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

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Tag: vision

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The economic effects of peak oil are as obvious as they are frightening. The most immediate effect is to increase oil prices, and this has its own effect of slowing the economy down. There was a period in which Saudi Arabia could modulate the world’s rate of oil production by turning up the flow, but even that is a thing of the past. Oil prices jump up and down in response to rumors and temporary conditions — the worldwide economic slowdown has tamped them down a bit over the past few years — but the overall pattern is a steady price increase, all other things being equal….
We should understand that peak oil has probably already occurred, and we will be spending the rest of our lives, and our children their own lives, dealing with the consequences.
But we avoid the long term relevancies. There was plenty of oil yesterday and there will be enough today to maintain a modest lifestyle, and we all hope that there won’t be another big oil shock very soon….How do we prepare? [1]

continue reading…

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 An observation worth noting … and pondering, from Chris Martenson: continue reading…

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An observation worth noting … and pondering, from Richard Heinberg. continue reading…

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An observation worth noting … and pondering, from John James Audubon:

A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children.

Sage advice for those of with children (or just care about them). All the more pointed when those of us who have had opportunities to seriously consider at least some of the major issues of the day appreciate the great likelihood that significant changes loom. More to the point: we also appreciate how widespread the impacts will be, how unprepared most of us are, and how poorly informed most of us are because others are making conscious decisions to keep it that way.

Not a good scenario.

As I and others take great pains to state over and over: the facts under, on, and above ground suggest that declining energy supplies and a warming planet are going to create great burdens and thus great challenges for all of us. Blame, reasons, causes are incidental. The facts are the facts. Cherry-pick what you will; ignore; deny; gloss over; believe what you will about ingenuity and technology. None of it will matter in the long-run (which is now a shorter long-run).

It is high time that those who lead, those who know, and those who care take steps now to begin learning what they must, planning for what they can, and teaching/informing others so that we gradually but surely move the inhabitants of the only planet we have onto paths providing all of us with our best chances to enjoy some reasonable measures of peace, prosperity, and well-being  in a future sure to be vastly different from the familiar past.

Idealistic to be sure, but I prefer this approach to guide me: I have great faith in our abilities to do these things, and I remain convinced this is far more an opportunity than a crisis.

But the clock is ticking….

NOTE: Traveling the rest of this week for our second daughter’s college graduation. I’ll be back with more posts next week

~ My Photo: Good Harbor Beach, MA – 11.06.07

 

 

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An observation worth noting … and pondering, from Sara Robinson:

We are so deeply invested in oil, in so many ways, that it’s almost impossible for us to envision a world beyond it. We stand to lose so much that it’s hard to fathom it all.

It is! No one who advocates for planning and education about the challenges we’ll face in the wake of Peak Oil’s onset suggests anything to the contrary.

Our entire infrastructure, most of our transportation options, and our individual as well as industrial lifestyles have been built on the back of affordable, always-at-the-ready fossil fuels. There’s not much we own or make use of in at least some fashion that is not dependent in large or small part on that energy supply.

To envision a future without that fundamental building block is not just “hard to fathom,” it’s both surreal and frightening. What the hell will we do? is not an inappropriate question to ask.

Truth be told, it’s precisely the question all of us need to start asking all the time about every facet of our daily lives—individually and collectively. At the risk of a major “Duh!”, if we’re not asking the proper questions, we’re not getting the correct answers, either. And we need correct answers—lots of them. Soon would be good.

It’s been a consistent theme of mine that we’re all at risk and thus we all have a stake in how we organize and plan for a future whose energy supply may be drastically different from the one we’ve taken for granted for so long. Everyone has a role to play. Relying on political or industrial leaders is not the first choice.

And it would be nice if those who know better yet insist on selling the public stories about abundance and independence to protect their narrow interests find the courage to admit to the truth and pitch in. Their expertise will be crucial in developing new means of supplying the energy sources we’ll need in the years to come.

When the hell do we start asking what the hell will we do?

