Veg*n Cooking and Other Random Musings: The End of Suburbia? Peak Oil and Its Implications

Friday, May 30, 2008

The End of Suburbia? Peak Oil and Its Implications

Disclaimer: This post is not about food, this is one of my 'other random musings', if you are looking for food, scroll down to the next post. This is also a really long post, and it could have been much longer, but I figured I was pushing my luck in getting anyone to read this anyway. You have been warned. :-)

Second, the title for this piece, The End of Suburbia, is taken from a documentary by the same name. The film was highly influential in my life, and I would recommend anyone interested in the topic below watch the film.

Without further fanfare, enjoy yourself a 'J-Style Rant.'

So, if any of you knew me, you would probably be surprised that I haven’t written about the concept of ‘peak oil’ and its implications until now. Well, I have been reluctant, as peak oil is a complex topic and I’ve still barely been able to wrap my head around what it all means. I will spare the scientific explanation and instead refer you to others more knowledgeable and eloquent on the technical aspect of it than I am. For a more technical overview, I would recommend reading Kenneth Deffeyes, Colin J. Campbell, Jeremy Leggett, or M. King Hubbert himself (who came up with the theory of peak oil and illustrating oil reserves using the bell curve).

The purpose of this post is to lay out a ‘laymen’s’ summary of the concept of peak oil and what that means to, well, you and I really. The concept and what it implies is very important to me, as I feel it has the potential to change the way we do pretty much everything, and thus it has been one of the primary factors behind my recent lifestyle changes.

Let’s start with a brief overview of oil:

Oil is the driving force behind western civilization; it is hands down the most important aspect of our society and is what has allowed us, especially in the United States, to ‘party it up’ as we have been for last couple hundred years. Oil is involved in pretty much everything either directly or indirectly. I have challenged others before, and challenge you all again to find something in your homes that isn’t there directly or indirectly as a result of oil. We are oil; we wear it (synthetic fibers), eat it (petroleum based pesticides and fertilizers), and drive it (cars, obviously); our houses would not be as they are without it; the gadgets we have wouldn’t be here without it; the trinkets we have in our houses wouldn’t be here without it; I could go on and on.

I liken oil to an addiction, as many others do in the sense that we are unable to live without it and generally unwilling to accept the negative consequences our dependence on this ‘black gold’ has leveled upon us.

Brief Intro to the Concept of Peak Oil:

The United States was, not too long ago, the world’s oil producer; we had it coming out the wazoo! Business was booming and our society was progressing technologically by leaps and bounds – the standard of living for the average person rose significantly. Many thought the oil here would never run out. Well, except a geophysicist named M. King Hubbert. Hubbert realized that oil, being a finite (limited) resource would eventually run out, and he wanted to determine when that would occur. In the mid 1950s, Hubbert asserted that the United States’ oil production would peak sometime around 1970. He was looked at, as most are when they are the bearers of bad news, as a bit of a loon, and he wasn’t taken all that seriously. Turns out though, he was right. The United States peaked in oil production in 1971. Of course, nobody had an ‘aha!’ moment in 1971 when they realized that we peaked and that Hubbert was, in fact, right; it’s something that we saw in hindsight as we noticed the decline in domestic oil production.

What does this mean though, that the US peaked? Imagine a bell-shaped curve. Basically, in the United States’ oil producing heyday, we were quickly traveling up the steep part of the curve, meaning that each year, more and more oil was extracted from the ground. That is, until 1971, after that, our production leveled out and then went into terminal decline. This led us to becoming a net oil importer rather than exporter. This made for tricky foreign policy on the part of the US government as we now have to rely on others for our ‘fix’.

Well, When Will The World Peak Then?

This is a tough question that I, and really nobody else, have a solid answer to. There are many factors that go into calculating when the world will peak and many problems with the information we have to go on. Hubbert asserted later in his life that the world would reach its peak oil production in the late twentieth century, though the oil embargo of the 1970s and the resulting efficiency measures have likely pushed that off a bit. OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries), in a move that some say was to increase their revenues from the oil they export, changed their reported reserves in the late 1980s, even though no more new oil reserves had been discovered. Why did they do this? Well, I personally don’t know, but many theorize, and I agree, that it had to do with quotas. Basically, the amount of oil they were ‘allowed’ to pump was in relation to the amount of oil they had in reserve. The more oil in reserves the more one could pump and thus the more petrodollars that could be obtained, so why not inflate the numbers? We must remember long-term thinking isn’t something that many humans are all that great at.

