The big question on everyone's mind when it comes to discussion of "doomsday" scenarios including peak oil, climate change, and the economy is When? When will all of this happen? Even people who admit the data and the logical conclusions maintain a mental niche of doubt because it is challenging to ascertain with precision when oil will run out or the gulf stream will freeze up.
While I regularly asked the When? question when first introduced to the whole subject, I soon discovered that I was asking where the trees were while standing in the forest. Many of the challenges we face today are products of resource scarcity, which is compounded by global warming and overpopulation.
In one sense, all wars of the past were ultimately about resources such as land, citizenry, slaves, minerals, water, etc. But in centuries past warring humans had not yet explored even a fraction of the earth's resources. They had hardly discovered all corners of the globe. They certainly had not exhausted a singular resource, like oil, after having built a planetary infrastructure around it.
I don't know anyone who considers the human world to be in anything but a very sorry state. If asked why, the common responses include reasons such as the inequality of wealth, the corruption in governments, the terrorists or extremists of whatever religious or nationalistic stripe that make the world miserable for everyone else, the pollution and extermination of countless species, criminals, etc. All of these things have existed for as long as we've been writing history, but the difference now is that all of these problems share a common denominator in the energy we use to keep the world running. Even corruption, terrorists, and polluters need energy. In a sense, all of the enemies of life, happiness, and progress that we live with every day are present only because of our shared access to an energy that is also responsible for our standard of life, happiness, and progress in the first place.
No one has anywhere left to turn. There are no other parts of the world to explore. We have no other Saudi Arabias. We have no other fundamental common denominator to all of our lives, no matter what we do, than energy. If we had a truly diversified energy plan, then perhaps we could say that the world as we know it cannot be so simplistically reduced. As it is, though, we thrust this monolithism upon ourselves by centralizing our lives around a single energy source.
Back to the question When? the impertinent but justifiable response may be, Where have you been? We've been living with oil wars, hot and cold, for fifty years, if not more. It's to the point where we can almost miss the days when we fought over ideology or land or because some god said to war.
Everything about farming with "forty centuries" in mind teaches me that diversity is an All-Good, even in destruction because what is one entity's demise is another's rise. Diversity of calamity is a lot healthier than unified disaster. We are in desperate need of diverse sources for our problems. When they are all one thing, they don't get easier to solve. They become impossible to solve because, in this case, we can't simply replace oil with any one thing or even combination of several things. We hooked ourselves to it in everything from our shoes to our shampoo. We put all our eggs in one balloon basket, ignoring that the balloon isn't going to just go up.
When? When is it going to start coming down? Most experts suspect that there is a trillion or more barrels of oil left in the ground. But oil production has already peaked. That means the balloon isn't getting any higher. If the balloon kept its current elevation we'd face a serious economic dilemma as our current system is predicated on expansion. But I suspect if some fairy waved her magic wand and promised us the balloon would never drop, we'd probably figure out a new economic system, after a great deal of pain -- probably to those least fortunate under the current system.
I've read a lot of fairy tale stories when it came to the issue of peak oil. You can find them everywhere from the NYTimes to conservative blogs. They don't actually include magic and fairies, but they might as well. Then, the Pentagon comes out with its post-Bush diagnoses and admits that we may peak within a few years. First it was thirty years out, now it's now.
But the fact is that peaking oil is a past issue. When? Already. Peak oil doesn't happen when there's no oil left. It happens as we approach an energy crunch. Peak oil is ultimately reached when it takes one gallon of oil in energy to extract one gallon of oil. It doesn't matter how much it costs in dollars. That's irrelevant. It's an entirely an energy equation because it turns out that the cosmos is no respecter of currency. An economy can be tweaked to make it cost two cents to extract a barrel of oil, but if it costs a barrel of oil in energy, it's too expensive.
At this point we are spending well over 90% of the energy in a drop of oil to extract each drop. This proportion isn't necessarily reflected in the cost of gasoline. The monetary cost of things today does not reflect the long term cost tallied by nature, which does about $25 trillion in work for us every year, not to mention the cost in human lives. You are more likely to see cost increases across the board in all the things that require oil. And we're seeing that already.
The timeline of peak oil changes the more we diversify our energy portfolio. But at this point there is no way, no matter how much electricity we generate, to run tractors on solar panels or batteries. And there is no way to keep the petrochemical farming industry propped up indefinitely, not that we'd want to even if we had endless oil. That means even if we do everything right in diversifying, which we won't, we are still going to take a big hit at food production.
Food, of course, isn't one of those things we could do without. It's abundance is what brought on seven billion human beings in the first place. That brought on the pollution explosion, which brought on increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. Die-off in petri dishes happens when you stop squirting the food into the solution and, despite our best efforts at self-mystification, the cosmos and the laws of nature do not see us any different than microbes on a lens when it comes to enforcing those laws.
Human life is so much easier when lived consciously than when circumstances are thrust upon us. We are amazingly resilient, but on an individual level no one is keen on adapting to death, as there is no adaptation to starvation. I've heard many times that we have the capacity to feed everyone today, but we don't have a distribution system run against the map of the human heart. I wish it were so simple. It is true that we may be able to produce more than enough food for every living human being, plus all of our pets and livestock, but feeding everyone with food produced through burning oil only adds food to a petri dish full of people that will then multiply more. When the oil becomes too expensive and food production is crippled by the cost of oil coupled with our failure to produce food sustainably, that many more people will go hungry.