~ My Photo: Gloucester MA Harbor – 08.30.12

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The Great Debate revolves around the U.S. oil and gas industry’s new claim that we are entering a ‘new golden age of fossil fuels’ and those who counter that this will come at an increasing cost to the environment and the health of the people on this planet….

In simple terms, the warnings of ‘Peak Oil’ have been replaced by promises of abundance if petrochemical companies get digging and using new and more expensive techniques to extract oil and gas from the ground.

All of a sudden, H.K. Hubbert’s prediction and threat of Peak Oil – for America and the world – has been dumped as miners turn to tar sands and fracking to satiate our growing appetite for fossil fuels, not just in North America but in many places around the world….

The issue of fossil fuels versus a more sustainable future is an issue too big for company bosses and pliant politicians to decide.

There is a need for The Great Debate, an ongoing discussion about an issue that has the potential to bring so much change and affect us all. It should be one in which all parties are adequately informed about the issue. It should be one in which all factors are taken into account, not just profit, prices and economic growth. It should be one in which all sectors of the public have a chance to have their say. It should be one in which people from around the world get a chance to speak.

Who should join the debate? Not just the usual suspects. All stakeholders should have a place at the table. Scientists, experts, innovators, environmentalists, community leaders, anybody who feels they have something useful to contribute.

And what is the crux of the debate?

Are we looking at a ‘new golden era of fossil fuels’? Or should we be rushing to transition to cleaner energy?

An issue this important needs serious debate. An issue this important should not be left to a handful of people with the wrong motives at heart.

Right now, those pursuing the new golden age for fossil fuels are running with the ball. It is the appropriate moment to shout – ‘Time out.’ We need to rethink the rules. [1]

… we need to do more than come up with new technology to solve the problems we now face. We also need to rethink and remake our entire infrastructure, our economics, and even our culture. This isn’t just a project for a crack team of scientists. This one is going to need the help of every one of us. [2]

And some past comments from me, echoing a primary theme and purpose:

If we’re not starting to think long term about what we’ll be doing and how we’ll be doing it, the rest of our lives, our children’s lives, and our grandchildren’s as well will be a succession of mini-crises that are never solved, with an election turnover every two years that guarantees all the wrong kinds of change (stagnation is more likely). It’s hard to see how that is going to keep working well for us. Is that the best we can now hope for? Are we willing to endure that anxiety and pain rather than face the uncertainty of structuring great change? [3]

We’ve achieved many great things, and our work is not done. It’s important to understand, however, that what we will accomplish and innovate in the years to come will arise with and from different resources and under different economic conditions. The monumental transitions which will take place will better serve us all if we take part now in understanding the challenges we face, the options and alternatives available to us, and appreciate what today’s decisions mean for us all in the days to come. We’re not powerless nor are we dependent solely upon others to make those choices for us. [4]

We can attempt to be ahead of those changes by understanding and then planning as best we can, or we can instead take our chances that the changes and adaptations may not be all that bad after all. That’s a dicey approach in dealing with our—and our children’s—futures. [5]

What will our future be? What’s the Plan? The choice remains ours.

* My Photo: Long Beach sunrise, Rockport MA – 08.06.10

Sources:

[1] http://www.earthtribe.co/the-great-debate/; [re-post from Transition Voice at: http://transitionvoice.com/2012/07/starting-the-great-debate/; Starting the Great Debate by the Earth Tribe Team – 07.14.12
[2] Profit from the Peak: The End of Oil and the Greatest Investment Event of the Century; Brian Hicks and Chris Nelder; Wiley Publisher, 2008 – p. 188
[3] http://peakoilmatters.com/2011/01/24/peak-oil-a-new-direction-pt-3/; Peak Oil & A New Direction (Pt 3) – 01.24.11
[4] http://peakoilmatters.com/2011/03/31/peak-oil-a-new-direction-pt-7/; Peak Oil & A New Direction (Pt 7) – 03.31.11
[5] Ibid.

