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Wednesday, November 30, 2005


I've been having a discussion with a fellow on the Energy Resources List. He is of an extremely nihilistic bend in terms of the peak oil issue. Some of our discussion follows, as I think it is of some broader and more general interest:

>On the other hand one could favor business as usual.

No. It's not binary. It's not black and white - it's not like that. The next few paragraphs run according to your straw man argument, but I'll comment on a few points:

> The population is still increasing, the rain forest is still being destroyed,
> lakes and rivers are still being polluted, topsoil is still being blown
> away and animal species are still going extinct. We are literally
> destroying the biosphere.

And even if we were all teletransported instantly to some Star Trek Fantasy land never to return to the earth, these species would continue dying off and the biosphere would still be a sinking wreck. It would return to an equilibrium faster without us, but we're still talking many thousands of years.

>We could hope to delay the peak, and the collapse until around 2040 or 2050.

Well, if Deffeyes is correct, the peak is already here. I don't think delaying the peak is interesting. I don't find the binary logic behind the argument useful. What IS interesting is how we are going to manage the transition to other fuels and gracefully depopulate the planet.

I think we can all agree that Peak Oil is a fact, and an inevitability. However: imagine something totally extra-ordinary happens: they come up with something like cold-fusion that's cheap and easy to do. Then oil could peak and no one would really notice...

It's not the transition itself that's in question or doubt - it's more the character of said transition. While I am usually loathe to agree with the likes of Lomborg on anything, he does have a specific insight when he says "You don't buy gasoline, you buy transportation". If cars no longer ran on gas, you would still have to buy traonsportation, but gas wouldn't be part of the equation.

This doesn't solve te ecological problem, but that's another issue. I'm simply demonstrating that the reduction in oil production doesn't *by necessity* require a die off. It CAN, and if things don't change, and quickly, probability reduces to certainty, but presuming certainty I feel is illegitimate as I discuss below.

>Peak oil in this decade would be terrible.

I tink it's already here - we're just cruising on the glutted plateau.

>But peak oil forty years from now would be far, far worse.

I see - I see - you're conflating the demand/production curve crossings in the economics of petroleum production with some kind of instant die-off.

Well: it looks like you now have a test case. If we are around in 30 years, you're wrong. If we're not, you're right, but it doesn't matter. Now how is that a useful position?

>I find hoping for a much-delayed peak absolutely morally and ethically repugnant.

I think it's a non-issue. The peak is upon us - it's just a question of how it is managed, and the character of the transition to other energy sources takes on.

>And anyone who thinks the earth can support such a population indefinite for half
>a century without destroying what little flora and fauna is left upon this earth simply
>has not a clue as to what is happening to the earth.

I agree - it looks bleak. But not impossible.

>If we had a choice, now or later, it would not be a choice between
>good and evil. It would be a choice between evil and a much greater

So we should all vote CHTHULU for president? After all, why settle for the lesser evil?

I'm too cynical to believe in nihilism, and I find the doomsaying in the peak oil debate has its uses as a goad when it is understood in an if/then context. But if it is presented as a certainty, then there is:

a: no point in discussing the issue
b: there is no point to this forum, except as a form of black humour
c: no point in even trying to survive the catastrophe, as those who do will be living lives of a Hobbesian sort, and who wants to live like that?

As a consequence, the nihilist position can be seen as a parasitic middle class luxury. If there are things needing change, the proper thing to do is to change them and to form communities of people to help change them. What needs to be done can be scaled according to need at point. In the USA getting people out of their cars and getting them to turn the damn lights off when they go to bed would be a good "start." Getting people to grow food instead of lawns would be a really good idea as well. Developing neighbourhood windmill energy projects would also help. But, most of all: GETTING PEOPLE TO STOP HAVING SO MANY DAMN KIDS would be the best thing of all.

The list is long, and there is much to be done. I find the nihilist position disuseful and unconvincing outside of an if/then context. Within such a context, it is EXTREMELY useful and actually, necessary. But outside of such a context, *at this present time* it has no value. Given the stakes involved, the extreme nihilist position outside of the if/then context, is therefore immoral. Russia had nihilists first, in the 1880s, 1890s. Once the nihilists were discredited/jailed/killed off, they had a proper revolution. That the revolution resulted in a disaster of an empire is not relevent - the point is nihilism goes nowhere, and is just as much of a detriment to free and creative thinking as the cornicopian neocon fascists presently running the show.

The only thing that results from nihilism is a cult. Nihilism won't keep the hospitals open, won't make the discoveries we need, or even reduce the population - after all - if it doesn't matter, then it doesn't matter- have a jillion kids - their lives are their problem, not yours, and besides - it doesn't matter.

You can't forge a new society from doom. People need someplace to go and have fun. If it's dancing in some over lit discotheque in Las Vegas with a buffet of meatballs and oysters, or dancing in front of a camp fire by some rawhide tents cooking up a chunk of buffalo - it's still fun. People are social primates. As such they need to be led. Pointing a direction into an abyss is not leading. Pointing a direction into a foggy area that seems to go down around the abyss will have to do- travelling down that foggy bottom is all we really have.

