Culture Change Letter #205, Oct. 12, 2008
When Republican Sarah Failin and her titular senior running mate McPain chant
"Drill, Baby, Drill," or, for that matter, the wiser and more honest Barack
Obama is in favor of more offshore drilling, there is no possibility of energy
independence through maximizing domestic petroleum. The main reason is not the
many years' lead time for oil-field development:
Consumption would continue (assuming the economy still supports it), and
imported oil would keep coming unabated. Why? Because the more efficient wells
of such places as the Persian Gulf would keep providing more oil far more cheaply
than any new wells the U.S. can drill. This would be true even though Arabs'
wells are starting to peak in flow and decline. As long as we're consuming oil
big time, the oil will get over to us. World trade is the holiest goal of the
Republicans and Democrats.
Here's the clincher: Net energy return, or energy profit ratio, determines
greatly the true, full cost (including cost hidden by subsidies) and
availability to the "producer" and the more aptly named "consumer." And new
wells drilled are approaching on average a net-energy loss. Moreover, the
petroleum industry has been seeing fewer and fewer holes that actually pan out.
A program of mild reduction in oil consumption would work the same way as
going for maximized drilling: cutting back on oil use will result in the more
efficient, high net-energy fields being exploited still, such that the U.S.
would continue getting oil from elsewhere at lower cost and comparatively
greater profit for the chain of oil industry players.
Therefore, the correct approach to cutting oil imports and stop burning up
the atmosphere with this toxic fossil fuel is to have a policy of completely
avoiding oil consumption to the extent possible. Eschewing oil in its entirety
is not feasible now for many reasons, but if the U.S. adopted a goal of
eliminating oil as a main energy source, we would achieve the greatest level
of energy independence. This is understandably hard for many of today's
lifestyle to imagine calmly.
At the same time, we would have to recognize that alternative energy sources
are not nearly as net-energy desirable or profitable as oil was in its heyday.
So their maximization will be constrained (for various reasons), and we'll be
forced to begin the most meaningful and lasting work of redeveloping our local
economies along the Jeffersonian small farmer/citizen model.
"Burn, Baby, Burn" was a 1960s slogan reputedly used by Black Power leader
Stokely Carmichael (or was it Rap Brown?), regarding urban ghetto unrest.
Riots in major cities were over racial discrimination and material deprivation.
A high proportion of black and brown draftees going off to die and kill yellow
people in Vietnam probably added fuel to some ghetto fires and looting. Malcolm
X called it "The chickens coming home to roost." Such leaders did not want to
see more fires or riots, but they were recognizing inevitable consequences of
inequality and oppression. It is puzzling why riots are rare nowadays, when
conditions did not get better for African Americans (or for whites in general).
Could reasons include the well-paying volunteer military, high incarceration
rate, the preponderance of illegal and legal drugs, and the weakening
family/community structure? At any rate, to borrow from "Burn, Baby, Burn" by
chanting "Drill, Baby, Drill," is Sarah Failin's irresponsible reference to
inciting -- as most people took it -- riots, fires and looting, unless she
has no clue of the origins of an historic phrase. No doubt at least one of
her handlers must have.
For the Republicans to adopt a slogan "Drill, Baby, Drill" they are clearly
advocating burning -- of oil and of the planet's precious oxygen, even though
the goal is idiotically unfeasible. They pay lip service to getting alternatives
to petroleum in place. The insane choice of nuclear power is more "burning"
than any, if we consider the inevitable radiation burns that could persist for
millennia. Back to "Burn, Baby, Burn": we'll see riots and cities in flames
soon enough, especially if the foolishness of an energy policy of waste
continues, and basic fundamentals of social equity are ignored through more
attempts at "growth." We are strung out on "cheap" petroleum for our food
supply, and shortages will be devastating on an unprecedented scale. This can
happen soon in these volatile post-cheap oil times.
No substitutes for oil are going to keep our consumer economy going. The
infrastructure is not about electrical energy from just any (less efficient,
mind you) source, but rather about liquid fuels. Nukes, solar panels, coal --
they don't provide the cheap, energy-packed liquid fuels and materials we got
from cheap oil. Now that the easily produced oil is clearly drying up, we
don't hear from the presidential candidates or the rest of the Establishment
that it's peak oil at play. We get phony messages of hope for a continuation
of the status quo. It's unraveling, as financial collapse is merely part of
general collapse based primarily on petrocollapse. Can you imagine if oil was
priced at under $10 a barrel -- reflecting low extraction and distribution
and refining costs, as was the case decades ago -- and seeing today's financial
collapse? Possibly. But building our way out of the mess would be possible,
as happened in the 1940s with advantageously lower population size and most
of the farmland intact. Not in today's degraded ecological world.
This is the difference between petroleum-investment banker Matt Simmons'
analysis and mine: we both see the potential for the oil market to bring about
chaos such as speedy, widespread famine, as soon as panic-buying of escalating-
in-cost oil results in hoarding. And my friend Matt is doing a great job of
convincing more audiences than I ever had, concerning the realities of oil
dependence in a peak-oil world. But he believes that after collapse there
remains the necessary and inevitable job of repairing and rebuilding the whole
energy infrastructure again. I do not believe it is possible or desirable.
Goodbye to the Age of Oil. That means goodbye to cheap energy and materials
that we took for granted as part of technological progress.
One problem in many people's minds is that the price of oil will decline and
remain low, for whatever reasons, such that it's truly competitive with any
other form of energy -- starting the whole cycle of supply and demand again.
The flaw in that assumption is it's lack of understanding of the meaning of
peak and peak's effects. With collapse, Humpty Dumpty will not be put back
together again. But regardless, we need a policy of getting away from oil and
all fossil fuels, and nuclear, now.
The sooner we move on with redesigning society without all that cheap energy,
plastics, pesticides, etc., that we guzzled, we will be saving lives and our
unraveling climate -- not until then. Let it begin. Redesign, Baby, Redesign.
Conserve, Baby, Conserve. Garden, Baby, Garden. Depave, Baby, Depave. Pedal,
Baby, Pedal. Sail, Baby, Sail. Peace, Baby, Peace.
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