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The biggest problem I have with how the shale story is being sold is it is being used to justify a blind resumption of business-as-usual and I think we really need to be asking some deeper questions of ourselves because eventually even these plays will run out too. I say we should have a distinct and well thought out plan for how we want to use the potential work those resources represent to build ourselves the finest country energy can supply. [1]

Months ago, I offered this observation: “[T]his is … about opportunity. Our future prosperity will be measured in large part by the vision we develop right now about how economic growth will be produced and sustained in a world with a very different base of energy resources. We cannot continue to rely on unlimited amounts of inexpensive and energy-dense fossil fuels to sustain us at the same levels as in the past, let alone support our hopes for greater levels of growth and economic prosperity in the years to come. We need to accept that. Then our work and innovation can begin in earnest.”

There are some obstacles in our way, largely self-inflicted. But there is a way out, as I noted here: “There are no easy answers to the challenges we face. There are no quick solutions. There are no readily apparent decisions which will effectively cover all of these challenges at once. There are no inexpensive outcomes. And there are no successful options that will arise or be implemented without a much more active involvement from all of us. Mostly, we’re going to have to learn to and prepare ourselves for adaptation. Peak Oil is not a challenge to be solved as we traditionally understand the concept so much as it will be an adjustment and revamping of … well, almost everything we produce and consume and require.”

The challenges of Peak Oil [cherry-picked statements about energy independence and being “awash” in “vast” resources duly noted and notwithstanding] are not insurmountable, to be sure. But a better future is only going to happen if we first make the effort to become better informed, and then commit to playing a part in fashioning that better future for ourselves and our children.

The mission is fairly straightforward: “If we truly wish to return to a place where we all feel and believe that this nation indeed remains ‘exceptional’, then we need to harness a vision for the future that is not just incrementally better than this one. The uncomfortable truth is that in the years to come, using the same resources and methods and strategies that got us here will be of limited value at best. A bigger and more expansive vision is required, and all of us will have an essential role to play. With billions more expected in the next few decades—all utilizing many more of the finite resources this planet harbors—we have no choice but to more expansive, creative, and inclusive.”

A couple of other observations for us to consider in this new year:

* … [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. [2]

The point is that the way we live together now, the way we govern ourselves, the way we arrange our physical spaces and our commerce, the way we do economics and measure prosperity—all these have to be changed in creative ways if we want to achieve the goal of sustainable prosperity. All these changes require … wait for it … innovation. Innovations in the way we think, interact, and structure our lives require just as much imagination, intelligence, persistence, and funding as innovations in technology. [3]

Choices….Crisis, or opportunity?

What kind of a nation do we want to be, and what kind of a world do we wish to leave to our children?

Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does – William James

Happy New Year!

* My Photo: Sunrise at Good Harbor Beach, MA – 09.05.05

Sources:

[1] http://oilprice.com/Interviews/Conservation-Not-Technology-will-be-our-Saviour-Chris-Martenson-Part-2.html; Conservation Not Technology will be our Saviour – [Interview with Chris Martenson (Part 2)] by James Stafford – 12.19.12
[2] http://www.newgeography.com/content/002394-whatever-happened-the-vision-thing-part-ii; Whatever Happened to ‘The Vision Thing’? Part II, by Peter Smirniotopoulos – 09.03.110
[3] http://www.energybulletin.net/node/51627; Why Bill Gates is wrong by David Roberts – 02.17.10

 

 

 

 

My posting today was intended to be the last original one of 2012, but it can wait.

Peak Oil is no less important an energy topic today as it was yesterday and will be tomorrow. But in light of what happened at Newtown on Friday, it’s not all that important right now.

I grew up with weapons in my home. My Dad is a Korean War veteran, and a long-time member of the NRA. I fired more than my fair share of guns in my younger days. My stepson is in the United States Army. Eleven middle-aged adults are in my immediate family; seven of them consistently vote Republican. I practiced law for a lot of years, and was a political science major. I have more than a passing acquaintance with the Second Amendment and conservative viewpoints.

Ideology has consequences. Rigid ideology devoid of any rational thought, perspective, and respect for reality is dangerous.

