My Daughter

My Daughter
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Saturday, February 05, 2005

Peak Oil and Morning in America

The passing of the Age of Oil as we have known it, like the passing of any large idea, will have its recognizable effects, both immediately and over time. One reason we pay so little close attention to the sphere of energy production is that it has always been there and many of us presumed it always would be. As it disappears, its primal importance will be much clearer—in the same way that some people think they have put their parents out of their lives only to learn differently when the day comes to bury them.

There is sadness, or a shame really, of realizing how much more we could have done. We, all of us in the overly-developed countries, have participated in something of a binge, most of a hundred years of seemingly limitless prosperity and ease. We may have had some idea that it was a bit of a binge and that the earth couldn’t really support it for long, but aside from the easy tradeoffs, we didn’t do much to stop it. We sure didn’t turn our lives around to stop it, and we don’t want to change. This tidal force of biology continues to drive us, even when we know (as no lemming can) that we are seriously screwing up. I think our shame is the result of knowing we have so cavalierly defaced and marred the earth in the process, and most assuredly compromised the future of the generations to follow. The Indian never trusted the "White Man," as he appeared to the Indian as quite presumptuous; a quality they never fathomed. How could anyone presume to improve upon Nature, much less, out live it?

“The white man seeks to conquer nature, to bend it to his will and to use it wastefully until it’s all gone and then he simply moves on, leaving the waste behind him and looking for new places to take. The whole white race is a monster who is always hungry and what he eats is land.”
—Chiksika, elder brother of Tecumseh, March 19, 1779

Of course, all white men are not like that, but enough of them were that the Indian could not know differently. If the mass of man can think of a plausible or even implausible reason to discount peak-oil, he will. When Ronald Reagan ran for president against Jimmy Carter in 1980, he made his shrillest attacks on the notion that we were living in an “age of limits.” The energy crisis of the 1970’s was interesting; for a brief moment it actually unnerved us. But our tentative move towards alternative energies has always been half-hearted. By 1987 Americans alone had spent more than a hundred million dollars on leaf blowers to blow leaves rather than rake them. Even though the shadows are lengthening, to the over-leveraged, debt-encrusted ChinaMart shoppers, it somehow still seems like “morning in America.”

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