Putting out fires with gasoline

I've got two things on my mind as I write this post. Two things.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I'm currently making my way through Howard Kunstler's doomsday tome, The Long Emergency. It's a dismal, depressing book, to say the least, although Kunstler has an enormously readable writing style.

Kunstler's main thesis is that our entire way of life has been built on cheap energy, specifically, cheap fossil fuels, and even more specifically, cheap oil... and the oil is running out. Kunstler paints this as a civilization-destroying catastrophe, and his arguments are persuasive... but that's not what this post is about.

One of the things Kunstler mentions early on in the book is that as early as 1999, then Presidential candidate George W. Bush was being briefed by petroleum industry experts on the dangers of 'peak oil'... which is to say, what the industrialized globe could expect to happen when the world's production of oil first peaked, and then, began its steady and irreversible decline. How the American way of life, built as it was on ready access to cheap petroleum products, was in danger of utter disintegration when this threat became real -- as it almost certainly would, if not in Bush's first term, then certainly in his second.

So that's one thing I'm working over. And then there's this -- a conservative professor and former chief economist for Bush I, doing a long detailed scientific analysis which seems to offer a great deal of evidence for the fairly nightmarish, even tin foil hatted notion that it wasn't hijacked airliners that brought down the WTC towers on 9/11. Instead, he says, it looks like it may have been an inside job -- and the only people who would have that kind of access, and the ability to cover it up afterwards, would be our own government.

So... yeah, I know. I said, it was tin foil hat stuff. But still, the mind is a monkey, as Stephen King has noted, and when it gets hold of stuff, it has to play with it.


Let's say a candidate for high and powerful office gets a heads-up in the waning weeks of the second millenium A.D. -- the oil is running out. Over the past century, the entire world has used up half of the entire world's supply of an irreplaceable energy source... and the half that's left is in large part in places that are very hard to get at, the stuff that's probably going to cost more to get out and refine than we'll get back by burning it. The world has reaped an enormous technological windfall from these extremely perishable resources, but it's a one-time deal, and the expiration date is coming up. And when oil becomes scarce, what will become of the American way of life, dependent as it is on privately owned gasoline powered motor vehicles, gasoline powered mass transit, and ten thousand vital, everyday items derived from petroleum by products (plastics, paint, medicines)?

It's a nightmarish scenario. America becomes a desolate land of abandoned suburbs filled with rotting houses no one can get to any more, and rusting cars nobody can afford to fuel. Cheap products from the other side of the globe can't make it to Wal-mart, because the boats won't go and the planes won't fly. With no fuel for America's trucking fleet, what food we do manage to produce without the miracle of petroleum derived fertilizers and insecticides can't be brought to centralized markets. And, by the by, our natural gas resources are drying up as fast as the world's oil -- and most of America's electricity plants run on natural gas. So not only do we have no gas, no fertilizer, no insecticide, no plastic, no paint, and very little medicine -- chances are, we have no electricity, either.

Feeling Amish? Well, that's just the domestic situation. China has only just begun to industrialize, as has much of the rest of Asia and Africa. And Europe has been utterly dependent on foreign oil since the start of the Oil Age -- the North Sea oil fields bought Britain and Western Europe twenty years of industrial dominance, but they are running dry as well. (Which may well be why Tony Blair is our only real ally in the current Iraqi debacle.)

When oil reserves dwindle, everybody at the table starts to fight for the scraps. Once the impact of peak oil really starts to be felt, we can expect a state of constant war for what oil reserves are left. Given that nuclear weapons of mass destruction may be counterindicated (as they might damage the pumping infrastructure everyone will badly want to take intact), it seems overwhelmingly likely that these wars will be fought with bacteriological and chemical weapons... a nightmare on top of a nightmare.

We, the blindly gluttonous consuming public, haven't hard much about the impact of peak oil, for largely the same reason we don't hear much about anything else that might stir us up -- the people that the media work for don't want us to hear about it. And when I say 'the people that the media work for', I don't simply mean the large corporation, although of course they have no interest in promoting mass hysteria that would probably impact their own profit margins. I also include all of us on that list. We buy the media's product, and the media knows goddam well that we won't buy what we don't want to hear or read. People like to be scared by their fiction, but we have no desire to be terrified by things that are real -- so a great many things that are real (see my last few posts, or spend some time at Rigorous Intuition, if you don't want to ever sleep peacefully again) never make it into USA Today or People magazine. And one of those things is peak oil.