Public figures like right-wing loon and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee should pause to see if they can’t locate a wee bit of intelligence before flapping their gums. Huckabee said the Newtown massacre should not have been a surprise “because we have ‘systematically removed God’ from public schools.” What kind of God does he worship—One who is in such a snit about our refusal to invite Him somewhere that It’s perfectly okay with six- and seven-year olds being gunned down instead? Yeah, that’s gonna make others just filled with adoration! Address that first!

There’s a lot of room for discussion, negotiation, and compromise between “no guns anywhere, ever” [see this for some clear-headed truth-telling—what a concept!] and “guns everywhere for whatever reason.” Fifty? Two Hundred? Three thousand? How many more innocents have to be gunned down by deranged others before we find room in that vast middle to legislate some meaningful and effective controls to help alleviate this ongoing national disgrace? [See this, also.] This is a mark of an “exceptional” nation?

The failure to have meaningful gun control laws is far from the sole reason why Newtown (and others) have happened. A wide range of social, cultural, and psychological factors play prominent roles as well. Duly noted.

But everyday citizens do not need to carry assault weapons around or have enough bullets on hand to mow down twenty children plus; churches don’t need guns among the worshipers; and perhaps it would be a good idea if moronic, close-minded assertions like this one were held in check until the speaker had a chance to buy a clue (hate to break the news, but stupidity is not a virtue, although sometimes it’s hard to be sure):

‘Gun control supporters have the blood of little children on their hands. Federal and state laws combined to insure that no teacher, no administrator, no adult had a gun at the Newtown school where the children were murdered. This tragedy underscores the urgency of getting rid of gun bans in school zones. The only thing accomplished by gun free zones is to insure that mass murderers can slay more before they are finally confronted by someone with a gun.’

The wingnut jackasses of the Michigan legislature, with their integrity-free MO (is there some national legislative contest as to who can destroy more of democracy and reason in lame duck sessions? You guys win!), offered Exhibit A of their collective madness:

Changes to the concealed weapons law passed the state House and Senate late Thursday, allowing trained gun owners to carry their weapons in formerly forbidden places, such as schools, day care centers, stadiums and churches.
Schools, however, and privately owned facilities could opt out of the new law if they don’t want people carrying guns in their buildings.

Day care centers? Seriously? How f’ing stupid is that? And stadiums? Won’t that be fun after a couple of beer-fueled patrons have at it! By all means let’s make absolutely certain that anyone, anywhere, at any time, who is pissed off just enough, has the “right” to settle any dispute with guns rather than conversation. The countless innocents who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time? Tough luck is what it is….Even a damn shame.

Instead of working so hard to protect the paranoid, tin-foil hat fears and fantasies of a small minority of knuckleheads in an otherwise honest and law-abiding group of gun owners numbering in the tens of millions (and keeping the coffers of gun advocate groups well-stocked … you never know when another misrepresentation might be needed!), how about we have a national debate and put into place rational legislation to provide a bit more protection, safety, and security for all of us? Imagine doing something like that!

Tonight and every other night from now on, twenty sets of parents (among others suffering) will never again experience or share the tenderness and love for their sons and daughters so eloquently stated by James Russell Lowell:

Remember, dearest little daughter, that you are your papa’s only little girl and that his first thought is always and ought to be about you. I never go to sleep without asking all the good angels, and especially one, to be near you. You grow dearer and dearer to me the farther I go away from you

On that note, some words of wisdom which might offer a bit of guidance to us all:

Nothing in this world is so powerful as an idea whose time has come – Victor Hugo

You must be the change you wish to see in the world – Mohandas Gandhi

Nothing will ever be attempted, if all possible objections must first be overcome – Samuel Johnson

If we gather a set of strong enough reasons to change, we can change in a minute something we’ve failed to change for years – Tony Robbins

We cannot solve life’s problems except by solving them….This is because we must accept responsibility for a problem before we can solve it – M. Scott Peck

A man cannot despair if he can imagine a better life – Wendell Berry

You have an obligation to act for the common good – Napoleon Hill

The way to mend the bad world is to create the right world – Ralph Waldo Emerson

It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare; it is because we do not dare that they are difficult – Lucius Annaeus Seneca

* My Photo: sunrise at Good Harbor Beach, MA – 09.03.05

 

 

 

 

As I explained in the first part of this brief series [beginning here], we have some other issues to ponder before tomorrow’s election.

