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Peak Oil Matters

A fresh perspective on the concept of peak oil and the challenges we face


Tag: exceptionalism

The conservative approach of starving the nation’s transportation system is bound to prevent it from being an effective engine for economic growth and could potentially lead to the loss of more than a half-million jobs. (How’s that for a bill that calls itself an ‘infrastructure jobs act’?) But to add to the insult, conservatives are turning the legislation into a virtual pharmacy of poison pills. [1]

More and more, I’m tempted to set aside considerations about Peak Oil and wonder when we reach Peak Ignorant, Narrow-Minded, and Shortsighted—hoping it arrives this week!

The (we can only hope) soon-to-be-buried transportation bill winding its way through Congress shows all the wisdom, planning, and foresight of your typical three-year-old [“I don’t care about later; I want only what I want and I want it now … and you can’t play, either”!] We have a legion of the Clueless and the Dumb legislating on behalf of the (mostly innocent) Uninformed … and all for the benefit of the Few. American exceptionalism on display? Yikes!

As have many others (most much more knowledgeable about transportation policy than me), I recently offered commentary on the hideous bill sponsored by the GOP in its “leaders’” latest demonstration that recognition of reality and the needed long-term planning for said reality is for them defined as about a week, give or take, because facts and reality don’t count for much if they conflict with their narrow-minded ideology of Bad, Bad Federal Government 24/7.

Eliminating the federal transit tax benefit for public transportation users [2] was one of several credits benefiting the mostly middle and lower class lopped off the books in the payroll tax negotiations, demonstrating that transportation policy is not the only arena where it’s possible to kick citizens when they’re down. I keep wondering when the great majority recognizes that most of the legislation coming from the GOP nowadays screws them royally! But as long as the wealthy are catered to, I guess we shouldn’t complain, isn’t that right, Right?

For all practical purposes, the GOP’s transportation bill* eliminates funding for anything other than highways and roads. Eliminating the Mass Transit Account from the federal Highway Trust Fund, as the GOP proposes, eliminates the established source of funds for public transportation. Just like that….In the GOP’s future-less world, funds long-committed to an intelligent vision for the future will have to fight for scraps in a Congress being run mostly by the delusional and short-sighted. Terrific!

* [As I write this before the weekend, rumors are circulating that this provision may be dropped due to strong opposition, including some from members of the GOP as well. Last night one report indicated it had been dropped. The question remains: why would such a provision have been entertained to begin with? What does that suggest about their priorities and the long-term interests of this nation?]

More congestion! More pollution! Screw urban dwellers! More oil and gas sales! Let the poor walk! We dance to the Tea Party tune, and since they don’t understand much, we don’t care! (Actually, that’s a great title for the legislation; wonder why they didn’t give the bill that name? Kinda long, so perhaps that’s the reason….)

The Tea Party is superb at disguising cultural battles as the pursuit of responsible thrift. And mass transit exists at the vortex of many of their No. 1 ideological targets. It’s brilliant, when you think about it.
Defunding transit is how you smack down urbanites, environmentalists, and people of color, all in one fell swoop. It’s how you telegraph a disdain for all things European. It’s how you show solidarity with swing-state suburbanites who don’t understand why their taxes are going toward subways they don’t even use. And it’s how you subtly reassure your base that you’re not concerned about the very poor. [3]

(Neil Pierce also wrote a very nice column in the wake of this ridiculous legislation, expounding on the Tea Party’s nonsense—and influence over—transportation and related policy, even in the face of considerable bipartisan opposition. Worth the read. The Agenda 21 paranoia-driven, fear-based cluelessness he writes about would be comical if it wasn’t so genuinely disturbing.)

As PeakOilMatters has been discussing since its inception, as have many others with even more knowledge than me, at some point in time much sooner than most of us realize, and long, long before we are even remotely prepared, the effects of declining fossil fuel availability are going to extend into every facet of our lives—personal, commercial, professional, and social.

Given how much our entire transportation system is dependent on those fossil fuels to function, when availability and quality are in decline as costs increase, severe disruptions not just in industrial transportation but in our own every-day travels are inevitable. If the gas you use all the time isn’t as plentiful, as “good”, as available, or as inexpensive as you’ve been accustomed to, change is going to happen. And for all the reasons and FACTS Peak Oil proponents share, that’s the reality we’re heading towards. When? Who knows? The date doesn’t matter.

