Dumb quote of the week: Peak Oil Edition

From the article entitled “Peak oil is dead

Quote is by  BNY Mellon’s asset management subsidiary, the Boston Company, regarding the future oil situation:

“…the likelier scenario is a gradual increase in global demand with ample sources and time for supply growth. Thus, we bid farewell to the days of Peak Oil.”

This forecast states that the world is going only slowly increase its oil use over time, despite the fact that human population will rise to 10 billion or so over the next 40 years.  While at the same time, oil discoveries and pumping will continue to meet demand.  The tone of the quote is of such finality that we can stop worrying about peak oil forever, apparently.

Essentially this is saying, “don’t worry, be happy.”  Is that a serious way to treat the future?

Even if this forecast is true in the short term, since oil is finite, peak oil will indeed occur someday.  No amount of drilling at any price can undo the reality of limits. Given that, shouldn’t we go ahead and acknowledge that this will happen?  Probably not, because once it is universally acknowledged, then the debate begins in earnest over when it really will happen (or has…).  That isn’t the kind of debate that the hucksters and shills want.  Instead, they are trying desperately to keep as many as possible happy, and dumb.

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A bioregional economy

Here is the most succinct, and beautiful, definition of the economy we must be striving for.  From Kirkpatrick Sale:

“…thus this kind of economy would be based, above all, on the most elemental and most elegant principle of the natural world, that of self-sufficiency.

Just as nature does not depend on trade, does not create elaborate networks of continental dependency, so the bioregion would find all its needed resources—for energy, food, shelter, clothing, craft, manufacture, luxury—within its own environment.

And far from being deprived, far from being thereby impoverished, it would gain in every measure of economic health. It would be more stable, free from boom-and-bust cycles and distant political crises; it would be able to plan, to allocate its resources, to develop what it wanted to develop at the safest pace, in the most ecological manner.

It would not be at the mercy of distant and uncontrollable national bureaucracies and transnational governments and thus would be more self-regarding, more cohesive, developing a sense of place, of community, of comradeship, and the pride that comes from stability, control, competence, and independence.” 

When activists and others proclaim the “importance of a local economy” we should ensure that everyone knows that this is what is desired.  Anything else is semantics about the ownership of means of production, distribution, and sales.

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How much oil is in the US?

The drumbeat is growing:  “Drill here.  Drill now.  We’ve got it.  We need it.”

And right now we are drilling more and more in the U.S.  Nearly every day a media article announces how we are getting closer to energy independence.  It is as if people are in a giddy frenzy over the fact that oil is gushing from our wells.

(Two quick questions that will be rhetorical for the time being:  One, do we not care about the climate we are leaving for our children? And if we’re having such an oil bonanza in the US, why are gasoline prices still rising?)

But just how much oil is in the US.  How much oil is in the US?  From wikipedia:  “The U.S. Department of the Interior estimates the total volume of undiscovered, technically recoverable prospective resources in all areas of the United States, including the Federal Outer Continental Shelf, the 1002 area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the National Petroleum Reserve–Alaska, and the Bakken Formation, total 134 billion barrels (21.3×10^9 m3) of crude oil.”

Wow!  134,000,000,000 barrels of oil.  THAT ought to last us forever, shouldn’t it?

However, once again we see the failing of the American education system.  134,000,000,000 is indeed a large number.  But it must be placed in context. How much oil is used every day in the US?  We use about 20,000,000 barrels a day, every day.  Woops.  At 20,000,000 barrels per day, we’re going to make a quick dent in that huge supply we’ve got.

In fact, we could drill on every square inch of land and sea and pump that stuff right into our cars and at current rates of consumption, we would get about 18 years worth of oil.  And that is if we could get every drop of the 134 billion barrels, which we are unlikely to do, given the enormous costs it will take to get the to the bottom of those reservoirs.   And it will only last that long if we don’t increase our daily rate of consumption.

“Oh but,” some will say, “we’ll use oil much more efficiently than we have been.” Right.   Then we’ll demonstrate Jevon’s paradox, in that the more efficiently one uses energy, the more one uses overall.

