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La liberta' del passeggiare Nov 09 05
Anarchism and the Peak oil argument
elsewhere | environment | opinion / analysis Tuesday March 21, 2006 23:14 by Terry S
An anarchist analysis of what peak oil means for the fight for a free society
Peak Oil is a subject that has not been addressed much in the Anarchist community and it's relevance to it. This is something I wish to discuss here and begin what is probably a very important debate and our response to it. Peak Oil is one of the major issues facing humanity and will result in great changes. It interlinks with many subject areas largely because of the ubiquitous role of energy in society. It is essential that Anarchists are aware of and understand this issue and it's far reaching consequences and are not caught off guard and are ready to take advantage of the changes that will occur to bring about a better world, rather than allow society to be led down the destructive path of capitalists and other dominating power structures.
2. Background to Peak OilSome of the references that I have seen of Peak Oil in anarchist writings appear to dismiss it as some sort of capitalist inspired shortage or something. The evidence does not indicate this at all. Also in the mainstream press, it tends to be dismissed by economists, who generally have no grounding in any scientific knowledge, readily ignore physical fact and typically claim there is plenty of oil left and the market can always provide anyhow -usually out of thin air. However it would seem that those in power are using the corporate media to confuse the public about it so as not to disturb the status quo or rather disturb the ability to extract as much profit for as long as possible and retain the reins of power. Nevertheless it is a bit disappointing to see pretty much a lack of serious consideration given to it in anarchist writings considering it's importance. Fortunately Peak Oil is getting more attention now due to the dedicated hard work of a number of geologists such as Colin Campbell, Jean Laharre and many others. Typically these people have had long careers in the oil industry and therefore know and understand the geology and engineering behind this subject area and have access to the relevant facts and figures on the ground or should I say, in it.
On the surface it would appear the establishment is not aware of the Peak Oil issue or at least are only recently. In order
to remedy that, over the last few years, Colin Campbell (and ASPO) has given many presentations to national governments
and parliaments. However as far back as the 1977 the CIA had projections (The Impending Soviet Oil Crisis) on when the
Soviet Union would peak and were aware of similar issues for the Middle East. Indeed the US signed a 60 year agreement with
Saudi Arabia actually 60 years ago to secure the oil for them. Thus they or the key players, have always been aware of the
central importance of this commodity.
Peak Oil for those who are not familiar with it, refers to the impending maximum daily production, globally in the amount of oil that will ever be produced as shown in the Figure 1. Up to now, production has been rising and soon if not this year, the peak will occur and inevitable decline will occur over the next 40 or so years. It is based on the principle first discovered by M. King Hubbert in the 1950s who was a geologist who noted that production of oil fields slowly rises up to a peak and then falls in a similar manner. The familiar bell-shaped curve. He then realized it collectively applies to a whole set of fields and quickly realized back then, using the data for the USA, that the it would peak in 1970. Nobody believed him. He was spot on and it peaked in 1971 -just before the first oil shock incidentally. The same analysis applied to all fields globally, predicts a peak anywhere from this year (2005) to 2010, but there are strong indications it was either last year or is this year. Thereafter it will decline anywhere from 2% to about 8% a year. Nobody really knows.
The prediction of most geologists working in this area, fall within this narrow time frame. Forget what economists say, since it's fantasy. Other countries that have peaked already are the UK & Norway (both down 20%+), China, Mexico, Venezuela, Indonesia, Russia, Syria, USA (1971), Libya, Nigeria, Qatar and many others. Only the Middle East has spare capacity, except their reserve figures are not very transparent and could be more like Enron stock values. Saudi Arabia provides approximately 8 million barrels of the total 82 million used globally per day or 29.9 Gb annually (82m x 365). About 60% or so of Saudi oil comes from just one giant field, indeed the biggest field in the world called Ghawar, which has been producing for almost 60 years now. As shown in Figure 2, the 14 biggest fields in the world supply 20% and the 55 biggest supply a full 35% of the world supply. Many of these fields are in decline or are about to go into decline. For instance Canterall 2nd biggest, in Mexico, went into decline this year and a giant field has not been found in years. Besides the peak of oil field discovery was in 1964 and the number and sizes of fields found has fallen steadily since then.
So for the sake of not writing too much more on this because many others have already written about it, I have provided
some URLs that contain more background information for those who wish to know more on the technical side since what we want
to do here is to present this topic in relation to what it means for anarchism.
3. What does it all mean?So what does all this mean? Surely there are replacements and what has it to do with anarchists anyhow. We are interested in workers, rights and freedom, hardly oil? Well Peak Oil does not mean there will be no oil left. It means the End of Cheap Oil and this is central to the whole idea. And in cheap, I do not necessarily mean money as such. It's not a question of charging lower prices for it or whatever in anarchist heaven. Basically what has happened, most of the promising areas of the world have been explored, all the big fields were found long ago and pressed into production. The peak in discovery of oil fields occurred in the mid 1960s and the number and sizes of fields found has fallen steadily since then. All the easy or at least most of the easy oil is gone. We are well on the way to using the stuff that is dirtier, heavier, found deeper and lying around in smaller quantities. Whatever form of society one has, it still means as we move towards the bottom of the barrel as it were, more resources in terms of manpower, knowledge, equipment and energy itself must be expended to get the stuff. This is thus reflected in the value and whether it is cheap or not. For example the tar sands of Canada are vast and are often mentioned as a valuable resource and replacement. But they are not because to extract approximately 40 barrels of oil in a place like Saudi Arabia which includes pumping, cleaning, shipping and refining requires only of the order of one barrel of oil in terms of energy required while for the Canadian sands this figure is a lot worse and more like burning one barrel to get two (or 1:2). For the tar sands, there is also in excess of 10 barrels of water required as part of the processing which becomes polluted and the creation of a bloody great environmental mess from all the open cast mining.
Eventually so much more energy has to be expended, it's just not worth it. And as I said regardless of your form of society, it is physics not politics that says when you reach the point of having to burn a barrel of oil (equivalent) to get a barrel of oil, then it's of no value or use to you. For the Tar Sands, not all of it is even 'high' grade and at the moment they are using valuable high quality natural gas from Canada, to heat the tar sands to steam out the tar and then crack it chemically into oil. From an energy point of view, it's an incredibly wasteful thing to do with a high grade energy source like natural gas. Without the gas, extracting the tar and turning it into oil, would be way more difficult. It's just the absurdities of money and the markets that happen to completely undervalue the true benefit of natural gas to us. Likewise with oil. As the famous scientist Buckminister Fuller said: 'Oil should be valued at a million dollars a barrel for the benefits it gives us'. There's nothing that's both as energy dense and as versatile as oil.
To clarify the above it ought to be noted that the amount of oil currently extracted from the tar sands is only a tiny fraction of the current global daily production, but the point was to show they are not really the huge replacement reserve that they are made out to be regularly in the media.
So to continue; all the main oil producing regions have been found. There are no more North Sea oil equivalents, which is already in decline. The most optimistic projections for the ANWAR on the North Slope in Alaska only put reserves at half of the Prudhoe Bay field (in decline) -about two weeks of the global supply. Even the Caspian Sea basin area where only 7 or 8 years ago, excitment was running high and it was said to be another Middle East with reserves of 200 billion barrels (Gb), turned out -thankfully- to have only around 17 Gb or about 7 months global supply. And much of that has a high sulphur content.
In the meantime of course, demand for oil has risen dramatically and the physical structure of our society is organised around the assumption that there will always be plenty of it. It's hard to see how the demand can be met if the total available is decreasing. Somebody is going to have use a lot less and even do without it. Thus it is clear that the problems aren't quite when the oil is gone, but at the turning point or peak where it starts to get scare.
As things currently stand with our industrial agricultural system that is both inhuman and destructive to the environment, the production and distribution of food requires a lot of oil. It is reckoned that most items of food on sale in the shops have travelled up to 1000+ miles on average. We could and should switch back to sustainable organinc agriculture, but that will obviously require much more labour and a partial return to the land. See: The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil.
4. The Natural Gas cliff in North AmericaNatural Gas is in a similar situation, except being a gas it's a bit different. Production does not follow a bell curve, but rises to a plateau, remains at that level for some period of time that is obviously related to the field size and then almost without warning as the gas pressure drops when the field is exhausted, production falls off a cliff. While the global peak in natural gas will be a bit later than for oil, for the North American continent it already past peak. Even the corporate press has acknowledged that. The cliff is very near. Nearly all homes in the USA are heated with natural gas and a considerable amount of electricity especially peak power, is generated with gas. Shipping gas, which involves liquefying it (known as LNG), is costly, dangerous, hard to move in large quantities and requires 15% of the energy in the gas to do it. And I think there is only one gas terminal in the US that can handle LNG although there are plans to build more. But they need to build the ships too. This stuff could not be built overnight, so by the time enough infrastructure was built to fully satisfy US needs, it's likely we would be past global gas peak, thereby making any such costly investment less profitable since the infrastructure would become under used again fairly quickly. At best some of it will only be built meaning there are going to be pretty big shortfalls in supply. Thus massive dislocations are about to hit the US economy pretty soon. Indeed the recent hurricane Katrina has shut down a fair amount of domestic oil and gas production, but so far the US has actually tapped into the European strategic (oil) reserves to cover the gaps, nevertheless it could still end up being the trigger. It will mean in the USA at least, soaring prices for heating and probably for the cost of electricity too. The production of nitrogen fertilizers which are a cruical component for the high production of industrial agricultural, is heavily dependent on gas and so is sensitive to the price. Whether this production moves offshore to countries where there are no impending gas shortages remains to be seen, but if it does, it is bound to result in higher prices unless Uncle Sam can bully them into lower pricing. Overall there will be knock on effects to the US economy and the world economy too, since so many countries rely on exports to the US. The sheer quantities of energy provided by oil and gas cannot be readily replaced by other forms of energy, at least not immediately and more on that later.
For those in doubt of these figures, checkout:
The important consequence of this for Anarchists at least in North America, is that it will be hard for the corporate media to hide this jolt although they will do their best. It is something that will hit most people. It is precisely in these sort of situations when people awake out of corporate / state induced slumber that they will be receptive to an analysis of what is happening and may begin to question the status quo. However given the reaction to 9/11 and the way the Patriot Act was brought in, I having my doubts. For example when I read things like the following extract from "A General Strike Won?t Do It", I get worried although it's hard to know how much to trust the poll that the piece is based on:
"...It?s encouraging that a July 18th Harris Poll found that 64% of surveyed Americans strongly disapprove of Bush?s handling of the War in Iraq. It?s not so encouraging that a Gallup Poll of November 19, 2004 determined that ?45% of Americans also believe that God created human beings pretty much in their present form about 10,000 years ago.? If lions and tigers and bears can simply pop into existence, with no eons of natural history required to produce them, then surely oil and cheap Chinese goods can be conjured out of thin air, too? The same poll found: ?A third of Americans are biblical literalists who believe that the Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word.? If sacred texts can just fall out of the sky, with no social conditions or individual people required to compose them, then surely all our other institutions ? marriage, NASCAR racing, gross inequality of wealth ? are just as perfect and transhistorical as the Bible. People who are so afraid of independent thought that they will happily vote for a fascist are not likely to suddenly notice that they can overthrow their bosses if they all pull together....
Nevertheless we must be ready for this moment. There is a historical precedent for this situation, such as Germany of the 1930s, where there was a great economic upheaval; obviously not for the same reasons, and significant fractions of the masses there turned to fascism. It's important that we understand why, as the capitalists will or rather are trying this trick again.
5. Oil a wasted GiftOil is a one off gift from Nature to build a sustainable infrastructure. This has not happened. The replacements for oil are not looking good. To run the global car fleet on bio-fuels would require most of the farmland in existence and besides the amount of energy used to produce bio-fuels versus the return is low, ranging from 3:1 to 1:1 since the actual figure is disputed. At the moment this fact is hidden, because the subsidized cheap fuel for tractors, transport and processing are not properly energetically taken into account. The proposed 'hydrogen economy' is pure fantasy. Not because burning hydrogen doesn't work but because there are no free sources of hydrogen to tap and to split water to make hydrogen requires the same or more energy as is released when you 'burn' it again to form water again so your problem is really where are you going to get that energy from. On nuclear, there are about 450 or so power stations worldwide; this would need to rise rapidly to at least 1600+ or higher. Figures depend exactly on assumptions of efficiency and so forth. With this number of reactors the present lifetime of the uranium's reserves would last only of the order of only 15 or so years. See more detailed figures the section "Ore Resources" in: Minnesota Energy Future: Part II-B: Energy + Resources, at: www.mnforsustain.org/erickson_dell_minnesotas_energy_future_part_IIB.htm
Some will no doubt point out that the effective reserves of Uranium can be increased a 1000 fold by fast-breeder technology which is where normal Uranium is irradiated to produce Plutonium which is fissionable. However the USA, UK and France tried this for about 30 years and have abandoned it because it is so fiendishly difficult. Only the Japanese are still at it without too much success. And even now nobody is seriously proposing it.
With alternative forms of energy while good, the amount of power is very diffuse. Besides from this side of the Peak, nobody seems to realize just how much cheap oil essentially subsidises the construction and cost of alternative energy plants and nuclear ones too. One of the key problems with alternative energies is that there are no real viable technologies for storing large amounts of energy. For solar and wind energy to come close to providing the same amount of energy as oil does, would require a truly massive scale up in production and deployment of such technologies and still they would come nowhere near to match the convenience of oil. Current world electrical capacity is about ~3.5 TW (3,500 GW) while global installed wind capacity which has grown dramatically is only 44 GW. So it has a long way to grow to reach 10% or 20%. It's feasible but it will take at least another 10 years and we will be well past peak and already in difficulty. Likewise the theorticals are quite good for photovoltaics; current annual production is equivalent to about 1.7 GW which is a long way behind wind, but it has the potential to grow and has been. Yet we would need to see the current rapid growth continued for many years into the future too. So as we can see, it's no so clear cut or straight forward. Anyhow, I am sure everyone has noticed that the capitalists seem to have absolutely no interest in these technologies. Presumably if they had been developed and deployed (using the cheap energy) years ago, it would have threatened demand of fossil fuels and thus profits. Regardless of all that, what is easier to do is to use less energy and use it more efficiently, such as promoting far more public transportation and there is a good case for making it free or almost free, thereby reducing dramatically the energy requirements of transport. For example Cuba which has essentially gone through it's own Peak Oil because of the cut off of cheap Soviet oil back in the 1990s has created special public transport buses that can hold 100+ people and are very cheap to travel on.
Certainly there will be some energy, but the days of endless motoring, of driving to the shop to just get some milk and bread, basically our entire car based culture, is as Howard Kunstler says entering the twilight years. And about time too. The problem is our built spread out suburban environment forces lots of driving upon us. Suburbia is now a millstone around our necks and the huge post-war (WW-II) investment in it will be seen as a big mistake. See for example Howard Kunstler's cynical but realistic take on things in his blog and now infamous essay: 'The Long Emergency' which can be found at www.kunstler.com. Kunster sees not a calamity but a long slow decline over many decades which is probably the most realistic scenario around rather than the extremes of optimism and pessimism.
It will be realized soon in the near future that the energy wasted on the production of every single additional car will mean there was or is less energy to build a solar panel or wind turbine or some such device that would enable us to construct a sustainable society. We are recklessly throwing away the very valuable energy sources that we will soon wish we still had. There will be clarity of what stupidity has taken place, but largely too late. What people don't realize is that say 20 or 30 years in the future, when a component in that wind turbine breaks down, and the part needs very special metals of a particular purity and some other alloys, will the infrasture for the mining and refining still exist? What about the ease of transporting the part and then getting it to the site? What about replacing the wind vane and the energy intensive to produce carbon composites in it? It could well be a case that a missing critical part means the rest of the machine is essentially scrap. This is an everyday ocurrence of semi-complicated machinery in the Third World, where for the want of parts; pumps, tractors and other machines lie idle and eventually rust. So you can see we may have some power, but just not enough to keep the whole system together and hence we should have started building all this stuff on a global scale back in the 1970s and 80s, but instead built millions of useless cars which by then will be long rusted in the toxic scrap-heaps.
What tends not to get discussed anywhere is that the combination of Peak Oil, the Greenhouse Effect and the general trashing of the global environment all together. Chances are in the panic down the back-side of the Peak Oil slope, there might be a rush to all sorts of different fuels, like lower grade oil, tars, coal, wood and so on and the amount of carbon dioxide released per unit of energy will actually be even higher. Already there is a rush to bio-fuels. It will be a brave person who tries to stop the mad rush. Desperation will see environmental standards and safeguards consigned to the dustbin. Indeed the present 'administration' in the USA has already done this and there is similar talk in the UK. It will be likewise everywhere else. The reactions are therefore likely to exacerbate existing environmental problems and if society and politicians continue in their denial in the face of the facts, then the actions and solutions they take are likely to be reckless.
And speaking of reckless behaviour, the desperation of the White House's War of Terror reflects what it knows about the dire situation on the oil front. It's actions seem illogical to us and everyone else, but from it's perspective it knows how grave the energy situation is now and the consequences for the American Dream, and is preparing the ground for it's own survival afterwards in terms of the global elite of capitalists holding onto power. There will be much denial initially and great upheaval. Capitalism has been partially accepted by the masses because there has been endless growth so far and the bounties of the Earth got through hyper-extraction have been so great, that a portion of the masses -i.e. in the 'Developed Countries' have got a few half decent scraps up to now. Capitalism as everyone knows requires endless growth. The manifestation of the economy in the real physical world means growth requires more energy. Since there is going to be a lot less of it, growth will stall and we will have contraction of our present appalling wasteful setup. The oil gift has been wasted! Actually you could argue the gift of the Earth's environment has been wasted too in the thrashing sense.
See: Cornell ecologist's study finds that producing ethanol and bio-diesel from corn and other crops is not worth the energy
6. Energy and CapitalismOil or rather first coal and then oil and electricity has allowed human society to go from basically an existence limited by animal muscle power to almost unlimited power. This in the context of capitalism or rather society with hierarchical dominating power structures has allowed a cancer to occur on Earth and threaten the very existence of the abundant diversity on Earth. Most leading biologists in the ecology field are in widespread agreement, that the Earth's sixth extinction is well under way. Extinction rates are currently running at a 1,000 times the background rate. The availability of all this energy means that it is the lever that has allowed humans to extract huge quantities of resources such as minerals, opening lands, destruction of vast amount of forests, almost near exhaustion of all fisheries worldwide and production of fertilizers which lead to widespread pollution in rivers and estuaries because of super abundance of nutrients leading to algae blooms. Indeed it is widely accepted in the scientific community that over 40% of all bio-mass (and that includes the oceans) is now being appropriated by humans. The capitalists have been not just appropriating human labour! So in terms of the oceans, the zooplankton eat the algae, in turn eaten by the fish, of which we take most. Then on land, grass is being converted to meat, timber to products. Like a cancer, which grows at the expense of all the other specialised cells, it sucks resources and nutrients to sustain itself. Society is at the advanced stage of this. The sooner cheap oil runs out the better as maybe there will be a chance the leverage it provides to exploit resources will be diminished. With the psychopaths in power in most places, I reckon it isn't going to be pretty. Others, and I would agree, reckon we are actually in an overshoot situation, where we are currently beyond the capacity of the Earth to support current burden (especially the 20% using 80% of the resources) since so much damage has been done to our capital stock of biodiversity and other things. This is not good news for anyone, let alone anarchists. See for example: Industrialization: Prelude to Collapse. Excerpt from Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change by William Catton, 1982 www.mnforsustain.org/catton_excerpt_overshoot_1982.htm
So for all of us reading this we have lived through the upside of the Peak. The physical consequences of the downside will give rise to a new set of forces acting on politics and society. This is the sort of thing science fiction writers write about which is largely trying to imagine politics and society under the effects of new and often novel forces and or technologies. Many have made the analogy of the well known biological effect, when nutrients are supplied to a bacteria culture on a petri dish, the population grows exponentially and then crashes when it suddenly runs out. The same thing actually is the cause of plankton blooms from rivers polluted with too much nutrients such as agricultural runoff and fertiliser. The comparison is also made with humans that so far on the grand scheme of things, we have behaved no differently. Unfortunately the actual evidence supports this. Anarchism is the only political philosophy that seems remotely capable of rising or attempting to rise above running society based on our most primitive biological instincts. Authoritarian socialism unfortunately retains the trappings of power within it's structure and so does not really break from the past. Capitalism and all the other tyrannies were just derivations of the basic instincts of greed, fear and desire to maximise the number of kin, through the acquisition of resources. [In the book: The Red Queen and the evolution of Sex by Matt Ridley, it is noted that up to relatively recently -a few hundred years ago- nearly all rulers used their wealth and resources to maintain large harems of women -i.e. for maximisation of kin. Allegedly more recently, Chairman Mao had a harem of sorts.] Anarchism aims to raise humanity above that basic level, indeed advance 'intelligent life' so as to develop and bring to fruition the very unique human qualities, intelligence and abilities of our being. Thus it has to succeed if there is to be any chance of us breaking out of the deterministic boom and then bust of population growth as described above.