It will be a process that begins quietly and barely noticed at first [already has], and will likely continue for an extended period of time. But all the while that snowball will be gathering momentum as the decline continues. Then, the “potential might possible’s” and half-truths about shale oil and tar sands which the deniers toss out to cloud the issue about fossil fuel production and supply will stop mattering at all.

And when all of this is still gathering strength and affecting pretty much everything we do (absent a lot of planning and adaptation well in advance), what transportation options will be available to us if we continue to allow shortsighted, narrow-minded ideologies dictate how we plan and prepare for our collective future? No option is pain-free, easy, or inexpensive. But cutting off the viable options which may ease much of the burden in blind fealty instead to a system of (non) governance which will do nothing but cause untold and avoidable harm to tens of millions of us is … idiotic! Our leaders may not be better than that, but we are, and we need to step up.

Crisis, or opportunity?

I’m planning to be back with some final thoughts on the transportation matter in an upcoming post, laying out some of the more popular arguments against federal funding of mass transit and why most of it is indeed shortsighted; but for now, I’ll leave you with an additional comment first from Isaiah J. Poole’s column referenced above, and then a final one from the Neil Pierce column also linked to above. Food for thought….

Through this transportation bill, conservatives are pushing the transmission into reverse on everything from environmental policy to workers rights to women’s health. Their efforts would cost the nation’s jobs, make the movement of goods and services less efficient, convert what should be public resources into private profit centers, and keep us mired deep in the 20th century when our global economic competitors are pressing toward the future.

[W]e need courageous leaders — national, state and local — to assert that the United States does need a world-class transportation system, combining road and rail and air, and based on sane low-carbon energy alternatives, not overwhelming but rather serving accessible, livable, walkable communities. And that we’re willing to pay for it.
Ideology aside, what’s wrong with that?

What kind of a future do we want?


[1]; Conservatives On Transportation: Throw America Into Reverse by Isaiah J. Poole – 02.14.12
[2]; Transit Tax Break Buried in Partisan Debate by Janet Babin – 02.18.12
[3]; The Tea Party’s war on mass transit by Will Doig – 02.13.12

… [W]e are farther away than we have ever been from having a shared national vision for the future of our country….
Absent such a framework for the future, the national debate has been the victim of an increasingly acute form of intellectual paralysis: The short-term mindsets of our elected officials and the voters — tied to the two-year election cycle — force debate on inherently inadequate, short-term solutions to substantial, long-term problems. Because we have no shared vision of the country’s future, against which short-term solutions might be measured, there are no metrics for productive discourse. Hence, our so-called ‘leaders’ argue in reliance on their ‘principles,’ rather than with a broader view toward implementing the future we want to see.
Things will only continue to grow worse, and much more polarized (although that’s truly frightening to imagine), unless and until we agree, as a nation, that there are some fundamental issues about our future that need to be addressed… and resolved. [1]

So perhaps the most important question of all: What is the Goal—our Vision for the future—for the kind of nation and people we hope to be?

It is much more than a discussion of how we get there. What is it that we want to achieve … to be? Do we want “success” and prosperity and peace only if it can be obtained through the narrow lens of our highly-partisan individual and collective ideologies, or is attaining our primary objectives by whatever means are necessary in a changed world more important?

Last July, I offered this:

If we truly wish to believe and know ourselves to still be exceptional amid all the chaos and challenges and burdens that encompass us, then we need to harness a vision for the future that is not just incrementally better than this one, using the same resources and methods and strategies and ideologies that brought us to here and now. Peak Oil is going to change pretty much all of the dynamics.
We must ask ourselves—individually and community-wide—what we believe are the best opportunities for growth and prosperity going forward, and we must ask this with full awareness that we approach a future very different from the past and the present we will soon leave behind. In the years to come, the energy source which empowered and enabled us to rise to our lofty perch atop the world of technological marvel and progress     will gradually but steadily fail to meet our expectations of ongoing, ready availability; ease of access, and affordability.

We have the opportunity to take the best of all that we have and have to offer—from everyone—and move forward with greater definitions and determinations of success and prosperity and fulfillment. That’s a choice we still own.