How about new discoveries? The discovery of new oil fields peaked back in the late 1960s. This means that each year, as more and more oil is pumped from the ground to keep up with ever increasing demand, oil discoveries are on the decline. Not to mention, the fields they have discovered since then are ‘small’ in relation to say, Saudi Arabia’s massive Ghawar oil field.

Many of the world’s largest oil fields are aging. And the technology used to extract the oil at first wasn’t the most efficient and thus much oil was wasted, not to mention natural gas (another natural resource that is peaking in many areas), which is generally ‘flared off’, or essentially left to burn. The remaining oil – well, all that has been discovered – it’s in many of the regions of the world that aren’t very fond of us Westerners coveting their natural resources.

So when will we peak? Well, some claim that we already have, other, more conservative estimates say it could still be 10-20 years off. Basically though, many feel that we will peak in our lifetime.

What Does This Mean?

I think many, when they hear of the concept of peak oil, imagine it as this definitive moment when the world will end. It’s not like that. All peak oil says it that oil production will eventually peak, level off, and then go into decline. No biggie, right? We’ll still have half the oil left after all.

Well, not exactly. Things aren’t going to change overnight, this happens more gradually but there are still issues. The problem is three-fold: first is our level of reliance on the substance and that there is no silver bullet alternative to it (especially given all its applications, but more on that in a moment); the second is the growing world demand for a substance in decline; and third, most of the ‘easy’ oil (light sweet crude) has already been used up. So now we have to try to access countries’ ‘more difficult’ oil reserves such as the tar sands, shale, or heavy oil in Venezuela. Other oil, say in the Middle East, that’s politically difficult and beyond the scope of this piece.

On a large scale, this could mean major resource wars, when we realize that OPEC can’t up its production because the oil simply isn’t there, and that others are willing to fight for the remaining reserves in the less friendly places. On a more human level, it could mean a lot of hunger in parts of the world that have already experienced their fair share, as well as the possibility of our own affluent populations going hungry.

The End of Suburbia?

How is the decline in oil going to affect most of us? Well, probably in more of the same ways it already has, the prices of everything will continue to rise, and could to a point where many of the things we enjoy today are a thing of the past.

Most troublesome though is the literal infrastructure of America. America was built on the assumption of a never ending supply of cheap, abundant oil. If you live in America and have never been elsewhere, you probably don’t realize just how unique our country is and why. We have the most sprawling, inefficiently planned society in the history of industrial civilization. Many of us live so far from where we work that getting there any other way than driving is simply not an option. We live in unnatural suburbs, that mimic the ‘country life’, except as James Howard Kunstler notes, we get all the negative aspects of city and the country but none of the positive ones. People don’t know their neighbors, don’t want to talk to them, the ‘nature’ around them is in the form of cars, cars, and more cars, sitting outside of cookie cutter houses on streets named after the trees that once lived there. We don’t have access to fresh, local food, or decent public transportation, and the idea that we can change that overnight is laughable.

So what happens to those suburbanites when gas is $20 a gallon and they can no longer afford to drive to work? What happens when the grocery stores can no longer stock strawberries in February, at least not at a price that you or I could afford? More basically, how will we feed ourselves if we no longer have ready access to mass quantities of fertilizer and pesticides/herbicides? Our soil in most places now is dead for all intents and purposes and has merely turned into a medium with which we turn oil and natural gas into food. These are questions I grapple with everyday.

I think the title of James Howard Kunstler’s truly riveting book The Long Emergency is very illustrative. This is what we may see, in short a depression that doesn’t end, at least not while we’re still around. How could it be otherwise? The price of everything is inextricably linked to the price of oil, as it should be; it’s what makes this all possible.

Many quickly point their fingers to the alternatives: hydrogen powered cars, ethanol, nuclear, and so on. The problem here is these ‘solutions’ only touch on part of the energy shortage. These alternatives could provide much in the way of transportation and electrical power generation, but nukes can’t feed us. That is a big problem. Nor do I think any of these alternatives will really be viable in the near future. Many will point to organic agriculture in response to the food issue, but there are two problems with that. First, there is a lot of knowledge about actual farming that has been lost, the ability to understand the soil, climate, rainfall and how that will affect the crops, and so on. The second problem is that land that has been industrially farmed cannot just be switched over to organic agriculture. The soil is essentially dead and takes time to build back up, a long time if you are talking top soil, hundreds of years, which is time that we don’t have.