7. Cheap Oil and the End of the Show - ReactionsThe endless growth of suburbia is based on cheap oil. Supermarkets are based on cheap oil. Where once we all walked to the local shop, instead we drive, -millions of us. Industrial agriculture with it's high fossil fuel inputs in the form of energetically expensive to produce nitrogen fertilisers and insecticides are a product of cheap oil. Those apples in the supermarket in February from New Zealand are a result of cheap oil. The current stage of capitalism is based on cheap oil. When the price starts to go up as everyone realizes oil production really has peaked and production is now headed downward; everything dependent on oil will go up in price. Oil is now around $60 a barrel, but Matt Simmons thinks $200 or even $300 a barrel is a more fair price for it. The whole market based system, with just-in-time manufacturing, just-in-time supply especially for the large retail enterprises such as Tesco, WalMart and all the rest, who rely on fairly thin profit margins, are on very shaky ground. The End of Cheap Oil will probably wipe these out along with a lot of other ways of doing things. Currencies may sink, the housing bubble will probably burst, financial derivatives will explode along with the economy and jobs. People won't be happy. What people don't realize is that the growth of money is ultimately dependent on the assumption there will be growth and that depends on energy.
There is a very real chance of breakdown and the deaths of millions, although many will scoff at such notions from their current relatively blissful positions. But in a study, possibly the only one of its kind, titled: 'Food and Energy in Japan: How will Japan Feed Itself in the 21st Century?' at http://www9.ocn.ne.jp/~aslan/21fee.pdf, (table of contents at: http://www9.ocn.ne.jp/~aslan/fande21e.htm ) the author through a very detailed and quite scientific analysis taking into account past levels of population, energy usage, soil fertility, food intake and calorific value, crop yields, work force and so on and using realistic projections shows that in the case of Japan alone even under optimistic scenarios, tens of millions will die. He also documents (in The Limits of Energy-Based Agricultural Systems and the "North Korean Food Crisis", in http://www9.ocn.ne.jp/~aslan/dprkeng0409.pdf) how events unfolded during the 1990s in North Korea when there was an oil shortage -due to loss of subsidized oil supplies from the USSR- and how the shortage of energy led to a 50% reduction in fertilisers and consequent plummeting of agricultural output and this lead directly to the famine there at the time. It was noted that land that has been intensively cultivated via industrial methods, rapidly loses it's fertility when those inputs are reduced and it can take many years for the natural fertility to return. Therefore even if we turned organic overnight, it just doesn't work out that way, although Cuba survived having suffered a similar fate, as after the collapse of the USSR, it also lost it supplies of oil. However Castro et al managed to turn the economy around, by allowing farming of your own plots. There were a few years in the early mid 90s where people in Cuba were fairly hungry but they more or less pulled through. But then it was already a pretty rural society anyhow. What happens for urbanised ones?
As I said already, the capitalists are aware of all of this. The unbelievable luck of 9/11 provided the pretext to advance the obvious preparations that were already there, to put in place the police state and civil control structures (i.e. Patriot Act, pre-emptive wars) to help manage the situation when the bad news dawns on the motoring public. It was also a very thinly veiled pretext to grab Middle East oil resources or at least sit on them since control of access is just as important. Much of this though was more or less laid out in the now famous document authored by the NeoCons called Project for a New American Century (PNAC) written in the late 1990s which also stated what America needed was a new wakeup call akin to Pearl Harbour. In light of this, the recent military take over and lock down of New Orleans can be seen as a good opportunity to run a live test of what will (possibly) be soon carried out in cities all over the US. (Read Operation Garden Plot which is an account of something similar that was planned in the Reagan days in the event that the USA invaded Nicaragua and was a plan to arrest and round up thousands of dissidents, radicals and journalists and put in camps similar to the way hundreds of thousands of American Japanese were interned during WWII). Actually it seems those camps have not gone away you know and are been upgraded as reported here: Homeland Security Contracts for Vast New Detention Camps. An interesting development and actually quite widely reported in the corporate press, was the deployment of Mexican troops after Hurricane Katrina to help give out aid. It was a bit odd to say the least. Perhaps someone was flying a kite to see if there were any objections. But for years the Right Wing conspiracy nuts have always been on about UN troops invading the country some day and everyone ignored them. While much of their theories suffer badly from any logical consistency, I think the point they make is that troops from out of town or country will more willingly suppress people. Thus Americans in Iraqi, and Mexicans in America. Likewise the Chinese had to use troops from outside Beijing to carry out the massacre in Tiananmen Square in 1989. The reason this is brought up is in light of this quote from Henry Kissenger:
"Today Americans would be outraged if U.N. troops entered Los Angeles to restore order; tomorrow they will be grateful. This is especially true if they were told there was an outside threat from beyond, whether real or promulgated, that threatened our very existence. It is then that all peoples of the world will plead with world leaders to deliver them from this evil. The one thing every man fears is the unknown. When presented with this scenario, individual rights will be willingly relinquished for the guarantee of their well being granted to them by their world government." - Henry Kissinger speaking at Evian, France, May 21, 1992 Bilderburgers meeting. Unbeknownst to Kissinger, his speech was taped by a Swiss delegate to the meeting.
While much of the focus these days is on the US, much less recognised and appreciated is that in most European countries equally repressive and sinister laws have been passed. In Germany for example the separation of police and military intelligence has been removed and the EU has effectively begun to put in place equivalent of it's own CIA and FBI. Much of this has been unnoticed by the public at large although very well documented by www.StateWatch.org/ Indeed much of this activity has a fair amount in common with the Strategy of Tension that was created in the 1970s in Italy where the state engaged in state terrorism (Bologna bombing 85 dead, kidnap and murder of Prime Minister Moro) to pin on the Far Left, to keep the Far Right in power. And it worked.
The relative ease in the way these laws were changed represents the fruits of the relatively long investment period in the careful nurturing of ignorance by the elites, as in the creation of our largely clueless society (US and Europe to a slightly lesser extent) and the promotion of the Cult of the Celebrity*. Japan and Australia have followed a similar trajectory too. The award winning ex-teacher John Gatto (US) brilliantly documented the real purpose of compulsory state schooling in works such as The Underground History of American Education and how in the early 1900s many of the big industrialists like Carnegie and Rockefeller put their money behind it so as to control the agenda. Gatto went back to the original works and papers which showed clearly state schooling was designed to dumb down the masses and create obedient, subservient and a passive populace so that they would be less inclined to rebel and less able to question. It intentionally was designed to make people anti-intellectual and it certainly is very noticeable that trait exists widely. This seems to result in those at the bottom who are disenfranchised plus the many who are not quite there but simply disillusioned, that they do not have the capacity or ability to see or understand their plight and so do anything about it. This for those in power, results in a form of nihilism that doesn't go anywhere and is relatively easy to manipulate.
*See for example The Culture of Narcissism (1979) by Christopher Lasch who documented the growth in this phenomena in US society but which now afflicts much of Europe too. He describes how the cult of celebrity has come to dominate our lives. www.amazon.com/gp/product/0393307387/103-0343557-6039845?v=glance&n=283155
For more about this, see: "Against School: How Compulsory Education cripples our Kids and Why" at www.spinninglobe.net/againstschool.htm. Another interesting essay on the schooling topic is: Deschooling Society by Ivan Illich, 1970 which might be familiar to some readers at http://reactor-core.org/deschooling.html.
This agenda of the state so-called education system clearly operates in Europe too. Indeed in Ireland (pop ~4m), a large number (50+) of public libraries were built from 1906 onwards and nearly all of them have the name Carnegie over the doorway which is an interesting observation. The Catholic Church, a rather right wing organisation, pretty much operated the Irish educational system at that time and for years afterwards. Their interests probably would have nicely dove-tailed with Carnegie et al. Clearly he must have had some links to Ireland, perhaps through Eamon de Valera who later became the first Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of Ireland. Carnegie and others may have given support to de Valera who was fighting to get the British out of Ireland in return for helping put the lid on education that laid down the basis for control of development of people as suggested by Gatto. In Ireland at this time, there was a strong labour movement (aka. James Connolly who inspired many and lived in New York for awhile) and revolution had just happened in Russia (1917). The capitalists and church would have been quite alarmed and been keen to swing public opinion away from radical ideas like real democracy.
So to get back to Peak Oil, when the news breaks, because people have largely been kept ignorant about all things political since birth, their core faith will be shaken and the normal reaction will be denial of the reality. Therefore they will be trying to hang onto the endless growth myth as promised for most of their life by capitalism and regrettably are likely to turn to their 'leaders'.
Going back historically to the Nazi example, in the 1930s, many middle and working class Nazi followers, if they had followed the logic of the situation, would have gone Left wing and revolutionary. They didn't. Marxism never had an explanation for that. However the writings of William Reich in the 1934 book 'The Mass Psychology of Fascism' (available online) shows how fear, mysticism and sexual repression essentially gives rise to people afraid to question themselves, their plight and generates a craving for authority. The Neo-Cons and the rather large Christian Right in the USA are in the same situation more or less. It is noteworthy how the Right always gravitate towards religion, family values, sexual morals and tend towards historical myths (i.e. the true German, the true American etc) and are always anti-science. Reich isn't an easy read and is not well known probably because his later work is quite whacky and would tend to discredit his earlier work. But here's two extracts if a bit long winded:
"...Contrary to this concept, my medical experience with individuals from all kinds of social strata, races, nationalities and religions showed me that "fascism" is only the politically organized expression of the average human character structure, a character structure which has nothing to do with this or that race, nation or party but which is general and international. In this characterological sense, "fascism" is the basic emotional attitude of man in authoritarian society, with its machine civilization and its mechanistic-mystical view of life. It is the mechanistic-mystical character of man in our times which creates fascist parties, and not vice versa. Even today, as a result of fallacious political thinking, fascism is still being considered a specific national characteristic of the Germans or the Japanese...."
Does this remind anyone of the Christian Right, militarists, allegiance to the flag crowd, faith in authority, the compulsory schooling system? We must somehow take onboard all these ideas because it has not been paid attention to, before and yet it is a crucial part of the social dynamic at any given moment and has direct consequences for dealing with Peak Oil and Climate Change too.
With regard to the fallout of post Peak Oil, it is clear the rest of the capitalist powers are helplessly hitched to the Anglo American agenda. From an anarchist perspective and that of any reasonable sane societal aware person, it is obvious we need to run society more energetically efficiently, sustainably and equitably but as we see from the German example and Reich's interesting and unusual insight into humans, it doesn't follow that this is what people will actually do. The sane route though is the one that Anarchists wish to follow and anyone else who cares to pay attention to their own rationality. The challenge then is to salvage the situation and turn society around in time to avoid what the mainstream press would call anarchy, but we would call chaos. We must not be thwarted and that is why it is crucial we are aware of what people like Reich, Gatto and others have to say because we must take into account the irrationalities of human behaviour and the human state of mind. Class analysis is not enough.
8. Roasting the Frog - Making ChangesLike the story about the frog that doesn't jump out of the pot, if boiled slowly, that is what the last 60 or 70 years have been. But Peak Oil is about to give a major jolt and everyone is going to notice. It's a rare wakeup call and we should be ready and waiting when people receive it. We must not let this opportunity go to waste. However we must not kid ourselves with rhetoric that people will know what to do. The very powerful State institutions of compulsory schooling which churns out passive, submissive, obedient people as already described and the powerful corporate media that has filled everyone's lives since birth have given rise to a society where many have expert knowledge of celebrities, films and sport -safe stuff; but know very little of the real physical world, it's ecosystems, the reality of the current political establishment, it's relationship to their own social environment and lives, foreign policies, the mechanisms of corporate corruption and exploitation and so on -i.e. the dangerous stuff. And whilst people seem perfectly rational most of the time, when it comes to the political realm they seem to uniformally forgo all their critical facilities, lacking any ability to critique or challenge their own political beliefs or the very deep assumption that somehow we need leaders. There is a widespread foolish faith in the parliamentary facade and the structures of the state. Frequently people say: '... but we must have someone in power and it's just the present lot are not any good...' Basically they are largely unaware of other possible ways of organising society (cleverly crushed and kept out of the media) and they seem to think there is only the present one or authoritarian communism, unaware of non-authoritarian communism. This is one of the fruits of compulsory schooling masquerading as education. One of it's mechanisms is that it teaches the idea that experts know things and we do not question. Notice the way everything these days has become a service run by 'professionals'. After we finally leave school the authority of teachers and of the school gets mentally transferred to ministries, institutes and 'papers of record'. I would admit I was there myself too. A case of we don't know what's best, the teacher, the manager, the civil servant, the engineer, the journalist, the businessman, they do.
People do not change their ways about anything by accepting logical arguments and then saying: 'That makes sense! - I will now think different'. It rarely happens and we should not rely on it. It takes years for people to change their views, opinions and behaviour to issues like racism, gender inequality, wars, environment, human rights, animal rights and so on. As already said earlier, if this was not true, then nobody would have followed the Nazis. But they did. A class analysis is important and vital to understand many political issues, but class analysis alone won't lead people to change. We must examine the human psychology of people's responses and as to why people change or don't change. Denial not only on a personnel level, like as in an alcoholic's denial, but denial on a wider scale at the scale of society exists and we must tackle that and recognise it exists, if we are going to succeed in making any changes. And denial exists because it was clearly of evolutionary advantage for a long time. It's just that now it is hampering us quite a bit.
For an opposing view to the usual of experts know it all, check out the book: The Wisdom of Crowds by James Sureksi.
Excerpts and reviews can be found at:
Capitalism long ago took human psychology onboard in the form of the marketing and advertising industry. It lies to people, by using the basic human instincts of sex and fear, -i.e. it uses emotion rather than logic. And it works. However I am not proposing we do that here. What I am proposing is that we don't concentrate in our efforts to bring about a better world by only dealing with logic which is what we and other Left groups tend to do. We must deal with and understand human emotion -sometimes referred to as irrationality which it isn't but is probably an evolutionary older method of thinking that integrates much better with our immediate senses; hence use of imagery by advertising. Try go into a bar somewhere today and present your arguments logically to anyone and tell them how we need to build a sustainable environmental and an equitable society without dominant power structures and see how far you get. So in a certain sense our job is much harder because we are trying to build up something whereas it is easier for capitalism as it just has to appeal to our primeval instincts and goes around plundering the environment and killing those who oppose them.
More generally, you could also say that technology advance has grown greatly and for the system as a whole to advance any further it must advance socially to catch up as it were.
[For non-anarchists reading this; for an explanation of what anarchism is, see for example http://question-everything.mahost.org/Socio-Politics/aarch.html ]
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9. Disaster or Sanity - The Road Ahead.If we allow the capitalists to continue to control the situation, as in the past, the wholly destructive path will continue. They will try to continue with industrial society as it is, repression will greatly increase, (it already is), human kind will begin a fairly long descent as without widely available cheap energy, economies will collapse, industrial agriculture will stall, and world population which rose more or less in synchronisation with cheap energy (first coal then oil) will track it on the downward path. Resource wars will break out. Iraq is the first venture in the current episode. It's true though, in a sense all wars have been resource wars to some extent. The big question is; will it go nuclear. Who knows? But the fact that the Republican junta in power in the US is trying to place much of the military nuclear infrastructure for decision making, targeting and in the hands of private corporations is a bit worrying to say the least.
To quote from: The US Nuclear Option and the "War on Terrorism" at http://globalresearch.ca/articles/CHO405A.htmlAnd Noam Chomsky whose not exactly an alarmist, has pointed out this is one of the major threats facing humanity today as he doesn't feel the risk has been lessened since the Cold War.
To digress a bit, a really excellent analysis of capitalist plans has been put together in the article: Apocalypse Now and the Brave New World at http://cyberjournal.org/cj/rkm/Apocalypse_and_NWO.html And before reading the next bit, recall that Donald Rumsfeld back in 2001 when talking about the new missions for the intelligence service, encouraged them to 'think outside the box'. Maybe we should think outside the box too. This analysis if it is to be believed, but should maybe be best used as a guide to the type of thinking that goes on, shows they are not going to be caught off guard. In summary what it says is that given population growth has tracked oil production, they intend to manage it on the way down. That way, they can remain in control of the situation. It is claimed several reports indicate a plan on reducing the population by 80% by 2020. The likely scenario is pushing forward the economic jolt of Peak Oil, killing millions in the process, with a possible nuclear attack of China (takes care of 1 billion approx) and (not in the article) but perhaps bio-warfare campaign throughout much of Africa, although with all the small arms sales at the moment to Africa, they are already causing widespread death. When all other major powers are thus removed, the US arm of international capitalism, de facto achieves global dominance. It goes on to suggest that once this power has been achieved then they might actually bring about a sustainable society themselves, with the key difference that they still remain in power and all dissent removed, although in my own view a sustainable society is probably not possible in any form of authoritarian society. While this all seems fanciful and paranoid, from the logic of capitalism it is not surprising.
In 1942, the notion that the Germans had held meetings to meticulously plan the construction and operation of death camps for the planned elimination of millions would have been scoffed at, but we know that this was carried out very much like any construction project today, where they had architects and all sorts of people involved in the design, sizing and planning of the camps, buildings, the crematoriums, the gas itself and of course the number of trains needed per day. Why would anyone suppose those behind the face of global capitalism are much different today? What has changed that says they are different? Nothing. About the only difference now is they have access to a far greater technology and sources of power (energy) and delivery. And that's not good.
We should just reflect over the past 4 or 5 years particularly how incredibly easy all sorts of totally repressive legislation has been introduced and simple activism is now on the brink of being outlawed and deemed a terrorist activity. See for example recent legislation to be introduced into the UK where: Britain: police given unprecedented arrest and surveillance powers
Again in the decade leading up to the horror of World War II, looking back, the evidence was clear enough as to where it was going, with huge increases in repression and roundup of people. It's more or less identical today.
But then maybe all this is going a bit too far and capitalism just could not be bothered and in a sense daily reality elsewhere indicates this may be true because in the article: Planet of Slums ( www.newleftreview.net/NLR26001.shtml) the author documents how today, hundreds of millions of people live in slums and they are basically neglected and treated as surplus to the human population. He shows how this figure in the next decade or two will rise to billions as the shanties spread even further. The strange thing is we would expect these places to be hotbeds of Left wing and revolutionary activity, but his research shows this is far from the case and they are heavily influenced and dominated by mainly two particular religious beliefs; populist Islam over much of Asia and oddly enough Pentecostal Christianity in Africa and Latin America. Strangely in some areas it even took route in former anarchist strongholds as in the following quote which seems to suggest anarchism is incapable of appealing to the 'soul':
So there you are, maybe Howard Kunstler has the most realistic scenario worked out (The Long Emergency, see above) that basically says things change more slowly and in the case of Peak Oil, it will gradually get worse and society will go on this path of a long steady decline over decades to centuries.
So it looks like a sane world is not going to come about of it's own accord too easily. The only solution in my opinion and it is what has attracted me to Anarchism, is a solution whereby everyone acts maturely, knowingly, actively and participates as equals in a direct form of democracy. There can be no masters and no craving or fawning of leaders nor celebrities. In other words humanity has to grow up. Realistically the odds of this are probably zilch. But then who said it was going to be easy?
Clearly the whole of society needs to be radically changed. Consumerism has to end. Mass propaganda by the media must disappear, yet somehow we must prevent the recreation of local kingdoms of times past. That's a tricky one though. Our agriculture system must change to being totally organic. This would take time as soils subjected to years of industrial agricultural techniques take years to recover, during which time, productivity plummets. Our urban environments and transport system must change. We cannot abandon them as that's impractical, so we must morph them into places that people want to live in. A good start would be to make public transport free in every town and city to help connect areas. Also every reasonable sized housing estate should have a community hall or other buildings for holding meetings and organising the neighbourhood, teaching, workshops, socialising, and a kind of library type entity for sharing and exchanging things. A bit like the www.freecycle.org network concept. And of course whatever else people come up with. It's also necessary to solve the anti-social problems that plague many cities and towns. Primarily it means empowering the vast majority who are decent enough people and allowing them to form groups in solidarity to wipe out this affliction. (Apparently in Kronstadt they ruthlessly stamped out crime.) Currently because solidarity is such a rare thing now-days and all problems get referred to the police, this allows the tiny percentage to run riot. Of course this suits capitalism just fine. Giving meaning, control and purpose back to people's lives is most likely to result in the greatest benefit. While they remain without it, they feel dependent on politicians and other forms of hierarchical power structures.
To help eliminate wasteful consumerism, things should be made to last and advertisement needs to become something else. Copyright ought to go, along with patents. This would release all proprietary information allowing detailed designs of much equipment to be readily available allowing things to be more easily fixed rather than replacing them. This would be part of the 3Rs in the Reduce, Reuse and Recycle and would simultaneously take off some of the current constant destructive pressure on the environment. A few years ago a voluntary effort was initiated in the spirit of the free software movement, to scan in everything that was ever published. The goal was very achievable and it was reckoned that within 2 or 3 years a huge inroad to it could be made. Unfortunately it was thwarted by the copyright laws. But it shows what is possible. Science has thrived through the free exchange and sharing of information and it is also true of the arts. It has opened up huge possibilities to humanity but as it stands capitalism has hijacked it for it's own self destructive needs. A society where all information, text, audio and video was available to practically everyone via broadband whether that be to every home or at least community hall for access by all and where people did not have to work 40, 50 or 60 hours a week, but say 15 or 20, would open up truly culturally revolutionary changes throughout and would enable many new synergies and possibilities. Naturally much of this would derive from the ability for anyone to communicate with anyone else. All this though is premised on the basic assumption that everyone's basic needs would be met. The development of language was a huge step for humans; the extension of our communication ability globally is likely to have just as significant results, assuming we can manage to keep our technological society.