But whatever it is we might want or feel entitled to will have to give way to the courage of knowing and understanding what the new scenarios and circumstances will be. Only then can we/should we proceed. That knowing, unpleasant or unwelcome as it is to all of us, must be accepted. The delusional and the fact-free denials about the challenges ahead must be set aside once and for all. They preserve an ideology which serves almost no one, and we need to come to terms with that fact. We deserve better; we are better; and it’s time we demonstrate those truths.

We still have the chance to resume our position of leadership, excellence, and exceptionalism, but we will do so from a different platform and with different resources and purposes to guide us. The longer we take to accept this inevitability, the more troubles we create for ourselves.

Resistance to change must be avoided in every possible way, as unfamiliar a process as that may be for some of us. Without our efforts and commitments and greater understandings, things will only get much worse for almost all of us, regardless of ideology.

I raised these issues almost a year ago:

Is global warming a “hoax” and nothing more? Should we concern ourselves at all with the current and future conditions of fossil fuel production that provides for us all? Are we better off in the long run cutting even more public expenditures that now afford some minimal assistance to our fellow citizens in need, better educational opportunities for our children, opportunities to innovate and invent better lives for all of us, and maintain, repair, and improve the infrastructure that serves as the foundation of all that we achieve? Or are we better off ensuring that instead, that small group of the wealthiest among us preserve their wealth at the expense of the many?

It may seem to be nothing more than a philosophical/ideological exercise, but the answers to those questions go to the very heart of the decision-making that will determine our future. Those decisions affect all of us, if not today or tomorrow, soon enough. As I’ve previously noted:

But the most critical issue to be addressed by all of will be more direct: do we bog ourselves down by nit-picking—working harder to find out why something won’t work or why it is not perfect in every way under every condition and for every person—or do we adopt a grander strategy that will under no conditions be perfect or even acceptable to everyone, but provides us with the best long-term opportunities in the face of Peak Oil. If     we cannot get beyond problem-solving-business-as-usual, we’ll be having these pointless partisan battles for another century … assuming we survive intact that long.

We begin with the question of where we want to go and how we want to be, and then figure out the path that will get us there by taking into account the realities with which we must contend: peak oil, global warming, economic issues (including the destructive inequality), and their impact on what has been to date. Anything less will eventually show us to be doing nothing more than chasing our tail.

The capacity for the United States to alter its current and projected economic and energy course is dependent upon its leaders’ abilities to formulate and effectively communicate a clear vision and unified purpose in the energy field, establish clear renewable energy goals, commit to a rigorous energy-use reduction plan, prioritize energy research, and implement an energy policy that creates a viable energy future. The American populace will need to acknowledge the reality of biophysical constraints, and embrace a renewable, energy efficient ‘American way of life’. [2]

I remain convinced we’re up to the task. We just need to start.

Much more on the way.


[1]; Whatever Happened to ‘The Vision Thing’? Part II, by Peter Smirniotopoulos – 09/03/2011
[2] Lambert, J.G.; Lambert, G.P. Predicting the Psychological Response of the American People to Oil Depletion and Declining Energy Return on Investment (EROI). Sustainability 2011, 3, 2129-2156 [p, 2150].

You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today
— Abraham Lincoln

Let’s work to make this a very good year for us all….

Imagine, if you will, a nation of 300-plus million people … the vast majority of them good, honest, decent, and hard-working (when they have the opportunity, that is).

Each and every one of these honorable individuals is looking for just about the same things as everyone else: to make a good life for themselves and those to whom they owe a responsibility; to better their circumstances and those of their children in whatever manner best expresses their individuals dreams, ideals, and expectations; to plan for a future that is a bit brighter than the one they faced years ago or contend with now; and a future for their children filled with hope and promise and expectations that the world they inhabit will be brighter and happier and more fulfilling and peaceful and rewarding at all levels.

Not so difficult to imagine, is it? Any objections to this definition of what most might recognize as an expression of the American Dream?

Now imagine this same nation where just 400 people are wealthier as a group than half of that exceptional nation of 300 million citizens (impressive, and not necessarily a problem in and of itself). But imagine further than these 400 people are better served by policies and benefits and advantages than more than 150 million of their fellow citizens. Imagine that the representatives elected by those millions of citizens to serve them instead devote their efforts and energies to making certain that the 400 are always better served and protected than the 300 million.