Nonetheless, while the energy companies publicly pooh-pooh it (they have to, to protect those precious profits), all of them know this is coming. You just have to follow the money. Energy companies have opened no new oil fields in years, maybe decades, and have set up very few new wells in the fields that are already being exploited. When they stop investing in new fields and new wells, you know the pump is about to run dry. Or rather, they know it. They'd just prefer we didn't.

Dubya is, of course, an oilman, if a half assed one, and Cheney is very much a full assed petroleum maven. They knew about peak oil in 1999; they knew it was real and it was going to happen, and say what you will about their morals or ethics (no, really, say whatever you want, it's unlikely to be bad enough) they also know their fortunes are bound up in oil, and if the peculiar alloy of special interests and target demographics we sometimes laughingly call "America" were to crash and burn, these guys would have nowhere else to go.

It is, therefore, my speculation that, upon being warned about peak oil back in 1999, the future Most Powerful Men In The World were moved to make solving that particular problem Job One for the new administration.

Now, there are a few ways you could try and resolve the Gordian knot that is cheap oil. One way, what I'll call the Al Gore way, although it's actually what President Carter tried and failed to implement back during the faux Energy Crisis of the 1970s, is to put America on a drastic oil austerity program to wean ourselves as much off the petroleum tit as possible, while at the same time instituting a crash Federal research program into alternative energy sources. This would require enormous outlays of effort to advertise the problem of peak oil (which the energy companies don't want advertised), and similar amounts of effort to be spent educating the American public as to its possible effects, with the hope of persuading us all to leave our cars in our driveways and get on the bus, or carpool with our co-workers, or subscribe to a van pool. It would require getting Congress to drastically raise CAFE standards, which, of course, the automobile industry really doesn't want Congress to do. And then, of course, you'd have to pour billions if not trillions into alternative energy research.

Had Carter done this in the 1970s -- well, it most likely wouldn't have worked. First, because crude oil really is a fabulous substance; as Kunstler points out, it is amazingly dense, it contains an enormous amount of energy in a very small volume, it is easily transported and stored, it can be refined into thousands of wonderful by products -- and it's irreplaceable. The fuel we have burned in our mad orgiastic blitzkrieg of technological advancement over the past century took millions of years to create through various natural processes. When it's gone, it's gone -- and there's nothing in existence that is even close to being as universally useful.

However, that's why the alternative energy research most likely wouldn't have worked then (and won't work now). The reason the oil austerity program wouldn't have worked is that, well, we Americans are spoiled greedy children and we just wouldn't have done it. Or we might have, but not for very long; after a few months -- at most, a year -- if we didn't have our cheap fuel cell cars and cheap fuel cell central heating/AC units for our basements, we'd have impeached Jimmy and made sure Mondale gave us our Amoco stations back.

Barring an oil austerity program that Americans won't cooperate with and that would only put off the end for a few more years anyway, and a crash alternative fuel development process that wouldn't work, what's left? Securing the remaining supplies of oil, or at least, a big chunk of them, for the U.S..

At this point, it would be clear to Dubya and Cheney that pussying around with the Saudis isn't going to cut it any more. America is going to need to pretty much own the Middle East if we're going to continue our insanely avaricious, short sighted lifestyle into the indefinite future (except that future isn't all that indefinite; if we did manage to take, pacify, and adequately control the entire Middle East, it might give us another 30 to 50 years -- but that's enough for Bush and Cheney, and, well, who are we kidding, it's enough for us, too). How do we do that?

Well, you know, gee, there's this crazy scheme that Paul Wolfowitz and the other whacko neo-conservatives from the American Institute have been pushing since the Reagan days, where we depose Saddam Hussein and set up a puppet regime in Iraq, from which outpost we eventually take over the entire Arabic Middle East...

And now we come to the next thing -- that report by Professor Lew Rockwell, which seems to provide pretty persuasive evidence that what we all saw on TV on September 11, 2001, did not look at all to a trained explosive or incindiary expert's eye as being the result of structural damage from two hijacked airliners. What, in fact, it looked like -- the way the towers seemed to implode, and then collapse, with the wreckage largely (and strangely) remaining within the structure's own footprint -- was an explosion set by professional demolition people. People with, perhaps, access not only to the two Towers themselves (bypassing the extensive security in the buildings) but who also had access to military grade explosive material -- and who knew how to deploy it.