So, hold hands, stay close, keep walking, and sing!

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

How to Avert Catastrophe: Community

There's been a great deal of discussion about Peak Oil, and much of it has taken on a kind of narcissistic schadenfreude - where there is a kind of cruel laughter "Muuuaahahahahahahaaa" that seems to permeate the discussion and defines The Real Peak Oilers from the noobs and the cornicopians. Why it is narcissistic is that we're talking about Ourselves in such a dismissive and gloating manner. That is not the way to win friends and influence people. You can't build a community of concerned citizens by telling them "Most of you are going to die". All you get out of that is a nihilistic cult.

This does not invalidate their position: there is a non-zero probability that we could see a massive die-off in the next 30 years. How? If nations do nothing to prepare for a post-petroleum world, and are then hit with avian flu and regional nuclear resource wars - that would pretty much insure the elimination of about 80% of the human race, right off the bat. Between the starvation, the disease, and the radiation, there wouldn't be much left to work with.

However, I don't see that as a genuine likelyhood - more as a possibility that becomes increasingly probable if specific conditions aren't met. One of the factors that will most greatly mitigate against such a massive and immediate die off is Community. People working with people to the collective good. One development toward said community is this blog. I know this is not the first blog regarding this issue, nor will it be the last. But it's the one you're reading now, and so, in this immediate sense, we share an attention and can form a community, however temporary it is as you read this, of two.

You, my dear reader, and I are now linked together - from the words I type at 9.30 in the morning on a cool grey Tuesday to whenever and where ever you read them - we can communicate - you can leave a comment below, and we can discuss ideas. There are other blogs and I will be collecting links to them.

The first one you will see to your right, under the "Blogs" heading, is to the New York City Oil Drum blog - run by PeakGuy. He writes well and with precision about energy issues related to New York City - eevrything from Bike Lanes on Second Ave to more philosophical and insightful issues regarding the social integration of Peak Oil theory. Check him out!

In order to avert true catastrophe, we will all need to "pull together". To quote Ben Franklin - "We must hang together or surely we will all hang separately." Local groups need to take action to get their neighbours aware of the problem and working to immediate mitigation solutions. This can be on very small scales: just getting the old geezer across the street to use CFL bulbs and to turn off his porch light at night is a good first step. Things scale from there. If each city works at that level, we can see significant mitigation efforts come to fruition - everything from community food banks and backyard farm associations to neighbourhood energy management via windmills.

The facts are plain to see - we're quickly approaching or have actually arrived at Peak Oil. The time to act is now, before it all hits the fan. If we wait for it to hit the fan, it will be too late. Community organising at a neighbourhood level is easier than organising at a state or national level. This is especially true if such organisations are helped and/or guided by local government. Officials in local government need to be educated on the facts of the issue, and need to understand what is at stake for their constituencies, including the mayor or the county supervisor. If approached properly, they can be brought on to help in the process, and could actually be a source of funding to get these programs going and co-ordinated.

Every community has its own priorities and complexities, so there can never be a top-down formula for success. That's why local organising is critical - each community will have its own set of skills and needs and if organised from the bottom up, and then co-ordinated across from larger city-wide/county/regional perspective, significant mitigation efforts can be brought to bear and all uniquely tailored and perfectly fitted to the local conditions.

In future entries I hope to feature more about such efforts. An immediate example that comes to mind is what is going on in Willets, California.

There is also this interesting article regarding Local Governments Role in the Transition to a Post-Petroleum Society.

If we organise ourselves now, we can more easily ride out the storm later - we can Transition to a Post-Petroleum World instead of Collapsing Into It. This is not to say such a transition will be painless - on the contrary - we are looking at some difficult times ahead. But difficult is better than the bleaker visions of the more extreme theories surrounding Peak Oil.

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I've noticed that many blogs use Google Ads to support themselves. I am considering much the same - so over the next few weeks you might see a major adjustment to the appearance of Early Warning.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Victory Conditions

Let's pretend that people were the size of mice and consumed the ratio of resources of a mouse to an average ethiopian, the earth could possibley sustain 100 billion or even more of us. But that's not how we're built - we're bigger and require more food and space. In order to procure the basics of food, clothing, and shelter, we need (X) resources and when said resources are divided among ever larger numbers of people, the amount per capita goes down. As it is presently structured, the USA/Canada, Japan, and Europe (.i.e. the First World and the now quickly ramping up China and India) consume way more resources than the earth can possibly provide and this is clearly going to come to a halt (not an end) fairly soon in an historical sense.

If we could reduce the resource consumption per capita by some crazy multiple, there wouldn't be a problem. So: the challenge is clear: how do we get from point A (here, today) to point B (there, later) with the least amount of catastrophic events? Continued research (combined with consciousness raising, appropriate energy policy decision making, grassroots mobilisation, consumption reduction, etc.) may lead to other innovations to help us get to point B.