No, we red blooded Americans are going to go hell bent for leather to use it all as fast as God intended us to.  Until one day in the next couple of decades we’ll have no more oil left and we’ll be out of the choices we have today.    We will have driven ourselves literally to the end of the road.  By placing our hopes on drilling, and importing, at the end of that road we will be reduced to waiting for a miracle, or scrambling to salvage what we can of the civilization we knew.

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A few thoughts about “War for Oil 2“ aka Operation Iraqi Freedom

By Steve Austin

Of course the first (of the most recent) wars for oil was held in 1991, as we liberated millions of barrels of Kuwaiti oil from their Iraqi conquerors.  But we didn’t free the millions more that were held hostage by a brutal dictator inside Iraq.  Poor barrels of oil.

Fortunately, some bright minds in the oil business had a plan to help the oil:  elect as president the oil-man child of the president who didn’t get a chance to finish the job, then find a convenient excuse to begin the oil liberation process.  Sure, the convenient excuse had to be tortuously tied to the oil-liberating scheme, but it worked because we Americans just don’t like oil being held captive.  We prefer our oil to be free, like all good God-fearing democracy loving oil should be.

Anywho.  It was 10 years ago that the military operation to free the oil began.  Oh we were told it was really a war to free people, but we knew.  We knew because we have never cared about brown-skinned, non-Jesus believing, robe wearing, socialist freedom haters.  Sure they had gun toting and women-oppressing going for them, but in the end it wasn’t enough.  And we were ok with it.  We needed to free the oil to ensure that we could get to the mall in our SUVs and back to our McMansions.  That oil needed to be free, and in our tender care.  As the oil-freedom-lovingest man in the country once said, “The American way of life is non-negotiable.”  

As part of his clever mind-game with the oil-enslaving dictator, the president insisted that it was disloyal to claim the war was about oil.  Treasonous, really.   So most of us stayed silent, and prayed for the oil to be safe.  I think we assumed that this was part of the military strategy to free the oil; if the enemy really thought that was what we were after, they would have guarded it more closely.   Now that the oil is safely in our hands, we can breathe a sigh of relief that, yes indeed ha ha, it was a war for oil all along.

“People say we’re not fighting for oil. Of course we are. They talk about America’s national interest. What the hell do you think they’re talking about? We’re not there for figs.” Former Senator, now Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.

“I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.” Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan

“Of course it’s about oil, it’s very much about oil, and we can’t really deny that. From the standpoint of a solider who’s now fought in the middle east for six years – my son-in-law’s fought there for four years, my daughter’s been over there, my son has served the nation – my family has been fighting for a long time.” General John Abizaid, commander of the troops in Iraq.

From former Bush 2 speechwriter David Frum regarding the relationship of Vice President Dick Cheney and ostensible Iraqi savior Ahmed Chalabi in 2002.  “He and Cheney spent long hours together, contemplating the possibilities of a Western-oriented Iraq: an additional source of oil, an alternative to US dependency on an unstable-looking Saudi Arabia.”

Sure hundreds of thousands of Iraqis died trying to keep the oil from us.  But they lost, as God no doubt ordained.  And it only cost us $6 trillion dollars.  And it only cost 4,486 American lives and the lives of at least 389 soldiers of other nations who love oil freedom as much as we do.  It only cost tens of thousands of wounded soldiers.  And it only cost most of what was left of our national humanity.

In return we got cheap oil forever!  Hurray for us!

Wait, what?  Oil isn’t flowing freely into every American gas tank?  We aren’t filling our pools and hot tubs with the stuff?  Every child in the US isn’t given his or her own barrel of oil on every birthday?

What happened?  What was the point of setting oil free, if oil isn’t free?

As Johnny Rotten once said, “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”

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Can the ideals of economic growth be reconciled with the urgent need to stop it?

By Steve Austin

In these days of economic, environmental and societal turmoil, I think that many people are trying to have it both ways. One way this can be illustrated is by a post that recently appeared on the thinkprogress website, entitled “How Economic Growth Can Save The Planet” by John Halpin.

