My Daughter

My Daughter
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Saturday, February 19, 2005

Our Unreasonable and Uncertain Future

Change. The only constant is change. "Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine." We have heard this many times before. But, as a species, we are reluctant to change, even in the face of reams of empirical data showing we must. It would seem that most of mankind are just as unconscious of what they do while awake, as they are of what they do while they sleep. How do we tap into a "Think Ahead" philosophy that draws on hard-earned knowledge and experience to help anticipate what's coming and prepare for it?

Last weekend, I assisted with a viewing of “End of Suburbia” at our local library. We had a fair attendance and no one left during the presentation. Afterwards, we had a Q&A session where most people still remained. (If you haven’t seen this video yet, it is quite compelling, no matter what your world view.) A man in the back of the room stood up and asked, “Well, what do we do, then?”

I responded that we must prepare to pay a whole lot more for our energy and that the long-held beliefs about infinite growth will soon be laid aside. I opined that we should make every effort possible to get out of debt, make a concerted effort to constantly and consistently reduce our energy consumption, find a job closer to home, walk & ride a bicycle more, consume locally, and seriously consider whether our current occupation even has a future in a post-peak oil world.

The man responded, “What you are asking us to do is unreasonable!” “Most people cannot do these things you say!” My response was that this overwhelmingly demonstrates just how serious the coming crisis may be. We must start preparing now for this change in our lifestyle. Most certainly our government is not.

We have two factors driving this demand for change: Geological forces over which we have no control (peak oil production) and an exponential growth in energy consumption in countries like China and India. The average American consumes 25 barrels of oil a year. In China, the average is about 1.3 barrels per year; in India, less than one. The challenge is huge. For China and India to reach just one-quarter of the level of US oil consumption, world output would have to rise by 44 percent. To get to half the US level, world production would need to nearly double. That's impossible.

The only viable new source of fossil fuel energy lies buried in the minds of western industrialized consumers. First, we can tap the waste of energy through conservation efforts; although much of that agenda has already been undertaken during the 1980’s following the “political” oil crisis of the 1970’s. The easy fixes have been implemented; the hard choices are what remain.

Once the growing population consumes our conservation efforts, the pie will get smaller and our slice commensurately. We will have to learn to make do with less starting now, continuing into the foreseeable future. Our energy source then will come from a reduction in our standard of living, perhaps mirroring that of the third-world. What seems unreasonable now will soon become of absolute necessity. These changes will bring with them increased unemployment as millions derive their livelihood from the wanton waste and consumption of our industrial society, which is wholly dependent on cheap, readily available fossil fuels. There will be a return to manual labor, smaller de-centralized communities, and a return to the not-so-distant time when everyone was dependent upon his or his own productive skills for the necessities of life, rather than the “marketplace.”

What concerns me is how society will react to these changes. We will not go quietly into the dark night. It just won't seem reasonable.


WHT said...

Since you at least got some comments at your local library showing, I thought I would leave one here. Empty comments on a blog post for as serious an issue as this is pretty depressing.

Alas, I have no answer either.

Dan said...

Good post Monte. People are especially afraid of change when others around us are not changing, and our government and media are telling us not to change. No one wants to do it alone. People need to change in a group, encouraging each other along the way.

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