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Heavy footprint weighs down U.S. empire

Paul Hanley, The Star-Phoenix (Saskatoon, Canada)
Is the decline of the status of the United States a result of its heavy ecological footprint? A strong argument can be made that the fading of the American empire is fundamentally an environmental issue.

In his book The Upside of Down, Canadian political scientist Thomas Homer-Dixon devotes a lot of space to an environmental analysis of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. Interesting in itself, it is also meant as a cautionary tale, not only for the U.S., but also for all industrialized nations.

The main source of energy for Rome was biomass — grain for people, fodder for oxen and fuels like wood and olive oil. Indirectly, all are forms of solar energy. As the city of Rome expanded, more and more energy was needed to support the growing urban population and build infrastructure.

…The U.S. is the modern equivalent to Rome, though its energy sources are mainly coal, oil and natural gas. National reserves of oil and gas began to decline decades ago and the U.S. became increasingly dependent on foreign oil. This dependence required a foreign presence with a military backing that is unparalleled in the history of the world. As everyone knows, and former chair of the U.S. Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan finally stated once out of office, wars like Iraq are oil wars, just as Roman conquests were — in large measure — about access to biomass energy.

All this oil is needed to support the most lavish lifestyle the world has ever known.
(29 January 2008)
Contributor Gryphon writes: Fantastic food for thought. Whoever still doesn’t get our economy’s link to energy can’t possibly miss it with this one.

Why Cape Breton shakes in the echo of this distant boom

Sinclair Stewart, Globe and Mail
NEW WATERFORD, N.S. – When Frankie Morrison wanted to remodel his kitchen, he didn’t take out a loan, or dip into his retirement savings. Instead, the 53-year-old father of three followed in the footsteps of his son, his eldest daughter, his brother-in-law and just about every other working-age man in this former coal-mining town: He headed west for a spell, to take part in the Great Economic Miracle known as the oil sands.

“I came home with $9,200 in my pocket after six weeks,” he explained, flashing a $200 watch his employer gave him for avoiding accidents on the job. “My buddy just came back and he made $43,000. He bought a four-wheel drive, put new cupboards in his home, a new kitchen and new flooring. As a fella says, you make hay while the sun shines.”

The problem is, Mr. Morrison was making hay in Alberta while he was employed as the town councillor for New Waterford, a small community perched on the eastern tip of Cape Breton Island, near the mouth of Sydney Harbour. The local media discovered his side-act and pointed out he was still receiving a weekly travel stipend from the government (he paid the money back, saying it was an oversight).

Mr. Morrison was scarred enough by the experience that he doesn’t plan to return to Alberta any time soon, but his constituents are showing no such reluctance – in fact, they’re heading out in swarms.

New Waterford, population 6,500 and falling, embodies one of the less remarked-upon implications of the oil sands bonanza: a profound social and demographic shift in the small communities that furnish so much of the project’s labour force during its massive construction phase.

So many of New Waterford’s men are working out of town that the fire department can’t recruit volunteers and the dart leagues are foundering.
(29 January 2008)
Contributor CP writes:
Part 3 of an 8-part series on the tar sands. See also the interesting aerial photos at

The Energy Efficiency Option

US Energy Association, Energy Policy TV
Kateri Callahan, President, Alliance to Save Energy, describes how energy efficiency can help reduce carbon emissions blamed for climate change. She praises the efficiency provisions of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.
(16 January 2008)