Wednesday, April 13, 2005

"Global Warning", interview w/ James Howard

The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of the Oil Age, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-first CenturyI have in front of me an interview with James Howard, a longtime critic of urban sprawl and the innefficiencies associated with it. With his latest book, The Long Emergency, he has joined the chorus singing the dangers of the Peak Oil story.

This is a more rational version of the "we're going to run out of oil" scenario. A bunch of scientists, beginning with Oil Company Geologist Hubbert, have put together a most enlightening and alarming story. What they've done is make a picture of the oil available, and the production levels. Charted over time the picture is very alarming.

A historical perspective on the Age of Oil. (ASPO newsletter #35)

The ASPO web site ( has more detailed pictures available, but the important message is conveyed in this one very well. There will be a peak in oil production capacity, and it will happen sooner rather than later. This isn't a cliff that once the world hits the peak, there's no more oil. Instead it's more of a mountain like in the above picture. Once we hit the peak, oil supply begins to decline but its still available.

The demand for oil is inexorably growing. Not only is there the organic growth in demand from the industrialized countries, but there are several countries currently experiencing hyper growth as they industrialize. Most especially India and China, and between the two of them they have 2/3rds of the worlds population.

Consider some basic economics. What happens when there is continued demand for a product, but the supply for that product cannot expand to meet the demand?

Doesn't the law of supply/demand dictate that the price for must product rise?

Consider the effects on the U.S. and world economy of a rising price for oil?

The availability of abundant energy is interwoven with every part of our societies existance. We couldn't live in suburbia, far from our jobs, without cheap energy. We couldn't afford well lit or well heated homes, without cheap energy. We couldn't afford to let our computers run 24x7, without cheap energy. Cheap energy supplies us with everything from plastics (that we tend to use once, and throw away) to airplanes, and everything in-between.

But the energy was "cheap" because we thought the supply of oil was limitless. Well, my friends, that was a pack of lies told to us by the leaders.

James Howard Kunstler: We poured our national wealth into the construction of a living arrangement that has no future -- and the future is now here. The infrastructure of suburbia can be described as the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world. It was deficient and problematic as a human habitat even apart from the question of its sustainability. The way we live in America represents a tragic set of collective and individual choices we made at a particular point in history, the mid-to-late 20th century, when circumstances seemed to suggest there were no limits to our quest for comfort, convenience and leisure. These things turned out to be a poor basis for a value system and for an economy.

...The Germans and Brits are paying $5.50 a gallon and their societies are not collapsing. If they can handle $6 gas, why can't we?

The Europeans have very different ways of life and standards of living. They have cars but are not car-dependent, certainly not to the degree we are. They did not destroy their towns and cities. We did. They did not destroy their public transit. We did. They did not destroy local agriculture or the value-added activities associated with it. We did. If Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia got bumped off by a Wahabi maniac tomorrow and the West was put under a new oil embargo, the Europeans would still be able to get around. We would not.