You can add today’s commentary to your musings about other important considerations in casting your vote. I’m offering some observations/quotes worth noting … and pondering further.

I’ll reserve most of my comments for other times. For now, the narrative offered via these independent yet interrelated quotes are sufficient on their own.

We must base our strategies and our end goals not on the inevitability of disaster (or redemption), but rather on a vision for a world which people can get behind based on its merits alone. From efficient use of resources to secure, clean energy and a better quality of life—a sustainable, resilient future is our best bet whether or not a new oil boom has begun. [1]

 

America still does not have an energy plan, and neither Obama nor Romney have cured that potentially fatal flaw. Both have offered general directional strategies and political fodder, not anything you could call an actual plan.
But the directions they would take us in could not be more different, and their implications will echo long into the future….
Governor Romney’s energy strategy is painfully regressive and utterly blind to these clear and present dangers. It sounds like an energy policy from 1970, not 2012. Not only are his claims about our current energy situation wrong — for example, citing U.S. oil production at 15 million barrels per day, according to the Washington Post [ link in original], when the reality is 6.2 million barrels per day — but his expectations for the future of oil are absurd, claiming ‘we’ (meaning North America) will be producing over 23 million barrels per day eight years from now. That’s more than the world’s top two oil producers, Saudi Arabia and Russia, combined.
At least as far as energy policy is concerned, there isn’t really a choice between the two candidates at all. One is leading us toward a semi-realistic future, while the other would leave us in the lurch as fossil fuels decline. And while it’s true that elections are about more than energy issues, if energy becomes the biggest challenge of this century as I expect it will, then maybe that’s all you really need to know [2]

 

Essentially, the [Romney energy] plan is intended to remove most impediments to the exploitation by US energy firms of untapped oil, gas and coal fields in the United States, Canada and Mexico, regardless of the consequences for national health, safety or the environment. In particular, the plan has five key objectives: eliminating federal oversight of oil and gas drilling on federal lands; eviscerating all environmental restraints on domestic oil, gas and coal operations; eliminating curbs on drilling in waters off Florida and the east and west coasts of the United States; removing all obstacles to the importation of Canadian tar sands; and creating an energy consortium with Canada and Mexico allowing for increased US corporate involvement in—and control over—their oil and gas production….
Clearly, any move to eliminate the federal government’s role in overseeing oil and gas drilling on federal lands is bound to result in a greater risk of environmental catastrophe, as it will become impossible to adopt uniform standards for air and water protection, health and safety measures, wildlife protection and so on. [3]

 

So, what is the greatest impediment to the initiation of making energy development this nation’s #1 priority? It is the powerful opposition of the oil industry and its corporations, the most profitable in America. They want no part of new energy development, even if they occasionally make commercials claiming that they do. They fully intend to stifle the development of any new energy sources that they feel would threaten or diminish their massive, obscene profits. And so they are using their power and money to make certainthat ‘their’ senators and representatives in the Congress remain under their control. [4]

 

Only the oil industry would now have the audacity once again to peddle a story that it has gotten wrong for more than a decade as if it were brand new. Enlisting the media and its army of paid consultants, the industry is once again telling the public that oil abundance is at hand. And, what is doubly audacious is that it is promoting this tale as oil prices hover at levels more than eight times the 1999 low. Clearly, the industry is counting on collective amnesia to shield it from ridicule.
The industry’s purpose is transparent: To ensure that the world remains addicted to fossil fuels by convincing all of us that our energy sources–more than 80 percent of which are fossil fuels–don’t need to change. It’s a winning strategy even if the industry’s premise is wrong since the oil companies still have huge inventories of fossil fuels underground that they want to sell at top prices. And, they are only going to get those top prices if government, businesses and households fail to convert to alternatives and thus remain hostage to fossil fuels. [5]