I think an interesting problem is some thing I discussed several weeks ago, and got some, but not much response on:

What IS a CRASH?

I'll paraphrase/modify the previous discussion - if the end result of a Crash is defined as "living in tents and chasing buffalo" but it takes 200,000 years to get there, IS IT A "CRASH"? How about 100,000 years? Or 5,000 years? Or 1,000 years? Or 500 years? It seems the closer we get to present day, the more it is seen as a "Crash". Therefore: the "crash" does not exist, and will not exist except in the sense that it becomes an object of perception and experience.

What constitutes Victory over the Energy Crisis? Would a gradual transition to "living in tents and chasing buffalo" ever be considered a Victory? If so, and it takes 200,000 years to get there, then is the Crash ans the Victory the same thing? If so, then the nihilist wing of the Cassandran position comes to the fore: rather than wait to live in tents and chase buffalo in 200,000 years, make it happen by 2015.

However, this only has weight with the assumption that "living in tents and chasing buffalo" is a Victory. If it is not a victory condition, then other issues come to the fore, by necessity, depending on the choice of victory conditions. As a consequence, I see a lot of gloating on the part of the Cassandras and a lot of pigheadedness on the part of the cornicopians. As I have also noted, the Cassandras have a really good stick, and the cornicopians have a pretty weak looking carrot. However - if we are to prevent catastrophe, the Cassandran position must be maintained in order to goad the populace into action. However, the innovations by the Cornicopians shouldn't be dismissed out of hand as a "day late and a dollar short".

I think it is of paramount importance that we establish Victory Conditions. Once we figure out what is required, we can set about inventing our way to such targets. If we don't establish Victory Conditions, then we'll be on the same hamster cage roller as the capitalist system itself: not knowing where it's going, but getting there really fast.

It is also imperative that Crash Conditions be defined relative to Victory Conditions - as I noted above, it is a simple matter to define them as identical at some great distance in the future. Since such a scenario is of a remote probability, Crash conditions need to be defined in near term points, and the Cassandran position is very clear on this. The only problem is this: a near-term crash could create a logical condition of irrelevence.

Socrates is a man
All men are mortal
: Socrates must die

The problem is: in order to prove the middle you'd have to kill everyone including yourself, in which case, the point is moot. The same goes for the Cassandra position: if the worst fears are realised, then it simply doesn't matter. Therefore, the Cassandran position fails to persuade, and (worst of all) actually gives ammunition to the Cornicopians, only this time, it's live Ammo, because people will suffer because of it.

Therefore, the logic of the Cassandran position must always be a few years away - not next year - maybe five, 10, 25 years away - much like the cornicopian brags of plenty. (I'm thinking of Kurzweil's idiotic notions of the SIngularity occuring around 2030 - very convenient for it to happen AFTER HE'LL LIKELY BE DEAD.) These projections have to be in the future - if they were immediate and imminent, then there would be the loss of face and credibility should they not occur.

This brings me back to my point earlier about perception. If we define the crash as "no grid, all food locally and organically grown, a reduced self powering communications infrastructure, decentralised government and currency" and it takes 30 years to get there, IS IT A CRASH? If it happens so slowly that it takes two or three or five generations to complete, the perception of any given generation will be one of great hardship, but not "Crash".

That's why I think it is of critical importance that there be a debate about Crash and Victory Conditions. The sooner we get that out of the way, the sooner we can set about correcting or at least managing the situation.

Mister Studebaker

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Down on the Farm

It's been a busy T-day season for Mr. Studebaker.

Thursday was, of course, the day for feast-induced somnambulism. After eating enough turkey to induce a coma in a bengal tiger, we sat around and watched a documentary about Jeff Koons. He was extensively interviewed in the film, and I am more convinced than ever that Jeff Koons is a charlatan and anyone who invests in his crap is an utter fool. There was a segment where he demonstrated a model for a giant sculpture - It would be a HUGE structure from which a steam locomotive would be suspended, pointing down. Once a day it would run, emit a lot of steam, the wheels would turn, and the whistle would blow. Then it would slowly stop.

The kicker? He said it might end up in Los Angeles...

Perfect: the largest American city best known for having the lousiest public transportation system for a city of its size and having willfully dismantled one of the largest trolley systems in the world, housing this desecration of the iron horse. BRILLIANT! I can only think of one coupling as a better marriage: Jeff Koons and Las Vegas. The "sculpture" should adorn the parking lot at the Belagio...

The interviewer, the incomperable dumbass, Tom Ford, asked the camera "Is he for real, or is he just full of shit?"
The Answer from this audient: "He's simply full of shit." Tom Ford interviewing Jeff Koons... "Mr Pot? I'd like you to meet Mr Kettle."

