January 11, 2012
It’s Now or Never!
By Michael Byron
Human civilization is at a birfucation point. Either we fundamentally change everythinng now, or we collapse in flames. Now is the time for each of us to contribute all we can to bringing about fundamental change.
Remember those cartoons where Wile E. Coyote is chasing the Road Runner and he runs off of a cliff?
Wile E. Coyote by Wikipedia.org
For a frozen moment he just hangs there in the air looking progressively more surprised and alarmed? Then gravity takes over and it’s down, down, down to a hard landing! I believe that this is a nearly perfect metaphor for the status of our civilization at this exact moment.
We have just experienced about 500 years of explosive growth. From Columbus “discovering” the New World in 1492, through the early colonial world empires, the world economy consistently expanded. It really picked up steam (so to say!) with the beginning of industrialization in the mid 1700’s. By the late 20 th century industrialization had spread across the planet. All of our civilization’s assumptions about reality: political, economic, social, even religious are now predicated upon this most unusual 500 year blip of time–compared to the long ages which preceded it and which are yet to come–being “normal.”
In other words, we’ve just bet absolutely EVERYTHING–our lives, our fortunes, those of our children and of all generations to come, along with the future existence of this planet as a life sustaining abode–on the assumption that since industrial civilization is “normal” we can assume that it will continue indefinitely. Unfortunately, I believe that this assumption is dead WRONG.
Economic expansion has gone on now for so long–about 500 years, that we assume that it MUST always continue. However, close scrutiny of the facts shows that the first 250 years of this period saw economic growth in the “core” European economies because superior technologies were used to subjugate the rest of the planet. The human and material resources of these lands were then plundered with reckless abandon by these Europeans–and their descendants.
Next, with the rise of industrialization concentrated sources of energy–coal first, then oil and other fossil fuels–were utilized to perform far vaster amounts of work than was possible using only human and animal muscle power which had provided an ultimate limiting factor for all previous civilizations. By the 20 th century not even the sky was the limit for our industrial civilization!
All of our present day belief systems–political–economic–social, etc. are based upon the unexamined assumption that this expansive reality we’ve experienced for the past 20 or so human generations, that it IS reality, and so will continue forever. Yet close scrutiny shows this growth to have been based upon first, exploitation of limited human and natural resources, and then based also upon exploitation of finite supplies of energy rich fuel. Only if this exploitation can continue at ever growing rates, utilizing ever growing quantities can this assumption be valid. Do you begin to see the problem here?
All of the money on the planet today is based upon debt. If you buy a house a bank lends you the money–that’s your mortgage. Where does the bank get this money? They create it, quite legally, out of nothing. Your promise to pay in the future is used to justify the creation of money in the present. Since this money must be paid back with interest, there is an assumption that there will exist more money in the future, than existed at the time the mortgage was created. In other words our money can only have value today, if and only if, there will be more money tomorrow than there is today. In other words, the economy must continuously expand if it is not to collapse precipitously. For 20 human generations this assumption has been valid. This is so long a period that we have conflated it with eternity.
Our planet is finite. As such, it possesses only so much in the way of material resources. Moreover, for the past 150 or so years, economic growth has been closely correlated with increasing energy consumption.
Nearly 40% of our planetary energy (well over 90% of our transportation fuel) comes from petroleum. Yet world petroleum production has plateaued since 2004–did you know that? Orthodox economic theory posits that as price (of oil in this case) goes up, supply is maintained, even increased, by entrepreneurial activity finding additional supplies. Yet supply has flatlined for about eight years even though price has been MUCH higher throughout this long period. As substitutes for oil have not been found, it follows that economic assumptions are being violated. In plain English: We’re in deep sh*t!
