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I mentioned recently that it's hard to hang tough with the Peak Oil narrative when the mainstream media narrative is that oil has never been more plentiful and that the real problem is low prices. Add to that the techno-utopian narratives of electric cars and power walls and super batteries, and the idea that industrial civilization is crucially dependent on petroleum seems, if not far fetched, at least an example of seeing the glass as being half-empty.

The main proponents of the Peak Oil narrative whom I followed in the latter half of the previous decade (have we decided on a name for that decade yet? The oughts?) have either shifted their focus to other topics or dropped from public view. Or, to be fair, they may still be doing their Peak Oil thing, but I stopped following their on-going analysis.

I recently recorded an interview with Liam Scheff, the author of Official Stories: Counter-Arguments for a Culture in Need, and Liam is definitely hanging tough with the Peak Oil narrative, but like most everyone else who ever hitched their wagon to the Peak Oil horse, he is now talking about the net energy we receive from oil rather than raw supply. The more energy we have to expend to extract oil from the ground, the less net benefit we get from it. We may be bringing up as much as ever, or nearly so, but at ever-greater cost.

Even so, given that the fast collapse continues to defy the prophets of doom, I've shifted my focus to other matters. Even though I realize that agriculture runs on fossil fuel inputs and that no amount of crash course gardening can realistically be expected to make up the shortfall should the industrial model falter, it takes a certain sort of personality to stay focused on this critical dependence and the fact that this planet simply will not support 8 billion human beings in the absence of our current ability to turn oil into food and move it great distances so that people can live in places where rain doesn't fall from the sky and fertile soil is nowhere to be found.

Liam Scheff told me that given our evolutionary heritage, there is simply no reason for us to think critically about the future when our bellies are full. So long as we are comfortable, we have no reason that makes sense to our monkey minds to do anything differently than we're doing now. The environment in which our species is adapted to live simply didn't throw exponential curve-balls at us. Or if it did, we survived by luck rather than by an ability to think in exponential terms. The techno-utopians love to talk about exponential phenomena like Moore's Law, and they agree that most humans just don't grok the implications of a doubling of computing power every 18 months, but their bellies are full, and so they use their understanding of exponential increase as a framework upon which to hang wish-fulfilment fantasies.

I understand that I am a humonkey and that my psychology is prone to focus on my status in the group when I'm not in immediate danger or suffering the pangs of hunger. That's why it's easier to stay focused on politics and culture war issues. The antics of our new POTUS and the wall to wall media coverage he garners provides a constant backdrop of chatter which confirms at a subliminal level that there is nothing more important to worry about than which faction is in power. Granted, a lot of the people who hate Donald Trump claim to take the specter of climate change seriously, but their behavior doesn't bear out their rhetoric. Nobody who REALLY believed that industrial activity is changing the climate in unprecedented ways would replace a 10-year-old car that still runs or upgrade their computer or their smartphone every couple of years.

I'm not throwing stones. My own house is clearly made of glass. I drive a 24-year-old pick-up truck, but that's only because I don't have the money to step up to something shinier. I've been eyeing a nifty new Lenovo tablet for several weeks, and one of these days, in a moment of weakness, I'm going to make that final mouse click and set in motion a series of transactions that will culminate in the brown truck of happiness pulling up out front and the nice man who drives it walking up the garden path with yet another box from Amazon.com for me.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 19th, 2017 11:03 am (UTC)
Doom-sayers have been talking about Energy Return Over Energy Investment (EROEI) for a long time in regards to extraction of energy reserves and other energy projects. The old days of Pennsylvania crude bubbling up from the ground and forming lakes are long gone, fracked gas is harder to get to the customer than regular gas/oil drilling operations etc.

The demand and pricetag for extracted energy in the form of oil, gas and coal has led to processes to make the extraction as cheap as possible and that usually means more energy-efficient processes since energy costs money. A lot of marginal oil wells that require pumps to get the oil to the surface are shut down for the moment since it costs more to run the pumps than the oil recovered will sell for in the current market. If the oil price goes up though those nodding-donkey pumps will start nodding again.

Hmmm, I wonder if it would be more cost-effective to run those pumps off solar panels?
Cloudwalking Owl
Feb. 19th, 2017 06:30 pm (UTC)
Social evolution versus socio-biology
Have you ever heard of Joseph Heath's book ***Englightenment 2.0***?

In it he argues, if memory serves, that some archeologists believe that many of the elements of logical reasoning are social constructs that were created by early civilizations. To explain this idea, Heath talks about the rules of evidence that have arisen in the legal system. For example, after a few really horrendous miscarriages of justice, the legal system decided to force people to simply refuse to use "hear say" evidence. Another example are the rules that force police officers to read people their "Miranda rights". In both cases, the rule exists as an absolutely essential formality to "short-circuit" a hard-wired tendency by the human mind to jump to conclusions without considering the possibility that something important is being left out of the picture.

I am often appalled by the way proponents of specific---especially "doomer"---narratives, simply opine that the human brain is made this way, so we should just "give up". Well, it is true that the brain operates this way, but we are not isolated individuals, we are eusocial monkeys that live in huge, complex societies that are governed by constantly evolving cultures. There are ways our culture could work around the biological desire to stop thinking about the future once "our bellies are full". The "seven generations" credo ascribed to the Six Nations is one of them. The precautionary principle in developing new substances and life forms is another.

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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