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Several months ago, I discussed the issue of “Capex compression.” When decreasing oil industry revenues cannot keep up with the increasing exploration and production costs of unconventional resources such as deep-water and shale fields, investments decline. Not exactly rocket science…. continue reading…

… [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.

Sources:

[1] http://www.newgeography.com/content/002394-whatever-happened-the-vision-thing-part-ii?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Newgeography+%28Newgeography.com+-+Economic%2C+demographic%2C+and+political+commentary+about+places%29; 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]. http://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/3/11/2129/

[NOTE: This is the latest installment in a new PeakOilMatters series (which started here). It’s about finding a new and better vision to get to, through, and beyond Peak Oil and its widespread impact on what we produce, how we produce, and how we live. We won’t be falling off a cliff tomorrow, and the full brunt of Peak Oil’s effects won’t be experienced all at once, either. Gas and oil do not have to disappear entirely, nor do gas prices have to rise into the stratosphere before Peak Oil’s impact is felt.
Gradually, but inexorably, changes will be in the offing, however. We need to come to a better understanding of this, and start preparing ourselves now for the lengthy transition and just as lengthy ongoing impact of Peak Oil on all of us. Many issues must of necessity be considered, and I hope to make a contribution to the public dialogue we need to have. I hope you’ll find these objectives enjoyable as well as beneficial. We have more of a voice than we think we do. Finding that voice just might be our best hope.]

~~~

“We’re blindly focused on searching for answers within our old paradigm of energy and it’s a vision that really needs to shift.” [1]

Several weeks ago, I began a multi-part series entitled Clueless Is Not A Strategy (first post here) whose primary purpose was to argue that in the face of growing oil production challenges, we need to start having serious, adult conversations about what we’ll all soon be facing (yes, even those who deny the reality of Peak Oil). Remaining ignorant of the facts about oil production, oil supply, and increasing demand; or relying on ignorant or at best disingenuous arguments which urge us not to worry and be happy about our energy resources (if only we can stop our nefarious President with his socialist policies from implementing evil, job-killing regulations … have I covered most of the Buzz-Words of the Day?), is, I proposed, not our best approach.

In a preview of an upcoming two-part series here on our political leadership’s approach to Peak Oil, it would appear, (unfortunately), that some of our fearless “leaders” haven’t gotten the strategy memo—or they are still working from the wrong one. Clueless reigns supreme in some corners of Congress—yet another display of the remarkable ability of some to completely ignore facts and simultaneously plan as far ahead as early next week.

“Where is the president’s plan for rising gas prices?” Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY)

“Now is the time to be asking what we can do to increase domestic energy production, not proposing ways to squeeze American families even more,” Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)

“My message today simply is the higher gas prices are simply a product of this administration’s goal [to enact a cap-and-trade plan to curb emissions of greenhouse gases].” Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) *

“Since this administration has taken over, they have done everything to block energy development in this country,” Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA)

Seriously? Must be part of the Socialist-Alien-Kenyan-Muslim-Not Exceptional-Completely-Ruin-The Country-Just-For-The-Hell-Of-It strategy Obama obviously began pursuing nefariously with his nefarious parents since shortly after his birth on a still-undetermined planet somewhere in our solar system.

Imagine that: an opposition party assailing the President because he (with his magical superpowers over all of commerce and industry) simply has not ordered prices to drop. If only he would stop pursuing regulations that raise gas prices just for the hell of it. What is Obama waiting for? (And while I have his attention, still waiting on lowering college tuition costs for our two daughters….)

Just how clueless are they, and how much of their nonsense will we permit to guide policy in the weeks ahead? They still don’t get it….We have leaders (including Democrats) still making the same pointless pronouncements about “weaning ourselves off of/ending our foreign oil dependency” while they now consider opening up our Strategic Petroleum Reserve because gas prices are high … and still doing absolutely nothing about the underlying causes. (And sorry, Ms. Palin and your loyal followers, “drill, baby, drill” is still as dumb and useless a policy as it was two years ago. See this for more information.)