Conclusion:

I wish I could end this post with a ‘Here’s what to do’ plan, but unfortunately, I don’t have a crystal ball, nor do I see any solutions that will take care of these problems without creating their own set of problems. This is why I truly feel that our stupidity is intimately tied to our intelligence. We seem to have so many of these ‘it seemed like a good idea at the time’ moments, where we achieve an amazing feat only to find out that many of the problems that the ‘solution’ caused were not worth the ones ‘solved’.

Where I diverge from many people in my thinking is that I do not think we will go ‘backwards’, meaning, some tend to paint this picture that the post-petroleum world is going to look like times of old: no running water, people in horses and buggies, you get the idea. I don’t think that is what is going to happen here. Humans don’t go backwards, that’s not how we work. Technology is not all bad and definitely has its place. I still think we will have electricity, running water, the internet, and so on, but feel that our local communities will become much more vital to our survival, as we can’t just go buy bottled water or food from elsewhere if there is something wrong with ours. So in some ways a scaling back of society could be good for communities and humans in general. I really feel the robotic way most of us live now is not human.

What I can say is this, I have no idea what is going to happen, whether or not we will make the ‘right’ decisions, or how any of this will affect us – if at all, but at the very least, learning to live with a little less and in ways that don’t require oil is highly rewarding, even if done just for the sake of doing so. Our lives are so cluttered with stuff, work, etc., that most of us never stop to live. If our money is no longer worth anything or there is not much worth buying beyond our basic necessities, we will have to find other ways to spend our time, such as enriching our minds and connecting with others. Learning to live in ways that don’t require oil or at least not nearly as much, such as organic gardening, cooking and preserving your own food, getting around by food or bike, is good for the mind and body. And taking ourselves out of the ‘global stuff chain’ as much as we can will allow us to, well as a wonderful quote says ‘live simply so that others may simply live.’

In spite of all of this, I am a cautious optimist. I’ve seen what humans can accomplish when they are in a bind. We are highly ingenious, it’s just sad that, to this point, most of our ingenuity has been used to come up with more sophisticated ways of killing people. That aside, I do see some very positive things, mainstream individuals are starting to understand that things are not as they should be. And I don’t believe that humans are naturally selfish individuals, it wouldn’t have been in our evolutionary interest to be so – I think we were ‘programmed’ to be this way as a result of how our society has been shaped. With that said, once people understand, and then begin to accept what is happening, I think we will see progress. I just hope it comes soon enough.

Thanks as always for taking the time to read this novella. I could have gone into much more detail and I left many things out for the sake of not writing an entire book about the topic (though I probably could). I also don’t mention that this isn’t the only resource we rely upon that is getting to be in short demand, there is also talk of our running out of natural gas, potable water, arable land, and so on, but I focused on oil as I feel that, for most of the people who read this blog, this is going to be what affects you the most.

If you want to know more about the topic, I highly suggest reading The Long Emergency by James Howard Kuntsler, anything by Richard Heinberg, Michael Ruppert, Matthew Simmons (Simmons is an energy investor, he has a vested interest in knowing when supplies are going to run out), or Michael T. Klare, just to name a few, as well as those authors I noted earlier if you are interested in a more technical look at the topic. Also, if anyone questions any of the assertions made in this piece, or wants to know specific sources used, please just email me or leave a comment, I'd be happy to dialogue and provide my sources.

Update: A commenter, David, provided a link to an excellent source of information, which I thank him very much for sharing. This is an excellent 'crash course' as to the current state of things. It provides a comprehensive, though brief background on many complex topics, all interrelated, in an easy to understand manner. If any of you have the time, I highly recommend checking it out.

'Til next time!

10 comments:

shellyfish said...

Hi Jennifer, I did an Op. Ed. piece today on my blog, too (but there are cookies in another post...) :)
I think it's great that you took the time to post this eloquent summary of a scary situation. Here in Europe, people are very aware of how oil impacts their lives, but when I lived in the US, most people were a bit oblivious (we pay more for a quarter gallon what most in US pay for a full gallon).
As Ani Difranco said so well 'it is time to get off of this sauce'. :)

Paul said...