When living in New York City in the late 80's and early 90's, homeless people were at every corner. I gave money until I realized that doing so was irresponsible. I didn't know what the homeless person was doing with the money. I didn't know which were truly homeless and hungry and which were not. I decided to bring food with me, wherever I went. Whenever anyone asked for money, I had many choices of food for them to take. I suppose you can guess where I am heading. Aside from one person who took figs, and then another for whom I could buy a burger, none wanted food. They complained that they were "really" hungry. They complained they didn't like the pits of the fruit in their mouths. I haven't given any money since to anyone on the street.
I hope readers can take this as some evidence that I can't personally not feed a hungry person, and for a hungry child it feels like my heart is being ripped out. Since having children, it has become painfully easy for me to see all children as my own. But we have to be calm, reasonable, and get serious about a threat to the lives of all humans. By all means feed everyone, but food without condoms, education, free vasectomies and tubal ligations (I am actually a proponent, for mathematical reasons, of only tubal ligations because only women make babies), is like free ammunition and firearms in the hands of little more than children. Sooner or later, people are going to die.
The solution to most of our challenges is to reduce our population. The horrifying element of that solution is that that is the only solution of which nature is capable. Again, life is so much easier when we live it consciously, making the hard decisions that may bring some pain but are best in the long run, than having circumstances thrust upon us.
While aware of the denial in people's minds, especially the ones who ask, without a shred of interest in the data, "Could you be wrong?" there is some benefit in responding to the question. Yes, I could be wrong. I also think that the scientists could be wrong. It's possible the Pentagon could be wrong. Even Dick Cheney could be wrong. That's a joke, but I don't refer to his estimation of Iraq's WMDs. I refer to his energy task force that eventually needed to cook up a reason to go into oil-rich Iraq in the first place. Yes, everyone could be right and everyone could be wrong. Who cares? It's a childish question. The real question is, What is our current understanding of the situation and, based on that understanding, what is the current probability that peak oil is real? No one sane denies that if it is real the consequences are nothing short of some shade of extinction level, but that's different than the likelihood being high.
At this point, the likelihood is over 90%, considering all the minds, conservative included, that admit to it with a high degree of certainty. For those who are not familiar with science, 90% is nothing to slouch at. Most experts would say the number is near 100%, if not a given, but I am referring to it being 90% that we are hit with a degree of extinction, which to me is up to 90% of the human race being wiped out.
What is certain is that our savior is in diversity. Only a diversity of numerous circumstances and actions and events will avoid the disaster of the singular and monolithic.
I am by nature an optimist, so I still hold out hope for wisdom in some manner to seep in the hundredth monkey's mind and then we all start reducing our numbers. But even if peak oil is a 50/50 coin toss, we are talking about billions dying. Back to the madman, Cheney, he argued that if there was a 1% chance that Iraq had nuclear weapons, that was enough reason to go in. It was later called the One Percent Doctrine. What the media didn't tell us was that, in his mind, an oil shortage was a one-hundred percent certainty. When he was in office, the number was more like 30 year out before we hit peak. These days, that number is just a bad joke that in hindsight will probably be worth about a half a billion human beings due to the delay it caused in doing anything of any serious moment other than going to war with an oil-rich nation.
I know I am blathering on and on, but I don't care. I am not here to entertain you or anyone. Are you the hundredth monkey? That's all I really want to know or care about. If you aren't already the first to the 99th, will you be the one to start thinking in these terms and start "washing your coconuts," so to speak? Once the hundredth monkey gets it, how prepared will you be to get it, because you will get it. What, at that late stage, will you be getting, meaning what conditions will be thrust upon you?
Life isn't all smooth sailing. I sound stupid to myself even saying that, but denial has a way of whitewashing the waves. The Titanic did hit an iceberg. Never has seven billion human beings lived at the same time on this planet. Never have we been so dependent on a single source of energy that is non-renewable. We did collectively murder tens of millions of our own kind in the last century alone, and would have probably murdered as many in previous centuries if there were enough young men in one place to recruit and send to slaughter. People do believe their best friend Jesus is going to usher them to an eternal heaven. Leaving aside our lifetimes up until now, big things and crazy things do happen, and they are often sudden were it not for the glaring signs that they were on their way.
An old saying is that nature does not make jumps. But conditions seem poised to make an exception for human beings. When it does, we won't find nature making excuses.
I am a lot of things to a lot of people. In my heart I think of myself first as being and then as a father. I don't want to look into the eyes of my children with excuses in my mind. I want to be able to look at them when they are tall and will see me eye to eye, and tell them I did everything I could. I see my children's eyes in the eyes of everyone. It's a habit that has caused me enormous suffering, but I wouldn't have it any other way. A result of the habit is that I see failure to act as failing everyone. Isn't that true for all of us?
The doomsday clock that was a potent reminder from the scientific community, wracked as it was with guilt over building holocaust devices, is almost antiquated at this point. Nuclear war would be catastrophic and could end all life. But I would personally feel more like Charlton Heston in Planet of the Apes in a situation like that than I feel now.
Whirlwind Community is a drop in the bucket when it comes to what needs to be done on a global level. It's a few musical chairs, in reference to my previous Expo. The habit/practice in my to turn it all off is there, but times are too interesting to do that with anything but a great deal of responsibility and culpability.
Everyone has to do their part to the highest degree that they are capable of doing it. That's it.