Currently society suffers greatly from an emotional deficit and this is reflected in the isolation and individualist lives we lead and is certainly a major factor in the widespread incidence of anxiety, fear, depression and the various addictions from drugs to alcohol to shopping. Of course the structure of the car dependent urban environment that requires everyone to drive -generally in isolation is part of the problem too. Addressing these are as important as anything else. But post Peak Oil to survive we will have to come together anyhow to cooperate.
But the vision of society is not one of everyone just sitting at their PCs and as well as the steps outlined above and presumably others, a massive effort must be made to address the needs of people in education, housing, health, particularly preventive health and in turning ghettos and smashed communities into living ones again. In fact the entire health system seems to be designed these days for selling drugs rather than addressing the core reasons or prevention. Not to be forgotten too is the need in many areas for local infrastructure. Actually we should start again with education. A good example of what a role model for a new system is the Sudbury Valley School described in the essay: School for a Post-Industrial Society at www.spinninglobe.net/carnegiesvs.htm. This was an unique and very different place. So further straying from the main point and apologies for the length but it is important to reproduce especially for the vision thing; here's some extracts that discuss the setting up and then the day to day operation of the Sudbury school:
So there you have it. It sounds like it was a mini experiment in Anarchism and it certainly was full of empowered and socially mature people. Our so-called education system today produces regressed adults where all interest, curiosity, solidarity and responsibility has been utterly crushed. Although a few do somehow survive. What we are not realizing is how devastating this pillar of capitalism -compulsory schooling is to our minds and human potential and is one Anarchism needs to challenge much more. It may well be one of our biggest obstacles.
In a way none of this is particularly new and it's all very fine to speculate, but getting there and convincing others that it's workable, achievable and desirable is a completely different matter. But before we dwell on that, we must also consider our impact on the environment. This is an incredibly urgent task. In fact our new work should be to try and reverse the damage already done and we turn to this task in the next section. Much of this damage cannot be undone. What is lost is gone and in the natural world we have lost a lot.
10. Cleaning up the Mess.The legacy of industrial society that has accumulated so far, one way or another is going to be a huge and already is a huge burden on us now and in the near, medium and long term future. Addressing this legacy is inseparable to trying to achieve an Anarchist society during this major transition that is about to occur. This is not something that we can ignore. It is a problem now and Anarchism must have something to say about it. It's no use saying it's all capitalism's fault. The mess will still exist afterwards. At least by saying something about it, we can inspire others to our cause. It is a way for us to break out of just discussing workers and the class system. If we want Anarchism to be relevant to people then we have to say something about practically everything.
Vast tracts of the worlds forests are gone. All the major global fisheries are in a state of collapse. Over 150 years ago Cod could be caught that were up to 12 ft long! Imagine Cod & Chips made from that! Over 20 years ago catching Tuna 15ft in size was a regular thing. That's no longer the case. Instead we increasingly have moved down the food chain, so much so that fishing for crabs is now the big industry. This is all within our lifetimes! The damage is incredible if only we look. Off numerous coastlines, there is massive runoff of nutrients causing dead zones in the seas adjacent. The great Autumn migrations of birds where millions took to the air at once were a wonder to be seen some 50 years ago. It's no longer the case. Most of their habitats have been destroyed. On land, there are tens if not hundreds of thousands of toxic waste dumps all over the world. These are ticking time bombs that will poison the very soil we depend on and damage our health and possibly cause widespread genetic damage. Some are already doing this and have poisoned all water basins around them. While in areas subjected to years of irrigation, the soil has been wrecked through salt contamination as it is drawn to the surface by the water. Urban sprawl has consumed some of the most productive farmland in city areas because typically cities have also been founded on rivers in fertile plains. In the case of Dublin, some of the best soil in Ireland would have been in that river basin where the city exists. Likewise for London, or Paris and almost any other city you can think of. In the near future we may have to depave the vast acreage of carparks and excessively wide roads to get back at these precious soil again.
Some of the best gems of the Earth's bio-diverse areas are seriously destroyed with only tiny fractions hanging on and we've no idea of the true losses. For example 97% of the Atlantic Rainforest in Brazil which were part of a bio-diversity hotspot is gone. Then there is the Amazon rainforest which has been also seriously degraded and there is evidence that the cycle of rain and evaporate that stretches from the coast of Brazil into the heart of the Amazon is breaking down, meaning the whole thing could dry out. The Earth's store of incredibly biodiversity which anyone with an inkling of curiosity ought to marvel at, has been enormously damaged. Any further assaults must be stopped. We must give room back to whatever intact areas remain so that they can hang and maybe even expand. Even our closet animal relatives, the Great Apes are on the brink of extinction even as interest in our own evolution has never been so high. We must recognise that the rest of life on Earth has rights to exist too and act on it. The global population needs to be addressed in some democratic way even though it is recognised at the moment the richest 20% use 80% of the resources.
Overhanging all of this is the issue of Global Warming largely caused by our wasting and rapid burning of fossil fuels of coal, oil and gas over the last odd 150 years or so. The pace of climate change has increased alarmingly fast over the past decade or two and even it fossil fuel usage was cut to zero tomorrow, there is an incredible momentum in the Earth climate system which is basically unstoppable and there is the real prospect that the system has been set on a trajectory with enough forcing to pass it through an irreversible tripping point. Apparently James Lovelock, one of the original authors of the Gaia concept thinks we have passed that point in Environment in crisis: 'We are past the point of no return' (16th Jan 2006) The Gaia concept is the idea that the multitude of positive and negative feedback mechanisms in the global atmosphere-ocean together with the workings of the biosphere through absorption and emissions and other mechanisms and the various geochemical and bio-chemical cycles acts such as to effectively result in the Earth system being a living entity that attempts to regulate it's environment over the long run. It's similar to the idea of say a typical living cell, lets say an algae cell which is really just a very complex collection of biochemical structures and their interactions each of which is separately dead or innate but collectively we recognise as a living cell. Lovelock does not mean, it then means the system or Earth is conscious in any way no more than a single cell is. Regrettably the Gaia hypothesis has been discredited by New Agers who have used the concept to claim the Earth has all sorts of behaviours including a sort of conscious which is complete nonsense. The Gaia concept ties in a little with the idea of systems dynamics and world dynamics discussed later and is probably the global environmental version of it.
In relation to global warming one of the many threats poised by it is that by changing weather patterns including the temperature and rainfall, it can result in ecosystems being moved all over the place. So where it was suitable to grow say wheat or rice may no longer be. And instead some other area with unsuitable soils might have the ideal weather. The central plains of the US for example might dry out. Or higher temperatures in Europe might allow certain pests to persist all year and it could become too hot for many of the current crops. Snow and rainfall over the Himalayas may decline drastically meaning a much smaller flow in the great Ganges river resulting in much lower yields that affect hundreds of millions of people. The list goes on. Effectively global warming takes all the different regional climates, throws them all up in the air with no guarantee they fall back down where you want them or need them.
Now at face value then, Peak Oil looks good for saving our asses with regard to the climate, but the phenomena of global dimming mentioned in the article above but described here: www.bbc.co.uk/sn/tvradio/programmes/horizon/dimming_trans.shtml makes the case that the global aerosol of industrial pollutants is currently making the Earth cooler than it should be and is thus masking global warming, which means its a lot worse than we thought. If industry stopped for even a few days this aerosol would clear and accelerate the global warming, but if we continue burning fossil fuels we are making it an awful lot worse. So we are dammed if we do and dammed if we don't. And the well documented current rapid melting of the Arctic Ocean ice cover is a huge positive feedback mechanism because of the drastic change in absorption of sunlight by a dark ocean instead of the high reflectivity or albedo of white ice. Along with the melting of vast areas of the Tundra in Russia (now underway) which may release a lot of methane, this has the potential to put Global Warming into overdrive.
But getting back to the mess we are in, there is also nuclear waste issue to contend with. This is another legacy that we have been left with. We are going to have to look after it and clean it up. A lot of technical resources and expertise will be required by this. All these things are going to divert resources away from other things that need to be done. We can't just leave it. Most high level nuclear waste which thankfully is only about 1% of all nuclear waste sits in cooling ponds. If these failed, they would boil over and we would be in Chernobyl type territory again.
There is also the millions of people disabled by wars, poverty, dislocation, degraded lands, human rights abuse, and then the orphans and even child soldiers. How can any of these people ever return to normal life? Where's the support for them? The on-going problem with the hundreds of millions of landmines; the contamination of the soil and water tables by Depleted Uranium in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Bosnia and Kosovo. And the fallout from Chernobyl, still contaminates very large tracts of land in Belarus and parts of the Ukraine. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chernobyl_accident On top of that is the Aids calamity in Africa. And the list goes endlessly on.
I for one though, in an Anarchist world would happily work 40 hours a week trying to repair this stuff than working for some capitalist outfit. At least there would be a sense of purpose and achievement by repairing the ecosystem rather than lining someone's pocket. I'm sure many others would want to do likewise. And unless we repair the damage it is hard to see how we can have a society based on the principles of freedom and justice. Yet again though the vast majority of the population is clueless to what is the real state of the world's environment and in a large measure because of the bubble society detached from the environment that they live in but propped up by cheap oil. But life shortly after Peak Oil may be the place where all those exponentials finally meet.
11. Grappling with the Family and Population Growth.Addressing the issue of population, we must recognise that in an equitable society which we never have had, that one person having ten offspring while others have say two, is a form of unequal distribution that ultimately will result in inequality. We must face head on the arithmetic of Malthus. Anarchists talk about building a sustainable equitable future. In such a future, one would expect that one's children will all survive. For tens of thousands of years while the human population grew very slowly, it seems that people had more than two children since the death rate was higher. Big families seem to been the norm and so may be part of the background in the evolution of humans. Yet this long tradition will have to end as clearly even within capitalism because as Malthus shows, we can't let the population increase geometrically. The Earth is finite, something the early Marxists appeared to deny in their talk of producing enough for everyone. There will always be finite amount and shortages of some things and we must encompass this and work with it from the start and not be unrealistic about it. This shouldn't be seen as an argument for a harking back to the days when people lived sustainably. It's probable there never was any such societies and it was limitations of energy available that kept destructive tendencies in check. And the vision is not to dis-invent science and technology but to harness it wisely. Sometimes the argument is used that 20% of the population is using 80% of the resources and indeed that's true, but it does not mean we can dismiss the above arguments although they are often used to argue that a lot more people could be supported. The point is often made that if we could raise living standards everywhere then the growth would stablize just like the industrial West. We are part of biology and biological entities like to reproduce. The smaller growth rates has probably more to do with the constraints on our desires to reproduce within the capitalist West and the nature of work there than anything else. The figures don't actually prove the issue has been solved at all and it would be a grave mistake to think they do. Either way there will always be a trade off between quantity, quality and long term sustainabilty and we should grasp that nettle rather than try dodge it. And Peak Oil and climate change too is forcing those issues on us.
In the nineteenth century Marx and Engels wrote about the family and how the hierarchical structure of the family reproduces it's dominant structure in wider society and sets the scene for it's acceptance. Reich touches on this also. And yet, this important area has not been discussed much in recent years as far as I am aware. One way or another it will be dealt with in the relatively near future. It be better we did it with humanity than barbarity. This is where the demands, needs and survivability of the whole of society collides with the individual and it happens not just externally but internally too in the brain because it is the conflict of the of older parts of the brain driven by base instincts to reproduce with the more recent evolutionary parts with the capacity for reasoning and abstraction, the very thought processes that enable us to have a complex culture and society. The basic instincts within us that shape the older parts of the brain are more primitive and immediate in terms of sensory input from the environment and these spring up from the powerful genetic influences within us and are common to all living things from bacteria to plants to animals. From this mix all our human emotions, psychology, behaviours and dependencies arise. Capitalism has always emphasised the individual and more selfish side at the expense of the social. Capitalism can be thought of as anti-social and barbaric because it strives to keep people ignorant, isolated, non-thinking, selfish and exaggerates and then exploits basic fears, sexual energy and insecurity. It can be seen then that we have more than just a Class War on our hands but we also have a Biological War within us.
It took about 3+ billion years for multi-cellular life to evolve from single cellular. Clearly there was a lot of issues to sort out and new microbiological and genetic processes and mechanisms had to evolve to enable cells to cooperate to work together. Yet since roughly 500 million years ago when this happened and life burst out in new forms and directions into primary categories of life; fungi, plants and animals, what has happened compared to the mere soup before, has been incredible. Likewise the smooth transition from the biological forces milling around promoting our genes in a rather selfish and not so cooperative way to one where we try and create real democracy which is really just a higher form of cooperation can usher in completely new forms and unforeseen advancements in society every bit as different was the change from the primordial soup to the rainforest or coral reef. The catch though is self control of our numbers. Where Peak Oil and Climate Change relate to this is that they are the agents of change forcing the issue now. We have completely binged on fossil fuels and setup a ludicrous temporary lifestyle instead of using the treasure of fossil fuels and other resources wisely. Basically we have blown it in every angle you care to look at it from.
12. Did We Miss the Boat in 1936?Possibly. In 1936, at the time of the Spanish Revolution, where it seemed for a moment the Anarchist ideal was within reach, the world's environment and store of resources were more or less still intact. There were also still quite a number of diverse peoples and cultures reasonably intact compared to today. The world at that time was only at the start of the climb up the cheap energy curve, (Fig 1) towards the peak where we now find ourselves. Things would have been a lot easier and the environmental problems a lot less. As it stands now we have most likely overshot the sustainable carrying capacity and it is obvious that such a degraded world makes our goal much harder and less achievable because if you take this argument to a more extreme point the chances of a bright future being carved out of a nuclear and toxic wasteland are essentially nil. Some people might argue that we humans have great capacity when we work together, but that argument simply does not take on board the important and very real damage that would occur to our genes and every other living thing. If all your children are going to be deformed at birth because of radiation, then it's unlikely that even if they had children, they would revert to being okay. This on a smaller scale globally, is the situation now in Iraq due to the more than 4000 tonnes of depleted and radioactive Uranium used during Gulf War II. The amount of radiation released by this quantity is roughly equivalent to 250,000 Nagasaki bombs. With approximately 16 kg per nuke bomb then the calculation is 4,000,000 Kg / 16 Kg = 250,000. (1 tonne is 1000 Kg). Birth defects and cancers recently have risen alarmingly in Iraq and presumably it was part of the capitalist's plan all along to destroy long term Iraqi resistance by destroying the genome of all the people there. Whether it really was a plan or not, that is in fact what is in store now. And actually reports recently (~Feb 2006) indicate this depleted uranium dust was blown back over Europe just after the outbreak of the war in 2003 and was detected by equipment at various nuclear sites in the UK. Blowback of sorts.
Returning to the what if scenario of 1936 though, we would have none of this to contend with. It is difficult to speculate on the course of human history both culturally and technically otherwise. Regarding science and technology it seems a fairly ingrained assumption these days that without World War II it would have been much slower. This is quite bogus really and much of what we got out of that period and the Cold War that followed was military technology. It has often been said that the technology of a society reflects what is allowed by the political system to develop. Capitalism as it stands has the absurd technology of nuclear weapons, missiles, nerve gas, fuel-air explosives, landmines, air forces, and a computer infrastructure that is heavily geared towards a totalitarian system of monitoring and control. On the agriculture side, there is a huge push into GM crops, less diversity and the control of the usage of seeds. A regression of the last 7,000 years of human agriculture. Had the Anarchist revolution prevailed, we might have had a globally interconnected mass transit system, decent housing, sanitation, water, food and real education for all. Racism and bigotry might have been a thing of the past. Our intact environment might have ensured that places of beauty were in easy reach to much of the population and the wonders and solitude of nature and wilderness available to all. Communications would have continued to develop and there is no reason that something equivalent to the Internet would not have evolved. Much of science had developed outside the strict commercialism of capitalism before that period and has in fact been quite anarchistic in nature because scientists have always shared data and knowledge and gladly published their works without a second thought to patents or copyright. Only as it has been touched with money has it been corrupted. So had history been different, we might not have wasted vast resources in researching more ways to kill but rather have devised whole infrastructures that all of society can share and benefit from. In that sense I mean the way a telephone is only useful to you if nearly everyone else has one because if you were the only one, you would have nobody to phone. It's very possible that an Anarchist society given these better starting conditions, would have drawn out new forms of social interaction or phenomena that still remain hidden to us due to the influence of capitalism on us. Who knows, the world we would inherit now, being less healthy, may cut off numerous opportunities.
One should seriously consider the possibility that in the evolution of intelligent life amongst the wider universe, as it surely must happen from time to time, although far less frequently than life itself, because much of it probably gets no further than the equivalent of primeval soup, that it just so happens the configuration of planetary resources and other things means there is really only one chance given and the window of opportunity to use it intelligently in the true sense, may only occur at the start of the climb to the Peak Resources. Otherwise and it applies here, if the knowledge and technology became readily available to unlock the tremendous energy available through nuclear fusion (as opposed to fission) was gained by capitalism, it would literally open up a vast vista of possibilities and allow the horror and murderous nature of this cancerous form of society to infect the entire galaxy. If this is a possibility here then it's a possibility everywhere. Thus maybe there is a kinda of inbuilt safety valve. This is not an argument about intelligent design in case anyone thinks it is, but merely a curious observation. Some people quite rightly, will recognise this as a variant of more or less a similar argument proposed by the late British astronomer, Fred Hoyle.
All we can really say then is; in an ideal world it would have been better to transition to an Anarchist society voluntarily rather than be forced there by nature. Still I rather get there too late than never.
13. Trying to Get There and The ObstaclesAs anyone knows who has engaged even in a token amount of activism to try and bring about change, the obstacles are many and the task huge. So how do we bring about change and do it any differently because now we supposedly know about Peak Oil? That's a good question. The most sensible thing at the moment is to start getting people to educate themselves about Peak Oil and what the consequences of it mean to our destructive way of life. Being fore-warned is being fore-armed and if people take that message onboard, then it would seem reasonable that they would choose the only logical and sensible choice which is a sustainable future instead. This we have to show is one and the same as what Anarchism proposes. In our individualist world at present no one is going to forsake any gain if others take advantage. A switch to a more social structure allows the possibility of some kind of system that is seen to be fair to all and requires all to restrain equally, to more likely arise. This initial step will not be easy. If people don't see others accepting these ideas, then they won't. If people do not see others changing their ways, they won't. Simple peer pressure arising from the current status quo and the fear of looking silly socially are probably enough to prevent them. For change to take place, people have to feel connected to the issue. It has to be something they feel part of, that touches their lives directly and that they have some control or effect in. This is probably similar to the fact that for many anti-war campaigns over the years, it is only when many thousands of families have been directly affected by it through death and injury of their close relatives, that it becomes an unstoppable movement. The alarm mode alone does not work.
To that end, we must not just launch awareness and education programs in the traditional sense, whether that be leaflets, talks, workshops and so forth, we must be creative and try new methods to cause the necessary sea change. Feedback to see what is and what isn't working is vital. We should devise our own surveys using valid scientific statistical techniques. Capitalists use market surveys. We should do likewise. Surveys are a scientific tool and should not be confused with being a capitalist tool. The difference is they use the tool to exploit. We should use it to help circumvent the enormous blockade in distributing our ideas that the corporate and state media puts up against us and use it to continually refine our methods and adapt them to the particular situation.
It follows, we should be examining denial and apathy head on as already argued earlier. It is well known and recognised that participation in Direct Action is fairly central to the whole idea of Anarchism and this is the most effective way of empowering people. In this post 9/11 world, it seems the capitalists realized that more thoroughly than we have and have been extremely busy going about making all forms of direct action illegal. Still though, direct action and organising for it, whether that be affinity groups or other non-hierarchical power structures can form an important element in showing people that other forms of organisation can exist. Actually we probably should having been addressing these issues years ago.
Being relatively new to anarchist ideas in the last few years, I have perhaps wrongly, but got the distinct impression that anarchists seem to think if we got rid of capitalism, all would be well and we could share out everything more equally and maybe living standards would be lower, but other than that, there is no major problem. This is a dangerously flawed belief and has similarities to a kind of biblical deliverance myth. People will just know. It's like the myth of the Apostles after Jesus heads up to heaven and some spirit comes down and then suddenly they become multi-lingual enabling them to do their missionary work all over the world. It's a bad way to plan things by relying on miracles. Take any city and a typical urbanised street of say 20, 50 or 100 hundred houses where you might live; how many of your neighbours do you reckon will go through the transformation on the morning of the revolution? Well none of course because the revolution is unlikely to come about in that sudden scenario. As we know for it to happen a huge number of people would need to be actively engaged in the political process and to have already taken control of their own lives and communities. And this is something that we are always stressing in Anarchism. What's more for any sort of favourable outcome people need to become aware of social and environmental problems and actively face up to and not deny them. There are many who won't admit there is a problem and that in fact things are pretty much okay. It's also a possibility that people are suffering from what is called cognitive dissonance -a condition where new information conflicts with their world view, and so they are unable to take it in and will even resist doing so. ( See http:/en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_dissonance ).
