And Heretics - Peak Oil And Runaway Global Warming
By Bill Henderson
18 September, 2006
There is no more wicked a heresy
today than to suggest that the organic growth of our present economy
should be interfered with, should be replaced by a much more planned
and regulated economy. Is there a fool who would endanger millions of
people's lives arguing for the impossible?
In his observations of the
recent ASPO conference in Italy Rob
Hopkins describes a division between pragmatists and heretics:
"I was struck deeply
by the two distinct paradigms visible within the attendees, which I
have to say, in my naivity, I was rather shocked by.
"The first paradigm
we might call the ‘Business-as-Usual-at-all-costs’ paradigm.
This argues that peak oil is simply a problem of energy supply, and
that provided we can resolve that, everything will be fine. The second
paradigm we might call the ‘Cultural Evolution’ paradigm’,
which argues that we cannot solve the problems peak oil presents with
the same thinking that got us into the mess in the first place. I’d
say that at ASPO 5, the balance was about 5:1 in favour of the former.
Another example of these
differing 'paradigms' (and I know many hate the word) separates those
who see ethanol in hybrids as the solution to the end of cheap energy
from those who see no solution within a world designed for cars. And
even more broadly, from those who think there is no long term sustainable
solution within a growth
economy, especially one addicted to car/sprawl growth.
In the recently archived
transcript of an interview with Matt
Simmons and Jim
Kunstler both make the point repeatedly that new fuel sources
for a car economy are not a practical solution:
KUNSTLER: We are going
to use every alternative fuel that we can. There is no question about
it. But the bottom line is that no combination of alternative fuels
whether they are synthesized coal liquids or wind power solar power
hydrogen. No combination of these things will allow us to run the Interstate
highway system, Wal-Mart and Walt Disney World the way we are accustomed
to running it. We are going to have to make other arrangements and that’s
what the people in this country don’t get.
We can maybe 'muddle through'
with market adaptability if Simmons and Kunstler are wrong (and to the
degree that the general public is aware of the peak oil problem, a business
as usual solution is everybody's hope).
But for those of us who are
pessimistic, who agree that markets did not facilitate a transition
to a post fossil fuel economy while fossil fuel energy was cheap and
abundant, who agree that our present socio-economic path has no future,
a rational-comprehensive something like Lester
Brown's Plan B has to be implemented - several decades
ago if not sooner.
Only radical intervention
and innovation can get us out of the car economy quickly in order to
avoid war or severe economic dislocation. Even if we continue to follow
the Bush Admin down the resource war path and seize enough oil, America
cannot in all probability survive the collapse of the global economy,
and even then our present 'luxury' use of diminishing cheap oil would
be starkly evil as millions starve globally.
If you agree that the peak
oil problem is not solvable within our present economy with dire consequences
then heretical options need to be considered:
An ordered reconfiguration
of our economy; a Manhattan-style renewable energy program; plus a US
led global 'New Deal' based upon an oil
depletion protocol. With organized relocalization to bioregions
partitioning globalization and minimizing unnecessary trade; a weightless
economy, quality not quantity; America as world's innovative problem
solver for a common future and major wealth re cycler.
New post green revolution
agriculture; Draconian ecosystem-based natural resource management to
protect biodiversity globally; local food.
Turn the volume of advertising
way down, stop socially engineering consumers; permaculture infill;
trains and public transport; etc., etc. We need the possibility of change
that can now happen only marginally as back eddies in an economic current
Climate change offers another
example of this split in the perception of the severity of the challenge
and hence the needed strategic response:
If climate change is linear,
several degrees or less over the next century and adaptation is possible,
then responses inside the present market economy are practical: carbon
taxes, caps and trading, increased efficiency and development of non-
carbon energy sources, etc.
But if there is a high enough
probability of runaway
global warming the threshold or tipping point of which
- given 30-50 year time lags - we might be on or approaching already,
then we need a Plan B DESPERATELY.
There are 'carbon bombs':
in soils, carbon in warming temperate
and boreal forests and in a drought
struck Amazon, methane
in Arctic peat bogs and in methane
hydrates melting in warming ocean waters
If the probability of positive
feedback from the release of this presently sequestered carbon is significant
then much more systemic and radical change must be undertaken and the
most important and difficult step is getting off our present market
economy path and Plan B innovation is necessary. Escaping service sector
path dependence to unblock our ability to change at a necessary scale.
That this argument is too
downer and that such radical change is impossible and therefor focusing
on governance innovation is counter productive is a valid complaint.
But considering the growing evidence pointing to imminent peak oil dislocation
and runaway global warming especially, I still ask why is there no informed
consideration and debate about needed governance innovation beyond incremental
change within the market economy? Is our particular business as usual
truly not negotiable - even as the threat of severe dislocation and
even potential human extinction increases in probability?
Within the next decade or
two, Lovelock forecasts, Gaia will hike her thermostat by at least 10
degrees. Earth, he predicts, will be hotter than at any time since the
Eocene Age 55 million years ago, when crocodiles swam in the Arctic
"There's no realization
of how quickly and irreversibly the planet is changing," Lovelock
says. "Maybe 200 million people will migrate close to the Arctic
and survive this. Even if we took extraordinary steps, it would take
the world 1,000 years to recover." James
Lovelock The End of Eden WashPost