Who could do that? Who could cover it up afterward? Who could keep any government agency from reporting that not enough wreckage from airliners (including some house-sized jet engines which wouldn't have burned or exploded in the crash) had been found in the rubble to support the premise that two airliners had actually hit the buildings? Who could put a gag order on every surviving cop and firefighter that went into the buildings before they collapsed, or who did rescue work in the rubble right afterwards?

Any American with an IQ above that of a radish has, at some point since 9/11, asked themselves the question we hear over and over again on CSI -- sui generis -- who benefits? Who got fat off the 9/11 catastrophe? The answer is obvious but unthinkable to most of us -- the Republican Party came out of it very well, as did Our Heroes, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. They got a blank check to do whatever the fuck they wanted with our government, our military and our money. Logically, they have to be suspects... but we can't think about that. I can't think about that. It's like staring into the face of the Gorgon, or something. If we all had absolute irrefutable proof that the President and Vice President of America had not only let 9/11 happen when they could have prevented it, but had actually engineered 9/11... had signed the secret orders and drawn up the plans their (literally) damned selves... had conspired, hatched, and executed a scheme that culminated in the cold blooded murder of 2000+ of our fellow Americans, none of whom did anything more heinous than get up that morning and go in to work... I think we'd have to all go a little crazy. It would pull too much of the mask off of reality, and force us all to face just a little bit too much of what the actual truth most likely is about the world we live in -- that there are predators and prey, and most of us are just meat for the grinder, and there's nothing we can do about it.

Here's the thing, though. If Americans (and every one else in every other industrialized nation in the world) are reluctant to take the gasoline nozzle out of our arms, we're nearly as reluctant to send our troops off to fight in a war that makes no sense to us. If we go back to my first hypothesis, which is that Bush and Cheney (and, I'm certain, Tony Blair) knew peak oil was coming, and were determined to put its impact on their own particular nations and cultures off for at least another generation, and had already decided that the West needed to own the Middle East, with all its oil reserves -- well, then, next on the agenda is an excuse to invade the Middle East, to whip up the American public and keep the rest of the world more or less complacent.

Many historians believe that Franklin Delano Roosevelt was forewarned by intelligence assets in Japan (some say it was the Japanese ambassador himself) of the attack on Pearl Harbor. He let it happen anyway. Hundreds, if not thousands, of American servicemen and support personnel died in that attack, and FDR could have prevented it... maybe. But what most of us don't know about history, and don't want to know, is that 1941 in the real world wasn't much like we see in the movies these days. America was strongly isolationist throughout the 1930s -- most people believed that 'the European War' wasn't any of our business, and few gave any credence to the reports of Nazi atrocities against the Jews -- and those few who did who weren't Jewish themselves largely didn't care, because in addition to being isolationist, America in the 1930s was, just like every other place in the world, viciously and rabidly anti-Semitic. FDR understood that we had to get into WWII; that the consequences of allowing the Axis to dominate all of Europe and Asia were too horrendous to be borne... but he also knew that the American public didn't want it and wasn't ready for it. For one thing, our military was pretty much a shambles; the only way to get it in shape to fight a world war was to get the entire population motivated to fight.

Pearl Harbor provided the America of 1941 with that fighting motivation, and as has been noted in many other places, we then went on to pretty much save the world. So how do you figure that in the calculus of history -- was FDR justified, trading a few thousand lives to save untold millions?

So 9/11 came along, and Bush got to be the war time President he'd always wanted to be, and a year later, with the most specious reasons imaginable, he got to invade Iraq.

What I'm getting at here is not some paranoic raving/conspiracy theory about how Bush and Cheney absolutely must have been behind the World Trade Center getting blown up. I don't know that it's true, obviously. This is just speculation. (The behavior of the Republican Party since then -- the corruption, the war profiteering, the civil liberties violations, the illegal imprisonments, the secret prisons, the torture, the way billions of dollars in tax money has just disappeared into the coffers of Republican corporate donors, the various sex and bribery scandals we're seeing emerge now -- all of that would seem to be, collectively, a very strong argument that Bush and Cheney and their ilk have no scruples or morals whatsoever, and that they certainly wouldn't flinch at killing 2,000+ civilians if it got them where they wanted to be. But still, it's all just supposition.)