After that we sat around, chatted about the movie where we came to a collective agreement about Jeff Koons, drank some coffee, ate sugary desserts, sobered up, and I made my way home.

Friday I slept the tryptophan coma off, and woke up in time to go to Arlo Guthrie's Fortieth anniversary of the Alice's Restaurant Massacree. Yes, 40 years to the day, Arlo and his compatriots were arrested for littering, and a few years after that, he wrote the song about it, and the rest, as is often said, was history.

Arlo was amusing, insightful and kind. I enjoyed the concert very much. His daughter and her husband opened the show. He, John Irion, was very good - a nice voice and a decent guitarist. She was less of a guitarist, but sang like an angel and is very beautiful in both form and countenance, i.e., she’s gorgeous. Then a band called the Mammals played. Some of there stuff was utter dreck, but much of it was very good. Their last song was a rousingly funny and pointed critique of the plutocratic bastards in the White House. Arlo was excellent. Arlo had an interesting insight that really inspired me, which I will get to later...

Saturday, I hopped into my tiny little car, fed the squirrels under the hood, and made my way out to the rural outer regions of Eastern Pennsylvania. I grew up in NJ, near New York. I know very little of this area beyond New Hope or Scranton. What I saw did not impress me.

The description was that we would be having a fabulous dinner in a farmhouse located on 170 acres of land. I was looking forward to seeing how a small farm operates, and what was going on with the area in general. What I learned was deeply valuable and instructive. We often read about the predations of suburbia sprawling into the hinterland, indeed, Darrell Clarke brought this article to my attention which discusses the idiotic psychology of the McMansion phenomenon, where people cheerfully buy gigantic homes they can't possibly use, just because they can. This phenomenon is in full swing in Eastern PA. I drove past acre after acre of houses, arranged in pseudo-communities with pretentious Anglophilic names on the order of "Buckingham Fox Run" or "Durham Mews" or some other drippy nonsense. Of course, each neighbourhood

(note: I use British spellings in general as I spent a lot of time overseas, and frequently correspond with people in Australia, the UK, NZ, and Canada - so my use of the spelling is out of respect and laziness, not pretense.)

has a sign attached to a cobblestone wall that has the name of the "community" carved into wood and adorned with fake gold paint or composition gold leaf. Both of which use brass as a colourant which is oddly and sadly symbolic.

The devastation of Eastern Pennsylvania by the blight of McMansioning is well documented in this webpage.

The farm house I was in wasn't directly surrounded by these monstrosities, but they weren't far off. They sat a few farms over, like giant hulking dinosaurs dressed in cheap poorly fitting barn suits sleeping in expensive shrubbery. One of the owners of the farm where I was to have dinner had sold most of the land to other farmers, and the land was presently being used for growing sod for these horrible McMansions. This left the house standing alone in a giant lawn. And we all know what kind of miracles ripping up sod does for the topsoil.

The old woman who lived in the house was very sweet, kind, and sharp as a shiny razor. She had been born in that house shortly after the First World War, and would likely die there. Her family had built the house in 1865. While it appeared to be in excellent condition, some of the other guests explained to me that its technology needed upgrading – the electrical system was antique, the plumbing was delicate, the water system was inconsistent, and the gas for the stove had been recently repaired. In the middle of the house was a giant hearth big enough to park a smartCar. The old stove had long since been removed, and it was now mostly for ornament. The house had been switched to oil heat back in the 1930s. In fact, she talked about how her school had shifted from a “potbellied stove” to oil heat in the early 1930s, and everyone was so amazed at the modern convenience of fast reliable heat.

The walls of the house were easily 18 inches thick, and at points more like 20 – 24 inches thick. The ceilings were low – most were barely 7.5 feet tall, often lower. The rooms were many and small with very few closets. Clearly a house built around the energy system at the time – wood – as produced by the giant hearth, which, in its day, undoubtedly heated the entire building. The kitchen was next to the hearth, and while it had the “modern conveniences” of a gas stove, a microwave oven and refrigerator, they seemed oddly, even comically, out of place - like Groucho Marx’s small narrow face adorned with his huge painted moustache and eyebrows.

We ate a massive Thanksgiving Dinner that couldn’t be beat, and had happy pleasant conversations. After dinner, we talked more over some sugary desserts, and my friend and I dazzled our dinner mates as we had our machines do something like the Vulcan Mind Meld Trick and exchange data over the Firewire cable. She now has a week’s worth of music for her listening pleasure…