Probably don’t have to actually explain to anyone residing on Planet Earth in these last couple of years which nation we’re referencing. What comes after shameful?

This is “exceptional”? This is the kind of nation we choose to be? One need not vilify the 400 for their wealth if fairly-earned, but it should not be an objectionable argument that protecting their interests at the expense of all others is not the mark of a great nation and respected leaders.

This is the kind of nation we choose to offer to our children?

It’s been a recurring theme of mine, among others, that we face a set of challenges as daunting as any this nation has ever encountered.

I have not been shy in stating that I believe we are up to the challenge, and that we are indeed an exceptional people. But I have not been hesitant to call out the rampant hypocrisy, stupidity, as well as the appalling lack of integrity and compassion routinely exhibited by “leaders” (and yes, much of my ire is directed to the nonsense and fact-free justifications from some on the Right, whose lack of concern for almost everyone not in that sacred group of 1%-ers is breathtaking in its arrogance and disregard.)

Ideology can be a club, but rarely is it a shield, and in light of what the facts (for those for whom such things matter) tell us about our climate (laughable, tinfoil-hat-wearing, paranoid nonsense like this notwithstanding) and fossil fuel reserves, the narrow-minded and short-sighted ideology guiding too many with influential voices will offer them no protection when the consequences make themselves known to even the most delusional among them. (The attacks from the many who placed their misguided trust in the smooth assurances these “leaders” trotted out from their one-note play books will be another story altogether.)

We’re all going to have to come to some understanding sooner than later about what is most important: prosperity, opportunity, and peace; or preserving a rigid ideology which protects the few at the expense of the many.

Long-term planning, visionary thinking, and the courage and wisdom to act upon what is in the best interests of society, regardless of the short-term consequences, political or otherwise, are the hallmarks of a progressive* society. [1]

* I interpret this term in its broader (i.e., forward-thinking, innovative) sense than the left-leaning political definition more often attributed to it.

What will we demonstrate now and in the years to come? And by “we” I mean all of us, not just the “leaders” to whom we’ve assigned responsibility for our well-being while paying too little attention to what they’re doing with that charge.

Back in May, I began this series about our future by setting out my “table-setters” for the Vision I’ll explore in much greater depth in the months to come:

~ What kind of a nation do we want to be?

~ What do you want for yourself, now and in the days to come?

~ What kind of life are you looking forward to living, whether you are a recent graduate about to enter the workforce, an established professional, or are now in your later years?

~ What kind of community do you want to live in?

~ What kind of environment do you truly believe is most conducive to a life of opportunity and hoped-for prosperity?

~ Will you choose to fear change, or welcome it as an opportunity for you to play a greater part in using it for your own benefit as well as for others—in whatever manner offers the most meaning for you?

~ Do you want to feel as though you have a voice in what your life can and will be, or is being entirely at the mercy of others a better way to live?

~ Do you still harbor at least a bit of hope for better days to come?

~ What do you want for your children and grandchildren?

~ What answers will we provide for them in years to come when they are mired in the difficulties and challenges brought about by an ever-declining supply of fossil fuels and are wondering why we were so short-sighted and narrow-minded when we had so many opportunities to do more?

These are not (or at least they shouldn’t be) idle questions given short-shrift. How we answer these and related questions will determine our future. It’s not rocket science.

Will our future be one filled with great regret for opportunities lost, or one relished because we showed ourselves—individually and collectively—to be the exceptional people we’ve been boasting about? I know where I’m casting my vote and placing my hopes. You?

The great majority of us—the 99%-ers (Left and Right), have a very simple decision to make and abide by from this moment forward: should we continue to advocate affirmatively, support passively, or defend vigorously, the policies and ideologies which in the end (and through most of the journey, for that matter), benefit the 1% and their obedient sycophants regardless of its negative impact on most of us; or do we decide that we and our children (future 99%-ers in most cases) are just important enough that we all need to start doing things differently?

Should each and all of us be denied the better opportunities we have long held as this nation’s most sacred promise because of the actions and favored policies of the few? Do we honor the hopes of the 21st Century or find ourselves catapulted back to the Middle Ages with clear demarcations between the those entitled and those not? We might want to sneak a peek out the front windshield and figure out which road we’re traveling.

