the opposite: once the policy and strategies are in place, business and industry will be the vital cogs in carrying out those plans. We will have no choice but to let loose the capabilities of the market to do all it can to effect change. This is definitely not an either-or situation.

But at the risk of stating the very obvious, with no national policy to guide us, we’re going to have 500 businesses and industries charging off in 500 different directions, each with their own notions and agendas. Pretty certain that that approach won’t work. Let’s be clear that this is going to be two-pronged approach (three if you count the fact that citizens everywhere will have a role to play and a responsibility to fulfill; we/they cannot be sitting on the sidelines waiting for others “out there” to do what’s necessary).

And if we are going to have a national policy, we’re going to have to have an activist government that speaks with one voice. That is going to take some doing! I’ve been following politics for more than three decades, and I have never seen it this polarized, nor have I seen so much nonsense masquerading as truth passed among us. That will have to change.

What this all means is that the strategy of “no” and denial no longer has a role to play in the dialogue. We’re getting too close to the point where changes are going to be imposed, and while we may very well still have 10, 15, 25 years of crude oil available to us, we also need 10, 15, 25, or more years to effect a transition away from fossil fuels into an economy and infrastructure dependent on something other than crude oil and fossil fuels. Even the most wildly optimistic among us recognize what a potential long shot we now face.

And if this is all seemingly impossible to implement, the bonus is that we’re going to be doing all of this with a steadily declining supply of fossil fuels available— not just to implement the transitions and all that that entails, but also to use for our every day personal and business needs and wants. And just to make this all even more interesting, let’s not forget that billions more around the world will be looking to do the same. (An aside of considerable note: the United States is no longer the world’s leading energy consumer. China is now the world leader. We cannot afford to ignore the ramifications.)

The math doesn’t work at these levels.

Panic is an option, but as with denial and just saying no, it’s not especially beneficial, assuming we’re interested in any semblance of a prosperous future.

The great thing about our nation is the wealth of opportunities it affords all of us, even in the midst of the twin challenges of Peak Oil and global warming (and let’s not forget the Great Recession). But with the choices afforded us comes responsibility for dealing with what those pursuits will bring. If we continue to choose to do nothing, or deny, or pretend, or just simply remain ignorant of the evidence and truth about Peak Oil and the problems of a warming planet (damn those facts!), the consequences will also be our responsibility.

Anyone who thinks that those strategies are the best choices right now should plan some time for careful and serious reflection.

What we may need most of all is courage. Courage from our leaders (in both parties) to first admit to the truth and then convey those facts to us honestly. The time to deny or “refudiate” for sheer political or electoral gain has passed. We cannot afford politics as usual. Leadership is needed to not just tell us the facts we don’t want to hear. Leadership then requires setting aside idealistic differences and recognizing instead that party affiliation and a philosophy about the role or non-role of government has no place in the dialogues we need to engage in. These challenges are bigger than that.

We also need courage from the media to report the facts and the truth and to call out once and for all those who disseminate disingenuous information and outright lies for political or self-serving gain. The levels of outright meanness and an utter disregard for anything remotely resembling integrity must be loosed from public discourse once and for all. Right-wing messengers will suffer the effects of Peak Oil and global warming every bit as much as the most ardent tree-hugging liberal.

The narrow-minded philosophy about limited government and the occasionally insane rantings about socialism and conspiracies and a president born on Mars and what-have-you need to be left in the dark. They confuse and lead astray those most in need of the honest expression of facts. We cannot afford those strategies any longer. That time has come and gone, so those who choose to continue to engage in these mindless games for reasons they probably cannot clearly articulate either must find common ground with the truth. We’ll have enough fear to contend with as it is. Let’s not add fuel to those fires with political lunacy that enflames but does not inform or educate—or help.

Most of all, and what may ultimately be the most difficult part (and at the same time serves as the singular tipping point that determines our long-term successes, or failure): we need to summon our own courage. We need to understand that we are at a defining moment in the course of our progress as a nation and yes, at the risk of over-drama, our civilization. We need to buck up and recognize that each and every one of us is going to experience disruptions in the years to come. The fact that these disruptions aren’t likely to be felt any time “soon” is irrelevant at this point. We need to start thinking beyond next Wednesday.

No one is running out of oil tomorrow or next week or next month or even five years from now. Earth is not reaching the boiling point any time soon, either. But the evolution of those problems and the consequences arising from their steady march will grow more impactful every day. Soon enough there will come a point of no turning back: we will have either begun the process of undertaking the massive changes needed to carry on without fossil fuels while staving off inescapable damage of an ever-warming planet, or we can stand by helplessly and watch our children and grandchildren suffer the ravages of our ignorance and neglect.

Sacrifice will also be required of all of us. No one wants that. That’s a given. However, we’re not going to have much of a choice. So the sooner our leaders, at our behest, begin to set aside the nonsense they toss across the aisles and engage in meaningful dialogue about the future of our economy, our nation, and the world at large, the better our chances of finding our way to lives of meaning and success and yes, prosperity—different though the definitions may be.

We’re in the first inning of a very, very different game now. The rules have changed, and how we “play” must change as well. Understanding must come soon.

{Note to my readers: A death in the family last week took me out of town and thus curtailed my posting activity, and now a family vacation with members from out of state makes it likely that this will be my only post of this week. Thanks for your patience; I’ll be back by the middle of next week.}


[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chris-nelder/beyond-carbon-legislation_b_657495.html – Beyond Carbon Legislation: Energy Transition by Chris Nelder; July 26, 2010