After that, the sun set quickly in a dazzling orange blast over the trees behind the sod fields, and people left quietly in pairs. I left at the same time as my friend and her husband, and after hugs and photographs, I drove off alone into the night, thinking about this place – eastern Pennsylvania – and how it is an ecological failure thanks to the vanity and stupidity of these greedy dullwitted exurbanites. I saw it as a tragedy, and I was happy that it was dark out so I didn’t have to look at acre after acre of the hideous monstrosities these knuckleheads call home. I turned on the radio and listened to a variety of stations – finally settling on one that alternated between the theme songs of ancient TV shows and punk rock. “Hey Ho Silver - Away!” “Here we are now, entertain us!” “Caspar the Friendly Ghost” “Your future dream is a shopping spree!” “My Mother the Car. . .” “Kill kill kill kill kill the poor. . .” Eventually that faded out and there was little left to listen to except Classic Rock or Hip Hop stations, neither of which I find that interesting – there is something pathetic about being caught between the middle class suburban mystified bleatings of Fleetwood Mac and some abusive ghetto dwelling dumb ass shouting about being some kind of a tough thug, something that I find utterly depressing. And that it was all broadcast to my car, for my “entertainment”, indicates a deep moral depravity and absence of imagination, such that my mind reeled in anger and frustration. So I turned off the radio and sang to myself.

When I arrived where I am presently hanging my hat, my friends were watching “Gangs of New York”. Now there was a nasty bunch of corrupt and violent thugs – these people make the crack dealing rapper thugs of today look like the dimwitted amateurs they actually are. In the film, New York is portrayed as it was, a corrupt and violent hellhole and San Francisco is seen as a distant dreamtime. I look forward to leaving the New York area and returning to San Francisco to be with Mrs. Studebaker and little Avanti – but that’s a personal discussion not for the dear readers of Early Warning. . . What was interesting was the vision of New York City prior to petroleum. A dim and filthy place, filled with muddy streets of horse shit, the smoky air heavy with coal and wood fire, the clothing rough and in neutral shades of brown and black, and everyone’s hair flat and often greasy from a lack of shampoo and conditioner. Was it 150 years ago, or 150 years in the future?

Are we that far from it all? Half of my ancestors arrived after 1864 – they arrived in the New York City of the 1890s from boats arriving from St Petersburg Russia, Gdansk Poland, and Konigsberg, Prussia. They were leaving societies that were pre-petroleum and arriving in a nation that was just about to spin into the stratosphere of consumption and power. They would have been contemporaries of the parents and grandparents of the woman who lived in the farmhouse where I had a Thanksgiving dinner that couldn’t be beat.

It’s hard to blame them for having so many children – in the old country it was a survival strategy. So few children would live to adulthood, having children was a numbers game – out of five or six, two or three might survive, and it had been this way for the past 200,000 years. But in the 1890s and 1900s it all changed. Modern medicine and all the other luxuries permitted by petroleum came and re-arranged society. 30 some odd years the potbellied stove was gone from the rural schoolhouse, replaced by an oil-burning furnace. Soon, the population exploded and housing developments appeared where farms had stood and the schoolhouse, with it thick walls of stone, small wooden windows, and peaked wood roof, itself was replaced by a “modern” school with a flat roof, acres of metal encased glass, and oil furnaces.

Here we stand at the cusp of a new world – our petroleum crutch slowly withering beneath us as we speak and our bloated population of wage slaves stupefied by pointless entertainment and luxuries unimaginable by previous civilisations. Some of us are working to prevent a catastrophe that seems increasingly likely with every passing day that the world sits in its self-satisfied ignorance, but the message is not one people want to hear: that – barring some miracle or three - they will have to use less and less energy, forever.

There is room for hope – technologies continue to develop and come online every day. There is a possibility that catastrophe will be avoided – but every day the sheeple of this world continue to adhere to idiotic superstitious notions of an antiquated religious decree to procreate and dominate the planet, to obsequiously follow the whims of witless, corrupt, and incompetent imperialist leaders, and continually fatten themselves and their scatterbrained children on an ill-gotten bounty of ignorance and greed, the catastrophe inches that much closer. It cozies up, like the final stages of heroin addiction, where the joy and rush of the drug is gone, and all that is left is the scrounging and theft to feed the addiction, all motivated by a dread and paralysing fear of what lies ahead without the drug.

This is a catastrophe that can and must be avoided, but it will only be avoided if everyone gets with the program, and does so immediately. The call is now. We must heed it. The rising industrial nations of China and India haven’t as far to fall, nor do they consume as much as the USA and Europe – which is why the hardest, largest, and most necessary reductions in petroleum use must begin with the USA and Europe. Quitting the addiction now will serve us well later. Quitting cold turkey from a habit as intense as ours is not possible – it must be prefaced with reductions. But these reductions must begin immediately so we can use what remains of the petroleum gift to fuel the start of a post-petroleum future.

