Wednesday, April 25, 2007

mommy are we there yet?

"The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands ... is the definition of tyranny," - James Madison.

I am no longer afraid of peak oil. I haven’t been for a while. By that I mean I’ve stopped being afraid of the physical ramifications of a global peak in oil production: driving less, eating locally, all the ways in which our world will change as less energy, not more, is available each year. In fact I think ultimately, our world will be a better places post peak. Too many human beings are obviously incapable of responsibly handling the enormous amount of power embodied in fossil fuels. Industrial society has chipped away our ability to learn responsibility and practice it in our own lives and in our communities. It hands a loaded gun (sometimes literally) to people with little or no understanding of its power. There’s a great line in the movie ‘Contact’ in which Jodie Foster’s character is chosen for the job of being the first person to meet with an alien race. She is asked by congress what one question she would most like to ask a more intelligent species. And she says (I must paraphrase I can’t find the exact line) How did you do it- How did you survive your technological adolescence? Embedded in that question is the problem we are watching unfold. Human beings have harnessed an incredible amount of energy and have developed monstrously dangerous ways of unleashing it for evil. We’ve done some good too, some of us have, but my point is that we are acting like a drunken bull in an antique china shop. We are absolutely wrecking this place and many of us don’t seem to care. Others refuse to believe it or at best, allow themselves to be mesmerized by American Idol and simply don’t know what’s going. So I think it will be a good thing when human beings begin to have less energy available to them. Overall and in the long run it will be a good thing.

I am not without fear though because in the short term we will have to deal with the awakening. All of those drunken bulls are going to start sobering up. Everyone busy watching American Idol will have to turn off the television and deal with the realities of our situation at some point. The response of those people scares the hell out of me. There are already wackos out there. There are already people who think environmentalists should be shot, but I think there could be a lot more problems associated with an awaken. People are going to be angry, they’re going to feel cheated and worse; they might feel powerless to deal with the situation. This last group is the most dangerous in my opinion because if a large number of the post peak oil population adopts an attitude of powerlessness peppered with a touch of anger, they’re likely to look for a leader or a set of leaders that promise to keep the cars running no matter what the cost.

An article I read yesterday in the Wall Street Journal was entitled “Fuel-Efficient Cars Dent States’ Road Budgets.” The article rightly pointed out that as cars get more fuel efficient, states will lose tax revenue generated at the pump because people will purchase less gasoline. This could lead to worsening conditions of road repair. The author failed to mention that many of the more fuel efficient vehicles are lighter and do much less damage than the real road wreckers, heavy trucks, but we all make mistakes. What I found interesting was how deeply ingrained the idea of more driving is in the average American mind. This article went on to rattle off some possible solutions already being tested in blahblahblah… No where did it mention that if few cars were on the roads then we would neither need to develop more fuel efficient vehicles, develop alternative fuels, build new roads or do lots of repair on the old ones. It’s as if the elephant in the room was hiding under the desk of this WSJ reporter. Maybe the cars are the problem. Maybe if we built our towns and our cities and our rural villages in ways that required fewer miles traveled in automoblies we could slip the bonds that most Americans don’t seem to notice their wearing.

Cars gave us freedom in a tangible way when they were developed. They still allow Americans a way to drive off into the sunset at a moments notice. But let’s be honest, they have come to enslave us. When you have to have something then it has great power over you and we’ve built America into a land that largely requires people to own cars, buy cars, maintain cars, insure cars and fuel cars. Add it up and this relationship has become a burden. Not to mention the ugly way in which we’ve paved over our once beautiful landscapes- both natural and man made- in favor of an environment suited to shiny metal boxes moving at high speeds. Bring me people who like to car commute. Show me those who like traffic congestion. Who among us enjoys spending tens of thousands of dollars each year just so we can participate in America? But we are unable to let go of the idea of the automobile as anything other than our best friend and savior, an indisputable part of living in this country. So instead of stepping back and actually investigating our problems holistically, we muddle along blindly towards the dead-end of an alley.

Right now that sort of thinking is failing to address the coming problems associated with peak oil. But in the future, as the situation becomes increasingly chaotic, I fear we will do more wrongheaded thinking, not less. What I am really afraid of is a period of time during when we give up that which is wonderful about us- our ability to cooperate, to care for each other and work together in a civil society to address the needs of the American people. What I fear is the day I wake up and hear that we've gone and put our fate in the hands of despots- leaders bent on irrational and unreasonable responses to our inevitable crash head first into a world with less energy. Up until now I’ve been writing this paragraph in the future tense. Perhaps a little editing is in order because we are already fighting an expensive (dollars and lives) war largely as a way to maintain access to oil. Our national leaders are already trying to scare us into accepting reduced liberties and increased domestic surveillance based on false reasoning. We already accept the fact that our security forces hold prisoners with without trials in undisclosed locations and treat them brutally. And all of this why, so we can keep our cars running? Please. What sort of leaders are these? Why they are not leaders at all. They are skilled politicians who have come to power in a system based on endless growth that requires increased amounts of energy. And they will stop at nothing to keep this train headed off the tracks. My biggest fear is that we have not yet seen the worst of what we will allow them to do for the sake of keeping our engines running. Can America avoid becoming a fascist state? Are we one already? I challenge you to read this article and then answer for yourself.

…most Americans do not realise that since September of last year - when Congress wrongly, foolishly, passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 - the president has the power to call any US citizen an "enemy combatant". He has the power to define what "enemy combatant" means… Even if you or I are American citizens, even if we turn out to be completely innocent of what he has accused us of doing, he has the power to have us seized as we are changing planes at Newark tomorrow, or have us taken with a knock on the door; ship you or me to a navy brig; and keep you or me in isolation, possibly for months, while awaiting trial.

1 comment:

tom o'dachi said...

I'm certain that you are right... the real issues are 'waking' and recognizing/ assuming 'responsibility ...and not all are going to wake at the same time, nor do they have to...the planet will be fine, even if the human morph isn't... the urgency thing is a product of a western, one-time life perspective..for those of us who know that we are awake-and-waking, we need only be good models and leave things better than we found them...which probably includes social architecture...the butterfly, however, still needs to be left alone to emerge and fly..that withstanding, democracy requires that all/most assume responsibility for their own actions, and most aren't ready.Probably this is why it was so easy to be seduced back into a representative monarchy/ abdicating unalienable rights for comfort and security (a doorway to fascism, and worse). I have two suggestions for the political layer,which might level the playing field a little without interfering too much. First,one might suggest publicly that a national 'pause' is way overdue..that when you're stumbling wildly, sitting down is preferable to...hmmm..other things.The gambit might be truthfully phrased like, " our growth as a nation has been very rapid and piecemeal (responses to wars and other catastrophes..),and it might be a good time to assess what works and what doesn't...blahblah. The second gambit might be to cap total personal/household (not corporate) taxation to some percentage, and let the politicals(local, state, and federal) fight it out among themselves...who gets what for delivering which services, and if some are inept managers/ can't deliver the paid for services, then they get replaced with those who can...this suggestion made because the politicals have lost sight of the reality that they are the best, and because they are never going to tie either tax or price increases to real increases in peoples paychecks...This is the last move on the board that I see...tomo