Shellyfish, I couldn't agree with your Ani Difranco quote more! I have been researching oil for the past few days because of my job and I have come to realize it is no good. We're just so used to it's implementation in everything we use that its hard to find a way around. Its a combination of great hassle and laziness. This article called The U.S. Oil Supply — A Look At Our Future Oil Needs I stumbled across is letting us know how much longer we have oil for and how its going to effect Americans primarily. But it seems to me that when America catches a cold the rest of the world catches the flu. So it might be a good thing for everybody to read and think about.

Thanks!

Rural Vegan said...

I thought that was a great summary of a very serious, complicated issue. It's something that my household is very passionate about. I'm not quite as optimistic about the future - I start wondering when people will start 'stock piling' gasoline, how that will drive up theft and violence, and because I live in such a rural area, I wonder how it will impact our emergency services as a hospital is already 30+ miles away. Drastic steps needed to start happening years ago, but yet we are way behind other countries in public transportation and alternative energies. Whatever happens, it won't be good and it will worsen if people keep their heads in the sand.

vegan addict said...

Wow Jennifer, what an amazingly insightful post. I really like the quote about living simply so that others may simply live. The problem with our world is that so many people live without thinking of the future, because they think it won't affect them. Urg...For example, is is really necessary to ride in that Hummer limo for one night? Or, must people really drive to and from work every day if they have access to public transportation? I see stuff like this all the time (we all do, I'm sure) and it bums me out.

M said...

What a well-written and thoughtful overview! May I link to this and pass it on to others?

David said...

Jennifer,

Just a comment on your hopeful expectation: "I still think we will have electricity, running water, the internet, and so on..."

What come as a surprise to those who critically evaluate this issue is the fact that natural gas and coal are rapidly approaching the limits of extraction and usage. These are the primary fuels of electrical production. The probability of the national grid collapsing within 30 years is high, if not assured. Running water, the internet, sewage treatment, irrigation...they are all contingent on electrical energy.

The most difficult reality to comprehend and accept is that no combination of alternative energies can come even close to providing the energy density of oil, nor can any of them be used as the feed-stocks for our plastics, medicines, and over 500,000 other products and chemicals. Without oil, we cease to live the lives of comfort and convenience we have become accustomed to. Solar electricity can't produce tires, clothing, or fertilizers. Hydrogen is not an energy source, only a inefficient storage device. And any alternative energy source is wholly dependent upon fossil fuels for it's extraction, transport, and distribution, and ongoing maintenance.

To better understand this critical limitation, review the concept of the Cubic Mile here: http://spectrum.ieee.org/jan07/4820/ncmo01 and here: http://www.theoildrum.com/node/2186 This work was done by the respected IEEE, the world's largest professional technology association.

The laws of thermodynamics ultimately constrain and limit us, and no combination of human inventiveness or money can make energy, only manage it.

Actually, if we were in fact capable of substituting another liquid fuel for oil, the net effect would be the collapse of our modern lives in an even faster and more assured manner. This concept is a little difficult to get your mind around, but every efficiency we exploit only works against us by speeding up the process.

Peak Oil is a symptom, not a problem. The problem is recognizing that we live in a finite world, where resources must be used with restraint and consideration. We as a society have never done so because humans are not capable of such. And it's just not oil that is in ever more expensive short supply; as water, top soil, minerals, rare and precious earth metals, uranium, natural gas, etc. We are on the precipice of running out of everything.

The problem is unrestrained, exponential population growth. There are about 6.5 billion of us today with another 3 billion projected within 30-50 years. If you think we are constrained right now, imagine what the consequences will be with a third more people vying for the same finite resources. In short, it won't be possible.

Thank you for your time and good luck in your understanding of this issue.

Dave

Jennifer said...

Shellyfish - I guess we're all feeling a bit opinionated at the moment, eh?

Thank you so much, I really appreciate your kind comments. I understand that many in Europe, and, well, the rest of the world, seem to have more of a grasp on the situation that we here in the States do. I think that's sad as we are such a huge part of the problem. We don't really think about things until it hits our pocket books, at which point this sense of entitlement we're all 'trained' to have has us pointing our fingers at oil execs, the Third World, China, or whoever so as to avoid having to look at ourselves.

Ani did say it well.

Paul - Good analysis, it really is no good. While it has made life more 'convenient' and we are more mobile than ever before - think of the lives lost on the road each year, the traffic, congestion, smog, pollution, lost time and energy, and so on, you see that it really hasn't been worth it.

I think that many are also unaware. You have to remember, we are one of the only countries left that still questions the validity of climate change and the like. While other nations are forming action plans, taxing gas, and so on, we are still debating whether or not there is a problem.