 

What is the logic behind the industry’s campaign to spread the false promise of American energy independence?
The answer is actually quite simple. If the industry tells the public and policymakers the truth, then the industry’s attempt to vastly expand its U.S. operations will almost certainly fail. The truth is that the industry is having a difficult time finding good prospects in the limited areas overseas that it can now explore. So, it wants to return its focus to the United States and drill protected public lands and currently closed offshore areas so it can fulfill its primary mission, namely, making money for its shareholders and managers….
But the oil industry has pretty much gotten all the easy oil there is to get on private land in the United States. The remaining really big easy oil is on public land and in offshore areas controlled by the federal government.
In addition, new methods for bringing both oil and natural gas to the surface such as hydraulic fracturing currently enjoy environmental exemptions which the industry got written into federal law. The exemptions are little more than methods for transferring immense environmental costs onto the public through water, air and soil contamination as well as human and animal health effects–all in order to enhance industry profits.
But if these exemptions were portrayed as a necessary compromise to help the United States achieve energy independence, then the public might be convinced to accept them with little complaint. And so, the industry has found that the best way to distract the public from the industry’s unsavory motives is to insist that its new zest for drilling America’s wilderness and offshore areas is all about helping the country achieve energy independence. [6]

 

There is something like $50 trillion to $100 trillion of capital equipment worldwide that is built to operate on liquid fuels – and I am talking about cars, busses, ships, trains, airplanes, and golfcarts. You don’t quickly convert those or replace them, particularly if the problem takes place in a worldwide recession – there is less money available, governments are already weakened because of the present recession, governments will not be able to afford to do this kind of a thing.
So it’s going to be very difficult and it is going to take a considerable amount of time to either convert an existing piece of equipment to operate on something else or to build a whole new one and have it put into operation, because what we are talking about is a scale that is absolutely enormous as far as the world is concerned. [7]

* My Photo: Wellfleet, MA – summer of 2004  

Sources:

[1] http://www.treehugger.com/fossil-fuels/peak-oil-really-thing-past.html; Is Peak Oil Really a Thing of the Past? by Sami Grover – 07.03.12
[2] http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/energy-futurist/obama-vs-romney-who-has-the-best-energy-plan/573; Obama vs. Romney: Who has the best energy plan? by Chris Nelder – 09.05.12
[3] http://www.thenation.com/article/170786/mitt-romneys-extremist-energy-plan; Mitt Romney’s Extremist Energy Plan by Michael T. Klare – 10.23.12
[4] http://www.opednews.com/articles/Angry-Over-Rising-Gas-Pric-by-michael-payne-120305-560.html; Angry Over Rising Gas Prices? It’s Just The Tip Of The Iceberg by Michael Payne – 03.05.12
[5] http://resourceinsights.blogspot.com/2012/07/fool-me-twice-shame-on-me-oil-industry.html; Fool me twice, shame on me: The oil industry repackages the fake abundance story (from the late 1990s) by Kurt Cobb – 07.22.12
[6] http://scitizen.com/future-energies/the-oil-industry-s-deceitful-promise-of-american-energy-independence_a-14-3746.html; The Oil Industry’s Deceitful Promise of American Energy Independence by Kurt Cobb – 05.04.12
[7] http://peakoil.com/publicpolicy/oil-politics-and-resource-wars/; Oil, politics and resource wars. Comment by Dr. Robert Hirsch at the 10th conference of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil & Gas in Vienna, Austria – May 30 – June 1, 2012

