Monday, September 19, 2005

What if?

Mr. Jan Lundberg (formerly of the Lundberg report, now with culturechange.org), recently posed the question:

If the nation could not handle very well a localized disaster, what will the country be like when the entire industrialized world runs permanently short of petroleum in the grip of the coming (final?) energy crisis?

That's an important question for us to consider. Left, right, radical, conservative. It's in all of our interest to plan for a rainy day. This is surely one of the lessons from Katrina and it is even more vital as we consider it given the undisputed fact that we will one day run out of oil. What then? And will we be prepared?

If $3/gallon gas throws us for a loop, what will $20/gallon do for us? What if those who suggest that we're ready to peak within the next ten years are correct - will we be ready? I'd especially like to hear from fiscal conservatives on the topic. It sure seems to me this is a fiscal conservative issue, or should be.

12 comments:

Semper Fi said...

Not too sure what the country will look like, assuming it continues to exist (and, given the partisan, self-serving politicos who tilt at windmills, our "Rome" is truly burning while they fiddle [forgive the mixed metaphors]).

But, I think the final scenario will be a global oil shortage triggering Armadgeddon as the Peoples Republic of China invades the Middle East.

Son of Lilith said...

I'm something of a fiscal conservative, seeing that I don't think that the gov't should over-burden the people and should spend wisely.

Key Word: OVER-burden. There are those in our society over-burdened, and those so under-burdened it's laughable.

With that being said, the only way I see combating the oil shortage is to find alternative fuel methods, form smaller communities (urban sprawl blows a big one, to be blunt) or revert to the horse and buggy (or just plain horse).

A global oil shortage might not happen in my lifetime, but I'm sure it will happen eventually. Then we will have no choice but to revert or evolve.

Son of Lilith said...

And to truly answer your question (I failed to do due to my rant), no we are not prepared. A pipeline is down for a few days and everyone's going ape. A true SHORTAGE--yeah, Civil War II at best, WW III at worst.

The Scrutinator said...

I don't understand what you mean by "peak," as it suggests a downward slope after the peak.

Semper Fi's and mbr's ideas are sound, imho.

What will $20/gallon do for us? Shape our buying decisions.

Technological advancement is key, in my fiscally conservative opinion. Free markets and competition would push for better oil exploration and extraction (e.g., Siberia), better fuel economy, mass transit, other energy sources. Few industries, though, can put up the huge capital for risky, long-term research (e.g., drug companies), so some government incentives or seed money seems appropriate.

The big question: how far off?

Dan Trabue said...

Thanks for your thoughts, all. Semper fi, welcome to you.

It seems to me that trusting too much in technology to save us could be a bad thing. Our gas is up nearly twice what it was a year ago. If it were to double again in a year, that would have an immediate effect on the economy that could not be offset by technology, no matter how miraculous.

What I'm getting at is that it seems rational and responsible to move away from our dependence upon fossil fuels, now. Today.

If we wait til we're forced to do something other than depend upon petroleum, and our farmers go bankrupt (because they depend on petrochemicals to produce our food) and our stores go bankrupt (because they depend on gas to transport my Kentucky milk from Oregon) then we'd be in a bit of a pickle.

Which is why I'm curious why we don't see more fiscal conservatives leading the way in campaigning against fossil fuel dependence.

Son of Lilith said...

Many who oppose undue gov't taxing also advocate free enterprise, and fossil fuels are a big business. That's my reasoning to your question of why fiscals are reluctant to campaign against fossil fuels.

The Scrutinator said...

dt: "it seems rational and responsible to move away from our dependence upon fossil fuels, now. Today."

But what does that mean? Ban cars today? The implications of that would dwarf the (worst-case) scenario you paint.

For better or worse, people need motivation. Rising gas prices could motivate.

They might motivate businesses to redistribute. New Kentucky businesses could spring up to replace Oregon ones. Painful adjustments, but not societal collapse.

Semper Fi said...

An interesting thread.

My take is that fossil fuels simply have ended up as the energy de jour by political non-action and default.

Our elected officials' collective failure to take action over the last 40-years to break our dependence on, for example, foreign oil, is near-treason. We spend billions on space research (wouldn't it be great if someone did a cost-benefit analysis?), yet spend piddlin' on hydrogen fuel cell research to power our automobiles to get us off our addiction to oil. Why? Because the elected leadership in our country fails to lead, fails to have a vision, and are too consumed by their own political self-interests to give a damn. Did I also mention "too dumb"?