And this brings me back to Arlo - he had the audience singing along to his dad's song "This land is your land, this land is my land" when in the middle he stopped. The band stopped and looked at him and he went on a typically elliptical rant, that went something like-

"When a thought comes by, you jsut gotta grab it when it's there, and I was thinking about how powerless people feel - like they can't change anything, and I was thinking of Joseph, from the Bible, and how he had this really neat coat, and he wouldn't do anything, and his brothers got all pissed off and decided they'd kill him or sell him into slavery. So one day his brothers went off into the fields to work. His father came by and told him to get off his ass and help his brothers work. So Joseph got up and went out and couldn't find them, and this guy just happened to be there and said "They went that-a-way" and so Joseph went in that direction, found his borthers, was sold into slavery and had all kinds of terrible times. He ended up in a prison cell with all kinds of mean ugly nasty people - funny how that doesn't change - and the meanest nastiest ugliest one of all was having problems with bad dreams. And so Joseph fixed his dreams and the big mean dude said "I'll remember you for that" and was released soon afterward. He got a job with the pharoah, and the pharoah was having problems with dreams, so the big mean guy who was a slave for the Pharoah said "I know just the fellow" (and he told the rest of the story about Joseph getting in good with pharoah, etc.) and then he invited his family to live with him and after that there was Moses and Jesus and the whole religious thing that continues on today. And who have we got to thank for it all? Some anonymous guy in the desert who said "They went that-a-way" - because without him, none of the rest would have happened!"

And I think that's important to remember. We all contribute to the effort - the human world is big and complex, but it is closed and finite - everything affects everything else. The more each of us contributes and points "that-a-way" the more people will understand that it's the way to go.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Goin' out behind the barn

Many years ago when I was about 12 years old (or 11? I don't remember...) a friend turned me on to a record called "LEMMINGS" by National Lampoon. It's a parody of the Woodstock Music Festival, which becomes the "Woodchuck Festival of Peace, Love, and Death" where the audience is exhorted to commit suicide by the end of the show. There are a variety of wonderful send-ups performed by John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Christopher Guest, Paul Jacobs, and Alice Playten. One of the songs is called "Positively Wall Street" - a hysterically funny parody of Bob Dylan by Christopher Guest. If I recall correctly, the chorus goes:

"goin' out behind the barn.
I'm chewin' on a piece of hay.
I'm up to my knees in cow shit.
I'm shovelin' my blues away...yeah..."

And, in the spirit of such rural concerns, I am going to be spending tomorrow on a farm. A friend of mine from graduate school has invited me to a Big Whompin' Monster Meal at her mother-in-law's farm (this way I get to finally meet her hubby as well - after 4 years, one would think, but - life is bizarre that way sometimes...) This should be *very* interesting. I'll be examining this area through the lens of peak oil concerns, and will report back what I find. The MomInLaw (who is pushing 80 years old) is a Quaker and grew up on this very farm. It will be interesting to see how she does things today, and compare them to how she did them when she was a child.

I'll be looking at a variety of aspects relative to the "Sustainability" of such places. It should be quite a learning experience.


Thursday, November 24, 2005

Early Warning

I got the idea for Early Warning while sitting in my car listening to Godley and Creme's tune "Random Brainwave" and thinking about how I might be better at helping, in some small way, the human species not eradicate itself just yet.

The lyrics go like this:

Early warning
Stranger on the radar
Ripple in the wavelength
Leave it in the hands of fate.

Nobody noticed the difference in the readout
The sadness in the answer
A twist in the logic -



Low-key discussions
Rumble round the test-bed
Egg-heads in a huddle
A softening of the solid-state.

Static alphabet
Rigid stabbing monotone
There's positive or negative
But no inbetween!

Are you looking through a broken pair of eyes
Are you ill-equipped to hear me?
(Random brainwave groping for receivers)

Are you one of the cogs
Too busy probing the pleasure centres of dogs
To get near me? Get near me.

Nobody noticed
The difference in the readout
The sadness in the answer
A twist in the logic
- leave it in the hands of fate.

The song is a bit of a preamble for the following track - I Pity Inanimate Objects which is one of the greatest, if most peculiar, songs. But the lines that are shouted ARE YOU DEAF? ARE YOU BLIND? and the line "Are you one of the cogs..."

I dislike the idea of being any kind of a cog for anyone, and I was thinking, perhaps I should make a blog. I've made them before, but this would be more focussed. And I thought about the first line of the song I was listening to: "Early Warning". I tried out using Yahoo's 360, and found it totally inadequate, and moved everything over to Blogger. I selected a template, modified it so it conforms more to my liking, and here we are!

I'm exhausted from eating turkey all day, so I will turn in presently and post something useful later today or tomorrow.


Happy Peak Oil Day (?)

Today is Thanksgiving Day, where citizens of the United States give thanks for all the crap they've stolen from everyone else. First it was the Indians, then it was Mexico (France cashed out when the gettin' was good), then it was Spain, and ever since then, the world has been America's target. And how did America do it? Oil. Black Gold. Texas Tea. Well the first thing you know, Uncle Sam's a trillionaire, and his advisors said "Sam - fly away from here" They said "The Middle East is the place you oughta be!" So they loaded up the planes and bombed the Iraqis - for the oil that is... black gold... Texas Tea...

I suppose it is meet and right to give thanks, even if you are a lugubrious empire of plutocrats and prisoners, guards and soldiers, unwilling wage slaves and obsequious lackies.