To his credit, Representative Fred Upton (R-MI), House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman, said that the petroleum reserve should be left untouched absent a severe disruption in supply or other emergency. Hard to believe I know, but higher prices at the pump should not qualify as an “emergency.” (Jim DiPeso recently offered a terrific summary of the reasons against opening up the Reserve.)

As I noted in another post some 16 months ago (echoing the realities explained by others much more knowledgeable than me): “For all the talk of the ‘massive’ amounts of oil offshore and in Alaska and the ‘obvious’ need for us to just ‘drill, baby, drill’, we’re several decades away from full production in those regions, and the amounts anticipated will wind up meeting far less than even 5% of our needs. None of it will come cheaply. Drilling in the Arctic is a wee bit more challenging than punching a hole in the ground in Texas, and one does not require an engineering degree to understand that. The ‘drill, baby, drill’ crowd never gets around to spelling any of that out for us. Magical thinking is nice, as is a denial of pesky truths, but on the planet we occupy, it’s a fairly useless exercise.”

“Oil is produced and consumed in particular places, but there’s a single worldwide price of oil that’s determined by global supply and global demand. It’s not possible for one country to unilaterally alter the price its own citizens pay at the pump by altering the quantity of oil it produces. A new well in the United States has exactly the same impact on global prices as a new well in Norway or Venezuela or Saudi Arabia and thus the exactly the same impact on the price American consumers pay.
“And yet turn it into a political story and suddenly all this knowledge drops away.” [3]

Gas prices are higher, and that’s not going to change much in the weeks and months and years to come absent recessions—and it’s best if we not actually plan on falling into another one of those. It may tick off a significant segment of the population and those leaders who seem to think that we are just entitled to lower gas prices because we’re … you know … special, but here’s the message: Grow up and get used to it! We’re better than that, and we need to demonstrate it now. Our future well-being demands no less than recognition of facts and reality. Ideology is nice and serves its own purposes, but it ought to have a much more limited role going forward.

We have a problem with oil production now—not just here in the United States—and it is not going to get better. Demand is increasing, and the amount of oil now being produced will not keep up with that increasing demand. Unfortunately for those who don’t like hearing that kind of news, we Americans do not live in protective bubble. Billions of other people in less-developed nations are eagerly and diligently working to elevate the quality of their lives, and they all need energy to make that happen … the same energy sources we use. More demand for shrinking supply = less for everyone, even we exceptional Americans. Higher prices are part of the ride. Reality.

It is not rocket science. It is not another in a long line of delusional nefarious, Muslim-supporting, job-killing, regulation-creating, socialist conspiracies, despite the best efforts of some self-serving, narrow-minded politicians and media personnel looking to score points with a select group of citizens who also don’t seem to get it. They’re better than that, too.

Higher prices are one noteworthy consequence of a finite resource that can no longer be extracted in amounts, in time, in the right conditions, at optimum quality, and at prices sufficient to meet ever-increasing demand. Facts. Yes, Middle East turmoil has something to do with those price hikes right now—perhaps most of it. But above and beyond this particular geopolitical constraint, we’re now entering a stage on the historical time line of fossil fuel production where supply will not meet demand. Period. It is just that simple. That basic economic problem carries with it a host of consequences and outcomes.

“As demand grows in the next decade, we will not have the oil production capacity we will need to meet demand. Supply will then have to ration demand, and prices will skyrocket – with the likely outcome of bringing the world’s economy to its knees.” – John B. Hess, chairman and chief executive of the Hess Corporation [4]

Republican House Speaker John Boehner offered his energy insights:

“‘As gas prices go up, so does the cost of everyday life,’ [he] told reporters as he unveiled a campaign dubbed the ‘America Energy Initiative’ to increase supplies and roll back regulations.
“‘It costs more to drive to work, to buy groceries, or just to get the kids to school. And at a time when our economy already isn’t creating enough jobs, rising gas prices hurt the very people we need to lead us out of our economic crisis: Small businesses,’ he said.”

Coming from leadership whose insane and shortsighted budget-cutting proposals are derided by not just Democratic economists but also independents, Wall Street analysts, and John McCain’s own Presidential campaign economic advisor (among others, here) as doing nothing but costing hundreds of thousands of more jobs while pushing us closer to another recession, the Speaker’s concerns about creating jobs rings a tad hollow (although nice job on getting another buzz-phrase: small business, into the comments!). But should we be surprised? It’s all about the sound bites and not the unpleasant truths….We deserve better.