The question might be asked by the average person: so why would we want a better world? Many would see us as dreamers who want to wreck the status quo. And wasn't there a revolution in Russia last century and that didn't work? The vast majority of people are unaware of what Anarchism is about and the fundamental differences between non-authoritarian as opposed to authoritarian ways. They don't realize society should be viewed along these lines rather than along the traditional lines of Right and Left. See for example: Waiting For the End of the World: Popular Responses to Environmental Issues in Australia by Terry Leahy for a real world survey of people attitudes in Australia at www.octapod.org/gifteconomy/content/waitinglong.html for a sampling of this sort of attitude.
I suspect though that quite a few people found it odd the way former communist party officials in Eastern Europe and Russia switched easily to being capitalist bosses. Viewed from the authoritarian / non-authoritarian viewpoint it easy to understand because there was no real change for them since they are both authoritarian positions. People can know a lot of stuff quite unconsciously, sort of as background information and they just need a few extra pieces to link it all together. On the other hand there are plenty of empty heads too. And the generation younger than about 30 to 35 are unlikely to know the above lesson, since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union are already more than 10 years ago. And that brings us to another point that one continually hears which is: People are copping on and becoming aware of corruption and the true nature of the system etc. That simply fails to take account that every 10 years a whole bunch of people with life long experience drop dead at one end and their living knowledge in the body of society is lost and at the same time an even bigger bunch of new young people are hitting their 20s and coming fresh on the scene in terms of their views and beliefs and don't know any of recent life lessons, so frequently cited. At the same time we are all continually forgetting things including the issues of the day. Who remembers last month's scandals, last years, 5 years, 10 years ago? And this applies not just to politics but awareness of environmental issues too.
In anarchism there is much store put by the idea that we don't do templates and it would be presumptions of us to make plans when in the future these would be made and decided democratically by others anyhow, rather than by vanguard specialists now. That's a fair point but the trouble with this, without ideas and scenarios being thrown about it's hard to persuade others and to stimulate their imagination. What we need to be doing though is outlining the possibilities to solving problems and identifying any methods that could be useful and get people working and thinking about them. Concepts, methods and ideas can take considerable time to work their way through to wide acceptance. Things have to mature and grow. Look at free software or something like Indymedia, both of these took time to develop and grow and are still growing. And it is only after awhile do people begin to see and appreciate the benefits. Thus things can't be left until the morning of the revolution, they have to start well in advance. Maybe there won't be a revolution but instead it will be revolution through evolution. Seriously though I don't believe that myself either because capitalism won't allow it and it is very likely that if there was a social evolution in the direction of anarchism, the blockade of capitalism would have to be overcome to proceed any further. As it stands now the capitalists are constantly trying to find ways of controlling the Internet and privatise it, thereby bringing this latest tool under control. Just like they did with radio through the use of licenses.
New approaches to analysing problems and solving them are needed. The current approach to solving problems tends to be very reductionist largely because of the success of science and engineering in the last 200 or 300 hundred years which tend to look at relatively simple systems with pretty clear causes and effects, (often referred to as a Newtonian view named after Isacc Newtonian who formulated the mechanical laws of the world.) As a result, our thinking and approach to solving what are much more complex systems has been influenced by this although not totally since much of our daily interaction with the world is also straight forward, like you trip, you fall, you hurt yourself. Pretty simple. Trying to analyse things like cities, societies and ecosystems is fairly new and direct cause and effect relationships no longer hold. Instead the consequences and effects of doing things in complex social systems can show up later and in different places. We then can get mislead by things that happen at the same time and maybe in the same place but in fact one is not caused by the other. This field is known as System Dynamics and applied to cities is Urban Dynamics and to the world in general as World Dynamics and was invented by Jay Forrester -see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jay_Forrester -who happened to also invent Random Access Memory (RAM) for computers in the 1950s -and his book on World Dynamics was very influential with the Club of Rome and publishing of the Limits To Growth. For a better description of what is meant here, see his Urban Dynamics essay found in the above URL. What Forrester opened up was new ways of thinking, analysing and approaching problems, especially social ones. This is not an alternative to Anarchism, it simply just an idea or method that Anarchism should take onboard. The fact that it comes from engineering originally should be irrelevant. Forrester has been very much involved in bringing these ideas into new ways of educating. Take for example this quote from a report on a summer teachers? conference on System Dynamics in Vermont:
When one becomes an activist the process is similar to that described above, because it is only be getting involved in real campaigns and issues that you begin to get a feel for how things work or don't work and how hard it can be and you get a realization of the many aspects there are to things and concerns to be taken onboard. The real meaning of what freedom actually is, really only becomes fully apparent then. One tends to easily spot the newcomer because they generally come with a more simplistic and naive viewpoint which is to be expected since how else is one going to get experience otherwise. Activism of course has its own limitations too and one can get tied up in the day to day concerns and lose sight of the overall direction. Nevertheless we shouldn't be getting confused here with activism which is more the doing, even though the learning aspect of it has been emphasised here, and system dynamics as a way of analysing something.
In the book: The Wisdom of Crowds -mentioned earlier, Sureksi basically demonstrates how crowds are always smarter than individuals but one crucial condition must hold which is that the crowd is diverse in terms of their knowledge and what they know. In his view the crowd involved in say a housing or stock market bubble are not diverse enough usually because they have all read the same or similar information. And the word crowd should not be confused with mob. This idea of the crowd making better decisions must warm the heart of every anarchist, but the reason it is brought in here is in relation to the idea that democratic decisions are always or must be correct. Not quite. We might democratically continue to thrash the environment. But a wrong decision in this sense is like the idea of the stock market bubble, clearly the knowledge embodied in a crowd may not be diverse enough perhaps because a life in capitalism has ensured people hold similar views -i.e. the ones planted there by the corporate and state media or more seriously because they all read the same newspaper, follow the same sports team, are all city dwellers with few country folk or whatever. In a properly functioning democracy unlike the present facade, we would hope that people have more diverse knowledge and continuously and freely learn and thereby satisfy the requirements of the 'crowd'. Cleary then things can get very subtle sometimes, although this should not be seen as an argument for retaining a vanguard of specialists. It's also a way of saying that we don't just make decisions in relation to each other, essentially political ones but also ones against nature itself and to make good decisions there, we must really understand the environment in it's many facets.
In relation to Peak Oil one might imagine that the crowd now would say it's a myth and that we will just find some new technology and everything would be alright. I would argue that the crowd here in terms of what they have been told means that in this subject area they are not diverse but as more people read about it and weigh up the arguments and consider the actual facts, that the wider body of society hopefully will come to accept it. Oil companies certainly don't want the public to know, because they could lose out on potential huge profits for the next few years. And capitalists don't want the public to know as outlined earlier as they could lose their grip on power, because capitalism will only last as long as people believe in it and most of them believe it delivers or will sometime in the near future.
And on a final note in the Western world at least, religion has moved off centre stage and a new religion of technology and never ending progress has taken it's place for the moment. Everyone is addicted to it. It's one of the first reactions you get from people who are new to Peak Oil. The response is usually something along the lines: 'They are probably working on some unknown technology that will solve all our energy problems'. Or 'Who knows what inventions lie around the corner?'. In fact it's just another way of dodging the hard questions. That's not to say there are solutions, but to blindly rely on things that haven't been invented yet is not a good way to plan ahead. Anyway technology does not create energy. Instead we find sources of energy and we used up quite a few. Basically all we are left with are various forms of solar energy and maybe fusion power in the distant future if we can maintain the crucial support base for a technological civilization to survive on, although it must be pointed out that fusion power is not the clean power source it is often promoted to be. If we burn what remains of the rest of coal and the other half of gas and oil, it's almost a certainty we are moving into the uncharted territory of positive feedback in climate change and quite simply that's not a good place to be. And only recently scientific reports show that the pulse of CO-2 absorbed by the oceans in the past few decades has resulted in a slight rise in the acidity of the water almost enough to start dissolving coral and sea-shells, both of which would cause massive disruptions and extinctions in the entire ocean ecosystem.
Peak Oil then is strongly interlinked with all our problems as burning fossil fuels in directly tied in to Climate Change, relates to our energy addicted life styles, mass consumerism, population growth, environmental degradation, widespread species extinction and of course is at the heart of global geo-politics too.
So as we can see here, there are many things to consider when we try to bring about change and we need to be open to new ideas to the methods and techniques that we use. There is no single solution and there's lots at stake.
A very intelligent and well expressed point of view even though I am not an anarchist (not adverse, just ignorant). However I believe that there is one important missing perspective here. The related link will express far better than I. Schumacher in Small is Beautiful tells the interesting story of size. Had we homo sapiens been any larger or smaller we could not have made the technical advancements that brought us to the present. Some great piece of luck had us physically scaled to exactly the size needed to be able to cut trees and smelt iron. In the Law of Accelerating Returns Kurzweil makes the inescapable arguement that we are approaching what he calls the "singularity". Essentially we are about to distill all knowledge to its essence. At the current rate, human knowledge will double HOURLY in another 30 - 50 years. To conclude, just as we were exactly the right size to be able to expoit the earth, it may be that the earth is coincidentally exactly the right size to catapult us into a new evolutionary paradigm just before we burn up all our fuel, oil and environment included. Like a booster rocket has just enough fuel to orbit the payload. Sigh.
I wanted to add this so that your readers get all the facts. Hydrogen is mostly made with an efficency of 72% - As below. There are new methods being researched and discovered every day, because it seems suddenly peak oil is looming or upon us.
I found this:
"Hydrogen isn’t an energy source – it’s an energy carrier, like a battery. You have to make it and put energy into it, both of which take energy. Ninety-six percent is made from fossil fuels, mainly for oil refining and partially hydrogenated oil--the kind that gives you heart attacks (1). In the United States, ninety percent is made from natural gas, with an efficiency of 72% (2), which means you've just lost 28% of the energy contained in the natural gas to make it (and that doesn’t count the energy it took to extract and deliver the natural gas to the hydrogen plant).
Only four percent of hydrogen is made from water via electrolysis. It’s done when the hydrogen must be extremely pure. Since most electricity comes from fossil fuels in plants that are 30% efficient, and electrolysis is 70% efficient, you end up using four units of energy to create one unit of hydrogen energy: 70% * 30% = 20% efficiency (3)."
I've just written a lengthy article on what we will be driving in 2020 that concludes it will be hydrogen fuell cell vehicles. Only idiots designs burn hydrogen in internal combustion engines.
Though I think plugin electric cars are the way to go, the major fuel corporations want to continue to sell us a fuel, so they will... If you want to make a strong statement for change. Get solar panels and a plugin car.
My article is available if you email me, or check out the website:
A New Manhattan Project for Clean Energy
Over the past year many luminaries have made clarion calls for a concerted effort to solve the energy crisis. It is a crisis, with 300 million middle class Chinese determined to attain the unsustainable lifestyle we have sold them. Their thirst for oil is growing at 30% a year, and can do nothing but heat the earth and spark political conflict.
We have been heating the earth since the agricultural revolution with the positive result of providing 10,000 years of warm stability. But since the Industrial revolution we have been pushing the biosphere over the brink. Life forces have done this before -- during the snowball earth period ( Cryogenian Period ) in the Neoproterozoic toward the end of the Precambrian - but that life force was not sentient!
Thomas Freedman of the New York Times has called for a Manhattan Project for clean energy The New York Times> Search> Abstract. Richard Smalley, one of the fathers of nanotechnology, has made a similar plea http://news.uns.purdue.edu/html3month/2004/040902.Smalley.energy.html.
We are at the cusp in several technologies to fulfilling this clean energy dream. All that we need is the political leadership to shift our fiscal priorities.
I feel our resources should be focused in three promising technologies:
1. Nanotechnology: The exploitation of quantum effects is finally being seen in these new materials. Photovoltaics (PV) are at last going beyond silicon, with many companies promising near-term breakthroughs in efficiencies and lower cost. Even silicon is gaining new efficienies from nano-tech: Researchers develop technique to use dirty silicon, could pave way for cheaper solar energy http://www.physorg.com/news5831.html
New work on diodes also has great implications for PV, LEDs and micro-electronics Nanotubes make perfect diodes (August 2005) - News - PhysicsWeb http://physicsweb.org/articles/news/9/8/11
And direct solar to hydrogen, I was told they have hit 10% efficiency and solved mass production problems: Hydrogen Solar home http://www.hydrogensolar.com/index.html
And just coming out of the lab, this looks very strong, it brings full spectrum efficiencies to PVs: UB News Services-solar nano-dots
Direct Solar to Hydrogen: http://www.hydrogensolar.com/index.html
Rupert Leach, Director, Newspath Ltd, from the UK posted me about his talking to the Chairman of Hydrogen Solar, Julian Keable [url]http://www.hydrogensolar.com/index.html[/url], saying that they will be well over 10% efficiency in the near future with their Tandem Cell™, technology, and that they had initial issues with scale-up, but these seem to have been overcome and they were sounding rather optimistic a few weeks ago.
Hydrogen Solar sent me their current Tandum Cell numbers @ 10.2% efficiency: $1.50/LB for H2
And they say that a theoretical efficiency of 35% is possible, and a 22% efficiency is realistically achievable, i.e.,... $0.75/LB of H2 which equals $0.049/KWhr equivalent. From what I understand of the direct solar to hydrogen fabrication technology, it is a much greener process, and cheaper that silicon based PVs.
1a. Thermionics: The direct conversion of heat to electricity has been at best only 5% efficient. Now with quantum tunneling chips we are talking 80% of carnot efficiency. A good example is the proposed thermionic car design of Borealis. ( http://www.borealis.gi/press/NEW-GOLDEN-AGE-IBM.Speech.6=04.pdf ) . The estimated well-to-wheel efficiency is over 50%. This compares to 13% for internal combustion and 27% for hydrogen fuel cells. This means a car that has a range of 1500 miles on one fill up. Rodney T. Cox, president of Borealis, has told me that he plans to have this car developed within two years. Boeing has already used his Chorus motor drives http://www.chorusmotors.gi/.
on the nose gear of it's 767. (Boeing Demonstrates New Technology for Moving Airplanes on the Ground http://www.boeing.com/news/releases/2005/q3/nr_050801a.html )
The Borealis thermocouple power chips http://www.powerchips.gi/index.shtml (and cool chips) applied to all the waste heat in our economy would make our unsustainable lifestyle more than sustainable.
You may find an extensive discussion on thermo electric patents at: Nanalyze Forums - Direct conversion of heat to electricity http://www.nanalyze.com/forums/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=1006
2. Biotechnology: Since his revolutionary work on the human genome project, Craig Venter has been finding thousands of previously unknown life forms in the sea and air. His goal is to use these creatures to develop the ultimate energy bug to produce hydrogen and or use of their photoreceptor genes for solar energy. Imagine a bioreactor in your home taking all your waste, adding some solar energy, and your electric and transportation needs are fulfilled.http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/02/26/AR2006022600932.html
"NanoLogix is a nanobiotechnology company that engages in the research, development, and commercialization of technologies for the production of bacteria, disease testing kits, alternative sources of fuel"
The NanoLogix breakthrough came about when the Company’s researchers were tinkering with its proprietary biological-based diagnostic and remediation technologies, noting that one of its patented bacterial culturing methods could produce byproduct gas surprisingly rich in hydrogen.
Welch's is installing the H2 Bioreactor:
SHARON, Pa., Mar 13, 2006 (BUSINESS WIRE) -- NanoLogix, Inc. (Pink Sheets:NNLX) announced today that the Company has completed the construction of its first commercial hydrogen bioreactor facility at a Welch's Food plant in North East, Pennsylvania. The company also announced that the facility will begin hydrogen generation from Welch's waste organic matter on or about the first of April 2006.
Distributed power networks are inherently more stable than MW based systems. The flywheel technology that Beacon Power has installed for New York and California http://yahoo.reuters.com/news/NewsArticle.aspx?storyID=urn:newsml:reuters.com:20060301:MTFH76507_2006-03-01_20-54-57_N01399291&type=comktNews&rpc=44 Also contributes to the advantages of both distributed and centralized power sources. All the while adjusting to near perfectly conditioned power, and protecting from threats like this:
According to NASA and the National Science Foundation, the next 11-year sunspot cycle could be up to 50 percent stronger than the present one. That cycle will begin in late-2007/early-2008 and peak around 2012. The phenomenon is a big deal because it can disrupt satellites and knock out power grids. The details are in a story by the Los Angeles Times.
3. Fusion: Here I am not talking about the big science ITER project taking thirty years, but the several small alternative plasma fusion efforts.
.There are three companies pursuing hydrogen-boron plasma toroid fusion, Paul Koloc, Prometheus II, Eric Lerner, Focus Fusion and Clint Seward of Electron Power Systems http://www.electronpowersystems.com/ . A resent DOD review of EPS technology reads as follows:
"MIT considers these plasmas a revolutionary breakthrough, with Delphi's
chief scientist and senior manager for advanced technology both agreeing
that EST/SPT physics are repeatable and theoretically explainable. MIT and
EPS have jointly authored numerous professional papers describing their
work. (Delphi is a $33B company, the spun off Delco Division of General
"Cost: no cost data available. The complexity of reliable mini-toroid
formation and acceleration with compact, relatively low-cost equipment
remains to be determined. Yet the fact that the EPS/MIT STTR work this
technology has attracted interest from Delphi is very significant, as the
automotive electronics industry is considered to be extremely demanding of
functionality per dollar and pound (e.g., mil-spec performance at
Wal-Mart-class 'commodity' prices)."
EPS, Electron Power Systems seems the strongest and most advanced, and I love the scalability, They propose applications as varied as home power generation@ .ooo5 cents/KWhr, cars, distributed power, airplanes, space propulsion , power storage and kinetic weapons.
It also provides a theoretic base for ball lighting : Ball Lightning Explained as a Stable Plasma Toroid http://www.electronpowersystems.com/Images/Ball%20Lightning%20Explained.pdf
The theoretics are all there in peer reviewed papers. It does sound to good to be true however with names like MIT, Delphi, STTR grants, NIST grants , etc., popping up all over, I have to keep investigating.
Recent support has also come from one of the top lightning researcher in the world, Joe Dwyer at FIT, when he got his Y-ray and X-ray research published in the May issue of Scientific American,
and according to Clint Seward it supports his lightning models and fusion work at Electron Power Systems
Clint sent Joe and I his new paper on a lightning charge transport model of cloud to ground lightning (he did not want me to post it to the web yet). Joe was supportive and suggested some other papers to consider and Clint is now in re-write.
It may also explain Elves, blue jets, sprites and red sprites, plasmas that appear above thunder storms. After a little searching, this seemed to have the best hard numbers on the observations of sprites.And may also explain the spiral twist of some fulgurites, hollow fused sand tubes found in sandy ground at lightning strikes.
lightning produces thermonuclear reaction
This new work By Dr.Kuzhevsky on neutrons in lightning: Russian Science News http://www.informnauka.ru/eng/2005/2005-09-13-5_65_e.htm is also supportive of Electron Power Systems fusion efforts .
Vincent Page (a technology officer at GE!!) gave a presentation at the 05 6th symposium on current trends in international fusion research , which high lights the need to fully fund three different approaches to P-B11 fusion (Below Is an excerpt).
He quotes costs and time to development of P-B11 Fusion as tens of million $, and years verses the many decades and ten Billion plus $ projected for ITER and other "Big" science efforts:
"for larger plant sizes
Time to small-scale Cost to achieve net if the small-scale
Concept Description net energy production energy concept works:
Koloc Spherical Plasma: 10 years(time frame), $25 million (cost), 80%(chance of success)
Field Reversed Configuration: 8 years $75 million 60%
Plasma Focus: 6 years $18 million 80%"
The learning curve is so steep now, and with the resources of the online community, I'm sure we can rally greater support to solve this paramount problem of our time. I hold no truck with those who argue that big business or government are suppressing these technologies. It is only our complacency and comfort that blind us from pushing our leaders toward clean energy.
This post is a plea to the science writers among you to craft a story covering aneutronic fusion, the P-B11 efforts, Eric's Billion degree temperatures and x-ray source project, Clint's lightning theories, and DOD review, and Paul's review by GE. The minimal cost and time frame for even the possibility of this leap forward seems criminal not to pursue. I am wondering why this technology has never been put in the public eye.
My hope is that someone, more skilled, would step up to give a shout out about these technologies. Please contact me for copies of my correspondence with the principles, interesting replies and criticisms from physics discussion forums and academic physicists who have replied to my queries.
Thanks for any help
Erich J. Knight
Learn to state your points concisely.
Dense text repels. Any substance is dissipated. Pare it down to have an effect.
I printed this off last night so I could read it properly - this is an area that is somewhat neglected by anarchist communists.
I know the author and have talked over some of these themes with him both online and off line over the last few years so some of these comments are part of an ongoing conversation.
I think the article was more or less finished some months back and Terry has been sitting on it since - I encouraged him to post it up as is rather than to de facto abandon it. I have some differences with it but all the same it is a useful starting point to a needed debate.
First off there are writing style problems but as far as I know this is the first lengthy piece Terry has written so I wouldn't be overly critical of these. I do think its worth reviewing and expanding on many of the arguments here - one of the problems is some issues are very lightly sketched over and so suffer from the sound bite problem in that without sufficent explanation they come across as paranoid. Some of them I think are a little paranoid or at least the presentation of the same facts would work better if it was done with a less conspiratorial tone. Let the reader judge as to whether there is a conspiracy rather than assuming one exists.