We still have choices….

Much more on the way.


[1]; Why We Can Afford High-Speed Rail by Lance Simmens (Deputy Director for Communications, California High-Speed Rail Authority) – 11.17.11

[NOTE: This series (first one here) spins off from a recent series of posts in which I’ve discussed the need for all of us to move in a new direction as we anticipate the challenges to be confronted as a result of declining oil production in the years to come. The impact will be felt by all of us in one degree or another (a separate series, which began here and was re-established more recently here, addresses some of the day-to-day impacts.) It’s time to turn our attention to what the New Direction might be….]


“Peak oil and the events associated with it will be an unprecedented discontinuity in human and geologic history. Peak oil crises will soon confront societies with the opportunity to recreate themselves based on their respective needs, culture, resources, and governance responses. Peak oil will require a change of economic and social systems, and will result in a new world order. The sooner people prepare for peak oil and a post-peak oil life, the more they will be able to influence the direction of their opportunities. Nevertheless, there are probably no solutions that do not involve at the very least some major changes in lifestyles. Consequently, peak oil will probably result in some catastrophic upheavals. Peak oil will also present opportunities to address many underlying societal, economic, and environmental problems.” [1]

In the face of this eventual, inevitable challenge: What kind of a nation do we want to be?

The question has been asked in numerous posts to date, and it remains as viable and vital an inquiry as any other. How we answer determines not just our impending future, but more importantly, the one we pass on to our children….

What kind of a future do we wish for them?

I continue to wait for a logical (or even marginally logical) explanation as to how cutting educational opportunities, taking away health care for more citizens, restricting research and innovation, letting our infrastructure worsen, making no plans for future transportation needs in a world where we simply will not have the same quality and quantity of fossil fuels available to us, while putting even more people out of work, BUT giving the wealthy more tax breaks, is helping anyone other than the wealthy 1% or so among us? It would appear that there is only one genuinely “important” objective one party sees fit to pursue….It is not a consequence-free choice, however.

Policies which would no longer require businesses to abide by health and safety regulations that benefit us all, or for the wealthy to pay a fair share of taxes which provide us (and them) with the fundamental resources and services the great majority of us continue to insist upon, or hoarding more of their income from these expenditures because the Magic Economic Fairy says this trickles down for everyone’s benefit and is thus a sound and acceptable strategy (while it creates even more hardships for more of the rest of us) … why? How does that work?

There is a definitive, narrowly-focused agenda being pursued by a determined segment of the GOP, and its effects are now spilling into national view. The numbingly-ignorant threats to our nation’s (and the world’s) economic well-being by their dangerous posturing on the recent debt-ceiling debate are only among the more visible efforts of a radicalized segment of the Republican Party in their quest to protect the wealthy at the expense of the rest of us. The consequences of these actions are now being or will soon enough be made clear. We have the responsibility to understand what is happening, what will result, and then collectively decide whether that really is where we want to go as a nation. The sacrifices being asked of middle class citizens to preserve the benefits of the wealthy will only grow more onerous as time passes and resources become scarcer.

What kind of a nation do we want to be?

I’m not certain that I’ve encountered an observation that is more disheartening than this one, offered by an anonymous senior House Republican aide and reported on a number of websites in the past day or two, (regarding President Obama’s current job initiative):

“Obama is on the ropes; why do we appear ready to hand him a win?” [2]

Millions of good, decent, hard-working (if only they had the chance) Americans unemployed for months on end; countless families and children suffering as a result of policies and economic truths implemented long before the dreaded Barack Obama took office; the psychological, physical, financial, and emotional toll on countless Americans as yet unknown, and we have an aide to a senior House Republican completely unconcerned about any of this. What’s important is the political scoreboard.

Millions suffering and now with at least a good chance of being helped in some manner by the passage of this or similar legislation? Not my problem! Let’s make ‘em wait another 15 – 18 months when we hopefully have a Republican President in charge. Then … what? Should we expect a different “exceptional” than this cowardly official represents?