Not to be outdone, Senator McConnell was recently quoted as saying that we will all be dependent on fossil fuels for “decades to come.” If I were to tell you that your ears will bleed for decades to come, is that the beginning and end of my conversation with you? Might there be at least one moment when you pondered a couple of things in response? “Is this a good thing? Why is that? Would it make sense to change the behaviors or factors causing my ears to bleed?” Just wondering….

Another unpleasant and sure-to-tick-off some truth is that we—you and me—share blame as well.

“The success, to date, of fossil fuels being able to meet energy demand any time required has led to a feeling of society wide unrealistic entitlement. This translates into a belief that whatever we want we can always have whenever we want it. This of course is leading to problems as it patently can no longer be maintained.” [5]

We will need to be better and wiser than that. We are, so let’s prove it.

There’s no disputing that higher gas prices put a strain on most budgets, both personal and business. That in turn sets all kinds of financial dominoes into motion, with few of them leading to pleasant results. But unless and until we can individually and collectively wrap our minds around the fact that this is just the beginning stages of an entirely new way of living, transporting, producing, and consuming, we’ll continue to look for the same band-aid solutions that will only defer more pain until a bit later on, making the problems all the more difficult to contend with. That’s not much of a strategy. At some point, we need to find our courage and our wisdom so that we make new choices, have new plans and policies, and deal with a future that will be unlike the past in more ways than any of us probably realize.

And an aspect of courage easily overlooked or simply ignored is that regardless of one’s political philosophy, when leadership pursues policies clearly at odds with our long-term interests—even though the policy is entirely consistent with the ideology—something has to give. Since when is shooting ourselves in the foot a noble principle? We all pay a price when we meekly accept an absence of integrity and honesty in political discourse or policy-making itself.

This is not doom-and-gloom for next week or next month, but the process of stagnating if not outright declining oil production has begun. It will unfold over a considerable period of time, and in that regard we’ll have at least some opportunities to “adjust.” But that cannot be our salvation nor can it be the guiding principle for what we need to do as individuals, in our communities, and through our government.

“No plans = unnecessary chaos.” – Chris Martenson

We have both the opportunity and the capabilities to create a recognizable future for ourselves. Failing to take advantage leaves us at the mercy of a fossil fuel tidal wave that will in time change the landscape beyond anything we can envision now. I’d like to believe none of us thinks that that is our best strategy.

More to come….

* See the terrific Steve Benen discussion of the bizarre “reasoning” behind this comment.

Sources:

[1] http://peakoil.com/consumption/the-energy-prophet/; The energy prophet – Peter Tertzakian’s conversation with Derek Brower, October 28, 2010 (original article at http://www.petroleum-economist.com/default.asp?page=14&PubID=46&ISS=25702&SID=727276
[2] http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20110310/pl_afp/mideastunrestuseconomypoliticsoil; US Republicans assail Obama as gas prices rise – March 10, 2011
[3] http://yglesias.thinkprogress.org/2011/03/oil-a-commodity-traded-on-a-global-marketplace/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+matthewyglesias+%28Matthew+Yglesias%29; Oil: A Commodity Traded On A Global Marketplace – March 11, 2011
[4] http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/03/08/a-dark-warning-on-global-oil-demand/#more-94428; A Dark Warning on Global Oil Demand By Clifford Krauss – March 8, 2011
[5] http://www.energybulletin.net/stories/2010-11-25/how-sustainable-renewable-energy; How sustainable is renewable energy? by Roger Adair – November 25, 2010

[NOTE: This is the third in a subset of posts (see the first one here) in a new PeakOilMatters series (which began here). It’s about finding a new and better vision to get to, through, and beyond Peak Oil and its widespread impact on what we produce, how we produce, and how we live. We won’t be falling off a cliff tomorrow, and the full brunt of Peak Oil’s effects won’t be experienced all at once, either. Gas and oil do not have to disappear entirely, nor do gas prices have to rise into the stratosphere before Peak Oil’s impact is felt.
Gradually, but inexorably, changes will be in the offing, however. We need to come to a better understanding of this, and start preparing ourselves now for the lengthy transition and just as lengthy ongoing impact of Peak Oil on all of us. Many issues must of necessity be considered, and I hope to make a contribution to the public dialogue we need to have. I hope you’ll find these objectives enjoyable as well as beneficial. We have more of a voice than we think we do. Finding that voice just might be our best hope.]

