Thursday, February 03, 2005


Powering Down

The petroleum civilization is in crisis. America’s neocons know this, and that’s why the US has gone to war for oil. Americans are happy that gas is still relatively cheap so they can continue to fuel their SUVs, heat their homes to shirt-sleeve temperatures in midwinter, and keep 5% of the world’s population consuming 25% of the world’s energy. But they don’t notice that they are actually paying far higher costs for their energy because energy costs are subsidized through military spending. America maintains garrisons around the world to protect and maintain the flow of resources and energy to feed the industrial machine. American taxpayers are subsidizing those resources and energy by maintaining hundreds of bases, troops, ships, aircraft, and their support infrastructure.

Lately it has become clear — to everyone else on the planet if not President Dubya — that robbing other countries of their oil isn’t as easy or cheap as thought. So now there is more talk about the hydrogen economy. While using hydrogen is basically better than oil, the problem is that people think a hydrogen economy will maintain the economic system that oil has built. Well, it ain’t gonna happen.

Barring a miracle, beginning very soon we are going to have to lower our expectations. People in the developed nations will have to tighten their belts considerably. Of course they will do everything possible to maintain their lifestyles, and Dubya’s wars are a prelude to that.

Developing renewable sources of energy is necessary, but putting them all together simply doesn’t add up to oil. And energy gurus who make a living selling books on such wishful thinking should stop telling the public that it can be done. Instead of trying to do the impossible, governments must immediately start thinking about how they are going to “power down” their economies and make do with a lot less. Whole economies must be restructured to assume that people and goods will not be moving long distances as they now do. And you can bet there will be fewer goods, too. People must develop more self-sufficient lifestyles, and they must also build mutually supportive communities with their neighbors because in the market society we are all isolated from one another, even those who live next door.

But now is the time to start. Don’t wait for our irresponsible politicians to ruin everything before you take action. Make preparations now, so that you can power down your own lifestyle when it becomes inevitable.

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