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Thursday, November 23, 2006

Reflections on Thanksgiving morning, 2006

For many – perhaps most – Americans, the last twelve months have been pleasant, prosperous, and abundant. We had a brief excursion to $3.00 per gallon gasoline, but the lack of hurricanes and the prospect of a mild winter let us enjoy a respite from high energy costs. The housing industry is having its trouble – perhaps due to the spike in energy mentioned above – but few care to believe the downward move will continue. Now, the Christmas shopping season will begin in earnest as we celebrate our religious or secular convictions with increased consumption.

I found myself on the expressway one recent evening at 6:00 PM. There were three lanes of cars in front of me, and the traffic had no gaps but was moving well. On the opposite side, a similar stream existed, moving less quickly. On either side of the road countless business of every description plied their wares and services. Within those businesses, employees waited on customers from the cars that filled the highway; owners depended on the profits generated by those same motorists.

Every one of those motorists was generating economic activity. Even if one was going to the library, or to visit a friend, they were burning fuel – fuel that cost money, fuel that generated jobs for the gasoline station attendant. Most would do more, purchasing meals, toys, tools, are amusements. This generated a realization; there can be no gentle powering down, no humane transition to a lower energy future. Our society depends on the activities fueled by cheap energy as surely as a living body depends on blood. Our economic body cannot survive on a reduced flow of energy.

Some argue that a silver bullet will be found to solve the incipient energy crises. More contend that some combination of silver bb’s will fill that role. We might reframe these as the great miracle camp, and the family of small miracles camp. In either instance, we must depend on a miraculous and unprecedented event. The faith of the proponents of such events is as devout as any religious zealot’s. The angry reaction to questions directed at their faith is equivalent to the fanatic’s. Neither camp is prepared to address the possibility that the miracle will not occur.

Different analysts project a variety of dates for global peak oil. Some like Thanksgiving of 2005; others prefer 2007 or 2008. Some project the event for 2010, and a few expect it to occur shortly thereafter. In any case, we are doing little to mitigate the problem. As a society, we hardly mention it. Perhaps our leaders know that they and we are powerless to change the awaiting destiny. That destiny will be upon us soon. Perhaps in the upcoming twelve months.

Of this I am certain – shortly after peak oil occurs, economic activity will begin a sharp, protracted, and irreversible decline. The economic suffering will be profound; it will segue into still deeper trouble that will end with the death of billions. Some of those will be our neighbors. Some will be readers of this posting. And there is nothing that can stop it.

So, on this Thanksgiving Day, slow down a bit. Savor the day. Taste – really, truly, taste – the food. If you’re with people you care about, enjoy their companionship. Focus on the present, on the now. Commit the day to memory.

Because, good reader – the time grows short.

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