~~~

In my last post, I cited concerns raised by clearly liberal writers castigating the “vision” for the future offered by the starboard side of the GOP.

Echoing the concerns about budget priorities, Jim DiPeso recently posted a quite reasonable piece in the FrumForum about Republican budgetary cuts. (I don’t usually agree with David Frum’s politics, but I always respect his approach. He’s a conservative whose proffered opinions—and those of most of his contributors—show no signs that his eyes are bulging out of his head as he critiques the Left. I’m confident the only tin foil in his home is found in a kitchen drawer and not on his hat rack. We could use a few hundred more on the Right just like him.) Mr. DiPeso makes the following observations:

“Business heavyweights, think tank thinkers on the right and left, and even climate contrarian Bjorn Lomborg spent the better part of 2010 calling for significant increases in energy research R&D to stir up the fires of technological innovation, drive economic growth, and reduce pollution.
“Now, along come House Republicans, lumbering into the budget china shop and battering the crockery in a ham-handed attempt to appear fiscally responsible.
“Their proposed budget resolution, setting spending levels for the remainder of fiscal year 2011, has knives out for energy science and technology research….
“[E]nergy R&D is long-range tech development that likely would not be picked up by private sector CFOs seeking more near- term returns for their risk capital. Once promising lines of inquiry are bunged up by federal budget politics, innovations that might have spawned new industries and smarter ways to use America’s energy resources would fall by the wayside.” [1]

How are we supposed to develop any semblance of national strategy, how do we plan for and move into a future with vastly different energy resources and needs, and/or how are industries and businesses expected to plan intelligently beyond the next Election Day if we’re all subjected to a seemingly complete inability of certain “leaders” to think beyond tomorrow afternoon—especially since the thinking they are presently engaged in is so pathetically narrow-minded and often quite heartless? Is there some magic potion that will provide us all with the innovations and definitive solutions we’ll need without the customary years of research and trial-and-error approaches that we’ve relied upon since the dawn on mankind?

“Republican leaders like to claim that the midterms gave them a mandate for sharp cuts in government spending. Some of us believe that the elections were less about spending than they were about persistent high unemployment, but whatever. The key point to understand is that while many voters say that they want lower spending, press the issue a bit further and it turns out that they only want to cut spending on other people. [2]

I’m guessing that that preference, while appealing in a narrow-minded, self-centered, oblivious-to-the-rest-of-the-world sense, is not likely to fly with all of the “other people.” It sure as hell won’t be doing this nation any good in the long run.

Having said that, I appreciate full well that the complex and expensive propositions bandied about as means of solving the just-as-complex problems confronting us are not as clear-cut as any of their proponents would like. We do have some profound budgetary and deficit considerations that cannot likewise be postponed interminably. There is no “this side is 100% correct and the other side is 100% incorrect” option.

But the basic economic issues we are all contending with seem fairly clear: no one is spending any money because no one (aside from a few well-placed wealthy old white guys, and I exaggerate only a bit) feels all that confident about their own financial future or that of the nation. If no one is spending, then business has no incentive to hire or keep the full staffs they might still have on board. If they aren’t producing or hiring, and instead are shuttering doors or letting workers go, then that means even fewer people are spending money, and it’s easy to see how that spiral works.

Why is this proposition so difficult to understand and act on?:

“Republicans have even submitted a draconian budget that would make deep cuts into the tiny vein that is nonsecurity discretionary spending, cuts that would prove devastating to the poor and working class.
“At the very time that many Americans — and the very country itself — are struggling to emerge from a very deep hole, the Republican proposal would simply throw the dirt in on top of us.” [3]

Do we cut government spending at a time of critical need of millions, causing them to suffer even more? Does our government spend more and add to the financial burdens of the next generations? It would delight just about all of us if the obvious, one-and-only Answer lent itself to a ten second explanation and one day implementation. As if….

