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Deep thought - July 20

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Many more articles are available through the Energy Bulletin homepage


Imagine What Comes After Green

WorldChanging team
The greatest opportunity of our generation: that's what could be waiting for us, after we leave "green" behind. Saving the biosphere and spreading sustainable prosperity is going to take a lot more than doing things in a more environmentally-conscious manner; it's going to demand we remake much of our material civilization.

And that's good news. It frees us up to think in really new ways, to innovate, to create, to re-invent. Our day is almost defined by the exploding number of people who have access to tools and models and ways of thinking that were previously rare or expert or unimagined. If we live in an age of stark ecological limits, we also live in an age of widespread potential innovation.

We can see on the horizon the silhouette of something incredibly hopeful and exciting: a world of people whose boundless creativity within natural limits uplifts humanity and remakes civilization to be first sustainable, even restorative. This crisis could end up being the greatest opportunity of our generation.

... Imagine no garbage cans. Imagine recycling everything that comes through your door.

... Imagine no warning labels. Imagine bringing nothing into your home that isn't safe for you, your children or your pets.

... Imagine no smokestacks. Imagine a world where all our energy comes from clean and renewable sources like wind, solar and hydro power; and where we produce no excess greenhouse gas emissions. It's not a pipe dream.
(14 July 2008)



Oil Shock

A.K. Gupta, The Indypendent (New York)
Even as the Economy Reels, a Golden Opportunity Is at Hand

For more than a year the U.S. economy has been reeling from the housing and credit crises, but now it’s staggering from the blow of rising energy and food prices. The impact of $4-a-gallon gasoline is rippling outward as Americans cut spending of all sorts. Every month it seems as if another major economic sector hits the skids: first it was housing and construction, then automobiles and airlines, then tourism and, finally, back to housing with the implosion of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

What ties all these crises together is cheap energy, which drove years of suburban sprawl, SUV sales and big-box consumption. That’s all in the past, however. The United States consumes 12.4 million barrels of imported oil products a day. At $140 a barrel, that comes to $633 billion a year — a huge transfer of wealth to oil companies and oil-producing countries and four times the annual cost of the Iraq War.
(19 July 2008)
Arun K. Gupta
has been a writer and editor for The Indypendent since 2000. Gupta has written extensively about the Iraq War for The Indypendent as well as Z Magazine and Left Turn and been a frequent guest on Democracy Now! He is currently working on a book about the history of the war. Gupta was previously an editor at the National Guardian from 1988-1992.



The Apocalypse Makes Us Dumb

Alex Steffen, WorldChanging
or, Millennial Mistakes: Why the Apocalypse is a Bad Model for Understanding The Future

In thinking seriously about the negative trends in our future, we're severely hampered by the Hollywood idea of the Apocalypse. That idea, in turn, has deep roots in the millenarianism of monotheistic religions (in which there is an End of Days and it's coming soon) and of 19th Century social movements (there is a Dictatorship of the Proletariat and it's coming soon). Millenarianism has its own problems, not least of which is that people do horrible things to others in the name of clearing the way for their chosen perfect future. But for our discussion here, let's just confine our understanding of the credo to what it has done to our conception of the future.

Believing in a millennial future, or even frequently telling stories of such futures, blinds us both to what history teaches us about collapses and to what we know about our present moment. It makes us bad at thinking intelligently about the future.
(15 July 2008)
Here are some points at which I find myself in agreement with the collapsists:

1) If society continues in the current direction, there will be ecological and economic collapse, of a magnitude that is difficult to predict. The collapsists are wrong, I think, in underestimating our ability to change behavior in the face of disaster.

2. Many of the arguments used against collapsists are smug and superficial. Yes there are cultural predispositions to apocalyptic ideas, but that doesn't negate the fact that there are real dangers ahead of us. A recent post in the Freakonomics blog of the NY Times talks about deaths due to climate change in the range of hundreds of millions.

The main problem I have with collapsist thinking is that it leads to hysteria and ineffective action. It does not help us understand the real possibilities for the future.

There's a need for historical perspective, to look at how other civilizations dealt with challenges of this size. I notice that Dennis Meadows ("Limits to Growth") said in a recent interview that he is reading about the later stages of the Roman Empire.
-BA



The Political Economy and Ecology of Biofuels

Fred Magdoff, Monthly Review
The huge increase in oil and other fuel prices over the last few years and a concern that we have reached (or will soon reach) peak oil - after which oil extraction begins to decrease - have created renewed interest in alternative sources of energy. These include solar, wind, ocean wave and tidal flow, geothermal, and biofuels. Sometimes lip service is given to the need for greater energy efficiency, changes in lifestyles (including the ecologically irrational over-reliance on automobiles and living far from one’s job), the need to redesign economic activity from the factory floor to office buildings and homes, and the need for affluent societies to move away from ever higher levels of consumption. However, a radical analysis of actually putting these into effect would lead to questioning the very basics of how capitalism works.

Alternative fuel sources are attractive because they can be developed and used without questioning the very workings of the economic system - just substitute a more “sustainable,” “ecologically sound,” and “renewable” energy for the more polluting, expensive, and finite amounts of oil. People are hoping for magic bullets to “solve” the problem so that capitalist societies can continue along their wasteful growth and consumption patterns with the least disruption. Although prices of fuels may come down somewhat - with dips in the business cycle, higher rates of production, or a burst in the speculative bubble in the futures market for oil - they will most likely remain at historically high levels as the reserves of easily recovered fuel relative to annual usage continues to decline.

The use of biological materials - coming from recently living plants - as fuels has a long history.

Fred Magdoff is professor emeritus of plant and soil science at the University of Vermont in Burlington, adjunct professor of crops and soils at Cornell University, and a director of the Monthly Review Foundation.
(July-August 2008 issue)
One of the articles in Monthly Review's special issue on ecology. This article was just put on the web.

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