It’s easy to be enraged by the audacity of this person’s callousness and breathtaking ignorance, but mostly … I was just saddened. Leaders and their aides are once again demonstrating that their concern is not to help the millions of American in need—no doubt many of whom supported these mean-spirited and narrow-minded representatives—but to make sure President Obama does not put any points up on their watch. This is the exceptional America these people boast of? Seriously? These are the types of “leaders” we’re expecting to guide us into a future far more challenging than any generation before us? Not good….

If we fail to become more informed about the beliefs, actions, and consequences of policies and ideologies promoted by our elected officials, while making no effort to become involved in the process, we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves for the greater hardships most of us will face in the years to come. Who is looking forward to explaining that to their children and grandchildren?

Do we really want to make life even more difficult for them?

Becoming informed leads to understanding that that is exactly what we’re doing, and provides us the opportunities to make a difference by doing….


I wrote this several months ago, and my perspective has not changed: “We need a national vision with courageous, honest national leadership (Democrats and Republicans) unconcerned with narrow-minded and short-term ideological nonsense. This is about so much more than partisan principles. It’s about what is best for us as a nation now, next week, next year, and for the rest of this century at the very least. No easy, simple, or inexpensive and consequence-free decisions are on the horizon.”

We need to pay attention to the things that matter beyond next week, and Peak Oil, climate change, and laying the groundwork for our hoped-for future prosperity should be high on that short list of priorities. Gays in the military, President Obama’s status as an alien from some faraway planet, the need for guns in churches (seriously?!) scores of other equally absurd pursuits, “theories” and conspiracy fears, and any other selection from a too-broad assortment of crackpot pseudo-concerns have to give way to our dealing directly with a few very real, serious problems that will require more effort and involvement and talent than almost anything we’ve ever confronted.

I have no doubts that we are up to the challenge … now it’s time to do more than talk the talk. Are we ready to demonstrate what truly makes this nation “exceptional”? Do we lead … or destroy? Stark choices, but sadly not much of an exaggeration.

The fear that motivates these other ludicrous efforts, artfully egged on by too many who have too little interest in what is best for too many of us, must be set aside once and for all. Fear may have its place, but it is occupying too much territory on a too-crowded-as-it-is agenda. We’re better than that, and we need to make the decision to believe that that is true.

Promoting fear and misunderstanding keeps the Rush Limbaughs and the Fox News of the world in some semblance of control and power and prosperity—the rest of us be damned*—but is that really what we want? How exactly are they helping anyone other than themselves?  How is promoting more fear through misrepresentations (I’m trying to be kind) of any benefit to us? Other than stoking mostly irrational fears, what exactly is their contribution to our well-being?

In promoting fears which these “leaders” then convince their uninformed followers to believe, and that they have solutions for these problems (or are “protecting” them), what results instead is that these public figures are then free to pursue their own grander and more selfish agendas: lower taxes, less regulation, less assistance to those most in need. And who does that wind up helping, and who does this wind up harming? They can afford what they need, so who cares about anyone else? Is that how it works?

In a harsher future we’re now in the process of consigning our children and grandchildren to, this is okay?

When so much power and prosperity is confined to so few, what then? As more and more is stripped away from more and more in order to protect the few, greater inequality will result, and a much larger percentage of those so far unaffected by that disparity will then fall into the have-nots, including our children and grandchildren—and perhaps many more of us.

Of course we ought to be legitimately worried about what massive debt will do for the prospects and opportunities of our children and grandchildren, but if we aren’t also doing all that we can right now to provide the programs and resources and opportunities and investments to innovate and grow starting now, they’ll be faced with the double whammy of the burdens of great debt and no viable means to address the problem! What a wonderful prospect … but thank God the wealthy will be okay!

“What is the crisis we face today? We have an economy scarred by mass unemployment, falling wages, and growing insecurity. In the downturn, a staggering 40 percent of American households have been afflicted by unemployment, negative home equity (‘under water homes’ worth less than their mortgages), mortgage payment arrears, or foreclosure. In November 2008, one quarter of Americans aged 50-59 reported that they’d lost more than 35 percent of their retirement savings.

“The [wage] imbalances were obscene before the recession, with finance capturing 40 percent of corporate profits, the wealthiest 1 percent capturing half of the benefits of economic growth, the US running soaring trade deficits, even in high technology products, with China and the world. Our decaying infrastructure, broken health care system, declining educational performance in relation to the industrial world all preceded the fall….