Budget cuts sound nice now and appease a certain segment of the electorate and the politicians bound and determined to pander to them at all costs, but what brilliant solutions will they have at the ready 5, 8, 12 years down the road when financial situations are more dire, our infrastructure is in even greater need of extensive and expensive repair and renovation, transportation costs have risen beyond the tolerable for many owing to a decline in production and thus availability, resources needed to revamp our entire industrial foundation are are less availing, and we’re tripping over ourselves in a mad scramble to try and make good on promises left unfulfilled today? And oh by the way, there will be a lot more of us making increasing demands on a shrinking pie. That is not good math….

What kind of a nation do we want to be in the days ahead? What kind of a future do we want for ourselves, our children, and those generations beyond?

Legitimate criticisms of government spending cannot be cavalierly tossed aside in every instance. There are no magic financial formulas that can or will address the burdens such spending potentially imposes on our collective future.

But do we permit the well-to-do and the secure leadership in Congress to eliminate the very strategies and efforts we’ll need in a changing future while simultaneously casting out millions more, and announce that if budget cuts cause more harm, then “so be it”? (Thanks Mr. Speaker!)

As Paul Krugman noted in the same essay cited above:

“How can we expect voters to appreciate fiscal reality when politicians consistently misrepresent that reality…?
“The new House majority promised to deliver $100 billion in spending cuts — and its members face the prospect of Tea Party primary challenges if they fail to deliver big cuts. Yet the public opposes cuts in programs it likes — and it likes almost everything. What’s a politician to do?
“The answer, once you think about it, is obvious: sacrifice the future. Focus the cuts on programs whose benefits aren’t immediate; basically, eat America’s seed corn. There will be a huge price to pay, eventually — but for now, you can keep the base happy….
“Once you understand the imperatives Republicans face, however, it all makes sense. By slashing future-oriented programs, they can deliver the instant spending cuts Tea Partiers demand, without imposing too much immediate pain on voters. And as for the future costs — a population damaged by childhood malnutrition, an increased chance of terrorist attacks, a revenue system undermined by widespread tax evasion — well, tomorrow is another day.”

He’s right, of course. Tomorrow is another day, and if political leadership can pass along responsibility for the genuine hard work we’ll need for years to come to some other leaders years down the road, well … that strategy probably ensures a restful night’s sleep at least. Campaign funds will still flow and the loudest if most short-sighted supporters will be happy that today we’ve avoided adding to at least one problem. We can all just worry about the future we’re sacrificing until … you know … later.

Meanwhile, of course, the lingering consequences of this Great Recession will remain largely unchecked, the problems of declining oil production will surely and steadily create additional woes for many years to come to both individuals and industry, the massive income inequality that so undermines the dreams of millions will expand even more, and a lessening and cheapening of the very traits (educational prowess, technological innovations, etc., etc) that have long made this fabulous country the envy of the world will continue their unabated march downward, dragging a substantial majority of us down with it, now and for years to come. What a cheery thought!

But we are not powerless, and although the choices may be daunting now (and will surely be exponentially more daunting the longer we wait to start having grown-up conversations), opportunities remain to restore this magnificent nation to its predominant perch on the world stage—with its own attendant benefits. We own the choices, and we embrace them by first understanding the options we have and then begin to make decisions about what kind of a nation and a people we want to be.

Do we—can we—recognize that spurring demand through government intervention will aid production and hiring, which in turn leads to more spending on the part of those being hired and growing at least somewhat more secure about their financial prospects (and oh-by-the-way, pumping more revenue back into the government’s coffers to help pay down that deficit and maintain at least a modicum of compassion and care for the truly needy)? Can we appreciate that circumstances remain such that our federal government must lead, for there are no other viable options? Yes, that path carries its own risks and consequences as well. None of this is free or easy … I get that, too.

Are the budgetary “solutions” now being offered really the best way forward? Is it even possible for any of our leaders to consider our well-being beyond 2012? Can they begin to deal with the facts confronting us and the challenges to be faced in a world soon enough to be far different than the one in which we now find ourselves?

A crystal ball would be nice. On the assumption that that option is probably not forthcoming, our choices will be guided by a collective decision that the prospects for a better future are best met and addressed by decisions to create more opportunities now, or to restrict them now in the hopes that the sacrifices to be made (by all but the wealthiest, it must be noted) will in time produce a reinvigorated industrial and economic foundation.