I agree, we should be having a much broader dialogue about the issue.

Thanks for the link.

Rural Vegan - Thank you, truly.

I have to admit, most of the time I feel the way that you do. I think we just going to 'piss it all away'. Ever seen or heard of Mad Max or Planet of the Apes (the original)? I can also see things going that way too (well, maybe not the talking apes, but our destroying the planet as the ultimate parasite).

I just feel that for my own sanity, and especially when bringing the topic to the attention of others who may have never heard of the concept, it's best to maintain at least a shred of hope, or else people are going to wonder what the point of even trying to fix these problems is. Though, that I fear too, a lot of times when we try to 'fix' something, we end up worse off than before.

You also bring up points that I, as a city dweller, haven't really thought about - emergency services. This could most definitely be a critical issue. I have no idea what can be done about it. One thing I fear for cities is the water system. In rural areas, many people tap their own wells and don't rely on a centralized, power-gulping, water distribution system. I mean, the implications are really scary.

Vegan Addict - I really appreciate your comments. I wish I remember who said it, I want to say it's a Native American proverb, but I'm probably wrong.

We do see stuff like that all the time. I hear people in Columbia complain about the price of gas and then drive to the gas station that is a two minute walk from their home. People here COULD ride the bus line if they wanted to. Granted it's not nearly as convenient as being able to hop in your car, but have we ever thought that maybe it shouldn't be? I don't know about you, but I buy a lot less crap now that I have to lug it around myself.

It bums me out too.

M - Thank you, and of course you can.

David - I completely understand where you are coming from. I think the point I was trying to make is that these things won't be gone overnight.

But you are very right, I could be completely wrong in my assertion. I don't think 'everything is going to be all puppies and daisies' by any stretch of the means. I have a high expectation of humans as a species making all the wrong decisions for the reasons you note - all resources are finite, and we are inherently short-sided creatures.

I think we should all expect black outs, brown outs, and any other kind of outs you can think of.

I think my biggest issues with those that claim that alternative energy will save the day (I think it could be useful, but I DO NOT think it will save the day), fail to realize that it takes fossil fuel energy to build photovoltaics, it takes natural gas (at this point) to create hydrogen, which, as you note, is more of a storage solution than a fuel (many people don't understand that).

I read a piece on Common Dreams yesterday that put a bit more fright in me as well - when it noted that community gardens and the like are not enough to deal with our food issues. The problem with this isn't fruits and vegetables, it's grain and oilseeds which most of us don't grow in our backyard gardens.

You are right that a lot of things we have gotten used to having as a 'given' will likely not be part of our future.

I hope you didn't get the impression that I feel that technology will save us. I most certainly don't, I feel like our technology, 'intelligence', and so on has gotten us to this point. I only expect more of the same in the future. I am only minimally hopeful for the reasons I explained to Rural Vegan above.

I think you bring up one of the elephants in the room, our massive population, it is in no way sustainable. However, because I am a wet blanket like this, I do have to note that consumption is equally important as population as one American child's waste is the equivalent to multiple Indian children, or South American children. This is not to say that population isn't an issue, it is vital, however it isn't the only one.

I feel at times, though, that our short-sidedness and, well that sad fact of finite resources will take care of all of these problems in one way or another in the end.

Thank you for your comments and your links. You bring up so many points that make me want to post more about it, you note very correctly just how complex the problem is, and that we are being hit on many fronts, and that we really have no good way of dealing with it. These are scary times we live in. Are you braced for the ride?

David said...

Jennifer,

Thank you for your response. Obviously you have a fuller appreciation for the problem than I interpreted. I commend you for your investigation.

Letting go of the artificially induced comfort and convenience we have enjoyed for the past 50-75 years is going to be difficult. There will be a lot of anger, angst, and blaming, and possibly violent resource wars. Nothing in our past history would suggest otherwise. The degree and intensity of human cognitive dissonance is a major problem in itself.

I might recommend the work of Chris Martensone: http://www.chrismartenson.com/three_beliefs
Take his Crash Course for a more articulate explanation of the broader issue and the connection of energy to population.

You ask, "Are you braced for the ride?" That's a wonderfully challenging question. Personally, I have stocked up on a 2-3 year supply of food for my family and made other reasonable preparations. There is no way out of this mess and no way to cover every contingency. But to do nothing would be foolish. Other than that, I try to inform others, a process which is mostly met with denial and rejection.