[NOTE: This series 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….]

~~~

“Clearly, we are entering into a prolonged period of profound change, an era of “unintended consequences.” The changes that are coming our way will profoundly alter not only how we live, but even how we conceive of ourselves, how we think about the world, and how we see the future. And not only will we have to learn to cope with severe disruption to our conception of ourselves and the world, but we will also need to forge a new vision of the world that we can live by. Where will that vision come from?” [1]

Well, at the risk of excessive and perhaps even off-the-chart arrogance, I’m thinking that someone has to start the broader discussion, so why not me, now? Before we can provide answers and solutions, we must first understand what is at stake and at least begin the dialogue. Since someone has to take the first step, I’m volunteering.

To that end, I thought it might make sense to provide a template for where I envision going with this discussion about Peak Oil and our future. I won’t pretend that every answer is the solution, but we have to begin somewhere….

“[I]n the tradition of Albert Einstein amongst others … it frequently is not the answer but the question that poses the deepest insight.” [2]

So here are my table-setters:

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?

Choices….Opportunities….

I hope to provide some answers or at least some ideas for consideration, opening the door to the dialogue we must engage in soon. Others are more than welcome to join in. The lengthy, complex, and at times contentious discussions must begin.

The problems will not solve themselves. The scope and breadth of the impact which declining oil production will have on all of us necessitates that as many of us as possible become involved in whatever manner we feel most comfortable. We each have a voice and a contribution to offer. There is little doubt that achieving some semblance of national consensus on where we go, how we get there, and what we each and all must do is highly idealistic and in the moment, seemingly impossible to achieve and attain, but it is where we must eventually be.

Educating ourselves is step one, as I’ve previously noted (here).

“You’re either part of the solution or you’re part of the problem”
— attributed to Eldridge Cleaver, among others

“The standard response is that people are busy, and I get that. But as Isaac Chotiner persuasively argued a while back, ‘[W]hen you live in a democracy, there are very few good excuses for not having minimal knowledge about what is going on in the world….Voters can choose to be ignorant or disinterested, but that choice is fundamentally their own.’” [3]

“If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem, but the perpetual human predicament is that the answer soon poses its own problems.” (Sydney J. Harris)

It’s easy to see that both variations of the theme apply. There are no clear-cut solutions to challenges of this magnitude that will not create a not-always-beneficial domino effect across the industrial and political landscapes. But ignoring it all is no solution at all. Corny as it may be, we are the change, but spouting the slogan and doing nothing about it avails us little.

More importantly, we must move beyond just an awareness of key facts and considerations on these crucial topics and take it all one step further by understanding the philosophy behind the issues and proposals. Just as essential, we must then understand the (sound-bite free) consequences—the real ones … the ones based on facts, the ones that will affect you and your significant other and your children and your family and neighbors and community. As this series evolves, I’ll soon discuss ideas about exactly how we can become more involved and develop the skills we need to participate.

We can either choose to make our contribution—whatever it may be (no rules about that)—or we instead accept that others are going to make decisions for us—decisions they may or may not be qualified to make; decisions which they may or may not make with our best interests at heart. There’s a lot of that going around these days….

But as I have noted, that part of the process will only carry us so far if our leaders don’t meet us on that path by being honest with us, and there are too many indications that that is not the case. To that end, I then discussed in a 4-part series (first one here) the importance of sound, ethical, honest leadership … a likelihood which seems to recede from possibility a bit more each day.

The recent near-shutdown of our government highlights the intense and acrimonious partisanship which sadly dominates our public and political discourse. Can anyone confess to being happy with this? Are we—should we—be content to let the loudest (and too often, the most narrow-minded partisans) speak for us and thus dictate public policy which impacts the great majority of us far more than it does the Warren Buffetts and the Bill Gates and the Koch brothers of this world? Have we indeed become completely powerless in the face of the moneyed interests which too often and in too many ways dictate how “our” elected officials act? Is nonsense like Senator Jon Kyl’s recent, intentional lying about Planned Parenthood’s involvement in abortion practice so as to bolster (?!) his position what we must now meekly accept? Have “leaders” become that arrogant and uncaring about us? Is there any integrity left?