To me, the choice (not without considerable risk and its own set of burdens) is clear:

A warming planet that will no longer have the same levels and quantities and quality of energy resources needed to at least sustain us at comparable levels of well-being, coupled with an increase in demand from millions of additional consumers, mandates that we make difficult but doable choices now to re-build our nation so that we continue to serve as a beacon for progress and prosperity. Tearing more of it down is a curious strategy, since all that’s left is a giant hope that things won’t get worse in the interim. Good luck!

In the end, as is usually the case, we may get exactly what we deserve. We might want to start thinking about that….

More still to come….

Sources:

[1] http://www.frumforum.com/gop-cuts-target-clean-energy; GOP Cuts Target Clean Energy by Jim DiPeso – February 16, 2011
[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/14/opinion/14krugman.html?_r=1&partner=rss&emc=rss; Eat the Future By PAUL KRUGMAN – February 14, 2011
[3] http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/19/opinion/19blow.html; Empire at the End of Decadence By CHARLES M. BLOW – February 19, 2011

[NOTE: This post is the second in a subset begun on Monday (here), both of which are part of a new PeakOilMatters series (which started here). It’s about finding a new and better vision to get to, through, and beyond Peak Oil and its widespread impact on what we produce, how we produce, and how we live. We won’t be falling off a cliff tomorrow, and the full brunt of Peak Oil’s effects won’t be experienced all at once, either. Gas and oil do not have to disappear entirely, nor do gas prices have to rise into the stratosphere before Peak Oil’s impact is felt.
Gradually, but inexorably, changes will be in the offing, however. We need to come to a better understanding of this, and start preparing ourselves now for the lengthy transition and just as lengthy ongoing impact of Peak Oil on all of us. Many issues must of necessity be considered, and I hope to make a contribution to the public dialogue we need to have. I hope you’ll find these objectives enjoyable as well as beneficial. We have more of a voice than we think we do. Finding that voice just might be our best hope.]

~~~

What kind of a nation do we want to be in the days ahead? What kind of a future do we want for ourselves, our children, and those generations beyond?

I’ve asked those questions—or variations thereof—on numerous occasions in the past. Until we find satisfactory answers—destinations, if you will, then whatever we keep doing will continue to just produce more of whatever it is we keep producing as pseudo-solutions to the problems we all face in varying degrees.

While this blog is first and foremost about the challenges spawned by the gradual decline of oil production in the face of increasing demand and the expectations of economic growth/business as usual, I am not unmindful of the fact that Peak Oil, like global warming, or unemployment, or the costs of our ongoing military battles, or the deficit, or the troubles associated with financial institutions, or the amount of our debt other nations hold over us, or (INSERT HERE any number of equally urgent national problems from a list of hundreds of them) is not a stand-alone problem.

Every issue we’re contending with on the national stage has some connection to dozens of other problems and issues and concerns and shortcomings. That makes fashioning acceptable solutions just a wee bit dicey, what with the tens of millions of opinions floating around and the urgency felt by just about each and every one of us that our unique set of problems must have priority over everyone else’s. Not exactly a recipe for prompt and satisfactory success. And when you add to this mix the clear strategy exhibited by some of our “leaders” that denying, ignoring, misrepresenting, or pretending is the best approach, then we really have our work cut out for us!

We’re all in this together, and whether we want to believe or admit to that or not won’t matter. Global warming will not afflict only those in a corner of the Florida Peninsula or the suburbs just outside of Phoenix. Declining oil production won’t affect only Cambridge or Berkeley liberals. Unemployment issues aren’t limited to a couple of suburbs in Detroit or Dallas. It’s not just soldiers from Seattle or Kansas City who are being hurt or killed in Iraq or Afghanistan. And not a single one of these or dozens of other national problems is dependent in the slightest on political ideology, whether it’s the product of reasoned and rational deliberation or a bug-eyed, paranoia-laden, fact-free, delusional rant. We have far, far too many of the latter and too few of the former.

“As a society, we’ve lost our way, and there is no chance of getting reoriented if we can’t find the courage to make some really tough decisions about warfare, taxes, public investment, the crying need to educate all young people, and the paramount importance of gainful employment as the cornerstone of a revitalized America.” [1]