No amount of technology can intervene to stop oil production’s impending DECLINE. How can I assert this so unequivocally? Because in order to produce oil you must first find it. It takes decades for major oil fields to reach full production moreover. If we look at past oil discoveries, year by year, with respect to oil consumption we see this pattern:
For every barrel of new oil discovered today, we burn about five barrels of previously discovered oil. If we spent six dollars a day while only earning one dollar per day, we’d go broke sooner, rather than later. It’s just the same with our planetary supply of oil. We are burning through it at a rapid, unsustainable level.
Further, with all of the easy to get oil having already been gotten (the stuff we are burning today), replacement oil is harder to obtain not only in price terms but more significantly, in energy terms. This leads to a concept called EROEI (Energy Returned on Energy Invested). For much of the past century it took, in energy terms about one barrel of oil, to produce one hundred barrels. Now, the stuff we’re getting from below the sea, Polar Regions, Canadian tar sands, etc., requires one barrel to produce about ten barrels. This ratio is declining. So the future is easy to spot: less oil, with less net energy. The graph just below projects where we are going in terms of oil production:
What about say, the Bakken Shale Deposits in North Dakota? These are getting a lot of hype just now. This stuff is low density kerogen. It’s uncooked oil precursor basically. Tens or hundreds of millions of years in the future, plate tectonics will subduct this stuff deep below the Earth’s surface. This will expose it to great quantities of heat and pressure, which will, ultimately convert it into oil–in a time as far in our future as the dinosaurs are in our past!
To make this conversion happen right away via artificial means, all you have to do is use immense amounts of today’s oil to extract it from the ground. Add further immensities of energy to refine it and process it, and yes, then you have something you can put in your gas tank. What do you think its EROEI is? Low single digits AT BEST. Also immense amounts of water had to be used in the process. This water becomes toxic sludge. What to do with it? What happens if, no when, it contaminates the local ground water supply? Cancer anyone? These oil shale “plays” are pure hype–one last bubble to reflate our bubble addicted economy.
Coal? In EROEI terms we are already at peak coal. Most of the best coal–anthracite–has already been mined and burned. We are substituting less energy rich grades such as lignite. Incidentally, these inferior grades are also much more polluting. Clean coal?? That is a PR campaign, it is not anything that does, or ever will, exist commercially.
Natural gas? Well, there’s “fracking.” Supposedly the “answer” to all of our energy needs.–BS! Commercially obtainable reserves are far less that the hyped figures. Further, well pressures generally fall dramatically within about 12 months making the well useless within a few years. So ever more land needs to be torn up, its water table polluted–over and over again. Also, the mining process generates vast amounts of CO2. Furthermore it CAUSES earthquakes !
The effect of all of this on Earth’s biosphere? Accelerating climate change . Last year was a world record for extreme weather across the planet. Three guesses what this year and each successive year will bring. The atmosphere is being knocked out of its long term “energy balance” as more solar heat remains trapped within it. What we call weather is just nature’s way of redistributing unequal concentrations of heat in accordance with the immutable Laws of Thermodynamics.
What about nuclear energy? Uranium is itself a finite resource. There is not enough of it to power the planet. And then there are certain safety issues–remember Fukishima?
Declining energy, accelerating climate change, accelerating economic collapse, that is our near term future. As climate shifts, agriculture, which is based on our exploitation of long term climatic stability, collapses. Oh, and we won’t have as much gas for the tractors either. Or natural gas to make fertilizer for our industrial scale farms. So agricultural production will decline–while population increases at 70 million people per year.
Less energy ultimately means lowered industrial production as well. In this context, “globalization” is best seen as a desperate attempt to maintain “growth” by means of labor arbitrage. That is, by exploiting substantial differences in wages between national work forces. Substituting a $1.00/hour worker in Shanghai for a $60.00/hour worker in Detroit may temporarily lower overhead, resulting in greater profits–but the cost is the “third worldization” of the USA. Technology is energy dependent, and energy is less available and more expensive, so we are seeing a profound shift away from using technology, and towards pre-industrial exploitation of manual labor. Good bye unions, weekends off, pensions, good bye middle class.