“The right question we need to ask, I would argue, is what is the new strategy, the new foundation for an economy that offers hope for rebuilding America’s economic vitality in the competitive global market place? This requires a clear and bold strategy for revitalizing American manufacturing. It requires investments in areas vital to our future — in modern infrastructure, in education and training, in research and innovation. We need to capture a lead in the green industrial revolution that is sweeping the world. It requires new trade strategy, shackles on financial speculation, empowering workers to capture a fair share of the productivity and profits they help generate to help rebuild America’s middle class. We have to figure out how to afford this, financing what we can, changing priorities and raising revenues where needed. But this is a far different question than just how we get our books in order.” [3]

As Mr. Borosage noted at the conclusion of the passage just quoted: “It is hard to get the right answer when you ask the wrong question.”


* (Some will surely find that referenced column intemperate and unnecessarily harsh. Surely some will merely brush this off as the ramblings of a bitter liberal disappointed by the Republican gains in Congress. But there is an underlying message that is being borne out every day now by the actions and legislative efforts of the GOP in Congress and GOP governors across the nation. We need to take at least a half-step back for a moment and think even just a little about where those policy roads are going to lead us, and where they will lead the wealthy few. The destinations are not the same.)


[1] and; Peak Energy, Climate Change, and the Collapse of Global Civilization: The Current Peak Oil Crisis by Tariel Mórrígan; Global Climate Change, Human Security & Democracy, Orfalea Center for Global & International Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara

[2]; Why Congress Won’t Pass A Jobs Bill: ‘Obama Is On The Ropes; Why Do We Appear Ready To Hand Him A Win?’ by Matthew Yglesias on Sep 12, 2011

[3]; America’s Confidence Deficit by Robert Borosage – November 24, 2010

[NOTE: This series (first one here) spins off from a recent series of posts in which I’ve discussed the need for all of us to move in a new direction as we anticipate the challenges to be confronted as a result of declining oil production in the years to come. The impact will be felt by all of us in one degree or another (a separate series, which began here and was re-established more recently here addresses some of the day-to-day impacts.) It’s time to turn our attention to what the New Direction might be….]


For those worried or lamenting that we are no longer exceptional, my simple message is that genuine “greatness” will be ours again if we recognize that we must do things differently now if for no other reason than we have no choice. The reality is that globalization and the proliferation of opportunities and technology and innovation and progress have likewise expanded the complexity of this world as well as the number of people and nations benefitting as a result. All of them are borrowing from the same pool of finite resources. Basic math suggests that problems loom on the horizon.

We cannot and will not go back to the means and methods of growth and prosperity that once were because the onset of Peak Oil will simply make that option unavailable to us—protests and whining and denials and delusions notwithstanding (facts continue to annoy)—but that does not equate to failure or decline or defeat unless that is what we choose by neglect or fear or passive and meek acceptance of our presumed powerlessness.

That we have to change and adapt—and yes, even sacrifice—is not a statement that we have failed, that current policies fail, or that we have indeed lost our exceptionalism. This can no longer be about wanting only what we want and nothing less. Everyone will be affected by the decline in the availability of conventional oil resources, and so everyone must recognize that “sacrifices” of one sort or another will simply be part of the mix—all the strenuous objections duly noted.

The truth is that life is all about change, and in this case, the cumulative effect of great achievements and progress over any decades here and around the world have lead us to a place where great change must take place once again. The scope may be daunting. Our capacity to meet the challenges will be limited only by the level of our commitment.

Failure will be defined by whether or not we meet the challenge to lead the way by active involvement, or if instead we insist on returning to the days of old as the rest of life passes us by, preferring instead that we either leave it to others or hope that some technology or discovery will appear and change all for us in the blink of an eye. A choice, to be sure, just not a very good one….We’re working too hard as it is to preserve what is or once was, and continuing to adopt that problem-solving strategy will do little more than create even more problems. Another choice … likewise not a very good one.