We’re seemingly paralyzed by the vastness of change confronting us at every turn. Too many of us feel absolutely powerless over so much—so much so that clinging to what we once knew and experienced seems like the safest port in the storm. Whatever challenges we faced or problems we overcame in the past are known to us. We dealt with them and moved on, and so we derive comfort in that knowing—solace and understanding completely absent from the dizzying array of changes and challenges we face. We do our best to focus only on the small pieces we feel we have some control over here and now and in our own little corner of the universe. So much else takes place “out there” in ways we do not understand or have control over (e.g. the financial markets and energy and climate; and even the workings of government), and most of the time, all of those problems are simply too much to embrace. I get that.

We have too few leaders providing a vision which suggests that charting new paths now will lead to betterment in the future, and so we rigidly insist that going back to “business as usual” (whatever the hell that means nowadays) is the only path forward. Rarely, however, do you advance by retreating and then retreating some more.

“The thing is, we’re living as if we are guaranteed to go onward and upward into a better and brighter future. Our nation’s (relatively short) history encourages this fallacious thinking. Like spoiled children, we want freedom without responsibility. But that’s impossible. You cannot defy the law of gravity forever.
“To be truly free is to be responsible. To be responsible is to make choices today that demonstrate wise stewardship of our resources and our liberty. To be responsible is to see the world as it is, not as we would like it to be. To be responsible is to sacrifice now, as previous generations did, so as not to bind future generations to the tyranny of debt, poverty, foreign powers or their own appetites.” [2]

Are we prepared to do that? There are few indications that we are. As more and more economic woes afflict more and more of us, we retreat that much further into our own private little shells, doing all that we can to keep our and our own family’s heads above water. Anything “out there” that may or may not affect us in this moment is simply not worth considering. Surely the nebulous, slowly evolving impact of Peak Oil and/or global warming over months and years and decades to come is as foreign to most of us as sitting down to dinner with Martians. Our plates are full today … right now! The balancing act our burdens of the moment impose on us are quite enough as it is, thank you very much.

Trouble is … denial, postponement, procrastination, and simply ignoring reality will only take us so far. This strategy is all that some of our esteemed “leaders” are offering us (while simultaneously making damn sure that the billionaires among us aren’t dragged down as well). We ought to understand some of these facts more clearly than we do. Allowing some leaders to toss us occasional bones that appease tangential concerns about “values” or frightening us about deficits (a legitimately serious problem, to be sure) while they carry on activities that in the long run will cause us all only more harm is something we need to rein in soon.

“The House early Saturday approved a huge package of spending cuts, slashing more than $60 billion from domestic programs, foreign aid, and even some military projects, as the new Republican majority made good on its pledge to turn the grassroots fervor of the November elections into legislative action to shrink the size and scope of government….
“The package, which is intended to finance the federal government though the end of the fiscal year, now heads to the Senate, where it stands absolutely no chance whatsoever of passing. Indeed, House Republicans knew this before the vote, and didn’t care — this isn’t about governing; it’s about right-wing lawmakers pounding their chests in order to impress their reactionary base. House leaders could have worked with Senate leaders on a spending compromise, but Republicans chose not to bother….
“[I]t’s hard to overstate how brutal these cuts really are. Overnight, 235 House Republicans voted to slash education, job training, environmental protections, food safety, community health centers, nuclear security, energy efficiency programs, scientific research, FEMA, Planned Parenthood, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Social Security Administration, and the Centers for Disease Control, among other things.
“The projected job losses from these cuts, we learned this week, could total 1 million American workers, all of whom would be forced into unemployment, on purpose, because Republicans think it’d be good for the economy.
“As the House GOP sees it, we can’t afford these expenditures because of the deficit they helped create. We can, however, afford massive tax breaks for people who don’t need them, which cost a lot more, and which Republicans didn’t even try to pay for.” [3]

“The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities published a lengthy, wonky analysis yesterday of the Republicans’ proposed cuts – – it really is worth reading — and today offers a summary of some of the top-line provisions. Among other things, the proposal would:
“ * Cut Head Start, which provides at-risk children up to age 5 with education, health, nutrition, and other services, by an amount equivalent to the cost of serving 157,000 children.
