Living on the Banks of Denial

July 28, 2005 at 8:47 pm
Contributed by: Chris

It’s been a long time since my last, pre-election blog. I made several false starts at resuming it since then, but the words just weren’t coming. But my reading and learning has continued unabated, and now it’s time to share some thoughts.

But before I get into that, I have to let you know that the time has also come to say goodbye to betterworld.com. It’s a sad development for me personally, but the offer and the timing was right. (It will be sold to a fine and altruistic organization called Better World Books.) I will be moving Better World to a new domain. This blog will be located at http://www.getreallist.com. So they will be offline for a while as I make the transition, and this will probably be my last blog at the current site.

GetRealList will also be taking a few turns. First, it will focus almost exclusively on energy, because my conviction has been steeled that energy is all that matters going forward. Politics, at least in the US, is all but a lost endeavor at this point. The corruption of our leadership and media, and the revolving door between politics and big business, has effectively nullified any real hope for working within the system for change and for the welfare of the common man. This era belongs to the captains of industry, and there’s really no time left to turn the ship around, even if populists did manage to gain some control over it again.

Second, it will be less oriented to disseminating information, and more focused on my opinions. I have learned that those who are willing to do their own research can find the information themselves, and those who aren’t, didn’t read the articles I was sending around anyway.

And finally, it will be a lot less concerned with building consensus, and a lot more about cutting straight to the truth, as I see it.

The one thing I will say about politics, at this juncture, is that everything progressives need to know about why we lost the last election, and how we lost it (aside from the many instances of corruption and dirty dealing at the polls), and what we need to do next, is contained in a slim (119 page), easy-to-read volume called Don’t Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate–The Essential Guide for Progressives by cognitive scientist George Lakoff. Buy it, it’s a lousy $8.00. Read it. Get ten copies for your friends. Seriously.

OK, on to the world today.

I started GRL essentially as an attempt to educate myself, and others, about 9-11. The nearly four years since then has taken me on a wild ride of discovery, learning things about geopolitics, energy, geology, history, and lots of other topics in which I really had no interest previously. It’s been a long spiraling path, leading to this core understanding: as Bob Herbert wrote yesterday in the New York Times, “It’s the oil, stupid.”

Ironically, one of my first posts to the blog was a letter to the editor that I wrote to the New York Times, just six days after 9-11, asking why nobody in the major media was looking at the oil issue, or trying to add up the true cost of it, including blood and national treasure. From there, I learned about Hubbert’s Peak, our histories with oil producing nations, and many other facets of our desperate dependence on black gold.

On the whole, it’s a pretty sordid story. I suppose I can understand why people have been reluctant to face it.

We’ve come a long way in these four years. The Peak Oil theory, considered a few years ago to be part of the conspiracy fringe, has been amply supported by all credible sources, and is solidly in the mainstream of the public debate, worldwide. The media are finally starting to take a clear-eyed look at the problem. President Bush and Congress have been briefed on it. In 2005 alone, it has been publicly addressed by ChevronTexaco (I’m sure you’ve all seen their big “Will You Join Us?” ad campaign), ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell, Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (MD), the heads of the state-owned oil companies of Saudi Arabia and Iran, and many others. A whole host of books and film documentaries about Peak Oil have hit the stores, and television has gotten into the act. Not surprisingly, it was also a key topic at the annual Bilderbergers meeting.

However, we’re still a dishearteningly long way from anything resembling a solution. As Christopher Swann wrote this week for the Financial Times, ‘America is still in denial about energy.’

The entire roulette wheel of justifications for going to war with Iraq has been proven false, but we still don’t really believe, at least in any public way, that it was about oil.

We are worried about global warming, which is quickly getting worse and worse, but the US still stands alone in the world, claiming that it needs more study before we make any sacrifices, or the gods of industry will be angry.

Oil companies are making obscene record profits, but no sacrifice is asked of them to help lead us to a sustainable future. Indeed, the new federal energy bill, which passed the House today, will give them another $2.6 billion in tax breaks, even as people across the country are dying from the heat, being unable to afford or find a safe place with air conditioning, and paying record prices at the pump. As usual, a pittance will be given to investment in renewables and efficiency, while fuel economy and reducing our reliance on foreign oil are still sacred cows in Congress.

In the New York Times last week, two articles in the A section caught my eye: one was about the opposition to siting new LNG importation facilities in Long Island Sound (to bring in natural gas by ship, mostly from the Middle East, to fuel electricity plants), and another was about the opposition to a new wind farm proposed near Prattsburg, NY. In that same week, the East Coast saw record consumption of power, as people tried to cool off with A/C, and a couple of blackouts. But not one word was printed about looking to the future, or tradeoffs between power and comfort. As if all these things were bizarre abberations that had nothing to do with each other. As if the GWOT and resources had nothing to do with each other.