We live in a finite world with finite resources, and the simple truth is that we’ve now used up much of what we were given. What now remains (plentiful though it might still be), poses a challenge given not just the demands of so many more seeking a better life, but because of the basic factors of production: what’s left is now in more-difficult-to-access regions (be it for political or geological reasons); will cost more to produce and bring to market (and guess who pays?); it will be of inferior quality and efficiency; and it will take longer to bring to market—all while demand increases. A simple yet painful set of truths which must first be acknowledged. Step One….

“Preparing our communities for peak oil is no easy task. From local zoning codes to national highway bills, just about every policy and infrastructure decision made since World War II has prioritized driving over walking, bicycling and taking public  transportation. As a result, today most Americans and Canadians are powerless to meet even their most basic daily needs — whether going to work or buying food– without using a petroleum-powered car or truck.” [1]

We will have our work cut out for us. Our first step remains unchanged: we must all become more aware of the challenges to be faced. (This requires our leaders to likewise pay more attention to what matters … easier said than done.) We will then have to find the way and the means to decide on objectives and policies to best help us all adapt, and then with the assistance of local/regional governments and organizations, take the steps needed to adapt as we move forward.

I appreciate the urgent need now to avoid adding more to our plates, and fearing those added burdens. But the truth is that the burdens won’t go away. By embracing them, and making the decision to put forward the best of what we have to offer toward efforts at dealing with these looming challenges, we’ll then give ourselves the best options to manage the adaptations that will have to be made regardless of preferences or political ideologies. It’s the unknown we fear … the known tends to quickly lose much of its power.

If our majority decision is that we don’t or won’t accept and adapt to the changes that a warmer planet and an ever-declining supply of fossil fuels will surely impose upon—deciding against putting forth our best plans and strategies beginning now—then our futures will likely be little more than a succession of escalating mini and not so mini crises always being treated with short-term solutions and ever-diminishing resources with which to fashion increasingly hapless solutions. Our best choice?

I’m not convinced that applying one band-aid after another is our best alternative. Shooting oneself in the foot is no better a strategy than remaining clueless. We cannot continue to make plans for growth and renewal without recognizing that all of this will be done with less of what got us here.

Real courage—the demonstration of our exceptionalism—will come from admitting we now face new challenges and that we can be just as great and just as united in fashioning new ways of living, and leading. Let’s prove it to ourselves first and then demonstrate to the rest of the world that we’re still the greatest nation on earth, and in the face of these extreme challenges soon upon us, we can and will lead the way. In doing so, we’ll create the better future we still hope for, and leave our children a more secure, prosperous, and inspiring world in which to live and make their own contributions.

“Other people think we are losing our exceptionalism. But, the truth is, there’s just been a change in the shape of the world community. In a world of relative equals, the U.S. will have to learn to define itself not by its rank, but by its values. It will be important to have the right story to tell, the right purpose and the right aura. It will be more important to know who you are.” [2]

“We need an economy for the twenty-first century, one that is in sync with the earth and its natural support systems, not one that is destroying them. The fossil fuel-based, automobile-centered, throwaway economy that evolved in western industrial societies is no longer a viable model—not for the countries that shaped it or for those that are emulating them. In short, we need to build a new economy, one powered with carbon-free sources of energy—wind, solar, and geothermal—one that has a diversified transport system and that reuses and recycles everything. We can change course and move onto a path of sustainable progress, but it will take a massive mobilization—at wartime speed….

One of the questions I hear most frequently is, What can I do? People often expect me to suggest lifestyle changes, such as   recycling newspapers or changing light bulbs. These are essential, but they are not nearly enough. Restructuring the global economy means becoming politically active, working for the needed changes….Saving civilization is not a spectator sport.

“Inform yourself. Read about the issues….You might want to organize a small group of like-minded individuals to work on an issue that is of mutual concern. You can begin by talking with others to help select an issue to work on.” [3]

Do we want to play a part—however small it may seem to be—in helping to direct and shape our future? That choice is ours. The truth is that it will be difficult. A greater truth is that we are in fact up to the task and the challenge. It’s time to put that on display.

To be continued….


[1]; Showing leadership on peak oil – Daniel Lerch, Posted 8 October 2008

[2]; Ben Franklin’s Nation By David Brooks – Dec 14, 2010

[3]; Let No Man Say It Cannot Be Done by Lester R. Brown – April 19, 2011 [Adapted from Chapter 13, “Saving Civilization,” in Lester R. Brown, World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2011)]