“ * Cut Pell Grants, which help students afford college, by nearly 25 percent, affecting all 9 million students who receive them.
“ * Cut, by more than half, Workforce Investment Act funding to provide job training, job search, and other employment assistance for low-income adults and workers whose jobs have been eliminated.
“ * Cut, by more than half, two funds that help communities pay for sewage and wastewater treatment and for upgrading facilities that ensure safe drinking water.
“ * Cut funds for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by 22 percent, for the Food and Drug Administration by 10 percent, and for the Food Safety Inspection Service by 9 percent.” [4]

What kind of a nation do we want to be in the days ahead? What kind of a future do we want for ourselves, our children, and those generations beyond?

“Call me crazy, but I’m pretty sure the American people didn’t vote last November for fewer jobs, teachers and cops and more sickness, pollution and hunger.
“In fact, I’m sure the crazy one in this story is the House Republican caucus, which late Friday night proposed, in its spending plan for the rest of the current fiscal year, doing all of the above.” [5]

Is this what we want for ourselves and our children now? Is this the kind of future we consign them to?

What’s the plan if we don’t spend money to support and enhance an already-complex-beyond-our-abilities-to-grasp economic and industrial system supporting equally already-complex-beyond-our-abilities-to-grasp lifestyles? Is cutting back on infrastructure and research and investment and regulations ensuring healthy qualities of life and countless other equally vital pillars supporting and sustaining us all the road to travel?

Is it truly better to lay waste to all kinds of programs that hurt more and more people in more and more ways for longer and longer periods of time—distracting most of us so that some leaders can instead focus on policies designed to “assist” the top less than 1% or 2% of us (and it’s time to put the trickle-down theory to bed: it’s an idiotic, useless sound bite, groundless fiscal policy, and nothing more)?

What happens when we’re done cutting? What does this nation look like 3, 5, 10 years from now when growth has been cut off, when we have in far worse condition an already-horrendous infrastructure and transportation system which are nothing less than critical to our continued well-being? How much help will those few handfuls of really rich white guys be—the ones who’ve been assured that their financial “well-being” remains untouched and unaffected by the travails of the other 350 million or so of us?

THIS is the future we want to encourage? Can we honestly allow ourselves for one more day to think we’ll have more money, time, opportunity, and agreement ten years from now to invest even more in infrastructure and transportation than is needed now? Seriously? What laws of the universe are we going to suspend so that these problems do not worsen in the intervening years? We’re several trillion dollars behind as it is. Perhaps the two “visionary” congressmen mentioned in my last post might conjure up some more magic legislation to solve these issues.

Pushing these problems to a future with a smaller and still ever-declining supply of fossil fuels available to rebuild or sustain or repair even more than what’s now required of us is a good strategy?

The painful truth is that with a decline in oil production in the years to come—coupled with increased demand, less investment and research into alternatives—we’re rendering any prospects for growth and improved well-being nothing but delusional aspirations. Actions taken or not taken based on the facts we all must contend with here on Planet Earth carry consequences. What we decide and accept today will determine what kind of a future we live in, and what kind of a life we bestow on our children.

Do we start planning—intelligently, courageously, rationally, and without mindless ideology—for a different and hopefully better future, or do keep our heads buried in the sand, relying instead on a hefty dose of ignorant and narrow-minded leadership to serve as our guiding lights? Hope has its place in what we must address and plan for, but to just hope that this bad dream will stay away is not the path we ought to be considering.

If that’s what most of us decide in the end is our best bet, then good luck … we’re going to need a lot of that.

More to come….

Sources:

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/09/opinion/09herbert.html?_r=1&ref=opinion; The Impossible Dream By BOB HERBERT – November 9, 2010
[2] http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/opinion/points/stories/DN-dreher_17edi.ART.State.Edition1.adb331.html; Peak oil is coming, and we’re unready by Rod Dreher – August 17, 2008
[3] http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/archives/individual/2011_02/028080.php; HOUSE APPROVES BRUTAL BUDGET CUTS by Steve Benen – February 19, 2011
[4] http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/archives/individual/2011_02/028072.php; IT’S THAT BAD….by Steve Benen – February 18, 2011
[5] http://www.ourfuture.org/blog-entry/2011020613/gop-budget-madness; The Republican Budget Is Madness By Bill Scher – February 13, 2011