There’s an article I’ve been looking at recently from Resilience dot org, and it weighs in heavily against Liberals–yes LIBERALS–about the issue of global warming. Resilience is the website put up by people who are in the Peak Oil movement. The theory of Peak Oil has taken an undeserved shellacking of late, what with presidential bromides about the US becoming the #1 producer of oil. But the folks at Post Carbon Institute have been writing about the interplay between peak oil (and technically, peak everything else–peak water, peak food, peak copper, peak uranium, peak phosphate fertilizer) and global warming. Peak everything (especially peak finance) weights heavily on our ability to mitigate global warming, since we won’t have the capital to take on big projects once cheap oil goes away. More about that later.
Anyway, the article (entitled Six Myths about Climate Change that Liberals Rarely Question) should be required reading for climate activists. Because (long story short), many of the assertions made by climate activists about changing out the fossil fuel economy are untrue. While liberals deride the climate change deniers on the science (rightly so), the deniers are right about one thing: giving up oil and coal will not be easy or painless. Those of us who are read-up on the arguments for peak oil understand this. A decade ago, I read James Howard Kunstler’s great book ‘The Long Emergency‘, which does an amazing job of pointing to just how much our society depends on cheap (primarily fossil fuel-based) energy. And it was Kunstler’s assertion (buttressed in this documentary) that we were running out of the cheap stuff. Yes, we can get oil out of the tar sands, but not without using a whole lot of natural gas to do so (never mind wrecking the environment). Oil Shale processing uses almost as much energy as the shale itself provides. Ditto deep-sea drilling–the ‘Jack II’ deepwater field required new technologies to drill fairly close to the mantle of the earth, and the total cost of whatever oil we get will require oil prices in the three-figure range. The field couldn’t have opened at a worse time in terms of oil prices.
In other words, we will be off our Oil Jones soon enough, whether we want to give it up or not. And Climate Activists (I include myself in this category) would rather we gave up the fossil fuel addiction sooner–as soon as possible, please!–owing to the way that burning fossil fuels are warming the planet. As I’ve been pointing out (much to the consternation of friends and acquaintances, who’d rather I just stuck to excessive drinking), the last time the earth was at 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide, there weren’t any humans on the planet and sea levels were up to 25 meters higher (that’s about 80 feet for us ‘Muricans) than they are now. Temperatures were also high enough to put ‘wet bulb’ temperatures at a point that large mammals couldn’t thermo-regulate. In short, we’re flirting with extinction. Heck, we’re giving extinction a lap-dance. Many of the people I’ve written about (especially Dr. McPherson) believe we’ve already finished our lap-dance and are handing out our remaining cash as a tip before we join the baluchitherium.
Sorry for the detour.
But if we went off fossil fuels in, say, ten years–if the world’s governing bodies got together and committed to a plan to be fossil-fuel free by, say 2025–we’d never make up the difference with renewables. Parts of our way of life that would go away pretty quickly include Disneyland/Disneyworld and other ‘destination vacays’, airline travel and in fact most air travel, and Walmart (aka the ‘warehouse on wheels‘). Retail therapy is history. So is the stock market–the assumptions that the stock market is built on assume growing prosperity and annual increases in gross domestic product (GDP). The US is in real trouble if it can’t continue annual growth of at least 2%, which just keeps pace with population growth. In a post-fossil fuel economy, those increases are history. This is no small point–some of the people I’m acquainted with in the groups that organized the People’s Climate March last year are terribly optimistic about the ability of renewables to replace the energy we’re using. They won’t. We will have to figure out workarounds for times when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow. And storage batteries won’t do it.
By the way, I’m not advocating for a Nuclear Renaissance here. I’ve already posted about the likelihood of Fukushima being an extinction-level event. One of the reasons that global warming-caused sea-level rises pose such a serious risk is that in the US alone, some 15 nuclear reactors sit on coastlines or low-lying coastal areas that could easily be compromised by a major tsunami, hurricane or other natural disaster. But even if that weren’t the case, (thanks to peak oil) there’s not enough capital to put together nuclear power plants to pick up the slack in a post-fossil fuel world. Futurist Jeremy Rifkin, who I’ve quoted previously, gave a great eulogy for nuclear power a couple years go, and it’s worth five minutes of your time to listen in. And nuclear requires a functioning fossil fuel economy (so do renewables, for that matter). But imho, nuclear’s biggest problem is that we haven’t found enough U235 to keep the plants we have in operation. We’ll be out of the nuclear power biz long before we’ve figured out what the hell to do with all the radioactive waste.
Perhaps the biggest blind spot for the liberals derided in the Resilience dot org story is one the authors thought not to bring up–that we appear to have passed a number of tipping points on climate that put us firmly on the road to near-term extinction. I’ve written about this before, and of late, the news hitting the ‘webs seems to bear out what the doomsayers are saying. And we’re seeing the ramifications of warming play themselves out this week in India, where record high temperatures (upwards of 118 Fahrenheit, with virtually no post-sundown cooling) have caused at least 1,000 deaths so far. We aren’t hearing of these events so often these days, even though it’s clear that they are increasing. Indeed, the aid organization DARA calculates that warming and the resulting weather abnormalities alone are causing some five million deaths each year. And the Resilience article points out that doing nothing is not an option. Even if we’re too late to stop warming that will spell the end of the human species (along with the 200 or so a day that are disappearing), we’re obligated to try action. And as Edward Abbey, the novelist and climate activist, put it, ‘Action is the antidote to despair’ (actually melancholia).