The premise of the post is one so often used to justify our economic and environmental actions:  if we don’t have economic growth, then most people will be poor, uneducated, sick and easily manipulated.  Therefore, if you are against these things, then you must be for growth, for only with growth can we truly make social progress.

Halpin quotes Benjamin Friedman: “economic growth—meaning a rising standard of living for the clear majority of citizens—more often than not fosters greater opportunity, tolerance of diversity, social mobility, commitment to fairness, and dedication to democracy.”

OK, who is against the results stated that are created for the input?  No one.  But, I think it is a failure of imagination to think that it is economic growth, and only economic growth, that will ensure those things will occur.

Actually, after 200 years or more of economic growth, we can see instead that more growth is actually a detriment to those ideals.  The results are clearly apparent.

Yes, initially, economic growth produced some positive results, primarily in western Europe and the US.  But over the last 100 years?  Lets see. Two biggies related to economic growth: two world wars, both of which had control of natural resources and social and racial intolerance at their core. Growth didn’t prevent those wars, instead it made them possible, if not inevitable.  I fear that the exact same conditions are reaching a crisis point again.

In the US, after all our growth, we are not witnessing “greater opportunity, tolerance of diversity, social mobility, commitment to fairness, and dedication to democracy.”  In fact, with the returning dominance of the far right wing, we are not only not seeing those increase, but instead we are witnessing a coordinated and politically sanctioned restraint of them in order that the few can continue to benefit from the crumbs of growth.

Yes, there are millions of people around the world who life affluent lifestyles now than would have been possible without growth. But at what cost? Climate change, resource depletion, environmental collapse, social exploitation of millions more. Those costs are too heavy to bear anymore.  Is more economic growth worth the damage just so a few more people can have cars, monstrous homes, and crap they don’t really need?

How can more of the same lead to any different result than we are now seeing? To paraphrase Albert E:  the kind of thinking that got us into this mess will not be the same as will get us out.

Still, many people continue to hope that if somehow we are all more sensitive, more “green,” we can turn things around and create the utopia that economic growth promised us.

Halpin’s post quotes Robert Reich:

“Growth is different from consumerism. Growth is really about the capacity of a nation to produce everything that’s wanted and needed by its inhabitants.

Growth doesn’t depend on plunder. Rich nations have the capacity to extract resources responsibly. That they don’t is a measure of their irresponsibility and the weakness of international law.”

While I like Reich, I think this quote is simply astounding.  A nation that produces everything its citizens need, yes, but also everything they want?  We’re right back in the consumerism trap that he says economic growth doesn’t have to be about.

Further, he states that if the rich nations would just be more responsible about resource extraction, all will be well.  Right.  We haven’t shown that yet. Honestly, if we extract resources responsibly, there is no more economic growth.  There is only sustainability. At best.

This is because we are not at a point where we can make value choices.  We are at a fundamental turning point in human history.  This is not about going greener, being more responsible, more kind and gentle.  For the first time, we are aware of what the planetary ramifications of our collective actions will be.

There is no way to square economic growth as we’ve know it with this quote from the great Chris Hedges:

“Humans must immediately implement a series of radical measures to halt carbon emissions or prepare for the collapse of entire ecosystems and the displacement, suffering and death of hundreds of millions of the globe’s inhabitants, according to a report commissioned by the World Bank. The continued failure to respond aggressively to climate change, the report warns, will mean that the planet will inevitably warm by at least 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century, ushering in an apocalypse.”

This is at the heart of my dissonance with Transition.  If what people like Hedges say is true, then there is no time, let alone the luxury of personal lifestyle choice, to take the actions necessary to prevent apocalypse.  It is not something that we can ease into, to learn and share and massage, to each his own, until it feels right.   So which is Transition?  A personal value choice or urgent demand?  If it is personal, will it succeed?  If it is urgent, will it seem like dictatorial elitism? Quite a conundrum.

