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POWER DOWN, PECKER UP

By Richard Neville  Posted by Richard Neville (about the submitter)     Permalink       (Page 1 of 2 pages)
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Supplies of oil and groundwater are in decline, and neither resource
can be swiftly substituted. Oil is the universal elixir, used for petrol,
pesticides, fertilizers, factory farmed food, transportation,
refrigeration, heating, lighting, medicines, cement, much of the stuff in
shops, in the office, in the factory, in the sky, in the home, in the
hospitals, in computers, in our every day life. Peak oil heralds the end
of the party, like when the grog runs out. Only worse. No ride home,
except on a bike; no morning Jacuzzi, unless you've got plentiful
water tanks and solar panels; no breakfast without an edible
garden or a local food co-op. Perhaps malls will morph into farmers' markets.
Fast companies will slow down. Tomorrow's hot jobs will be those
now considered uncool, as in organic agriculturalists, water diviners,
orchardists, recyclers, compost lavatorians, geologists, gas
siphoners, builders of bamboo bikes, renewable energy boffins...
Numerous voices are urging people to powerdown, to adapt to a post
carbon future.

It's an issue that remains below the media radar. It will not attract
advertising. The life-after-oil scenario embraces a web of perils, such
as the depletion of phosphates, topsoil, species; climate chaos,
endless war and population overshoot. It foresees the collapse of the
consumer society, the end of suburbia, the return of localization, now
re-branded as re-localization. It is not a re-run of hippie druggie free
love communes, despite the whiff of lentils and dandelion. The
powerdown project is practical, community-engaged and globally
aware. It rests on the assumption that cheap fossil fuels are the
lifeblood of modern civilization, and that their imminent decline invites
catastrophe. So chop wood, carry water, put a windmill on the roof,
re-skill and get to know your neighbours.

BEYOND PEAK OIL AND GAS ALREADY?

No other energy source comes near to replacing oil. The Australian Association for
the Study of Peak Oil and Gas (ASPO) puts a "high probability"
of global Peak Oil occurring before 2010 or 2015. In a presentation to
the US Department of Defence on June 20, Matthew R Simmons, the
founder and chairman of the world's largest energy investment bank, said the world was "probably beyond peak oil and gas".
www.simmonsco-intl.com/files/Energy%20Conversation%20BW.pdf

ASPO is scornful of attempts to create synthetic crude oil from coal,
gas or tar-sands (costly and impractical). Bio fuels are limited by the
lack of arable land not devoted to food. Hydrogen is an energy
carrier, not an energy source and has little likelihood of delaying the
impact of peak oil. Britain would need 100 nuclear power plants to
produce enough hydrogen to replace its existing use of transport fuel.
A Cornell University study has concluded that each unit of ethanol
energy requires 117 percent of fossil fuel energy to produce. The
largest gas suppliers are located in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and countries of the former Soviet Union. It is expensive to ship long distances and requires specialized ports and
infrastructure. As for the oil companies, only Chevron and Total have
so far admitted the supply situation is dire. On June 19, an industry
conference in Darwin was warned that exploration costs had lately
jumped by over a third, to little effect, and that progress was further
threatened by a lack of equipment.


Let's step back a bit. Keep in mind that our addiction is absolute. Oil
fuels 90% of all transportation. It is involved in the production of 95%
of all the goods in shops, including 95% of all food - produced as it is,
mainly by industrialized means and carted across the world,
sometimes in refrigerated planes. Current global consumption is 85
million barrels a day, rapidly rising, as China, India, and the rest of
Asia gets hooked. Back in 2001, these issues surely plagued the
minds of Dick Cheney and his colleagues from Exxon Mobil, Shell
and BP America at their Energy Task Force summit, held at White
House. Here, the most powerful people on Earth poured over maps of
oilfields, pipelines, refineries and terminals in Iraq. The minutes of this
meeting remain classified, but its significance is obvious. Saudi
Arabia's oilfields are less extensive than advertised and some are
polluted, "brine stained with oil". The oilfields of Iraq are known as the
last of the ripe overhanging fruit. "Sagging so low", notes Linda
McQuaig "that it practically touches the ground under the weight of its
ripeness". No permafrost, no contamination. Vast pools of oil,
yearning for exploitation. In 2001, Iraq was a sitting duck. Ruled by a
hated dictator, its geography offered a platform for the US to control
the Gulf. The point of the invasion was to establish a garrison on top
of an oil field. What's next? Only last week, President Vladimir Putin's
top political adviser put it bluntly: the US is seeking "international energy
domination under the guise of promoting democracy". No-one is allowed
to mess with the consumer society. The White House credo is
powerup; Venezuela beware, don't mention the Greenhouse...