And let us give thanks that the lights are still on, eh?

Acccording to Ken Deffeyes, Today (or sometime right around today) will prove to be Peak Oil Day - from here on out, it's all downhill.

Frankly, I don't think he's correct - from what I can gather, Peak Oil Day is probably another 5 years off - but I am willing to be wrong on that. In the greater scheme of things, it seems that 5 years doesn't amount to a whole lot of anything. Heck - it seems that Portishead goes that long between records... However - 5 years here, 5 years there - pretty soon, it adds up to something useful. But more on that later.

The interesting part of such a notion is: What Exactly Is Peak Oil? When the pumping of crude goes into irreversible decline? There are several alternatives to liquid crude oil - tar sands, vegetable oil, even shale oil and methane hydrates. Yes, they all have fairly miserable ER/EI ratios, but one can get oil (or at least fuel) out of those sources.

This, of course, dodges the question as to whether it is in our best interests to go down that path at all, and I think that is where the real debate lies. I tend to think it is not, and the reason is simple: climate change due to CO2. Of all the "oil sources" vegetable oil is the one that can be carbon neutral. However, the cultivation of vegetable oil requires huge swaths of land for "oil harvesting" at today's energy consumption rates. And given the arrival of India and China on the "Modern Lifestyle Scene" I don't see the consumption of high density liquid energy going down anytime soon - not to mention the morality of growing huge amounts of food (soybeans, etc.) to be burned up in some fat ass suburbanite's SUV so they can schlep their mewling Ritalin addled obese crotchfruit to and from Soccer Practice.

This, of course, brings us back to Peak Oil. What's it going to be?

Recently the libertarian dorks (Have you noticed I have a really bad attitude? Deal.) over at WIRED published an article that basically says "Technology Will Save Our Fat Asses". They are of course, only half right. Technology WILL change things, but it won't save the fat - it will save the thin...

Jebus said "A rich man can go to heaven as a camel may pass through the eye of a needle." The "Eye of the Needle" was one of the gates of Jerusalem. Back in those days, roving hordes of assholes would run rampant across the landscape - chopping, burning and killing each other and anyone in sight. If you liked the idea of indoor living and a peaceful life, you had to wall off your city. The gates in and out were often small - barely large enough for a person to go through. Often there was a single large main gate for horses and camels and other large things to pass, but most of the egress was done by way of the smaller gates - hence: The Eye of the Needle as a nickname for an especially minor gate, and the difficulty in getting a camel through one.

The world is facing just such a gate - an energy gate. And FAT countries, like the USA, are less equipped to get through it. Their citizens aren't trained in methods of restraint and preservation - all they know is excess and waste. The Kogi living in the hills of Peru will survive much better than the poor bastards living in the slums of the Bronx or East LA or Newark NJ or the rich slime moulds living in the Hamptons, Beverly Hills, or Short Hills NJ. What is "Rich" in this context is not money - you can't eat money or put it in your tank - what is "Rich" is one's energy diet...

This doesn't mean that we're (necessarily) facing some kind of a massive die-off. We ARE facing such a die off, if things don't change and change fast. But if we immediately instill some serious policies to curb the use of oil, we can extend the Peak Plateau for another five years, maybe ten. If we get really good at it, maybe fifteen. This will allow us the time to put into practice new lifestyles that are:

a: inherently lower in energy use
b: inherently richer in social content
c: able to get us through the "eye of the needle"

The important thing to remember is that in this particular case, once you're through the eye of the needle, you're not back in open space. You're in The City. It will be crowded and delicate, and require enormous ingenuity to keep from going into a die off. Which is why another part of the lifestyle change will have to be:

d: a voluntary die off.

Basically: a massive global population reduction program. The Third World (South) will tend to have higher death rates from disease and poverty than the First World (North), but because the North is gobbling up all the goodies, it is the North that needs to reduce its population the most and really get on the stick. Luckily, there are some few signs that such is actually happening - many European countries are going into population decline, and this is good. If I recall correctly, the same would be true of the USA if it wasn't for immigration (legal or otherwise).

By my calculations, the world needs to lose at least 100 million people more per year than it gains, and continue that number for about 100 years before we are at a sustainable population. At that point, the City will be smaller, cleaner, and much more capable of keeping the human project going.

I'm not a doomsayer - I'm not a total Cassandra. BUT: I'm not stupid and I can see the writing on the wall. We need to mobilise, and do it now.

Well, maybe not now. It is Thanksgiving. I'll chat this up at the dinner table, so we can get people thinking tomorrow. The bigger the boat, the slower it turns...

would you be so kind as to pass me the gravy? Thanks...

Stuart Studebaker

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Some Real Info

Today, I'd like to post some important information that tends to make the case for the Cassandras among us

Right Around Katrina this news broke - that OPEC announced the peaking of production of Light Sweet Crude.

and if that isn't enough to give you shivers,

The Kuwaitians (Kuwaitis? Kuwaitlanders? Whatever) have annoucned the peaking of production in their largest oil field.