Looking at the USA, our politics is now wholly controlled by money. The Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in the Citizens United v. F.E.C. case effectively made us an oligarchy–rule by the rich. Consequentially, I have reluctantly concluded that there is no longer a meaningful difference between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party here. Both are funded and controlled by oligarchic elites. In the context of a political system in which money is EVERYTHING, neither party can afford to “bite the hand that feeds it.” In plainer terms both parties exist to maintain the current unsustainable status quo. PERIOD. No fundamental change will ever, nor can it ever, arise from the parties.
Now since our rich elite’s wealth comes from the existing political and economic system–our present, planet killing ways of generating wealth–it must follow that they are using their control over our political system to maintain our economic system–which gives them the wealth needed to be in control. So, even though our economy is about to implode as energy and climate constraints slow, then reverse, our five hundred yearlong growth spree, our elite masters, thinking only of the next quarterly statement, order our politicians–themselves thinking only of the next election–to continue with business as usual. And, from their amoral, short-term perspective, why not? The existing “slash and burn” economy has worked out pretty well for these rapacious plunderers in economic terms:
If this situation continues very much longer I will tell you how it MUST end: In the not too distant future global civilization will collapse in flaming ruins. Billions of people will perish. The planetary biosphere will be devastated. All humans, living in all future ages will look back upon us with eternal contempt, dismay, disbelief, and yes, hatred, for our unbelievable folly, which bequeathed them a plundered, ruined world–unless we act NOW.
The graph just below depicts a projection for human population for the coming decades of this century assuming that we do not fundamentally change our ways. The graph just below that shows that due to our rapacious plundering of the planet in pursuit of short term wealth–nearly all of which will be in the possession of amoral, wealthy elites, by the way–not you or I, the Earth’s ability to support us will be much degraded from its pre-industrial carrying capacity. This ruined, toxic mess of a planet is what we are about to bequeath to posterity. They will NOT appreciate this, nor will they think kindly towards us–nor should they!
Source for above graph: http://www.paulchefurka.ca/Population.html
Forget the institutionalized political structures, the political parties, the politicians. They will not, they cannot do anything meaningful in the time available to change our planetary course. We OURSELVES must, each of us, act locally and decisively–NOW. Wherever possible, secede from their world killing system. Stop using their power, stop using their food, stop letting them control our very understanding of reality via their unending corporate media propaganda. Stop considering them to have legitimacy. They are the enemy of all life now and in all ages yet to come. WE, the people, are the SOLE and ONLY source of legitimacy. Revolution need not always be violent, but it must always be total if it is to succeed.
Do nothing, remain in a corporate media trance bubble, and billions will die. The planetary future will be diminished irrevocably. Do something, free yourself from slavery to our oligarchic overlords, and new worlds–better worlds–become possible. YOU must be the source of this change. Across the planet the people of Earth are stirring. At some deep, fundamental level, we know what is coming and many are beginning to take actions outside of the useless official channels to avert this hopeless future. Join in!
Dr. Michael P. Byron
Oceanside CA, January 11 th, 2012.
Submitters Website: http://www.MichaelPByron.com
Michael P Byron is the author of The Path Through Infinity’s Rainbow: Your Guide to Personal Survival and Spiritual Transformation in a World Gone Mad. This book is a manual for taking effective action to deal with the crises of our age including global climate change, peak oil, and political failure to deal with these and other problems. His previous book is Infinity’s Rainbow: The Politics of Energy, Climate and Globalization. Byron-has a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of California, Irvine.–He teaches all aspects of Political Science and Political Economy in local colleges in the San Diego area.- He was the Democratic Party’s candidate for United States Congress in California’s 49th Congressional District in 2004. In 2002,-he- ran as a write-in candidate upon discovering that the Republican incumbent, Darrell Issa, had no major-party challenger.
Mike lives in Oceanside, CA with his wife, Ramona Byron. Both are Navy veterans.