HAIRCUTTING, FRIED CHICKEN, OPEN-HEART SURGERY

While demand for oil keeps accelerating, the current rate of decline is
about 8% per annum, according to energy specialist, Mathew
Simmons, so that by 2020, the total supply could have dropped from
85 to 25mb/d barrels a day. But by 2030, oil demand is expected be 115
million barrels a day. Could this be why Bush & Co have been acting
like outlaws? Worldwide, a few billion addicts might be facing cold
turkey, and right now, weapons are probably being stockpiled in
suburbia. Enter the Powerdown scenario, the "path of cooperation,
conservation, and sharing". Small, self-sustaining communities that are
touted as cultural lifeboats in times to come.

The only realistic alternative to endless resource wars, according to
Richard Heinberg in his book, Powerdown: Options and
Actions for a Port-Carbon World, is a strategy that shrinks per-
capita resource usage in wealthy countries, develops renewable
power, and "humanely but systematically reduces the size of the
human population over time. Powerdown would mean a species-wide
effort toward self-limitation." Heinberg believes that once the
processes and implications of resource depletion are understood, the
pro-growth argument will collapse. http://www.energybulletin.net/2291.html

The 21st century is not going to be about mobility, writes John
Howard Kunstler in The Long Emergency. "It's going to be much
more about staying where you are, not about being in constant
motion. It's going to be about being in a place that you care about
and you have to care for and that is going to change the basis of how
we live". Does this seem far fetched? Not to the mainstream Trends
Research Institute, which is tracking the "rapidly growing desire of
more people to be self-empowered, non-reliant, and 'off the grid'".

BUY NOW, SETTLE IN 2010

Kunstler's depiction of sprawl as the "dirty secret of the American
economy" has relevance to many countries with bottom lines stoked
by spreading McMansions, and their endless accessorizing,
furnishing, servicing and renovating. Once this is activity is subtracted
from the GDP, there isn't much left, according to Kunstler "except for
haircutting, fried chicken, and open-heart surgery".

What are the possible stages in the collapse of civilization? Richard
Heinberg says energy shortages will start to bite in about five more
years, leading to economic turmoil, frequent and lengthening power
blackouts, and chaos. Over several years, food production plummets,
resulting in widespread famine, even in formerly wealthy countries.
Wars - including civil wars - rage intermittently. Meanwhile ecological
crisis also tears at the social fabric, with water shortage, rising sea
levels, and severe storms ... One after another, central governments
collapse. Empires devolve into nations; nations into smaller regional
or tribal states. But each lower stage reaches its own moment of
unsustainability and further collapse ensues. Between 2020 and
2100, the global population declines steeply, because of climate
chaos and crop failure.

It's a grim picture, which perhaps under-estimates human ingenuity,
though its warning is timely. Over a 100 post carbon local groups
have already joined the network. (See http://relocalize.net)

While some believe that humans are facing the greatest challenge in
their history, others still stridr the last beach fronts with charts,
publicists and compliant architects. Australia's Gold Coast
developers are offering "sculptured residential skyscrapers of
unrivalled luxury living with uninterrupted views of the (rising) ocean
from every stunning apartment". One 77 floor tower is called Soul.
Another tower phallus is called Oracle, though designed for a future
of non Greenhouse skies and gushing wells. You can buy an
apartment now, and settle at the end of the decade.

The Oracle offers three outdoor swimming pools/lagoons, water
features; indoor lap pool, spa, steam room, sauna, state of the art
gym, executive lounge and private wine lockers, plus in house
cinema, surround sound, a vast screen, perhaps for watching The
Day After Tomorrow. Should that day come, residents can retreat to
the zen gardens and tai chi lawn, to stay focused and fit, in case the
elevator fails. Seventy seven floors is a long hike home, but at least
your head will be back in the clouds. ends

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