Returning to the issue of economic growth, it is imperative that we separate the positive social results we desire – greater opportunity, tolerance of diversity, social mobility, commitment to fairness, and dedication to democracy – from the assumption that only economic growth – the exploitation of our planet and people – can provide them.  We will have lost our collective soul if we believe growth is the only way to provide those things.  Economic growth will end, our finite planet will see to that.  We must ensure that our ideals do not end with it.

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Imagine corporations in charge of local government. It’s easy if you try.

By Steve Austin

Many, many people in the US assume that government is nothing but a tick, sucking their blood to provide for those who live with no responsibilities.   In their world, they would do away with government, and replace it by outsourcing everything to private companies.  In this world, everyone benefits;  taxes go down, service quality goes up.  And there is no government beyond the one it takes to hire the businesses to do what government used to do.

Need a cop? Call the for-fee protection company. House on fire? Call the for-fee protection company.  Want someone to teach your kids? Call the for-fee  …um…education company. Pothole on your street? Call the for-fee …um…street fixing company. Have a planning and zoning issue? Call the for-fee …um….planning corporation. Have a complaint about the sewer? Call the for-fee …um…sewer company. Neighbor’s house falling down? Call the for-fee …um…building inspection company. Want to go to a park? The for-fee  …um…”recreation experience” company’s attendant will meet you at the gate with his hand out.

I’ve seen this vision somewhere….seems like that was the dream of Tony Soprano.  I’d say if these libertarians had their way, we’d all pay a LOT more.   There’s too much temptation to be otherwise.

Yeah, this will work out well. Outsourcing the vital functions of a city to corporations. THEY have our best interests at heart. Right. We’ve kinda seen that at the national level and it hasn’t been real pretty.

Some things can’t be judged solely by the financial bottom line. Civilization is one of them.  So why on earth should we believe that cities can be great if just the right cooperate management and low wage help was applied to them.

Yes, there were some bad bargains made by cities for gold-standard pensions. These were made mainly to cops and firefighters. But at the time, safety seemed like an important issue.

We can’t give up on communal government. We can’t place the management of our cities – the only thing we all share – in the hands of private corporations, for whom the bottom line is the only thing.

Great cities, and thus great civilizations, have always had this tension. Rome managed to last for 1,000 years. We’re struggling as we enter our 200s.

In all this, I see nothing but contempt by some people for having to “pay” for others.  Libertarian wing nuts are dead wrong on this. They are most likely to be found in comfortable suburbs, where the privatization of civic life has already take place for those who can afford it. No one needs public school teachers if their kids are in private schools. No one needs parks when they can go to the country club. No one needs police when everyone is of the same income. No one needs a large fire department when building codes and high standards are enforced.

Yes, to these people, the suburbs appear to run very smoothly from where they sit.  This kind of thinking results when one looks around and sees everything that mirrors himself, and then says that everyone should live like he does.

The transition we are entering is challenging each one of us to question what makes communal life worthwhile.   Energy depletion, climate change, and economic collapse will force us to re-frame our relationships to one another. We must do better than to take the position that it is everyone for themselves.

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7 Steps for Action Toward a New Economy

by David Korten
Yes! Magazine

Seven reasons why our Old Economy is failing—each paired with its New Economy solution.

In his recent State of the Union address, President Obama emphasized the global competition for jobs. He pointed to the example of China and India educating their children “earlier and longer, with greater emphasis on math and science.” He brought both Republicans and Democrats to their feet to applaud his call for America to “out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world.”

It was a politically unifying moment—and one that revealed how badly we have lost our way as a nation, not to mention how far our national economic and political institutions are from providing the leadership that we, and the world, now need.

Hope for our common human future depends on global cooperation to create a world in which every child can look forward to a prosperous, secure, and meaningful life.

A global competition for survival and dominance has given us a world divided between the profligate and the desperate. It leads to the expropriation of ever more of the world’s real wealth to secure the privilege and extravagance of the few. Rededicating ourselves to this destructive path is not likely to produce a different result.

Hope for our common human future depends instead on global cooperation to create a world in which every child can look forward to a prosperous, secure, and meaningful life irrespective of nationality, race, or religion. This will require replacing the economic policies and institutions responsible for Old Economy failure with the policies and institutions of a New Economy—one based on positive life-values and a democratic distribution of power.

