As climate chaos intensifies, some environmentalists are focused on direct action protests to stop fracking, shut off tar sands pipelines and leave fossil fuels in the ground. These are worthy goals, but they come with an inconvenient price: fracking and tar sands delayed the arrival of energy rationing, which is likely to be an intensely unpopular permanent economic shock.
Conventional oil extraction in the US peaked in 1970. Fracking gave a second, smaller peak that that is ebbing now due to debt and depletion. The global peak of conventional oil was a decade ago.
Conventional natural gas in the US peaked in 1973. Now it is about half of that flow, most of the decline happened since 2000. Fracked “shale” gas is now a larger flow than conventional natural gas, but fracked gas is now in its decline. We are scraping the bottom of the barrel.
Using solar energy since 1990 (and wind power since 2000) taught me that renewable energy could only run a smaller, steady state economy. Our exponential growth economy requires ever increasing consumption of concentrated resources (fossil fuels are more energy dense than sunlight). A solar powered society would require moving beyond growth-and-debt based money.
After fossil fuel is gone we will only have solar power, but that won't replace our current use. We need to abandon the myth of endless growth on a round, and therefore, finite planet to have a planet on which to live. How will we use the remaining fossil fuels: to make solar panels and relocalize food production or to wage Peak Oil Wars? Living on our solar budget will not substitute for digging up a hundred million years of sunlight.
Trump is an enormous threat, but fascism is not a new problem. The United States had a military coup d'etat on November 22, 1963, which led to the war on Vietnam, coups in Brazil, Chile, Indonesia, the Iran-Contra scandal, allowing 9/11 to happen, the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. These and other atrocities suggest that Trump is a logical consequence, not an aberration. Obama and Biden expanded the surveillance state, now bequeathed to Trump's cabinet. And nuclear missiles remain on alert, waiting for the command to commit omnicide. (Obama brought nuclear attack codes to the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, even Kissinger did not do that.)
We probably passed the ecological tipping point when we collectively ignored Jimmy Carter's call to make the energy crisis the moral equivalent of war, or perhaps when the military and intelligence agencies removed President Kennedy from office without significant objections. What would the world be today if the Cold War and nuclear arms race had ended in JFK's second term (as was planned) and the resources for endless war had been redirected to peaceful purposes?
Environmental groups unwittingly helped Trump with their silence about coal depletion. He claimed we have a thousand years of coal supplies and it was the Democrats who supposedly stopped coal jobs. That lie helped him win coal mining states (along with rigged voting machines).
Coal extraction peaked in the US in 1999, before the shale gas fracking boom. Coal peaked in Pennsylvania in 1920. We might have decades of coal left, not centuries. Climatology is a science. Geology is also a science.
Cascadia’s oil mostly comes from the Alaska Pipeline, which peaked in 1988 at two million barrels a day and now is a quarter of that. It is approaching “low flow” shutdown, below the level it can function in the Arctic winter.
When energy rationing finally starts, “stop drilling” groups may be popular scapegoats. Most people do not understand physical limits and may believe efforts to blame shortages on environmentalism. Protests do not substitute for the logistics of food distribution.
Corporate and governmental climate denial is not rooted in failure to understand science, but recognition that our endless growth economy requires endless increase of resource use. As fossil fuels deplete, solar panels might keep society together but at a much lower consumption level. Solar panels and wind farms don’t power airplanes and long distance truck networks. Relocalizing food production is more important than hoping for a techno-fix.
In the 1990s, Trump’s advisor Steve Bannon was director of the Biosphere 2 project, an oil money funded effort to see if domed cities could shelter the super-rich while the rest of us succumb to eco-collapse. This is like the first class passengers on the Titanic getting in the lifeboats first, except we are all in the same boat of “Spaceship Earth” and there’s no escape for anyone.
Instead of gimmicks for the billionaires or war preparations to grab remaining resources, we could implement large scale permaculture projects to improvise as many “lifeboats” as possible with the goal of rescuing everyone. Protesting systems that keep us fed and warm, without making practical efforts to create sufficient substitutes, seems counterproductive. Relocalizing through local and global cooperation might work better than protesting the navigator of our sinking ship of state.
Mark Robinowitz • PeakChoice.org: Cooperation or Collapse
Renewables: The Next Fracking?
by John Michael l Greer
... Broadly speaking, there are two groups of people who talk about renewable energy these days. The first group consists of those people who believe that of course sun and wind can replace fossil fuels and enable modern industrial society to keep on going into the far future. The second group consists of people who actually live with renewable energy on a daily basis. It's been my repeated experience for years now that people belong to one of these groups or the other, but not to both.
As a general rule, in fact, the less direct experience a given person has living with solar and wind power, the more likely that person is to buy into the sort of green cornucopianism that insists that sun, wind, and other renewable resources can provide everyone on the planet with a middle class American lifestyle. Conversely, those people who have the most direct knowledge of the strengths and limitations of renewable energy-those, for example, who live in homes powered by sunlight and wind, without a fossil fuel-powered grid to cover up the intermittency problems-generally have no time for the claims of green cornucopianism, and are the first to point out that relying on renewable energy means giving up a great many extravagant habits that most people in today's industrial societies consider normal.
Debates between members of these two groups have enlivened quite a few comment pages here on The Archdruid Report. Of late, though-more specifically, since the COP-21 summit last December came out with yet another round of toothless posturing masquerading as a climate agreement-the language used by the first of the two groups has taken on a new and unsettling tone.
Climate activist Naomi Oreskes helped launch that new tone with a diatribe in the mass media insisting that questioning whether renewable energy sources can power industrial society amounts to "a new form of climate denialism." The same sort of rhetoric has begun to percolate all through the greenward end of things: an increasingly angry insistence that renewable energy sources are by definition the planet's only hope, that of course the necessary buildout can be accomplished fast enough and on a large enough scale to matter, and that no one ought to be allowed to question these articles of faith. ....
Thus the conversation that needs to happen now isn't about how to keep power flowing to the grid; it's about how to reduce our energy consumption so that we can get by without grid power, using local microgrids and home-generated power to meet sharply reduced needs.We don't need more energy; we need much, much less, and that implies in turn that we-meaning here especially the five per cent of our species who live within the borders of the United States, who use so disproportionately large a fraction of the planet's energy and resources, and who produce a comparably huge fraction of the carbon dioxide that's driving global warming-need to retool our lives and our lifestyles to get by with the sort of energy consumption that most other human beings consider normal.
Unfortunately that's not a conversation that most people in America are willing to have these days. The point that's being ignored here, though, is that if something's unsustainable, sooner or later it will not be sustained. We can-each of us, individually-let go of the absurd extravagances of the industrial age deliberately, while there's still time to do it with some measure of grace, or we can wait until they're pried from our cold and stiffening fingers, but one way or another, we're going to let go of them. The question is simply how many excuses for delay will be trotted out, and how many of the remaining opportunities for constructive change will go whistling down the wind, before that happens.