Isn’t there still a place for your viewpoint? Do you still want that opportunity?

Let’s give leaders our best so that their efforts merit the highest levels of respect and cooperation. While we’re at it, let’s be clearer about which values really matter the most. Can we be more inclusive than we now demonstrate? The more of us working together for the same purposes, sharing the same objectives and values, with same ends and purposes and aspirations to guide our efforts, the better off we’ll all be! Smaller groups sharing more limited and narrow-minded perspectives and values are creating only more strife. Given the challenges we’ll soon be facing, that’s not our highest and best strategy. (The more intent one is on preserving one’s perspective and viewpoint against all contrary opinions, no matter how valid they may be, the more likely that conflict is the only outcome. Is that really the best strategy?)

Are we so unwilling and insecure and frightened by what we are now dealing with that we simply cannot bring ourselves to admit that others may have better ideas and more knowledge and truth and facts? Are we instead willing to risk perpetual discord no matter what harm that causes us and others? Are we willing to decline the needed efforts and expertise of others because their personal lifestyle choices or nationalities or private religious beliefs or reasoned but contradictory political philosophies may not mesh neatly with our own? Seriously? At what point do we come to realize that narrow-minded ignorance is not the best face for us to put forth on the world stage?

What kind of a nation do we want to be?

We need a better vision to guide us. And for those looking for reasons why a smaller role for government is what’s called for, I’ll save you the time and tell you this is not the place to be. As the main theme of this series expands in the months to come, I’ll discuss in greater detail why the libertarian/conservative-inspired vision of small government is completely inappropriate a strategy to pursue in light of the challenges we face. (How a bigger role for a better government with honest leadership takes shape will determine whether this ideology is valuable and a necessary pursuit.) Let’s begin with all that needs to be done, and then decide what role the various players will be required to fulfill.

Once I resume this series*, I’ll be discussing a variety of issues pertinent to the Peak Oil challenges we’ll soon be facing. The basic premise as I move forward from that point will be a simple one: local/regional efforts, production, and governance will become critically important—both necessitating and providing opportunities for greater involvement on our parts—but federal guidelines, contribution, and vision must provide the framework for those efforts.

The policies and guidelines supporting those objectives will require a focus on such policies and principles as smart growth, more transportation options, and more research and implementation of alternative energy strategies—while educating ourselves and others of the great changes that will and must take place across all levels of industry, production, commerce, and lifestyles. To that end, there will be a great deal of discussion on greater citizen involvement, energy and industrial policies, the political/partisan elements which too often hinder and harm much more than they assist, and a more detailed role for local governments.

I hope you’ll find the offerings and discussions meaningful, if not provocative and helpful as a starting point for what we all need to do.

We’re so much better than what we’re demonstrating. We need to show it, because we are going to need to be better in the years to come.

“The point is that the way we live together now, the way we govern ourselves, the way we arrange our physical spaces and our commerce, the way we do economics and measure prosperity—all these have to be changed in creative ways if we want to achieve the goal of sustainable prosperity. All these changes require … wait for it … innovation. Innovations in the way we think, interact, and structure our lives require just as much imagination, intelligence, persistence, and funding as innovations in technology.” [4]

Crisis, or opportunity?

* I expect the next post in this series will be published on May 26. Meanwhile, enjoy the intervening posts, as part of my accompanying series about the impact of Peak Oil. I’ll continue to offer similar posts every now and then in the months to come. (I’m taking this detour because I will be away most of next week—along with my wife and others—attending and celebrating my lovely daughter’s college graduation in New Orleans.)

Sources:

[1] http://www.energybulletin.net/stories/2010-11-26/evolution-transition-us; The evolution of Transition in the U.S. Published by Transition Times on Fri, 11/26/2010 [Original article: http://transition-times.com/blog/2010/11/26/the-evolution-of-transition-in-the-u-s/ by Michael Brownlee]
[2] http://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2011/4/4/mobilitys-diminishing-returns.html; Mobility’s Diminishing Returns by Charles Marohn – April 4, 2011
[3] http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/archives/individual/2011_03/028551.php; PONDERING THE ‘HOW DUMB ARE WE?’ QUESTION by Steve Benen – March 21, 2011 [original quote, here: http://www.tnr.com/blog/jonathan-chait/76367/notes-the-average-voter]
[4] http://www.energybulletin.net/node/51627; Why Bill Gates is wrong by Grist – 02/17/2010