The following are seven critical sources of Old Economy failure—each paired with its New Economy solution.

1.  Living Indicators. The use of financial indicators like gross domestic product (GDP) and the Dow Jones average to assess the performance of the economy gives priority to false values. We currently see just how invalid these financial measures are: GDP grows, but jobs don’t. The Dow Jones climbs, but wages are stagnant and foreclosures continue. Neither is a valid measure of the kind of economic performance we need.
SOLUTION: Replace financial indicators like GDP with indicators of human- and natural-systems health as the basis for evaluating economic performance. The Bhutan experiment with a happiness index is an excellent start.

2. A Real Wealth Money System. Wall Street control of the creation and allocation of money concentrates the power to set national priorities in institutions that recognize no interest beyond their own profits. As we become ever more dependent on money to meet our basic daily needs, this control becomes ever more complete—and more destructive of all that we truly value.
SOLUTION: Decentralize and democratize the money system so that it redirects the flow of money away from Wall Street speculators to productive Main Street businesses. We once had a system of community banks, mutual savings and loans, and credit unions that were locally rooted and served local needs. But that system has been largely dismantled and transformed into too-big-to-fail Wall Street mega-banks that suck wealth out of communities and depend on government subsidies and protections. There is nothing esoteric about the banking system we must create. It looks a great deal like the system we had before the start of banking deregulation in the 1970s.

3. Equitable Distribution. Wall Street political influence has produced trade, fiscal, workplace, and social policies that create ever more extreme inequality by suppressing wages and eroding protections, services, and safety nets for those who do productive work to increase profits for the owning class. Aren’t we glad that the politicians restored tax breaks for the very rich so they could continue to inflate their claims against the real wealth of the rest of us?
SOLUTION: Implement fiscal, workplace, and social policies that distribute income and ownership equitably. Equitable societies are healthier, happier, more democratic, and avoid the excesses of extravagance and desperation.

4. Living Enterprises with Living Owners. An ideology of market fundamentalism has embedded a belief in the public culture that the sole purpose and responsibility of a business enterprise is to maximize financial returns to its owners. This belief, combined with a system of absentee ownership and instantaneous trading of corporate shares, encourages short-term over long-term thinking and strips corporate decision making of concern for social and environmental consequences.
SOLUTION: Recognize that the primary purpose of any enterprise is to serve the needs of a living community. Favor living enterprises with living, locally rooted owners who have a direct stake in the social and environmental consequences of the firm’s management decisions—people who are looking not for maximum financial return, but for a living return that includes a healthy community and a healthy natural environment. This means favoring cooperative, worker- and community-owned enterprises and discouraging the speculative public trading of corporate shares.

5. Real Markets/Real Democracy. The institution of the global corporation is designed to facilitate the creation of global-scale, legally protected concentrations of economic and political power dedicated to extracting social, environmental, and governmental subsidies to advance the exclusive and narrow private interests of financial elites beyond public accountability. This violates the principle of shared and distributed power foundational to democracy and a market economy.
SOLUTION: Create real rule-based markets and real democracy by breaking up concentrations of corporate power, barring corporations from competing with living human beings for political power, and implementing rules and incentives that support cost internalization.

6. Local Living Economies. Fragmented local economies dependent on global corporations for jobs and basic goods and services leave people and nature captive to the financial interests of distant institutions that have no concern for their well-being and no accountability to their interests.
SOLUTION: Pursue local economic development programs that build diversified, self-reliant, energy efficient, democratically self-organizing local economies comprised of locally owned living enterprises devoted to serving local needs.

7. Supportive Global Rules. Global rules put forward by institutions like the WTO that are largely captive to corporate interests circumvent the institutions of democracy to support the other six Old Economy dysfunctions.
SOLUTION: Restructure global rules and institutions to honor and serve life values and local control.

Leadership in framing and popularizing a vision for a New Economy must come from We the People. We are the one’s we’re waiting for.

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