More substanitally the claim that "capitalists seem to have absoutely no interest in these [alternative power] technologies" is simply wrong. I'm a subscriber to the Economist which is a major Business theory and news magazine. For the last 2 - 3 months at least a good 30% of the full colour glossy ads have been concerned with technologies that relate to the energy crisis. Fuel efficent cars, oil companies turning to alternative power sources, ways of extracting additional oil from exhausted fields, wind power etc are being market as sexy investment opportunities. The reason for this is not hard to see, energy prices have doubled with the result that many of these techs are now profitable or nearly profitable. Investing in them is for the capitalist hopefully like buying shares in google in 2001 or Amazon in 1998.
And just as the internet exploded once the realistion came there was money to be made from it so I expect that the alternative tech sector will now explode. The question that Terry asks if this is too little, too late is however central.
Another critique I'd have of this essay is the research on it is too much drawn from sources that predict a crisis. Natually enough these tend to emphaisis certain facts over others and skip over things that are simply arkward.
A good example is the oft repeated claim that Hubbard correctly predicted peak oil in the USA. This is true but he also predicted world prediction to peak in 2000 and this did not happen. Campbell whom Terry uses as a source has bounced his predicted peak all over this decade, claiming the years 2000, 2010, 2007 and as of Oct 05 2010 would represent peak. Obviously this later set of claims undermines the impressiveness of the accuracy of the earlier prediction.
This is important in addressing the core idea of the article that perhaps it is already too late. If indeed peak was in 2000 there would be a strong case for this. But a peak in 2010 with a capitalism that is now gearing up for alternatives would not justify such an obviously pessimistic conclusion. Other agencies like the Energy Information Administration don't see a peak to 2025 which if true would suggest more of a 'soft landing' than a shock in energy terms.
A second problem is the tendency to take a single element of alternative energy technoloy, demonstrate that this could not fill the gap and use this as proof that the gap cannot be filled. The only other people to use this method are the nuclear lobby for the very good reason that they need to convince everyone there will be a world crisis in order to get people to swallow the building of more nuclear power stations.
The reality is that a sane solution was not rely on a single technology but would seek to use many, each contributing part to the process. Importantly these technologies are not just about alternative ways of generating energy but also about alternatived ways of reducing consumption.
The motor car provides a simple example. Even with technology of five years back a massive reduction in fule use can be achieved by switching to lower powered cars that consume less. In fact if you simply check car rental pages you will observe that there is already a major gap between Europe and the USA in this respect. The lowest fuel consumption cars available for hire from Hertz in the US (Ford Focus) is in fact three places above the lowest consuming cars available from Hertz in Europe (Puenta and similar models). The probable reason for this is economic, government taxes on fuel are considerably higher in Europe than the USA so many people in Europe select more fuel efficent cars. As petrol prices rise it is reasonable to expect that many US commuters will be forced to make the same sort of choices.
Alongside this is the introduction of hybrid technologies which can almost double the fuel efficency of a car that is mostly driven in urban settings. This is a technology that is only at the start of its commercial development (with the result that such cars are expensive and that probably greater economies will be generated in the future).
Put these two factors together and then assume say a doubling or tripling in fuel prices, something that can be expected quite quickly once peak is reached. The expected outcome without any shift towards public transport would be for fuel consumption in domestic cars to halve.
Likewise as already pointed out the point of the hydrogen economy is not to make energy from nothing (obviously impossible) but to greatly improve the ability to take energy from the power grid and to store it in a format that can be used to drive a car or a truck. Todays battery cars and not that useful because of the resources used in the production of lead batteries and because a lot of energy is lost in moving energy from the grid into the car. Hydrogen cells promise to overcome these problems. In doing so they partly overcome the LPG problem that Terry points to - that it is hard to transport. Instead LPG can be used at the point of extraction to feed power into the grid and this power can then be used where it is needed to charge hydrogen cells. This does not deal with the international transport of LPG Terry talks of but it does turn LPG, wind power and even wave power into an energy source for transport.
Finally sticking with the car as an example using current ethonol production figures for predicting future energy costs of ethonol does not work. Ethonol production is not a mature technology, indeed the whole point of it is not to end up producing ethonol from food stuffs (like corn syrup) but to develop processes where it can be produced from agricultural waste, like stubble. If such technologies are developed (which seem likely) it would mean a large part of the oil currently used to power agriculture could be replaced with fuel derived from what is currently a wasted byproduct of the same agriculture.
Can the combination of these technologies eliminate the need to use any oil to drive transport? This is not clear but they clearly could have a massive impact on the quantity of oil used which would have a major impact on the scale of the energy crisis.
A similar analysis can be applied to other areas of consumption. Take domestic power usage, already in the EU by 2009 all houses will be required to have a thermal efficency rating which will be stated to new buyers. As with the earlier rules introduced for fridges etc the impact that can be expected is that maximising energy efficency will have an immediate economic advantage for those seeking to sell.
Alongside this are technologies of roof top solar water heating and ground exchange heating which could provide most if not all of the energy required to heat water. Rooftop wind turbines or even eventually solar cells could supply a good percentage of the electricity needs. Some of these technologies are now on the commerical market and even solar cells now compete favourably for providing power to a house that is not currently on the grid.
Again could this provide 100% of the energy needs of a house? maybe not but they would greatly reduce the power needed from the national grid.
Then there is the quantity of oil itself. Oil reserves do not represent the amount of oil in the ground but rather the amount of extractable oil. The extractability of currently known reserves is greatly impacted by the price of oil and technology. Rising oil prices mean that the 'exhausted' fields of the North Sea are now being looked at again by smaller more innovative companies who reckon they can extract additional oil at a profit. This isn't that surprising, new technology and rising prices have also seen the reopening of many metal mines that were previously considered to be exhausted. The downside as Terry points out is more CO2 release and more pollutant releaseso in many ways this is the worst solution.
This sketch is intended to suggest that while the energy crisis is real it may not be of the magnitude or the immenence that Terrys article suggests. Which is not to say that it will not have a major impact - we just need to be careful about crying wolf.
Apologies everyone for the length of the article. I should have made a far bigger effort to cut it down and make it far more readable. Yes it was my first long article.
So far most of the replies seem to be along the lines of have faith in technology.
Addressing Andrew's points. Re -the conspiratorial tone was more presentated alongside the everything continues as normal but slow decline (i.e. Kunstler) to simply provide different views and as Rumsfeld says to think outside the box. People will of course make up their own minds. Perhaps as a 3rd argument I should have also given the optimists view.
Many pundits now are agreeing that 2005 was Peak Oil years. Campbell's figured changed over the years as the data came in. Hubbert guess for global peak in 2000 would have been right if it wasn't for the slump in the mid-80s due to 2nd oil shock. The EIA predictions have been shown elsewhere to be pure bunk.
The claim that 'capitalists have absolutely no interest in alternatives' was more tongue in cheek and historical. It was clear during the first oil crisis that something had to be done. Carter even initiated some programs but they were largely sunk by Reagan et al. I was trying to point out that the capitalists would rather extract full profit from the existing oil before focusing on alternatives. Hence I suspect they had a hand in the delay of widespread deployment of them. Yes, they look like they are kicking in now.
Regarding the various technologies etc. First off, I was for years a techno optimist but in latter years realized how politics etc can put a spanner in the works. Hence without descending into detailed tech arguments over this or that technology, I am really trying to say, it may be a case of too little too late. And even if all the new tech is good there will still be big shortfalls. A key thing to note when reviewing all new tech advances is the magnitude of what they can provide and that is where they often fall short.
Another point I think that was maybe misunderstood is that the energy returned is vital. If it takes a barrel of oil in energy to extract the same equivalent then the price does not matter. Also in Andrew's point: "Rising oil prices mean that the 'exhausted' fields of the North Sea are now being looked at again...". -Well maybe it could increase very slightly but it will put no significant dent in the overall downward trend. North Sea is already down 25% since 1999. Are you suggesting we could get back up there? The entire Peak Oil camp of geologists certainly wouldn't agree with you on that.
Regarding fuel efficiency and cars. Yes cars can be made more efficient but up to now nobody was too bothered with them. Fuel efficient cars were available in the 1980s. With the total global car fleet growing rapidly (aka China and India), then any growth will counter-act efficiency improvements.
Overall I was trying to draw attention to what people, politicans and countries actually do as opposed to what they should do. We know what they should do, but the record up to now of what they actually did in terms of consumption is not good.
My main point though of the article was less to get into discussion about the technicals but more to consider what we as anarchists should be doing in terms of our policies and how we should plan for it and take advantage of it. I was sort of banking on people accepting some of the arguments that there are going to be some big changes downstream that will ruffle things up a bit. However the responses so far seem to indicate that on balance people don't accept this and therefore there are no real serious fundamental issues or policies to consider.
Therefore I wish to make this appeal to the techno optimists: What if you are wrong and you agree with this for a moment, then what are the implications for anarchism itself and the chances of pushing anarchism forward in such a scenario?
And all that text about fascism etc and reactions to it was my attempt as to how society will react.
And lastly I was also trying to bring in the issue of global warming and the chaos it will cause. Running after lower grade energy sources will just make this worse.
In summary, I am not optimistic. I am somewhere between the slow steady decline and possible major problems because this is happening at the same time of global warming and other eco-degradation. And yes I do think we have overshot the carrying capacity of the Earth.
For evaluating energy options, see:
If you are not scared of the satire and vitriol, see:
Here is a sample: "The true-blue armed with corporate power are already preparing for the coming class struggle [after peak oil]. The tools are all legal, their morality sanctioned by the Lord himself: FCC rule changes to control the media, SEC rule changes to control the markets, the Drug Laws and big prisons to hold the poor derelicts, bankruptcy law changes to squeeze the middle class, Patriot Act to control the would-be unruly terrorists at Kansas State, the quacking courts stuffed with corporate sludge. You name a freedom, and I bet there is a law to squash it."
"I am told humans have this ability to turn it on! When oil is gone, we will find something else, or we will transform ourselves overnight to sustainable localized anarchies, or we will simply wait for the Rapture. I bet a dollar most anarchists will die in the corn fields, shackled and pulling the yoke. And, I bet yet another dollar that if we do find another source of energy it won’t be in time, it won’t be as cheap as oil, and it won’t be as abundant."
and to figure out your options:
In lieu of Terrence's response regarding the carrying capacity of the earth, I would like to make a couple of comments and pose a couple of questions.
For the most part, I would agree with Terrence on this. Is it possible that through technological advancements in consumption and efficiency that our planet can withstand another industrial revolution? And, from three different regions?
Consider the vast scale of resource wealth that Asia, Africa and South America all possess. Even if we develop the most resource efficient and environmentally-sustainable mode of production possible, do we stand a chance of maintaing the intricate balances and symbiotics of the integrated ecosystems on these three continents? I am not confident we can. There are just too many complications that arise when dealing with the trial and error processes of "innovative technologies" to be certain. And, since we are drawing nearer to our peak in oil reserves, the time to perfect these technologies will be an even greater disadvantage.
Nevertheless, advancements in appropriate technological design should commence, but I feel that there needs to be a deep revisioning on how we plan to implement it cross-continentally. Serious considerations need to develop on how we can regenerate ecosystems to their "indigenous" state--thus retarding the natural heating and cooling cycles of our planet long enough to complete our task. Otherwise, we could potentially exacerbate the implications of human-induced global warming to an irretrievable point of disarray.
I read this article in its entirety (which is not always the case). IMO, the occasional clumsy wording (some of which may have simply resulted from differing speech patterns) was more than offset by the author's knowledge of the subject matter.
Yes, civilization is likely to survive peak oil and global warming in the near term. As is capitalism. But major upheavals seem likely in the near future. The status quo is unstable.
The author says "My main point... was... to consider what we as anarchists should be doing in terms of our policies and how we should plan for it and take advantage of it." For those of us who share his pessimism, does the author advocate any particular policies and plans in this regard? (If in the article, I missed it).
Peak oil propaganda is a capitalist plot to raise the price of oil. Simple Econ 101.
No, we'll run out of oil with plenty in the ground, says this anarchist. Refineries are running at capacity. New oil on line is irrelevant. Your bummint has made it too costly and time consuming to build new ones. (See report at the link below.)
And I wonder how you Bright Sparks will outlaw capitalism when bummint is gone.
I appreciate the depth of knowledge and thoughtfulness displayed in that essay.
I am very aware of the Peak Oil crowd:
The good news is that permanent, harmless solutions to humanity’s energy issues have existed for generations. I was part of what was probably the most significant effort yet mounted to bring alternative energy to American marketplace. We were offered about a billion dollars to go away, and then wiped out after we refused it. I recently composed a five-page essay to boil my journey down to its essentials (with many links to very detailed support for the narrative) at this link:
Merely solving humanity’s energy problems is the “easy” part. What can come with that solution, however, is the big stuff: humanity can advance past the scarcity paradigm that has defined the human existence for the past 10,000 years or so, and an abundance paradigm can come to pass, and barely anybody can imagine what that would look like. I have done some imagining along those lines, and some is presented here:
So far, I have not found any political stripe (or any other persuasion) on earth to be capable of rational discussion of the issue. It has been like a walk through the desert.
I have interacted with people such as Chomsky on this issue, as well as others like him, so am somewhat familiar with the anarchist position. The rationalism and materialism of the Enlightenment has largely mired otherwise brilliant minds into the scarcity paradigm. I am still looking for that worthwhile public conversation to join. Will this be it?
The key point I was trying to make Terry is weighing everything up the worst case sceniro no longer seems to hold. I would not be overly surprised if peak production turned out to be 2005 however the pessimistic side reminds me too strongly of the ore bubble bursting internet tech stock traders. Both arguments are strongly based on extending a straight line on a graph into the future and discounting the impact of human behaviour on that line.
Gas prices have risen 25% this year and 25% last year. I expect this trend to continue, rather than having a flat line on price and then a 1000% hike. As that trend continues two things happen
1. Human behavour changes - eg I've been thinking for years that the attic could do with more insulation but looking at my rising gas bill I find I'm now inclined to actually getting around to do this. I'm also cutting back on the amount of times I hit the boost button and being more careful about turning off radiators when I leave a room.
The effect of both these is that my consumption of gas for domestic heating purposes dropped.
Likewise my wife needs to buy a car rising petrol prices and the expectation of further rises means we are far more likely to chose a 1.1l rather than say a 2l. This means we'll use less petrol than otherwise. It also means for long journeys a train ticket no longer looks so expensive.
If petrol got really expensive then as in a lot of industralised third world mega cities the individual car would vanish to be replaced by short hop mini bus and long hop bus and coach services. Mexico (city) operates on that basis because a huge percentage of the population have an income whose equivalent here would mean petrol would cost you 10 euro a litre.
So on a simple level you can't project even domestic use of gas and petrol based on a period when it was cheap into a future where it is expensive by simply drawing a straight line. Even before you get onto new technology there are strong economic feedback loops.
On the tech side I strongly suggest we are about to see an escalation in alternative tech stocks similar to the internet bubble. Rising energy prices mean even with further improvements things like wind power are becoming profitable. Profit drives capitalism and once that incentive is there it can remake itself at a remarkable speed as we saw with the internet explosion.
The key question is the 'is it too late' one. Is it the case that oil supplies are now so low that the energy simply will not be there to extract the materials needed to mass produce both alternative energy componenets and more efficent energy useage.
Your argument assumes that this point of no return lies at or very close to the point of peak oil production. This doesn't necesserly follow not least because the energy peak lags behind the oil peak.
But even it it didn't why would peak production also be the 'too late' point. If our energy production from all sources was halved tomorrow wouldn't there still be more energy than was needed to manufacture these componenets - after all energy prices in that sceanerio would soar so that even a bog standard solar farm would be a huge cash cow for its owners.
Lastly I'm very wary of the politics of panic. I don't think they can be used in a libertarian fashion so we really should not rush into panic mode.
When we reach Peak Oil production, we can assume the suppliers will try to maintain their profits so the price of a Barrel will increase. Of course they will add CPI.
Therefore, a rising price of oil will give other technologies a look in when they become $$$ viable. As the supply of oil will diminish other technologies will take over until we have a situation where oil is not used by the average person.
In Australia our electricity is coal based, so only our vehicle base (commercial and private) need to move forward as far as peak oil production. Note: no mention of reducing green house gases here.
I have not read all the replies but certain industries will be harder hit eg the Airlines and Cargo Ships. The result will be countries that were not viable for manufacturing will be viable again ie they will not have to import as they will manufacturer. The Airline industry will implode as customer wont be able to afford to travel ie we will not need as many Airline companies. So, Video phone conferencing to relatives will become more common and local travel will become more common.
Finally, How about working and living smarter. Recently, I took my son to register for soccer. Drive the car there, hand over the cash and drive back. Over 100 families did this! Why not just register over the internet? Save fuel, time, pollution and reduce traffic. Simple really. I bet there are lots of easy to implement ideas with current technology no silver bullet required.
Looking forward sees a economic transition but then again only the people who resist change will find the future bleak. Peak Oil production just another example of a finite resource. There will be plenty of casualties eg unemployed Airline people and Unions barking but this is no different to whats already in the press today!
Most people who are gung ho about technology usually know nothing about science. Most scientists are pessimistic about the White Knight of technology to come save the day.
Furthermore, people fail to make the connection between hydrocarbons and global warming, agricultural production for energy use (ethnol, biodiesel) and 6.5 billion hungry faces, and the rising state of militarism and plutocracy against the clueless Dorothies in Kansas.
However, in the absence of a viable EASY solution there is no harm in wishful thinking. Just remember, the sustainable world population before the industrial revolution was less than 2 billion.
There is some excellent information about peak oil and industrial collapse from an anarchist perspective at IntheWake.org.
Wade, I will admit that I am a skeptic of the various free energy solutions that are said to exist. The only free energy concept that I think is even remotely worth investigating is based on what is known as the Casmir effect which relates to the radiation pressure of virtual photons between two plates (separated from each other on the order of nanometers) and is caused by the fact that the effective cavity between the plates excludes photons below a certain frequency because the wavelenghts would be too long to fit, thereby giving rise to a radiation pressure difference between the inside and the outside, because the outside has the extra radiation pressure from the excluded photon frequencies. While the effect itself exists and it is believed energy can be derived from the closing movement of the plates, physicists are so far unclear as to how to separate the plates again so as to cycle the mechanism and it is of course presumed it would take at least an equal amount of energy. So as a means of extracting 'free' energy from the zero-point energy from the quantum vaccum fluctuations it is yet unproved. As for other mechanisms perhaps there might be something there, but I simply do not believe they currently exist in the bowls of some military outfit. Some of these stories relate to alien craft that crash landed and getting the technology from the said individuals. I have two problems with this. If any civilisation developed the technology to travel through interstellar space, their systems, engineering and processes would hardly be so bad, that they would then have an accident on Earth. One would simply have all that worked out and solved long ago. The second reason is no "intelligent" alien would be so dumb-ass as to hand over technology that effectively unlocks access to the universe to a bunch of less intelligent beings that were still at a very immature and volatile stage of their society.
Casting that aside though, I think your basic thesis is saying if we have limitless free non-polluting energy, then everything would be alright and you indicate we would have to do a the lot better socially but your main focus in on the technology. I would argue it's politics and not technology that is central to all our problems and should be our focus and in many ways making available vast amounts of cheap energy would only make matters worse because it opens up vast possiblities for future direct physical destruction of the environment. And that's what I am trying to discuss here that it is the politics of anarchism that are the only viable solution in comparison to all those other ones that I have encountered up to now. Saying free or cheap energy is around the corner does not address the core problem, essentially behaviour and politics. It is that, that needs to change.
Thanks for your comments, but I still believe you are overly optimistic. I will address each in turn.
On the first point relating to the peak (1st para) are you saying that the oil will not peak and we will just keep finding more, or are you saying it will peak, but we will cope and bring in new energy sources in time so as to effectively keep things as they are and little social disruption?
Regarding prices increase and human behaviour. Yes, I agree behaviour will change, but our infrastuture, especially the urban sprawl has locked us into lots of driving. Now I think you are arguing that more efficient cars whether they be electric or not would allow it all to continue. Firstly the national car fleet in any country takes at least 10 years to be replaced. In the case of Europe our cars are a good deal more efficient than US cars. We have already taken advantage of the low hanging fruit. At the same time the number of cars is still growing. But these improvements would have to continue at a rate of maybe 3% or 4% for the next 10 or 20 years. One might argue that electric cars are more efficent than petrol because fuels are limited by a theortical maxium of ~66% due to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, whilst electric theortically could be higher. Except the vast majority of electric power at the moment comes from thermal sources / processes of generation (coal, gas, nuclear, oil). In addition switching to electric would add to the existing demand that is already there for electrical power. Earlier you argued that methanol, waste oils and other stuff could run the car fleet. It can't. Numerous studies show that when you audit ethanol and other plant oils by an energy audit of all the inputs and not a financial one, then it ulimately produces less energy than the inputs. Besides the amount of farmland would be very significant. If I am wrong and the figure is slightly in favour, are we then going to wipe out the rest of the Amazon and use millions of acres of farmland elsewhere so that we can drive. This alone will be disruptive socially and environmentally. For anarchists we should be very seriously concerned about the allocation of resources here.