No, what I'm trying to do is to hypothesize on just how history might view Bush and Cheney -- if, at some point, it might turn out that everything they've done since taking office, including the engineering of 9/11, might have been to save the nation from a looming global crisis.

What if we're in Iraq to preserve our way of life from unavoidable and catastrophic energy shortages? What if that's the only thing the people in charge could think of to do that might have worked -- that would prevent the kind of massive die-off (we're talking billions of people, millions of Americans) that would otherwise be the inevitable byproduct of these shortages?

What if these guys are... you know... in some sick, twisted way... heroes? Trying to, you know... save the world? Or, at least, the American way of life?

Just like Captain America and Superman.

Then how do we judge them?

I'm starting to get a glimpse of exactly the kind of nightmarish reality we all actually inhabit. We build cocoons for ourselves of friends and family members. We get a job and we find a place to live and we pay our bills and we pray that the Big C doesn't hit anyone we love too dearly, that no deranged psychotic who claims to be a vampire breaks in and kills us while we're napping on the couch or taking a shower, that our kids don't get kidnapped, raped, tortured, and murdered by crazy ass Satanic cults, that we don't happen to live in an area that the CIA or NSA are going to decide to dust with some experimental bio-crud... that, in short, none of the malevolent weirdness that seems to bubble just under the surface of 'normal' reality happens to reach one of its tentacles into our carefully ordered lives and spread misery, chaos, and death.

In that twisted, bleak world, which is probably this one, someone like George W. Bush, or Dick Cheney, as corrupt and malignant and amoral and perhaps even evil as they are... could very well be legitimately acting for our own good when they conspire to kill over 2,000 of us so they can get the rest of us to let them invade an oil rich region and kill hundreds of thousands of people who aren't members of our particular tribe, so we all can drive SUVs and air condition our houses for another 30 years or so.

I know. It's like some horrible Grant Morrison mini-series, where everything is shit and all our heroes are actually vicious thugs or amoral, manipulating masterminds and power really does corrupt and everyone in authority is in the active service of knowing, scheming evil... and where all we can ever count on is slightly enlightened self interest on their parts to spare us the worst of the atrocities that happen to other people every day. That all we can do is to cling to the illusion of love while the people down the street, or the guy who sits next to us on the bus, or that happy family we saw in the park where we had a picnic last week, end up getting fed into the hellish engines that really run the world, instead of us. Where compassion and virtue really have no power at all. Where nobody who has any kind of power over us cares about us in the slightest; where the heads of state are all cannibals and devil worshippers and rapists and slavers, and the best we can do is stay out of their larders.

And in that world, our military is killing and torturing people we don't know and don't care about, to steal resources we need so we can keep on paving over our few remaining wildernesses and putting up fast food places and air conditioned housing developments and gas stations and strip malls. We are flooding the planet with our toxins, using up an entire planet so we can have brightly printed wrappers around our Big Macs, and fighting a war against our fellow human beings so we can continue to do it until we are all safely dead ourselves. And if our government is doing that, and we are letting it do that, then how much of a stretch is it to think that our government is perfecting viruses and germs meant to wipe out the populations of other foreign nations that will compete with us for the resources we want, and in the meantime they're testing their new little bugs on select groups of us, just to make sure they work?

Ultimately, every problem in every nation in the world comes down to one thing -- there are way too many people here right now, and more are coming all the time, and hardly anybody is volunteering to get off the planet and make more room for the rest of us.

If some kind of adjustment is inevitable -- and it seems that it must be; we've made irreplaceable resources vital to our continued existence, and they are running out -- and if millions if not billions are inevitably going to die anyway -- what do you do about it? If you're one of the most powerful individuals in the world? Wait for it to happen? Or do your best to make sure it happens to other people you're not in charge of?

If the people who run our country are evil, and they are trying to preserve our country and our way of life through evil means, what does that say about our country and our way of life? What does it say about us?

Well... we're not going to think about that.

Tell you what, though -- I don't think the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge has much hope of holding off the oil derricks, once we all get the news about this peak oil thing.

Tell you something else -- I'm not expecting too many comments on this entry, mostly because most of you are just going to think I've gone nuts, and politely ignore me until I get better, and start blogging about HeroClix and movies again.

Don't sweat it. I'm sure I'll get back to that stuff soon. I can't live in this reality tunnel for long. I'm not that strong.

Ignorance really is bliss. But the next best thing is selective perception.

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