Instead, the bright bulbs in our nation’s leadership propose extending daylight savings time by a couple of weeks, and renaming the GWOT to the Global Struggle Against Extremism. Yeah, that will make a big difference. Good one, guys.

Meanwhile, we’re on a collision course with China. The trade deficit, their $243 billion purse in US debt, their aggressive pursuit of energy (including US oil companies), their growth rate (9.5% last year), and our currency valuation against theirs all add up to trouble. We’ll probably see it in the energy arena before we see it in trade or currency, but even that is a tough call. Let’s not forget that their population is 4 1/2 times ours, at 1.3 billion vs. 295 million.

And yet, even these things are dealt with in the press as if they were all separate issues. Oil depletion. Global warming. Population. War and Terrorism. They’re all about the same thing: Energy. It’s really a nasty picture.

All Together Now

So let me try to put it all together for once. As Richard Heinberg put it, the party’s over. Our capitalist leaders know that the game of cheap and easy oil is up, along with the dreams of continual growth, personal wealth, and world dominance. They know that our entire way of life is unsustainable, and they’re going for broke to squeeze out the last bits of profit and protection for themselves while they still can.

You, dear reader, are being hung out to dry. You’re going to be left holding the bag, with a dangerously damaged environment, diminishing energy, a ruined economy, and few of the essential skills you would need to live without all the accoutrements of the modern world. You’ve been sold, screwed, blued and tatooed, used like cannon fodder in wars for the enrichment of the rich, used like slaves for your labor in building a house of cards, used like a cheap whore for the pleasure of the powerful. And you’ve done it willingly, because you were promised a piece of the action if you only complied.

The industrialized world is in denial. They don’t want to believe that our bizarre weather patterns of recent years are only the first days of many. They won’t give up their profligate lifestyles without a fight. They look at war as a cost-benefit analysis. They look out for themselves, and the generations to come be damned.

What’s Next?

What happens next is anybody’s guess. I have tried to come up with a mere 20-year scenario, and it’s really really difficult. But there are a few things of which we can be sure, and you’re going to start feeling them in the next couple of years.

Energy will continue to get more and more expensive. In a short while, you won’t be able to afford to fill the tank on an SUV.

You will learn to like wearing sweaters, and living without A/C.

If you live in a big city or a suburb, you will probably have to move.

If you’re in one of the red-hot real estate markets in the US, the value of your property will take a couple of sickening drops. Your money and investments will devalue.

You will find it increasingly difficult to buy–or even get–food.

Water will get scarcer, more expensive, and harder to clean.

The less essential your work is to basic survival, the more likely it is that you will lose it. You will have to learn some things that your grandparents or great-grandparents knew, about frugality, repairing instead of replacing, and the basic skills of sustenance.

Our worldwide population will decline, willingly or unwillingly.

What Now?

If you’ve made it this far, good for you. You might have the stuff to give you a fighting chance in the future.  There are still a lot of resources out there you can turn to, to help you prepare yourself for the future.

Educate yourself. Learn as much as you can. You will have to change your lifestyle around, to dramatically reduce your energy needs, and your dependence on modern society. Here’s a short list:

Get out of your car. Ride a bike or walk.

Live in a smaller house, find co-housing, or make your house much more energy efficient.

Grow some of your own food, and produce some of your own energy (solar, wind, biofuel).

Learn about permaculture.

Learn some basic skills.

Get to know your neighbors.

Do what you can to integrate yourself with a small local community. Find the common threads between you, and resist the forces that seek to divide you.

Reconcile with your family, you’re going to need each other.

Build cash and eliminate debt.

Get into shape. You’re going to need to do a lot more physical activity than you’re used to.

Stop having children.

Develop your cooking skills, especially for vegetarian dishes.

Pay attention. Learn something about the rest of the world. Do your own research. Don’t rely on the media that comes to you. Develop the skills of critical analysis. Stop thinking that if your friends and neighbors think like you do, that you’re right.

Turn off your TV. Read.

Be courageous. Fear is the mind-killer. Overcome it.

Pray.

It’s not an easy transition to make, for those of us living large at the top of the roller coaster. (I set a pretty poor example, myself.) Some people will find it too difficult, and give up.

We’re are at a critical moment in human history, and some of us will choose to fight and live, while others will succumb. At least you have a choice, and a chance. If you’re willing, take it. The window of opportunity is short.

More after the move. If you can stand it.

–C

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