You also mention about cutting back on the heating and adding insulation. Precisely we should and should have, but are governments going to provide grants to the absolutely 100s of millions of relatively poor people to upgrade their houses? Again more disruption via the capitalist route.
My point has been that the changes will hurt people. For example they may well have to bus it to work instead. While that may well always been the case in Mexico etc, the nature of urban sprawl is different here and people in US/Europe will not be pleased, hence angry and disillusioned. It's likely that swings in demand upwards and downwards will do the same for prices and each time people will try to return to their old ways. However I feel the disruptions will go much deeper and more severe because of for example the role of cheap oil in producing apparently cheap food.
But lets suppose cutbacks and efficiency reduce demand for a while, then obviously fuel prices would fall a bit again. And of course people will start driving more again and fuel prices will rise. And so the price mechanism of the market, which all anti-capitalists rightly critise do not provide a decent mechanism to value the worth of our resources. In the first graph above, you will see the dip in the production of crude oil around 1982 to 1985. After prices had risen the fuel efficiency of cars rose, demand fell, prices fell, then things picked up again. During the 90s the fuel efficiency of cars stalled and in the USA by the end of the 90s, those coming off the prodution line were less efficient. So I don't think I am doing too much linear extrapolation here.
Regarding the rise of alternative energy tech stocks to provide the energy and the growth for capitalism, rising prices of energy will automatically make it more costily to produce these. To produce anything a lot of hidden cheap oil is used. Consider the fuel used (by transport) for mining machines, trucks, maintenance crews, then the factories where the equipment is made, and the same all the way down the line to the production of the components and final installation. These costs are not visible at the moment. Nevertheless you are correct that the alternative energy market is growing rapidly and realistic projections indicate Europe can provide 20% of it's electric power by 2020 and that is basically by continuing the current rapid growth of the past decade or so. But it is still only 20% and from the graph above oil production could be down by 30%. Is this gap to come from energy efficiency savings? I would be surprised, unless a lot of people are forced onto buses and would demand not be rising for electric cars? As I indicated earlier after the first round of easy energy savings, the next round require significant infrasture changes whether that be in design of machines or society.
There is a slight problem with wind when used in the grid. I recall reading a study by our own ESB which basically said once your fraction of windpower in your electrical grid goes to about 30% you have all sorts of problems. Namely maintaining voltage, current and frequency stablization is really hard. Ideally you need efficient and fairly high capacity storage facilities of electrical energy deployed at nodes around the grid to solve these problems. The technology of energy storage has been one of those big problems and has never been cracked. Sure there are banks of capacitors, flywheels, fuel cells and so forth, but none of them have the energy capacity to solve this problem. Other forms of alternative power such as solar are likely to be from a electrical network point of view to be the same as wind. So it's not an easy one to solve. And the promise of superconductors for energy storage is still in the future despite the initial excitements in the late 80s about high temperature superconductors.
Regarding your question where you say; are oil supplies so low as to be not enough to transition? No, there's still plenty of oil and probably enough to transistion. My own gut feeling though is burning the 2nd half of the oil will further exacerbrate global warming and these alone will dwarf all other problems. By staying with capitalism though, I do not see that they will prioritize the use of fuel for the production of alternative energy machines. The priority will remain to maximise profits and burn it today or at least ASP.
Regarding the point where you say about assuming the point of no return should not necessarily be at peak and I think you imply maybe it's later. My reply is the changes should have started about 30 years ago and I reckon in terms of climate change, the point of no-return was passed quite awhile ago. Regarding passing the point of no-return to prepare our energy sources so as not to cause disruptions, there was even a report by the Pentagon awhile back on that point and it said the point of no return for preparing for the change was a decade ago. [Sorry can't remember the report title]
And lastly you mention if prices rise a solar farm would be useful. The maximum conversion efficiencies for solar photovoltaics in ideal situations has be around 30% (in lab and on satellites), typically in the field this in practice is only 10% to 15%. At the top of the atmosphere there are about 1350 Watts per square meter when the sun is perpendicular. When you factor in atmospheric absorbption and all the rest, then what hits the ground is anywhere from 500 to 100 watts/metre. At 10% or so that is 50 to 10 watts/m per second. A typical house needs about 3000 or so watts/sec. What I am showing is that solar energy is rather diffuse. You need a lot of material with a lot of area and that material has embodied lots of energy in it's manufacture -consider the metal or plastic frames holding the whole thing together. Also that infrasture only produces practical power for about 8 hrs a day. Present power stations work 24 hrs. So you effectively now need 3 power generation sources to cover that same amount of time. Even the most optimistic projections that project doubling capacity of solar cells every year for the next decade or two, would only see solar-electric providing around about 20% of the (global) power. The last few doubling sequences would amount to a massive industry. If that happens or rather for that to happen, I think there will have been very big changes in the way society works and it would not be the same as it is now. In other words it would be disruptive, not smooth and it is during this disruption surely that people might actually pay some attention to what anarchists have to say.
Your view as I said is overly optimistic and you seem not to have factored in the additional consequences of climate change and disruption to the food supply and distribution system. I think you should consider these too.. By the way, the article by Tony Boys titled: 'Food and Energy in Japan: How will Japan Feed Itself in the 21st Century?' at http://www9.ocn.ne.jp/~aslan/21fee.pdf is well worth reading and presents a very quantitive analysis.
Overall though my general point is that cheap energy has made the basic neccessities for life cheaper and allowed us to spend more elsewhere. The end of cheap energy will make these more expensive again and thus the growth in these other areas has to stall. I think we would all agree that the growth of money is surely somehow linked to the growth of energy. It remains to be seen then what happens here.
Few quick replies
re you saying that the oil will not peak and we will just keep finding more, or are you saying it will peak, but we will cope and bring in new energy sources in time so as to effectively keep things as they are and little social disruption?
Oil will peak, it might even be peaking. But when I weigh up the available evidence I don't go for the 'its already too late' line even if oil has already peaked.
Secondly transport efficency is not simply a question of better cars (I just used them as an example). There are many mega cities on the globe that do not function on the basis of 1+ car per family. EG Mexico city where short run mini bus trips provide the bulk of local transport. This is for economic reasons as fuel is expensive because wages or low so I'd expect escalating fuel prices to result in the introduction of similar transport methods to LA and other US urban sprawls.
Numerous studies show that when you audit ethanol and other plant oils by an energy audit of all the inputs and not a financial one, then it ulimately produces less energy than the inputs.
Not so - at the moment there is only a slight gain but this is because food stuffs are used as the input. If instead you use waste (and this requires some new tech) then you no longer count most of the input as this would have to be used anyway for the food. The waste allows you to source some/all of your agricultural fuel from the agricultural process so reducing consumption.
This is a good illustration of the flaw of only using the 'peak oil' pessimist figures, they often tell only part of the story and very often use date that is years, if not decades out of date.
The point of these examples is not that they are solutions but that they are short term ways to greatly reduce consumption. With greatly reduced consumption peak oil is less of a crisis as on its own its only half of the story (peak consumption being as important). BTW your figures above suggest a 30% gap in 20 years with 20% extra from alternatives. It would not seem outlandish to suggest the remaining 10% could be found in lifestyle and efficency changes of the sort I'm talking of.
BTW Japanese food production has been a stored up crisis from before WWII, indeed it was one of the causes for the way as the US embargo on oil was going to cause major shortages.
My real bottom line on this is that the politics of panic are rally only useful if your trying to manipulate a mass. So we should be very cautious about declaring a panic and a lot more questioning about the reason why some sectors (eg nuclear) are putting forward a panic perspective.
Andrew! are you saying I need to give up my hummer? In this great land of democracy and capitalism, I would rather see 10 families die in the praries, before I do. Yes, Sireee.
Yes, precisely. I think you are right. Asking the (US) American public to bus it from the outer reaches of the suburbs to work or just to the local store would constitute a major disruption in their lives. This is what capitalism has promised for the average USA citizen at least, endless motoring and it's coming to an end.
Terence, I first want to thank you for your response. I hope this is a worthy reply.
I am glad to see that you quoted Bucky Fuller, because I am about to repeat a central theme of his work: economics is the dog, and politics is the tail. No political ideology is of any use in solving humanity’s fundamental problems. The energy situation sits at the root of those problems, which are primarily economic.
All political ideologies for all time have been based on the ASSUMPTION of economic scarcity, and all political systems have been primarily concerned with whom gets the scarce resources. The elites of all societies for all time have engaged in conspicuous economic consumption as an indicator of their status.
Energy has always been the engine of all REAL economies. You are right that most economists live in a fantasy world, particularly regarding energy. That is partly because in a scarcity-based economic reality, the exchange aspect of economics (the scorekeeping aspect of it, which decides who gets what) becomes the most important part for its participants. Therefore the production aspect is underplayed, while most of what is called economics today is obsessed with the scorekeeping (accounting) part. Most economists then lose sight of what real economics really is, and believe in delusions such as the magic of the market.
My work is NOT about a technological fix to humanity’s problems. It is a horse of a very different color. My historical/political writings comprise the most popular part of my site, by far:
That section comprises several hundred pages of material.
You cite the writings of Heinberg and Ruppert, and I do too:
Heinberg and Ruppert are Neo-Malthusians, and their “solution” to humanity’s problems is reducing earth’s human population by nearly six billion people in the next generation or two because of energy scarcity. Any volunteers?
My work DOES address technologies that are waiting to be used, but it is not about technological “fixes” so we can keep playing our egocentric games. It is about what true economic ABUNDANCE can catalyze, and true economic abundance has never been experienced by humans before. I argue for a different PARADIGM for the human journey, and I have found that those who deny or ignore my primary arguments are in seemingly-impenetrable denial about solutions that ALREADY EXIST.
Heinberg semi-ridicules free energy in his work, but when given a very friendly offer to get educated from the inside on the exact situations that he semi-ridiculed, he made it clear that he did not want to know any more, and my work was called “foolish”:
The Casimir effect only hints at what can be harvested from the zero-point field.
Free energy has been done many times by many different methods.
The Big Boys have paid off 10,000 people an average of $10 million each to stop pursuing technologies such as free energy and anti-gravity:
and they are not operating from humanitarian impulses. Sparky Sweet’s device is just one of many working free energy prototypes that have been invented over the generations, and the harassment and death threats that he received for his efforts are standard.
Your objections to ET technology are only hypotheses (hypotheses that do not survive scrutiny to anybody familiar with the evidence and milieu), and ANYBODY can go to a ranch near Mount Adams and watch ET craft appear on request (and if you are lucky, you can also watch our military craft chase and attack them):
You quote Reich. Good. He was the first (at least that is what Eugene Mallove
told me) to perform an experiment that calls into question the Second Law of Thermodynamics.
The upshot of free energy is not some technological quick fix, but its potential to topple the scarcity paradigm that has dominated the human journey for the past 10,000 years or so. Barely anybody can even IMAGINE what a world based on abundance can look like, but I think it is worth pursuing. That is the promise of free energy, and I can hardly find a soul that can even THINK about that issue. Fuller posed a possible explanation: humans are addicted to scarcity and failure:
A very different world is POSSIBLE with free energy:
But people have to first find the courage to discard almost everything they think they know:
and very few on earth can currently do that. The big wake-up call may be just around the corner, but by then it might be too late. Some think it has been too late for a generation or so, and we will just have to sit and watch the catastrophe play out. They might be right, but I am trying to prevent it from happening.
I was hoping to find some of the courageous few among the anarchists. I still do. The radical left is one of the few places I am still looking for people with integrity and who are willing to lay aside their prejudices, evaluate the EVIDENCE and dare to dream of something very different then they ever imagined.
Very interesting point from the BBC site showing the other way that rising oil prices increase supply. Chavez is looking for 50 USD a barrel to be set as the new long term OPEC price because at that level the Oronoco fields are profitable. They are HUGE so that "at today's prices Venezuela's oil reserves are bigger than those of the entire Middle East - including Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, Iran and Iraq ... Venezuela's deposits alone could extend the oil age for another 100 years... The DoE estimates that the Venezuelan government controls 1.3 trillion barrels of oil - more than the entire declared oil reserves of the rest of the planet."
Of course the arguments about productivity still hold - hence the need for the higher long term oil price. But at 50USD this does appear to drive a coach and 4 though the peak oil hypothesis. Or is there something I've missed?
Andrew, this story proves two things. The media / govt are quite intent on throwing confusion into the public mind about Peak Oil with stories like this of vast new deposits, besides they have been aware of the heavy oil for a long time anyhow and two it proves that it is designed to make people think higher prices will produce more oil.
It is interesting that the article quotes the DoE (of USA) which consistently for the past 20+ years has been extremely bullish on the amount of oil in the world and recently it was claiming total global endowement of oil to be in excess of 3 trillion barrels. Their figures are completely discredited and at long last many people, especially geologists realize they are bogus. The DoE have projected world oil production rising to 120 million barrels a day by 2025. It's now about 84 mbpd. It's never going to reach 120 mbpd.
Chavez meanwhile has in previous speeches (for example in Cuba) has accepted Peak Oil and even suggested that the Iraq adventure is linked to it. ( See http://www.peakoil.ie/newsletters/672 for report of his Peak Oil speech)
In his quotes for the BBC, I would say that it is quite clear he is talking to a different audience here and talking up things. He may well be trying to attract some foreign investment.
Overall though the article itself just throws out this (reserve) figure. There is no discussion of the quality of the oil or how the estimates were made. It also gives the impression that they can ramp up production into the millions of barrels a day. There is no mention of the technology to extract this oil, which as far as I know because it is is heavier and more viscous requires steam injection to force it out. It also contains more sulphur and other impurties and is therefore much more expensive to process and refine. There is very likely a significant left-over highly polluting slurry. As the cost of all energy goes up then these input energy costs will rise too. Hence Peak Oil = End of Cheap Oil
In a certain sense maybe you can argue a certain correctness in that yes they have heavy oil, the amounts are questionable, it can be processed but it's expensive, but the scale of production and the rate of decline elsewhere means it cannot make up for the global demand and peak will still occur. The tail of production though as in the first graph at the very top will tail out for many years, maybe even a 100 years.
So no, it does not drive a coach and 4 horses through the argument and overall I think you are consistently missing the main point of the Peak Oil argument which is that we are not going to run out of oil now, but we are reaching the maximum global production that there will ever be.
The story reminds me of the Caspian Sea region 10 years ago when the press was full of stories and promise that it was another Middle East with estimated reserves of 200+ Gb (billion barrels: world uses 29 Gb per year) and in the end, it's being accepted that the figure is now only 17 Gb or so.
I would have to say that overall I am disappointed by all the replies so far, since they are completely focused on technical details when I was basically trying to draw attention to the political consequence and due to the ubitiquous role of energy in our society the far reaching effects at many levels and it's importance.
Surely it is clear that starting at the bottom the least well off who have cars now will be forced back out of them through economic pressure and it will work it's way up the chain and that will have ramifications. It's amazing as Anarchists no-one seems to be able to see this??? The rising expectations of the last 2 or 3 generations will be thrown into reverse.
Terry obviousy the article itslelf is based around the 'more expensive oil' proviso, the who basis of it is that it is only the shift from 20 USD a barrel to 50 USD a barrel that means extracting the Orinoco oil makes economic sense.
You seem to be asking us to make a large number of assumptions above all of which are intended to help 'prove' the peak oil hypothesis. This is fast becoming my major problem with the theory, it only works if you don't question these assumptions. This is just a reflection of the early Bush optomism of indefinite cheap oil based on similar if different assumptions.
If the truth is as it appears somewhere in between then there is little need to consider in details the more panicked worries of peak oil boosters. Your article is a lot more reasonable than most but it suffers from trying to create the same sense of panic. If - as with me - your not convinced by the basic premise that there is a need for panic it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to proceed to looking at how best to panic. You can't say 'lets assume the tech side' and discuss how to deal with the problem.
I think its becoming increasingly clear that energy prices will continue to rise - this will boost both alternative power and 'alternative' fossil extraction. Iill greatly boost energy efficency. It may well cause an economic depression depending on the rate of rise but it looks unlikely that we are 'too late' to switch over _even_ if we are already at peak.
The danger here is not the 'end of civilisation' but rather those associated with the extraction of an increasing dirty and inefficent fossil fuel on the one hand and of economic depression driving down living standards for the global working class on the other. The danger of the politics of panic over peak oil is that they may actually promote rather than detract from both these negatives by making people accept 'there is no alternative'.
Well I see you now accept that some kind of change is on the way with:
>"The danger here is not the 'end of civilisation' but rather those associated with the extraction of an increasing dirty and inefficent fossil fuel on the one hand and of economic depression driving down living standards for the global working class on the other. The danger of the politics of panic over peak oil is that they may actually promote rather than detract from both these negatives by making people accept 'there is no alternative'."
You are right it's not the end of civilisation, and correctly see that dirtier oil will be sought after and used and living standards will be driven down. That's been my whole point all along. As Peak Oil hits, we now seem to agree these will decline somewhat. The argument is over the speed. And if it is relatively fast, then my point is that it will be noticeable and that's when people will wake up and ask questions about this capitalism thing and thats why I am saying we should take that opportunity for heightened awareness or inquisitiveness about the social order or the failed promise of a better future (with capitalism).
Surely we as anarchists are saying if we switched society along anarchist lines then it can be better (with or without Peak Oil and with and without Global Warming). And yet again that is my point, continuing with capitalism given these problems ahead, will on the whole not benefit most people.
I understand your skepticism and the cautious approach and aversion to 'panic', but it almost reads like lets stick with capitalism and perhaps you have a gut feeling that it would be wrong in some kind of crisis for people to rush to anarchism as some kind of saviour especially if they haven't thought it through and what it means in which case it would probably just end up discrediting the name.
It appears that maybe my message of 'hope' got buried some where, but I don't suggest there is no alternative, quite the opposite. In a sane world, mass transport would be switched to public transport which is about 10x more efficient and full priority would be given to solar and the environment. That way the tail of oil production would be greatly elongated.
Just wanted to point out that their are species of algae that produce between 40-50% oil. This means instead of the 50gal/acre that you could produce with soybeans, you can produce 10,000 gal/acre. To get such high yields, the algae must be grown in areas with high energy inputs (sunlight) such as the desert, where water becomes an issue. In any case, this link gives an indepth review of the subject. It is particularly iteresting from an anarchist perspective, because producing biodiesel from algae doesn't require anywhere near the same infrastructure that petroleum requires.
The “National Security Strategy” (an important document which outlines the strategic orientation for US foreign policy) was revised 16. March this year (http://www.whitehouse.gov/nsc/nss/2006/).
Interestingly it identifies the loom of oil peak (not explicitly though), and thus discuss how the US can free itself from dependence on risky regions (i.e. Venezuela, the Arab states, ++). In chapter VI it reads:
“Opening, integrating, and diversifying energy markets to ensure energy independence.
The United States is the world’s third largest oil producer, but we rely on international sources to supply more than 50 percent of our needs. Only a small number of countries make major contributions to the world’s oil supply.
The world’s dependence on these few suppliers is neither responsible nor sustainable over the long term.
Our comprehensive energy strategy puts a priority on reducing our reliance on foreign energy sources.
The key to ensuring our energy security is DIVERSITY in the regions from which energy resources come and in the types of energy resources on which we rely.”
I find these quotes quite interesting, as they implicitly recognizes that something must be done. (Even though the markets decide the most –clearly the government policy is not enough to sufficiently stimulate such a goal).
However, I don’t agree with neither those who claim that there’s going to be a sudden dramatic crisis, nor those who say that the importance of peak oil is rendered irrelevant because this or that new technology or oil field. There are just WAY too many variables to predict whether the oil peak will have sudden dramatic consequences or not. However we can be sure that it will come.
Libertarian communists response is the same anyhow: we MUST think critical and speed up the process of building both explicitly libertarian communist organizations AND a fighting direct democratic movement of workers, by workers.
What we want to be able to do is have a capacity to decisively influence the workers movement, when a room for ideas is being opened up (as in mass strikes, economic crises, escalating wars and such), not being small organizations with only some few hundred members in each country at most, saying “I told you so”.
If this proves true, how do we convince the world not to burn it???!!!:
How much oil is in Nevada?
Dr. Alan Chamberlain, last month, stated his estimates, that there is almost 1.9 TRILLION barrels of oil in the state. Mind you, since the 1850s, when the first oil was pumped in Pennsylvania, until now, total worldwide oil production is only 1 trillion barrels. Further, many experts (Deffeyes in Hubbert's Peak, for instance) believe that 2 trillion barrels is the total original world supply, meaning we only have 1 trillion left in the whole world. Chamberlain is now on the record as stating that he thinks there is roughly as much oil in Nevada as the rest of the world put together ever had. Any thoughts on this? If Eden Energy finds a couple of billion barrels, investors are rich beyond their collective imaginations; but a couple of trillion barrels?? That number just seems impossibly big.
Here's the link citing Chamberlain saying there are 1.89 trillion
barrels of oil in Nevada --
Geologist says White Pine must keep public lands open for oil exploration
Claims undiscovered oil reserves are '10 times' Saudi Arabia's
Eden Energy is drilling to 15000ft based on this information, should know by early summer if I'll lose my $2000 invested or Retire.