It's going to be interesting, and we all have front row seats.

My best

Dave

romina said...

First, I'd like to say thank you again for your inspirational and informative posts. I always look forward to reading them!

We of the western world, more specifically North America, have created probably the biggest problem imaginable for humanity and the Earth. As you say, America (as we know it) was build on the premise that there would always be endless supplies of oil. No one wants or cares to think about the future of our children and grandchildren who will be affected by our infinite greed and consumption.

It is unfortunate that despite all of our knowledge and the warnings from scientists and economists, no one seems to listen, at least the majority of the population. We have forgotten what it means to stand up and have a voice. Apathy is destroying our planet because like you say, there is no obvious solution. So people worry, but don't know what to do about it. But at the very least we could start by doing something.

As you mentioned, North Americans are too cozy in their suburban lifestyle to realize how unrealistic it is. In any other part of the world, it would be impossible to live in such a manner. The need for a large house, 3 SUV's and food that is not nutritious and creates waste is what will be everyone's downfall. Having to commute to work or school for hours of every day is reducing the quality of life of these individuals. As cities grow, so too must spending for infrastructure, however this only worsens the problems. When will we begin to realize that cities cannot grow out, and must grow up? Take Europe for example, while they are wasteful, no doubt, it is not in equal quantities. People have a say in their governments to a greater extent. Although not everything is being done that could be done, there are still far more laws protecting the environment and food supply of Europeans. Europeans generally live in apartments, eat local food, shop in local stores and own smaller cars. True, the American way of life has become attractive by way of advertising, cinema and other propaganda, but still, the European values are still there. Instead of looking to other cultures to realize that maybe they've got something good, we simply cast them as medieval, or even primitive because we quantify their technology based on our supposed First World.

Sometimes I wonder what the world would have been like had we not discovered oil. Would we be where we are today? Of course not. We wouldn't have plastic, we wouldn't have cars as they are. But we might have been better off. I agree that human beings don't go back in time. It's impossible to ask people to abandon their comforts such as computers, vehicles and well-furnished homes, but it isn't impossible to ask people to cut down on their consumption and to step back and think about what is going on. Have we gotten so greedy and ignorant that our lives are nothing more than hours spent in a vehicle to sit in front of a computer, only to sit in a car again for hours. Where is family? With oil has come unrealistic expectations of what life should be. Should it be so scheduled? So hectic? 10 years ago no one had even heard of a Blackberry, but now everywhere you go, people can't stop checking their e-mails. This is not reality. This is surreal. And while many are trying to live more harmoniously with the earth by buying organic, cutting down on driving and buying plastics, is it really enough? Even if everyone were to cut down, it would still be too much for the world to handle. If we cannot sustain our own habits, how can we ask "developing" countries to cut back also. Did we not pollute to develop? The hypocrisy astounds me. We say that China is one of the world's largest polluters. But who taught them how to pollute? Without Chinese manufactured goods, Americans would be nowhere. Pointing the finger at China seems to be a way of deterring the blame on America as the primary polluter. We forget that China has 1 billion people, as opposed to the 300 million in the United States.

I could go on forever, but I think I've said what needs to be said. Thank you for giving me the opportunity exercise my brain. I wish everyone would read this, and not only your faithful readers.
Please continue writing these rants, every reader makes a difference! =)

Jennifer said...

David - Our current society faces such a large number of complex problems and is so complex in and of itself that it is difficult to cover the full breadth of any one topic in a single post. This was my rudimentary attempt to explain an important, yet difficult concept in a way that regular people could understand. I really 'buy into' the idea that you have to approach people at their level of understanding, meaning, if one knows nothing about resource depletion and its implications at all, it would be too much to bombard them with a host of technical, complex problems all at once.

I still have so much to learn and everyday I see more and more how interconnected all our problems are. EVERYTHING is connected, a very important thing to understand.

People will be angry, as they should be, and we will probably react in the same manner we always have, act first, think later. We always see the error in our ways in hindsight but never before hand. I think it's because we never face problems until they become major problems, and our solutions tend to be 'band-aids for bullet wounds'. And reductionist thinking does not help this at all, I think we would do well to rid ourselves of the notion that we can tinker with one thing and not affect everything else.

Cognitive dissonance is no fun (I studied psychology in college and this was one of the concepts I grasped onto the most), and people will go to great lengths to rid themselves of the angst that it entails.