So, it doesn't take Albert Freakin' Einstein to puzzle out that the Middle East Oil situation is Not A Good One. Obviously, the fields under Iraq are probably pretty good - they've been blown to flinders since 1991, and production there has been limited, making Iraq a kind of petrol laden piggy bank. But that's only going to hold for so long, and then bingo: right back to where we started.

If you have been living under a rock lately, you might not know that a Really Good Movie is released as of today, and will go nationwide as of 09 DEC 05. It's called SYRIANA and it stars George Clooney and Matt Damon and a bunch of other rich Hollywood stars who often get paid millions to tell the stories of ordinary working class Americans. Well, in this case, I think they play more affluent characters, but I can never resist misquoting Firesign Theatre, the closest thing the cultural sinkhole of the USA ever came to producing something even vaguely equal to Shakespeare. You are under STRICT instructions to go out and see this damn movie. NOW! Tell your parents to see it and THANK THEM for LEAVING US A RUINED PLANET AS THEIR LEGACY. I'm expecting little Avanti to give me a similar lecture in about 10 years...

Locally (right now I'm in New York City - just like I pictured it) the nimrods at the helm of Air America decided to pull the plug on Mark Maron on the Morning Sedition radio show. When I schlep my ass to work in the AM, I like listening to him - he's funny and often insightful. I learned a word from him - "Sheeple" as in "WAKE UP SHEEPLE! THESE PLUTOCRATS ARE OUT TO KILL YA!" If you also like Maron's work, you should sign the damn petition to keep him on the air and save the program. Why? Because he's funny. Not like these things ever work, but hey - it's worth a try...

Now. I MUST get to work now....


An Introduction

This is my second post to this new blog thing. Originally it was on an inferior product provided by Yahoo. Now it is here, in the biggest bloggingest place of all.

Some introduction is necessary - I am Mister Studebaker to you. If you insist on that informal California feigned intimacy way of doing things, you can call me Stuart, or S2 for super short-short.

Know this: our world is going to change more radically in the next 100 years than it has in the past 100 years. There is a non-zero probability that the whole fucking shithouse'll blow up. There's another non-zero probability that we'll be sitting on easy street sippin' 40s til we die. Frankly, I find that less likely than the probability of the whole fucking shithouse blowing up.

I've been subscribing to the Energy Resources List for a while, and have contributed to the discussion there. It's a Yahoo Group, and you can subscribe to it HERE to read my latest drooling rants there.

To be clear about the subject of this blog - the coming energy crisis and the disruptions to follow it:

I see two fundamental camps forming: the Cassandras and the Cornicopians. I used to call the Cornicopians the Panglossians, but I think Cornicopian is more appropriate.

My position is about 20% Cornicopian and 85% Cassandran. Yes, that adds up to more than 100%. That's because the Cassandran position is a lot stronger than the Cornicopian position, but the Cornicopians DO have some few points that are quite strong. As time goes on with this blog, these differences and points will become clear.

My position is largely Cassandran because:

a: It's a stronger argument that conforms more closely to the evidence at hand.
b: I like the name and the myth. I know a few women named Cassandra, and they are all sharp as a tacks, witty, totally gorgeous, kind, and good people. I guess it was a popular name about 25 years ago. Whatever.
c: The people who support the cornicopian position tend to be a bunch of clueless dupes of the conspiracy with really lame taste in art, music, clothes, and film.

I encourage people to respond to what I post here. A few ground rules:

1. I'm allowed to cuss - you can too, but not at me.
2. I will do my best to respond in a timely fashion, but I have 2 busy careers going at once, and this blog thing is kind of new to me.
3. If you're wondering who I am, I am "Stuart Studebaker". This is pulled from my profile:

I post to the internet as misterstudebaker because it allows me to write crazy freaky weird shit and not give a jolly gawd damn. I live in San Francisco most of the time. It's a nice place. Crappy pizza, but the weather is usually really great - cold, damp, and foggy. At least on my end of town. Otherwise I can be found haunting places like New York City, Washington DC, Paris France, Seattle, and Los Angeles. I detest flying - I consider it a total waste of time - but until we have terabit broadband wired into petaHz computers, I will have to fly my fat (but slowly unfattening) ass around in a titanium plated oil burning missile bus to get my work done. On a personal level, I am married (happily) to the most wonderful woman on the planet - someone who actually can put up with my insanity. As far as you are concerned her name is Susan Studebaker. We have spawned, and we have a sweet little girl you can call Avanti Studebaker. Why we spawned with such a dire world ahead will be explained in another post at another time.

I guess that will do for now. I have to schlep my crazy brain home now.

best regards,

Mister Studebaker

A Much Better Deal...

This is the first post to this version of my blog. I first started using the beta of 360 on Yahoo, but it sucked so badly, I decided to go here to blogger. I'm going to transfer the posts I made on 360 over here as well.

more soon.


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