If they hit this elephant and I retire, I'll spend my time on the impossible task of trying to convince the world not to burn $20 oil for the biosphere's sake. Sort of like a rich democrat ,blasting the Bush tax cuts, but taking them anyway. God...$20 oil would be so disruptive to all the clean energy technology I've been promoting.
Here is my most extensive discussion on Eden Energy, http://peakoil.com/fortopic11190-0-asc-60.html
There is a bigger picture to see, one that no respondent on this thread has yet addressed. I just wrote another essay to make this clearer:
The most realistic potential for renewable energy sources of wind and solar photovoltaic are addressed here. I have spent some time resarching the numbers and this is what I have come up with. In summary wind is the most viable and most advanced at the moment but even industry proponents are only talking about 12% of global power by 2020. I decided to spend time resarching this due to some of the comments above and URLs given.
Firstly though some basic energy facts. World electrical capacity (in 2003) is 3,509 GW, with Western Europe at 656 GW, USA at 884 GW, China at 338 GW. Now this is not the same as total electricity used. Electricity used is expressed in GW hours (GWh or MWh) and it is not quite as simple as multiplying Capacity by 365x24 because the power required varies and not every source is active all the time.
One thing that I discoverd for Wind turbines is that they generally are working at only around 25% utilzation of rated capacity which was lower than I expected. There are two reasons for this. 1) The wind does not blow all the time and 2) when it does blow it does not necessarily blow at the speed required to generate the full capacity of the given turbine. This is why there is increased interest in moving offshore because 1) the wind blows more of the time and 2) more consistently at the higher speeds. Therefore if the electrical capacity of a country like say Ireland which is around 4000 MW (=4GW), then 1000 MW of Wind capacity does not generate 25% of the total power throughout the year. Rather it is more like 0.25x0.25 or 0.0625 = 6.25% on average. Obviously though on the windest days of the year it can produce 25%. Also installed capacity of 4000 MW does not imply 4000x365x24 = 35,040 GWh. However I seen figures that suggest Irelands annual electrical consumption is 19TWh and this would imply approximately 55% to 60% utilization of all electrical capacity, which means it probably raises the 6.25% figure above should be recalculated as say 0.25 x 0.6 = 0.15 = 15% for the example above. Now I would guess that this 55% or 60% is probably the norm everywhere.
So to wind power. As of the end of 2004 the total global installed electrical capacity of wind is about 57,000+ MW (or 57+ GW) with about 40,000 MW of that in Europe. So Europe is the main area and has the highest rates. So in Europe this makes up roughly 40x100/656 = 6.1% of capacity which according to our calculations relating the contribution to power produced is probably 3%. Obviously for the world it is going to be alot less (57x100/3509 = 1.6% cap. = 0.8% power). Wind power has been growing rapidly and the most recent ambitious plan for Europe is a target of 75GW installed by 2010 which they say represents 5.5% of European power to give annual production of 167 TWh. It is not clear if this figure takes account of projected growth in power demand. For 2020, the target is 180 GW (70 GW would be off-shore) and this would be equal to 12.1% of power which they say would be 425 TWh. The Wind power industry also has a simultaneous plan called Windforce 12 for 2020 to produce 12% of total global electrical power. So far so good. All of this is based on an assumption of pretty rapid growth which they have been achieving for the past 10+ years, so in that sense they are realistic. What it does not take into account is the effect of how a major recession may or may not affect these targets. But lets assume they reach their targets. That still leaves 88% of power to be produced by other means which currently is made up of coal, natural gas, hydro, nuclear and oil.
Solar photovoltaic power: This is the power source everyone loves. Unfortunately the annual global production of solar photo cells at the moment (Feb 2006) amounts to only about 1.5 GW and total installed capacity to-date is 3 or 4 GW. So it is tiny and much smaller than wind. And bear in mind that for the last 10+ years solar photovoltaic production has been growing at approx 30% a year and we so far are only at this level!
Regarding the technology 95% of solar cell production is for the more expensive (and efficient) crystalline cells. The much talked (and promised to be cheaper) thin film cells make up 5% and this is not expected to grow dramatically. Also typical module energy-conversion efficiency is around 10% to 15%. There is plenty of talk, news, annoucements and research about solar cells that will be eventually around 40% to 60% efficient, but even the researchers themselves don't see this happening for at least 10 years and maybe longer, because turning it into finished product and making it cheaper is a long task. Bear in mind most technologies have a lead time of anywhere from 20 to 40 years. For example the first mobile-phone call was made in a lab back in the early 70s. The first solar cell produced in the 1950s. We did not go from 300 baud modems to 56K modems overnight. It took at least 10+ years. We did not go from 8K memory chips to 1-Gb chips overnight. It took about 25 years. So we are not going to go from 10% efficient solar modules to 60% ones overnight either. On a separate note there is talk of another technology called solar thermophvolotaic which is great in principle and basically can absorb infrared light / heat and convert it to power. Again this technology is still at a very early stage.
The solar-photovoltaic industry has said to meet 1% of the demand in 2025 which they project to be 175% of todays demand, the industry would have to grow at 30.9% for 20 years and to meet 10% of demand, grow at 43.3% per year. The first figure is the most likely achievable. And if demand stayed flat then that 1% would become 1.75%. Some optimists here will no doubt go for the 10% figure.
What is clear then in the timeframe out to say 2020, both wind and solar combined are not going to contribute more than say 15% and that is assuming the rapid growth in both industries continue, but obviously at any given point, wind power is a factor of at least 10 ahead.
None of this power can do anything for the decline of oil and reduction of driving since a switch to electrical cars would drive demand for electrical power even higher and it is unlikely to have been factored into the industry's projected demand. Also very little oil is burnt to generate electricity. A peak in natural gas though would have very significant effects and North America is already past Peak Gas, the world is not estimated to reach Peak Gas until 2010.
It is clear the industry expects power demand to grow. Capitalism is totally dependent on growth. If it does not grow then there is a crisis. If electrical power (alone) is projected to be 175% by 2020, and 80+% of this power is to come from traditional sources, it isn't going to happen since they will be in decline. Therefore the growth is unlikely to occur. And since the wind industry will be pretty much flat out as it is, it is not going to take up much slack. Overall then the price of energy has to rise. Already we see that and already we also see that it is the wealthy who can only afford to install solar energy systems in their home. As the switch to Ethanol is made even though it's net return of energy is very low and has had no effect on reducing fuel prices, we will see that farmland is used for growing energy rather than food and again it will be for the benefit for the wealthy and the poor will suffer. Already reports of large planations in places like Malaysia and Indonesia have surfaced which demonstrate further sacrifices and allocation of resources are going to the rich and away from the poor.
Again the techno-optimists say that efficiency gains will make up for any shortfalls. This is unlikely because despite what people think many efficiency gains have already been made and you will always get your biggest gains at the start because they are the easiest to identify -essentially the low hanging fruit. After that it requires progressively more technology and effort to get smaller and smaller gains.
And on top of all this we should also take into account, and it was not really properly done so in the original article, -that Global Warming now seems to be accelerating. The vast majority of climate scientistsin the past 3 or 4 years have shifted to this position and the consensus is that it is now happening faster than anticipated. It is widely recognised that reductions of 80% of fossil fuel are needed. Yet substituting to Ethanol, substituting to Natural Gas and so-called Clean-Coal technologies will all have the effect of increasing our CO-2 emissions. For example one of the leading climate researches James Hanson -recently gagged by NASA but who went public anyhow says we are reaching a tipping point, beyond which we will have no control and we enter the domain of runaway Greenhouse effect.
As we know the oil, gas and coal industry has managed to delay for the past 15 years the neccessary actions that we must take now. The capitalist system as it stands now will be thrown into crisis if reductions of 80% are made. That does not mean it will not survive in some other form, but it certainly does not want to go there at this point in time. What is clear is that radical changes are neccessary and if we don't make them the climate will. So radical changes are very much on the way and on the horizon. The figures above which take into account the two most loved renewable energy technologies show they can only make a slight change and are incapable of allowing to continue as we are in our car and consumerist utopia (or hell). Yet I find it incredible that people can come on here and make comments to the effect that all is okay, technology will save the day and ordinary folk will hardly notice as high-priests of technology work their magic. And even without global warming there will still be a major energy shortfall, although the depth and length of this obviously varies depending on your point of view.
Therefore we as Anarchists have to have something to say about Peak Oil and Global Warming.
Been doing some more reading on this and spotted this article
The oil industry
Steady as she goes
Apr 20th 2006 | BAKERSFIELD, CALIFORNIA, AND CALGARY, ALBERTA
From The Economist print edition
Why the world is not about to run out of oil
It's very interesting as it actually is an attempt to take on and refute much of the core peak oil argument head on.
"Despite today's obsession with the idea of “peak oil”, what really matters to the world economy is not when conventional oil production peaks, but whether we have enough affordable and convenient fuel from any source to power our current fleet of cars, buses and aeroplanes."
"Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA), an energy consultancy, has scrutinised all of the oil projects now under way around the world. Though noting rising costs, the firm concludes that the world's oil-production capacity could increase by as much as 15m barrels per day (bpd) between 2005 and 2010—equivalent to almost 18% of today's output and the biggest surge in history. Since most of these projects are already budgeted and in development, there is no geological reason why this wave of supply will not become available (though politics or civil strife can always disrupt output)."
If this economist article is accurate then it pushes the peak (or undulasting plateau as they call it) out to 2025 and beyond. Actually the article also explicity deals with the 'not enough time' argument.
I find the Economist a good source for this sort of thing because it is a publication for the business elite. So it needs to be accurate so that elite can see soaring profits - whatever spin it contains is secondary too that need.
Incidentally on energy efficeny I don't think the lowest fruit analogy is applicable here. The thing about energy efficeny is that in a period when energy was very cheap it wasn't something that was implemented. Sure in terms of discovery of tech we probably have had the lowest fruit (although both hybrid and biofuel cars suggest this may not be the case). But until prices rise the cost/hassle of implementing the tech resulted in it not happening. If the argument I have made in relation to transport applies in other energy areas then huge savings can be made.
slightly off topic but interesting text dealing with the failings of market based psuedo solutions to Clomate Change, both at the conceptual level, and at the level of impact on differing world socities.
gives quite an insight to the mind set of those carrying out negotiations
The Kyoto pact is technocratic. It tends to see global warming’s causes mainly in physical terms: the production of excessive amounts
of greenhouse gases 3 On the whole, it declinestoaddress institutions and power imbalances which have resulted in both the overuse and the
unequal use of the atmosphere. Avoiding historical analysis, it averts its gaze from the politics of industry, the explosion in trade-related
transport, subsidies for fossil fuel exploitation, the creation of consumer demand, and so on.
It views global warming’s effects in a similar way, often assuming that “knowing the physical attributes of a climatic variation or change”
is “adequate for understanding or predicting its consequences for human society”.4 It pays little attention to the fact that, in the words of
geographer Michael Watts, “climate risk is not naturally given”,5 but is partly a function of a society’s cultural resources and ingenuity, together with the political forces which support or threaten them.
This technocratic slant is no accident. In addition to having bureaucratic, technical or market backgrounds, many of the Protocol’s architects
took their cues from an earlier treaty: the 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.6
Making Inequalities Worse
Current carbon trading schemes not only entrench inequalities in access to global resources. They make them worse. The Kyoto Protocol, and the many corporate initiatives being developed in parallel, help make it possible for the well-off to buy the right to operate air conditioners, sports utility vehicles or jet fleets while telling ordinary people to stop using firewood or farming rice in methane-emitting paddies. They encourage companies who already use more than their share of the world's carbon sinks and stocks to buy still more of them -- using cash which has itself been accumulated partly through a history of overexploiting those sinks and stocks.
Under the arrangement, the North gets the right to emit extra greenhouse gases in exchange not only for maintaining trees or soil in its own rural areas but also for planting trees in the South. This expands its already-extensive ecological and social footprint. If Japan uses 24 times more per capita of the atmosphere for carbon-dioxide dumping than India, then it will also need 24 times more tree plantation land, 24 times more trees, and 24 times more "carbon workers" per capita in order to "compensate". Economic realism dictates that the land will be taken disproportionately from poorer people in the South and elsewhere.
The Norwegian firms Tree Farms AS and Norwegian Afforestation Group, for example, have already leased land from Uganda at bargain prices to use to soak up Norwegian carbon dioxide. This takeover threatens the livelihoods of 8,000 people, mainly farmers and fisherfolk, many of whom consider themselves the owners of the land in question. Carbon revenues will far exceed the rent paid to the Ugandan government.41 TransAlta, the largest energy utility in Alberta, Canada, is meanwhile financing a project to feed Ugandan cows supplements to reduce the volume of their farts, which contain the greenhouse gas methane, in order for TransAlta to buy itself time to upgrade three coal-fired electricity generating stations.42
In neighbouring Tanzania, Tree Farms anticipates selling carbon credits from pine and eucalyptus plantations worth US$27 million to Industrikraft Midt-Norge on a land rent payment to the government of a mere $565,000. Starting in 1996-7, local people were hired as casual plantation workers between December and March at a rate less than the government's minimum wage (US$1.05 per day), and many workers were not paid at all. "When we asked about the salaries," commented the residents of Uchindile village:
"the company told us that the money came from a place far away and that there was nothing that could be done about it."
As environmentalist Jorn Stave notes, the agreement requires not only that local people give up rights to future use of the land. It also demands that Tanzania "relinquish the option of using the plantation areas in its own CO2 budgets when, as is likely, the Kyoto Protocol is expanded" to include restrictions on Southern emissions.43
Such projects don't only damage local livelihoods. They're also used to sanction fossil fuel-related pollution elsewhere, both at mining and oil drilling sites and around energy generating plants. The impacts once again fall mainly on the poor. As always, using technical fixes to try to remedy what are essentially political problems tends merely to pile inequality on inequality.
All this is bound to stir growing opposition over time. Governments of some poorer nations may sell permits while their industrial output is in decline,44 but then defect from the agreement when their country looks set to put out carbon dioxide in excess of its allocation. Still others may be angered when they can't build a power plant because the North has already acquired ownership of the needed emissions rights. Frustrated by land grabs, finally, local people may take matters into their own hands and render "carbon-saving" forest or land projects projects valueless.45
Call to Account
Climate negotiatiors' commitment to untenable notions of property and resource distribution isn't the only reason why their plans for an atmosphere market are headed for trouble. In addition to clear property rights, markets need workable accounting systems. Venturing into a market without knowing how or what to count is as dangerous as doing so without knowing who owns what.
An accounting system for a market with billions and perhaps trillions of dollars of emission permits circulating throughout the global economy on the basis of gas fluxes, needs to be, as US commentator David Victor notes drily, "reasonably robust". It needs to be able to quantify in a single number the direct and indirect atmospheric effects of any credited actions taken on climate. That would require:
1. The biophysical knowledge necessary to assemble a sufficiently certain and complete quantitative picture of carbon flows between the atmosphere and biosphere. The margin of uncertainty in quantifying carbon stocks and flows must be small enough for credits gained from planting or maintaining trees, or maintaining or improving soil, to be climatically meaningful.
2. Sustainable consensus on what social agency is responsible, and in what proportion, for any quantified change in carbon flows. For credits to be assigned, it is insufficient simply to quantify and verify that some atmospheric change has been brought about by some set of trees or flight of particles. The trees' presence or the particle flights must be traced to some nation, corporation, group or individual. Somebody must be responsible for, or be the owner of, or be entitled to, the trees. Somebody must have caused the particles to fly. Accounting presupposes accountability. Who is to be credited and debited?
3. The ability to quantify the effects of social actions and institutions which mediate those carbon flows. Sociological as well as biophysical knowledge is necessary for tracing, assessing, predicting or controlling carbon flows resulting from efforts to mitigate climate change. For example, physical action (planting trees, building power plants fueled by so-called "clean coal"46) may cause social effects (outrage among local farmers, diminished interest among investors in renewable energy, loss of local knowledge). These social effects may in turn bring about further physical effects (migration to cities, increased use of fossil fuels) which exacerbate climatic instability. Assessing, predicting or controlling carbon flows into or out of the biosphere resulting from a carbon plantation requires understanding and monitoring the "carbon behaviour" of any people affected by the plantation project, whether they are dispossessed peasants who move to Los Angeles or Wall Street bankers whose advice to utility investors is affected by the plantation's anticipated impact on carbon prices.
4. The ability to specify a story line constituting what "would have happened" without a particular climate action. This is crucial especially when actions are being credited which result in the transfer of carbon from fossil fuel deposits to the air, but in amounts "less than would otherwise have been the case". To make the accounting system work, the story line describing "what would have happened otherwise" must be singular. If more than one possible alternative future emissions scenario is specified, then quantitative comparisons with the carbon effects of each story line will have to be made, the number of credits will be indeterminate and the accounting system will break down.
The failure of any one of these conditions would be enough to make Kyoto's accounting system impossible, and explode the foundations of the trading system it envisages. Yet not only one but all four of the conditions fail spectacularly.
First, if the biosphere is to be part of the accounts, "the current state of knowledge regarding carbon sources and sinks cannot determine the levels and flows of carbon with sufficient accuracy to form the basis for the Protocol and any viable trading scheme".47 Second, there is unlikely to be consensus on who is entitled to which carbon credits. Third, quantifying the effects on carbon stocks and flows of policies and other social actions is admitted by all sides to be impossible. Finally, the future is a matter for decision, not just prediction. The story line describing "what would have happened otherwise" can never be singular. (For elaboration, discussion and references, see Appendix below: "Why Kyoto-Style Accounting Systems Fail".)
Because the carbon accounting system envisaged by Kyoto is quadruply impossible, the pretence that it works -- enshrined in the Bonn agreement -- is bound to end in tears. Bad or unverifiable carbon credits are likely to jam the trading system. Cheating will be both encouraged and uncontrollable. Ultimately, the market is unlikely to survive. Far from being checked, climate change will be subsidized and exacerbated.
Undermining Existing Initiatives and Resources
One of the biggest ironies in the current climate talks is that they often distract from an impressive range of existing positive practices and initiatives. In sharp contrast with the wishful technical fixes mooted by the corporate sector and the Kyoto Protocol, many of these go straight to the political and social root causes of global warming. To take a few examples:
* Communities in Burma, Malaysia, Nicaragua, Colombia, Nigeria, Chad, Thailand, Bolivia and Ecuador have stepped to the forefront of constructive action against global warming by protesting oil drilling and winning the revocation of fossil fuel concessions in their territories. In doing so, they argue, they're helping to keep some 3.655 billion tonnes of carbon in the ground. Such groups are also building alliances with other communities who have lost out in the hydrocarbon economy through having their health or livelihoods threatened by oil-burning installations. In support of these movements, which provide powerful incentives for managing demand and development of renewable energy, the non-governmental organization Oilwatch is calling for a plan for a moratorium on the exploration for further oil, gas and coal and on loans and subsidies for extraction and generation projects.48
* At a time when North American emissions are rocketing upwards, China reportedly reduced its own by 17 per cent in only two years, between 1997 and 1999 -- during a time when its economy expanded by 15 per cent. The reductions, achieved in part through mundane technical improvements in boiler technology, equal the 400 million tonnes of carbon that the US transportation sector emitted in 2000.49
* In Sweden, communities supported by non-government organizations are independently undertaking efficiency and renewable energy programmes to cut their emissions by up to six times their per capita share of the country's Kyoto targets. The city of Vaxjo is working toward abandoning the municipal use of fossil fuels altogether.50
* A continent away, citizens in Haat Yai, Thailand, are mobilizing at community level to analyze the huge floods which struck the area in 2000. They're also assessing locally-appropriate ways of coping in the future with such events and monitoring the effectiveness of state interventions.
* The Caribbean nation of St. Lucia is meanwhile quickly and unilaterally moving toward a fossil fuel-free energy future with a practical renewable energy technology investment plan.51
* Movements protecting community forests and low-input swidden agricultural systems worldwide continue to be a powerful force preventing climatically-destabilizing land clearance, commercial logging and high-input intensive agriculture.
* Movements battling the deleterious effects of global trade liberalisation are also helping slow down the mining and burning of fossil fuels. One example is the international campaign spearheaded by groups such as the New Economics Foundation to cut state subsidies for transport of internationally-traded goods -- projected to increase 70 per cent between 1992 and 2004.52
The first question for any global agreement on climate to ask itself is whether it nurtures -- or whether it undermines -- such already-existing actions. On the whole, the answer so far isn't encouraging.
For example, the Bonn agreement does call on parties to the climate convention (especially, oddly, Southern ones) to "remov[e] subsidies associated with the use of environmentally unsound and unsafe technologies". But few diplomats or their technical advisers have proposed lending a hand to community groups resisting coal and oil exploitation (and thus helping in the economic transition to a post-hydrocarbon economy) by applying pressure on export credit agencies or the World Bank to stop providing handouts to Northern fossil fuel companies from public funds.58 No clear measures are being considered, either, to induce governments to reduce the subsidies they provide for coal-and oil-fired power (estimated at US$200 billion annually59), the automobile economy, long-distance food transport and new fossil fuel exploration. Yet such actions are crucial in helping build local alternatives and ingenuity and develop climate-friendly ways of using and conserving energy.