On the other hand, the whole world is addicted to oil and suffer from the same leadership short-sightedness, which is why the Chinese win in the long-run. The Chinese have come of age and are now modernized in weaponry and technology -- at least enough so that when they add a couple of million soldiers to the mix, they will replace the good ole USA as the world's foremost power and turn those who hold the world hostage to Middle Eastern oil today into hostages themselves! -- hostages of the power and might of China as China is forced to take action to satisfy its own raging thirst for oil. The rest of the world will have two choice then: fight or capitulate.

I have heard that Mandarin is a very difficult language to learn...

Dan Trabue said...

Thanks for the great input all. Scrutinator, I agree with you that if the price is high enough, people will change AND I agree with Semper that it is treasonous that we haven't helped along this change. What should we do?

It seems to me that we should have a long time ago raised our gas tax to get to that critical point where people are motivated to change their ways. It has that benefit, but another primary reason for raising the price of gas is that the price of gas does not reflect the COST of gas.

That is, the cost of gas to our culture and environment is much greater than the $3/gallon we currently pay. Our air is polluted and that costs society. We have to divert money to our military to protect "our" oil and that costs the world.

Again, for me, it's a fiscal resposibility issue as much as an environmental.

As to your concerns about China, Semper, if we greatly reduce our dependency upon oil, China's thirst for oil will not impact us. Further, our example may help China to find a better way themselves.

Fiscal responsibility. National security. Environmental stewardship. They're all tied up together and if we fail to act, then, Yes, it is certainly an act of treason, or should be.

And Brandon, I suspect you're right on why many fiscals don't support this sort of change. But then, if that is the case then it seems to me they relinquish the right to be called fiscal conservatives.

Eleutheros said...

I've followed this thread with interest and resisted commenting up to now because anything I'd have to say doesn't really directly address Dan's question.

First thing I'd inject is that the often touted hydrogen fuel cells are NOT a solution to the energy problem. They are essentially very sophisticated storage batteries. You have to have some energy source to separate the hydrogen that later recombines yielding electricity and that energy source right now is just more fossil fuel. HFC powered vehicles would reduce polution in crowded areas, but it produces the same polution and uses the same amount of fossil fuels some place else.

Alas, for the unrealistic this doesn't seem to be a problem. How many people do you know who deem themselves too kind hearted to harm and animal and yet scarf down the KFC and McDonalds? And what about someone who doesn't have a garden because they don't want to disturb their backyard's natural flora so they drive to Taco Bell. When did it get to be morally acceptable to hire someone else to do our dirty work? Anything goes so long as it's NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard). Hydrogen fuel cells smack of that, the conventional fuel has to be burned somewhere to have the energy to create the hydrogen.

How are we going to prepare? In the kid's delightful cartoon "Earthworm Jim" the evil nemesis says to Jim "Perpare to be incenerated!" to which Jim replies "How do you prepare for a thing like that?" How indeed! Fossil fuels are a unique phenomeon of human history over the past couple of centuries and we don't have anything in our bag of tricks that is equivalent to it. Taking a hard cold look at solar, wind, tide, nuclear, etc. ... if we were willing to cut back our energy consumption to the point that those sources could supply it, why don't we do that now, cut back to that extent,that is? The answer is no mystery. We can't drive anywhere we like at will, can't air condition 2000 sq ft houses, can't ... you get the idea.

Realize too that many "experts" say that we passed peak oil five years ago, it's not something that may or may not happen in the future, we are already on the downdside curve of the oil age.

The implications are stark. Suppose you found a city park with a rabbit population of 20 and you went to the feed store every day and bought a 50 lb sack of rabbit feed and dumped it in the park. What would happen? The rabbit population would multiply very rapidly to a very high number. Then, let's further suppose, after doing this for five years you suddenly stopped. What would happen? Most of the rabbits would starve to death.

The only reason the Earth can support more than 6 billion people is because of fossil fuels. Commuting to work is an insignificant drop in the bucket compared to what happens when we no longer have an infinite supply of cheap nitrogen fertilizer. Not to mention fuel for combines, irrigation, transportation.

Perpare to be incenerated!

Yet, if I may wax grimmer still, we are not and will not prepare for any such thing. The last dualie with ridiculously big tires and and s step ladder to get into the cab will gladly pump the last drop out of the tanks and choke to a stop somewhere by the side of the road. Facing record heating and cooling costs, look at how many more insanely huge McMansions have been built over the past five years.

The only thing sure about what needs to be done is that it isn't going to be done.

Son of Lilith said...

Which is why those conservatives calling themselves should look up the definition of "fiscal conservative," which opposes undue TAXING but says nothing about FREE ENTERPRISE.

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