Thank you very much for the link. He provides an excellent, comprehensive overview of, well, why things are the way they are. I am going to update this post to provide the link.

I also forgot how interesting the US banking system is. I remember how long it took me to accept that our money was printed by a private bank, at interest, it doesn't seem very democratic. I often forget the underlying economic factors behind our current situation and fear that this could lead to a clamping down on open society and a new form of slavery but perhaps that is just my pessimism kicking in.

And the exponential growth factor is a KEY CONCEPT. It explains a lot and really illustrates the problems at hand. Though our 'growth rates' might not seem like a lot, when you think about the sheer numbers and the resources entailed in keeping those numbers alive, there is no way that this can continue. I can't remember who said it, but someone said that one of the biggest problems of population growth is that population growth is exponential and food production growth is arithmetic. Simple statement, but a lot of implications.

I posed the question that way because I think the future is going to be both scary, as well as highly interesting. We too are doing what we can, we've got a bulk supply of beans and rice, we support a CSA and the farmer's market, we grow food on our porch and a community garden plot, we don't own a car, we don't buy a lot, and so on. But a lot is out of our control, I don't own my dwelling - and most people don't, a mortgage is debt, that is different than owning something, and when people have guns, I'm not sure how important 'owning' something really is. And really, what's scary is that we as individuals can do our share of things to insulate ourselves, or prepare ourselves, but in the end what matters to our survival is what we do collectively, and that scares the hell out of me.

So true, we can't say that we don't live in interesting times. Though I'm wondering if there was ever a time when things weren't interesting. This is one crazy experiment we have going on here.

Romina - I have to say, first of all, that I really think you get it. You got what I was trying to say, and we see the situation in much the same way. I feel both high levels of anger, as well as sadness. Is the way we in the Western world live really a good way to live? Are we really happy? How can we be, our lives are literally devoid of meaning. We are dumbed down, consumers of propaganda from everywhere we turn. How could we be expected to be any different? But at the same time as we are victims of our situation, we also fail to see what is plainly in front of us. This is where my anger comes in, people can be told, point blank 'look, this is how it is', and they still deny it, or choose not to do anything about it.

You bring up something I've had trouble with for the longest time, and that is how we, on the one hand, claim to 'care about the children' or 'care about the future', but our actions are the exact opposite. We seem to be taking every step necessary to ensure that our children and grandchildren enjoy a life of suffering, want, and strife.

Most people have fallen prey to the 'what I do doesn't matter' or the 'my vote doesn't count' or the 'they don't listen to us anyway, what’s the point'. Well, this is probably exactly what 'they' want, so that 'they' can continue with business as usual.

I think you bring up another key point, all we have do to start is to do SOMETHING, one person doesn't and shouldn't feel like they alone have to save the world. A collection of little acts starts to add up over time, people just have to take the initiative and realize that at least some aspects of their life are in their control.

Europe is ahead of us by leaps and bounds, and I think we have a lot to learn, A LOT, from the indigenous peoples of the world. Movements like Via Campesino have the potential to provide a lot of the knowledge that we in the West have shucked off.

I hate the hypocrisy, it’s so blatantly obvious and just stupid! I'm glad you've picked up on it. Yes, China pollutes a lot, well so do we, and there are a lot more of them as there are of us, can you imagine what the world would be like if there were a billion Americans, I cringe to imagine!

Romina, I have wondered the same thing so many times. I've also wondered, very often, what could humans have done, where would we be, if we had put the ingenuity, resources, and effort into peaceful activities as we did building the atomic bomb, going to the Moon, or any of the other things we have done out of posturing for power.

I think that is another key point. People can't be asked to go backwards, but they can be asked to do with a little less. And they can do it by choice or necessity, we can take our pick. Is it enough, though? I don't know, personally, when I assess the situation and leave emotions out of the mix, I don't think it is enough, I think we are going to hell in a hand basket. But when I let my emotions in, I hold out hope of our doing the right thing. In my day to day experience with people, my logical side tends to win out over my emotions and hopes.

I think what’s sad is that there are too many of us, and there will be some in the world, that have suffered enough as it is, that will never be able to enjoy the standard of living you and I have been so lucky to enjoy. I think that’s what bothers me most, I'm starting to understand that, well, things really aren't 'fair' at least as far as nature goes, and I don't think they are supposed to be. That's not the purpose.

Thank you for your words Romina, you've added a depth to the conversation that I couldn't have brought. These rants educate me just as much if not more than it educates others.