Worse, the technocracies shaping the official climate change agenda show few signs of even comprehending some of the materials for climate care which already exist at the local level. By supporting (for example) plantation projects, they often threaten their very existence instead.60 By continuing to define the climate crisis as a problem to be solved through indefinite capital accumulation, state subsidies for large corporations and consultants, transnational capital flows, neoclassical economics and national "development", the climate establishment makes it almost impossible for itself to connect its top-down emissions targets with support for independent actions at the local level -- actions that will necessarily be variegated and difficult to administer from above through development channels whose failures are widely acknowledged (see Box 5: "The Limits of Centralized Carbon Projects").
The approach currently followed by the UN and corporate sector also tends to menace existing reserves of flexibility many communities will need to adapt to the degree of climate change which is already inevitable. One problem lies in the de-skilling and disempowerment of ordinary people in the South which tends to accompany state-centred developmentalist approaches. As researcher R.W. Kates puts it:
"If the global poor are to adapt to global change, it will be critical to focus on poor people and not on poor countries as does the prevailing North-South dialogue. The interests of the poor are not always the same as the interests of poor countries, since in the interests of 'development', the poor may grow poorer."61
Ordinary people in the North are disempowered, too, when the dominant market approach to climate change diverts their concern into individual self-blame and green consumerism. For example, Europeans and Australians are often invited by carbon-"offset" companies, governments or environmentalists to calculate their individual carbon emissions using simple questionnaires. Inevitably, most of those answering are revealed to be "individually responsible" for large releases of CO2 from, for example, home heating or national transport systems which the questionnaires provide no clues on how to change.
One indirect effect of this procedure is to leave respondents vulnerable to the challenge that they "have no right to talk about climate change until they stop using their cars". Another is to draw them into attempts to "compensate" for their outsize "individual" emissions by investing in tree-planting. The following "carbon equations", for instance, which represent the current market approach in microcosm, are cited in recent promotional material by the British tree-planting firm Future Forests:
* 7 trees = 5 London-New York single air tickets
* 5 trees = 1 year's driving of an ordinary car
* 2 trees = 4 pots of tea a day for 6 years
* 40 trees = 1 average home's CO2 emissions over 5 years
These calculations are part of Future Forests' invitation to individuals and corporations to become "carbon-neutral®". It doesn't matter how much fossil fuel you use, or what you use it for. Simply write out a cheque and the carbon professionals will punch numbers into their computers representing your carbon-dioxide emissions, plant the requisite number of trees, and watch over them for you.62
In addition to slighting or ignoring many existing climate-friendly local practices, negotiators' technical advisers have also been slow to acknowledge an important and growing international climate movement. This movement demands both that the discussion of rights in the atmosphere be brought out of the shadows and that a scientifically meaningful programme of aggregate emissions cuts be undertaken. It calls for all countries to agree, in line with evolving wisdom on climate, how rapidly world greenhouse gas emissions should contract each year. It proposes then allocating permits to emit to all countries in proportion to the number of their citizens. Countries unable to keep their emissions in line with their per capita allocations could buy extra ones from those whose emissions were under the limit.
This equitable, flexible "contraction and convergence" framework has been endorsed by many Southern countries including China, India and the nations of the Africa Group; European government ministers including Michael Meacher of the UK, Jacques Chirac of France and Svend Auken of Denmark; insurance industry associations; and organizations ranging from the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution to India's Centre on Science and Environment and Climate Network Africa. Unlike any other proposal on offer, the framework would enable the US's bluff to be called on all three of its objections to the Bonn climate agreement: that it doesn't commit the South to emissions limitations; that it's "unfair"; and that it doesn't address sources of future emissions.63 It would thus advance the discussion in a way which could result in a better future agreement.
Box 4: Reinforcing a Fantasy
The idea that planting trees, investing in energy-generating technology abroad and managing agricultural land in new ways are climatically equivalent to cutting emissions is irresistible to a lot of institutions.
Heavy industries and energy companies hope to delay carbon dioxide reductions. Agri-business and forestry corporations are happy to sell them the means of doing so. Energy and commodity exchanges and trading firms are enthusiastic about the profits to be made by getting the two sides together. Consultants, too, are looking to cash in by advising on carbon liabilities and sequestration projects.
Small wonder that The Economist magazine states without argument or evidence -- as if it were an obvious truth -- that planting trees and the rest are alternative means "of achieving a stated goal (fewer net emissions) at lowest cost".53 Small wonder, too, that this assumption was built into the Kyoto Protocol.54 Everybody wants to believe.
The belief gains plausibility through a natural confusion between two different sets of propositions:
1. Trees are vitally important for climate.55 So is practising low-tillage agriculture, improving energy efficiency, and so forth. Furthermore, it's important not only to cut emissions, but also, where emissions must increase, for them to increase as little as possible. Finally, cutting emissions is important wherever it takes place on the earth's surface given that the atmosphere circulates so rapidly.
2. Conserving forests, planting trees, practising low-tillage agriculture, improvements in energy efficiency and so on can be traded for emissions cuts in a way that makes the emissions "climate-neutral". Actual emissions can be traded for hypothetical emissions reductions below "business as usual" in a way which renders the emissions "climate-neutral". An activity in one social context which results in a short-term emissions cut can be traded for an activity in another social context which results in an identical short-term emissions cut.
To the unrigorous observer, the propositions in the second paragraph seem to follow from those in the first. For example, Richard Tipper of the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Management reasons:
"If you know that saving the Amazon is better for the atmosphere than keeping one car off the road, then you ought to be able to calculate how many cars are equivalent to saving the Amazon. [The calculations] may be difficult, but I don't see why the problems should be insurmountable."56
But in fact while the propositions of (1) are common sense, those of (2) are nonsense. Saying something is important and saying it can be quantified and incorporated into an accounting system are two different things (see Appendix: "Why Kyoto-Style Accounting Systems Fail").
Take a utility company releasing a million tonnes of carbon a year. According to the Kyoto Protocol, the firm can be just as "carbon-neutral" as a subsistence farming household emitting one tonne a year. All the company has to do is contract a forestry consultancy to plant thousands of hectares of trees or "manage" soils or native forests in some new carbon-conserving way.
But as forester Ricardo Carrere of the World Rainforest Movement points out, any system which equates two activities so vastly different in the scale of their disruption of the earth's systems is like trying to posit a "numerical equivalence between apples and oranges".
By unearthing and burning huge quantitites of fossil fuels, Carrere notes, a large corporation will introduce uncertainties into the climate system which go far beyond anything undertaken by a swidden farmer.57
Trees and soil are highly relevant to climate and to the cycling of fossil fuel emissions, but the relation among the three can't be quantified in the way a climate market would require.
Mark, thanks for those comments, because the points raised are very important and in many ways cut to the central issue which is that the future depends on politics and that tech solutions whether for Global Warming or Peak Oil do not in any way take on board the context as to why we are in the situation that we are in and by attempting to only focus on tech solutions, it is a way to not address politics and the real root and ultimate solution to our problems. They only serve to continue the status quo.
Embedded in the notion or desire for tech solutions is the idea that somehow we can live sustainably and its related cousin in the religion or myth of never ending progress. Both of these essentially say that we humans have so much too offer that surely we are capable of devising a way to live comfortably and sustainably on Earth. And Tech Solutions within a Capitalist system basically hijack that ideal. However as long as we have Capitalism or any other form of social arrangement that denies democracy and the opportunity of each human to reach the intellectual maturity, its unlikely to work.
Thats why I argue (in the original article at top) that the only possible solution is an Anarchist type of society with some of the technical solutions because an anarchist society is one that supposedly would have participatory democracy and create an environment to reach our full human potential. Neverthessless the case is still not proven that humans could live sustainably in such a society even with all the techie tricks it can come up with, but it is the place where anarchists seem content to put their trust in humanity as a whole so long as everyone has a say in how problems are solved rather than the current society where vested interests, whether they be corporations, global capitalism, or small groups of investors or government officials are the only ones with a real say over decisions.
I feel we should push for this Charcoal based, Terra Preta Soils CO2 sequestration strategy.
The economics look good, and truly great if the USA had CO2 cap & trade in place:
'Terra Preta' soils have great possibilities to revolutionize sustainable agriculture into a major CO2 sequestration strategy.
I thought, I first read about these soils in " Botany of Desire " or "Guns,Germs,&Steel" but I could not find reference to them. I finely found the reference in "1491", but I did not realize their potential .
Current issue of Nature article: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v442/n7103/full/442624a.html
Here's the Cornell page for an over view: http://www.css.cornell.edu/faculty/lehmann/biochar/Biochar_home.htm
This Science Forum thread on these soil contains further links, and all the new research I find I've posted here:
The Georgia Inst. of Technology page:
There is an ecology going on in these soils that is not completely understood, and if replicated and applied at scale would have multiple benefits for farmers and environmentalist.
Terra Preta creates a terrestrial carbon reef at a microscopic level. These nanoscale structures provide safe haven to the microbes and fungus that facilitate fertile soil creation, while sequestering carbon for many hundred if not thousands of years. The combination of these two forms of sequestration would also increase the growth rate and natural sequestration effort of growing plants.
Also, Terra Preta was on the Agenda at this years world Soil Science Conference !
I've sent this thread to the researchers at M-Roots, who make Mycorisal fungus inoculations for acceleration of the reestablishment of the symbiotic fungal / root relationship. Here's the M-Roots site: http://www.rootsinc.com/
Here is a great article that high lights this pyrolysis process , ( http://www.eprida.com/hydro/ ) which could use existing infrastructure to provide Charcoal sustainable Agriculture , Syn-Fuels, and a variation of this process would also work as well for H2 , Charcoal-Fertilizer, while sequestering CO2 from Coal fired plants to build soils at large scales , be sure to read the "See an initial analysis NEW" link of this technology to clean up Coal fired power plants.
Soil erosion, energy scarcity, excess greenhouse gas all answered through regenerative carbon management
If pre Columbian Indians could produce these soils up to 6 feet deep over 20% of the Amazon basin it seems that our energy and agricultural industries could also product them at scale.
Harnessing the work of this vast number of microbes and fungi changes the whole equation of EROEI for food and Bio fuels. I see this as the only sustainable agricultural strategy if we no longer have cheap fossil fuels for fertilizer.
I would like to investigate if use of an M-Roots type fungus inoculant and local compost would speed this super community of wee beasties in populating into their proper Soil horizon Carbon Condos.
I feel Terra Preta soil technology is the greatest of Ironies since Tobacco.
That is: an invention of pre-Columbian American culture, destroyed by western disease, may well be the savior of industrial western society. As inversely Tobacco, over time has gotten back at same society by killing more of us than the entire pre-Columbian population.
Erich J. Knight
In another forum a poster characterized me as a chief preacher in the Terra Preta Church.
I shall take on this mantel, and here is my first sermon:
The Terra Preta Prayer
Our Carbon who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name
By kingdom come, thy will be done, IN the Earth to make it Heaven.
It will give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our atmospheric trespasses
As we forgive those who trespass against the Kyoto protocols
And lead us not into fossil fuel temptation, but diliver us from it's evil
low as we walk through the valley of the shadow of Global Warming,
I will feel no evil, your Bio-fuels and fertile microbes will comfort me,
For thine is the fungal kingdom,
and the microbe power,
and the Sequestration Glory,
For ever and ever (well at least 2000 years)
Erich J. Knight
The solution to the peak oil problem is international working class solidarity. The bourgeoisie are not a rational class and their bullshit values and private interests are leading us to the brink of biblical style apocalypse. However, their oil wars and posturing over 'anti-imperialist' governments, open up a lot of opportunities for socialists and anarchists to build links of international solidarity in the labour movement. It is perhaps telling of the current state of political health, that for all our communication technology there was much greater internationalism in the labour movment of the 1920s than there is today.
Part of the problem we face is a lack of clear working class politics to effectively oppose imperialist, capitalist interests. The broad left response to the war in Iraq has been for a simple call of 'Troops Out' and tacit support for the so-called 'Iraqi resistance'. Support for the fledgling Iraqi trade union movement has been scarce - they are still operating under Saddam's anti-union laws. Likewise, in Venezuela where our solidarity for the 'Bolivarian revolution' actually translates as fawning over Hugo Chavez rather than supporting independent trade unionism in the form of the UNT.
If we stick firmly to a position of international working class solidarity and firm up our links with socialists and trade unions abroad (as oppose to dubious red-brown alliances, and cults of celebrity leaders) then we will be in a strong position to oppose the reactionary forces that will emerge when this peak oil shit hits the ecological fan. If we have these links of solidarity and the international labour movement is united and strong then we can appeal to our comrades in oil rich nations to take control of the oil refineries and bring these scant resources under democratic, workers control, instead of allowing them to be squandered by the necrophilic bourgeoisie. This might seem a long way off but it is certainly more hopeful and more purposeful than screaming our hearts out for clerical Islam or South American strong men.
We can use the remaining oil to create small scale renewable energy technology, whilst developing Cuban-style ecological agriculture. This in itself would bring about a radically new division of labour, a reinvigorated local democracy and triumph of international socialism.
I spoke with the author of a Terra Preta (TP) story in Solar Today, Ron Larson ,
he said he spoke with a major National Geographic editor, who is preparing a big article on TP. but Doesn't know when it will be out.
In E. O. Wilson's "The Future of Life" he opens the book with a letter to Thoreau updating him on our current understanding of the nature of the ecology of the soils at Walden Pond.
" These arthropods are the giants of the microcosm (if you will allow me to continue what has turned into a short lecture). Creatures their size are present in dozens-hundreds, if an ant or termite colony is presents. But these are comparatively trivial numbers. If you focus down by a power of ten in size, enough to pick out animals barely visible to the naked eye, the numbers jump to thousands. Nematode and enchytraied pot worms, mites, springtails, pauropods, diplurans, symphylans, and tardigrades seethe in the underground. Scattered out on a white ground cloth, each crawling speck becomes a full-blown animal. Together they are far more striking and divers in appearance than snakes, mice, sparrows, and all the other vertebrates hereabouts combined. Their home is a labyrinth of miniature caves and walls of rotting vegetable debris cross-strung with ten yards of fungal threads. And they are just the surface of the fauna and flora at our feet. Keep going, keep magnifying until the eye penetrates microscopic water films on grains of sand, and there you will find ten billion bacteria in a thimbleful of soil and frass. You will have reached the energy base of the decomposer world as we understand it 150 years after you sojourn in Walden Woods."
Certainly there remains much work to just characterize all the estimated 1000 species of microbes found in a pinch of soil, and Wilson concludes at the end of the prolog that
"Now it is up to us to summon a more encompassing wisdom."
I wonder what the soil biome was REALLY like before the cutting and charcoaling of the virgin east coast forest, my guess is that now we see a severely diminished community, and that only very recent Ag practices like no-till have helped to rebuild it.
I found this study in this TP forum :http://forums.hypography.com/earth-s...-preta-26.html
First-ever estimate of total bacteria on earth
This recent article describes quite clearly in another sense how the era of cheap energy is over and the replacements are more costly. The costs being human suffering and environmental damage -something never considered by Capitalism.
The article titled: Full Tanks at the Cost of Empty Stomachs: The Expansion of the Sugarcane Industry in Latin America -opens with this statement:
We, representatives of organizations and social movements of Brasil, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Colombia, Guatemala, and the Dominican Republic, gathered at a forum on the expansion of the sugarcane industry in Latin America, declare that:
The current model of production of bioenergy is sustained by the same elements that have always caused the oppression of our peoples: appropriation of territory, of natural resources, and the labor force.
AND a bit further down this is what they have to say about bio-fuel:
Biomass is falsely presented as the new energy matrix, the ideal of which is renewable energy. We know that biomass will not actually be able to substitute fossil fuels, nor is it renewable.
Some characteristics inherent to the sugar industry are the destruction of the environment and the overexploitation of labor. The principal workforce is migrant labor. As a result, processes of migration are stimulated, making workers more vulnerable and attempts at organization more difficult. The rigorous work of cutting sugarcane has caused the death of hundreds of workers.
Female workers who cut sugarcane are exploited even more, as they receive lower salaries or, in some countries such as Costa Rica, do not directly receive salaries. Payment is made to the husband or partner. Child labor is commonly practiced in the industry throughout Latin America, as well as the exploitation of youth as the main labor force in the suffocating process of cutting sugarcane....
So we can see this is both bad for the environment and bad for people. All the studies show that for bio-fuel the best returns on energy or EROEI is for crops grown in tropical countries where there is more sunshine and it is considerably better than in temperate latitudes. Yet it is clear it is not a viable subsitution.
Other alternatives such as Palm Oil which in terms of EROEI is probably the best crop, have their own major problems as outlined in this report at the oildrum.com website, titled:
Palm Oil -- The Southeast Asia Report
In this article the effect on the environment is (quoting again):
The Environmental Consequences
Even as Malaysia and Indonesia hope for a booming palm oil biodiesel export market, the EU is getting cold feet because of the destruction of southeast Asia's forests. Indeed, the environmental news is very bad. As the Wall Street Journal reports (op. cit. above), an EU parliamentary committee recommended a ban on all biofuels from palm oil. And, as noted above, RWE npower cancelled their plan to use palm oil to generate electricity in England. However, the EU now plans to use 20% renewable power by 2020, with 10% of vehicle fuels coming from biofuels. So, the EU is in a bind concerning biofuels from palm oil. Their Hobson's Choice is this — they can cut CO2 emissions and thus avoid disastrous climate change using biofuels from palm oil, or they can increase CO2 emissions and promote disastrous climate change using biofuels from palm oil. Perhaps there is much larger overshoot and sustainability problem?........
......Western countries see oil palm as a good source of biofuel, a ‘clean’ alternative for fossil fuels. The European Union implements all kind of legislation for a large scale use of biofuels. Export of palm oil to European countries is growing rapidly. However, more than 26% of all Indonesian oil palm concessions are on peatlands, and similar figures apply to Malaysia. It is estimated that production of one ton of palm oil will result in an average emission of 20 tons of CO2 from peat decomposition alone – not taking into account the emissions from fire and other CO2 emissions during the production cycle. The Netherlands alone imported at least 400,000 tons of palm oil to meet its Kyoto target for 2005, thus actually increasing [its] greenhouse gas emissions. ...
...... As residents are discovering, though, the spreading plantations have deleterious effects. They can alter water-catchment areas, destroy animal habitats and contribute to the months-long bouts of haze that spreads hundreds of kilometers across Southeast Asia.
Peat forest wetlands catch the rain and store the water. Without them, the water runs off, leading to erosion of precious topsoils and even freshwater shortages in some areas. Waste from palm oil production is also a problem. From mongabay.com (op. cit)
... Beyond the loss of forest ecosystems, the production of palm oil, as currently practiced, can be quite damaging to the environment. In 2001 Malaysia’s production of 7 million tons of crude palm oil generated 9.9 million tons of solid oil wastes, palm fiber, and shells, and 10 million tons of palm oil mill effluent, a polluted mix of crushed shells, water, and fat residues that has been shown to have a negative impact on aquatic ecosystems
Now many of you will have noticed that in the last 12 months, there has been a massive push on bio-fuels and it is promoted to be the saviour of the era of easy motoring. It is presented as a natural problem free progression from usage of oil. This is clearly not the case. The evidence is already clear that the usage of land will be competing between growing fuels or food and so long as the present capitalist system remains, the poor and marginal are going to lose out big time so as to allow people in the West to continue driving their cars to work, the shops and whatever. And if it means ratcheting up the scale of environmental damage around the world, then so be it.
The full text for the first article can be found at the URL below.
I think the reason biofuels are being pushed is not so much to do with peak oil as with global warming. The idea of bio fuels as carbon neutral means that they are seen as a way of working towards the 20% cut in CO2 emission without having to change behaviour at all - they are completely compatible with the current car industry needs.
That said I think we need to be very, very careful to distinguish between arguing against bio fuels and arguing against the impact of growing biofuel crops under unregulated free market conditions.
>That said I think we need to be very, very careful to distinguish between arguing against bio fuels and arguing against the impact of growing biofuel crops under unregulated free market conditions.
Yes, I agree entirely on that point. And as is generally the case when the free-market is used to "solve" a problem, it rarely does and ends up corrupting the process.
A good example was carbon-trading and emissions which has led to scenarios when private companies buy land cheaply elsewhere to grow (usually monocrops) trees to offset emissions elsewhere and basically allow business as usual. But the science on carbon sinks is still very uncertain and it is not at all clear how much they absorb. Yet the market has already run with this despite that these assumptions may have to be revisted. Naturally they will resist this. If things were to be done in the spirit of what carbon trading/reduction is about, greater efforts would be made to reduce emissions through efficiency, processes and other behaviours.
And this is the central message we need to get out. The free-market is incapable of solving our environmental and energy problems. I guess the most direct way to voice this in the wider public is to ask the question:
What power company can operate on the basis of producing less because it has made a great effort with its customers to use less?
Imagine an oil company saying we have helped all our customers use 10% less this year and hope to do this again next year, so that over the next few years, we can double if not triple the lifetime of our reserves by pumping less each year?
And yet this is what needs to happen. And if it did, it would ease any energy problems and at the same time do what we need to do for climate change. These two topics are actually ideal topics to cleary demonstrate that the endless growth model of the free-market is simply not viable.
I should have posted this months back but along with Chekov we published a critical look at Peak Oil theory (basically in opposition to what I term 'Peak Oil panic' ) at