Our existence is predicated on the conversion of one energy form into another. In the process of doing that, we give ourselves employment and wages
Whether engaging in trafficking human beings, or ferrying vast quantities of oil around, the intent has always been the same, to get rich by that conversion process. To make it work, the process must run faster year on year.
That is the basis of the society we live in. It is all we (collectively) have and do. We might fantasise about a lifestyle that consumes less, but we cannot remain prosperous by taking in each other’s washing and mending each other’s shoes.
If every fuelpump and oilbarrel since oil went into commercial production in 1859, had had OIL KILLS PLANETS printed on it in letters a foot high, we would still have burned the stuff as fast as possible, with or without Rockefeller’s help. We may see him as the epitome of greed, but we’ve all shared in it, willingly and eagerly, even though the wars it spawned killed millions and destroyed the planet we live on.
Wailing weeping and handwringing now will not rectify the mess we’re in, neither will we stop burning oil, despite exhortations from those of learned bent to “do something’ — -aimed and governments as well ourselves. That ‘something must be done’ is engaging in wish politics, together with a liberal dash of wish economics and wish science.
Oil consumption is not like smoking, with health warnings printed on packets.
Smoking is a lifestyle choice.
Oil is the choice of life or death. Except that we don’t have a choice. We must now consume oil to stay alive.
We have pulled off the neat trick of converting petroleum into food, (to quote prof. Albert Bartlett.)
That has put 7.4 billion people on the planet, 6 billion of whom would not be here without hydrocarbon support.
Remove hydrocarbon fuels, and those 6 billion don’t have a future.
We are on course to reach 9 or 10 bn world population by 2050.1 Bn people are at starvation level now.
Common sense says that we cannot sustain that number, so something has got to happen within the next 30 years to stop it. This is going to be our ultimate holocaust.
Our lines of growth are promised to climb towards infinity, despite living on a finite planet.
And thinking oneself into a utopian future of renewable energy systems is not going to prevent it. Windfarms and solar panels deliver electricity. Without our (hydrocarbon based) infrastructure, electricity is of very little use, and cannot sustain civilization in any sense that we know it.
Doubters should imagine electric cars running on unmade roads. Or making a single lightbulb. We are headed back to the ‘naked light’ society from whence we came only a few generations back.
We are perhaps expecting to have a future where we will be only mildly inconvenienced by changed (energy) circumstance — -where ‘they’ will fix things. Or to extend the fantasy into the surreal, that some ‘new technology’ will be developed to allow business as usual.
We must get real here. Your future, my future is dependent on that business as usual supporting us through a healthy lifespan and into secure old age.
We are all complicit in the madness, everyone demanded (and is demanding) that oil should make princes of us all; governments of whatever stripe have had no choice but to concede to everyone’s demands.
Trump has offered what might be the final straw to clutch at, promising to ‘make America great again’, in denial that it was cheap energy that provided that greatness, (such as it was) in the first place.
And having no other straw to clutch at, millions reach out in desperation.
But of course, we are navigating through the rear view mirror of history, where we see that the faster we burned oil, the richer we got. It seemed to good to be true, which it was. We called everything ‘GDP’, as though the act of work delivered infinity prosperity; when in fact GDP and ‘growth’ were exclusively a result of consuming fossil fuels.
But our leaders still offer that future.
Whether saint or charlatan, they can offer no other.
There is no other.
We might agree that ‘things must change’. They will of course change, but not in ways of our choosing. I can offer the certainty that humankind has never collectively changed unless forced to do so.
That change has invariably been unpleasant, and driven by (short lived) dictators intent on tribal supremacy.
Homo sapiens has existed for 100,000 generations, give or take. Those countless generations have had one overriding factor, that of homicidal intent, driven by the genetic force of survival. That drive has brought us to where we are now. We have perhaps a single generation left in which we might alter our destructive habits.
Can we manage that?
I’d like to believe it to be possible, but oil driven resource wars of the past 100 years would suggest otherwise.
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