Musings: soil, dress rehearsal, French interview, panic, FAQs
This month's issue is a compilation of several recent short writings. The last of these, a set of frequently asked questions about Peak Oil, is a work in progress that will appear in expanded form at www.postcarbon.org.
Lessons from the Soil
It's hard to learn much or do much about sustainability without getting your hands dirty.
True, global problems of resource depletion and climate change entail some high-level thinking. We need to understand some important numbers—350 parts per million of CO2 (the target necessary to avert catastrophic climate change), 5% production decline rate in existing oilfields (what must be overcome each year to forestall the inevitable peak of global oil output). We need skills in analysis and persuasion. Inevitably, all of this requires much time spent in front of computer screens.
However, while we attend to these technologies and abstractions, we are much more likely to succeed in our ultimate goal of building sustainable culture if we are also grounded in the most basic of activities—obtaining food directly from the Earth.
Reading has taught me a lot. Gardening has taught me as much or more. Often, these lessons tend to be ones that sound trite when put in words: Stay humble; Don't demand too much too fast; Notice the interconnections; Go slow, but always pay attention and be prepared for rapid-onset opportunities and problems. However, when you garden you don't just learn these lessons verbally and mentally. You learn them with your whole body.
... The Dress Rehearsal Is Over
... Wasn't the price of oil supposed to rise endlessly? Wasn't the world supposed to end by now? What happened? What does it all mean?
First, why did the price of oil rise this summer to nearly $150? On this there is little agreement among the mavens. A new report by hedge fund managers Michael Masters and Adam White (released Sept. 10 by Sens. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.) chalks it all up to speculation (Oil speculation blamed for rise in energy prices). Pension funds, college endowments, and other institutional investors bought heavily into commodity index funds earlier this year, and that sent the price of crude to the moon. Recently the same investors have taken their money out of oil futures, and this accounts for petroleum plunging back to earth. Move along, folks, nothing to see here.
But this directly contradicts the findings of an earlier study by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC Report on High Oil Prices). That 100-page report concluded that the price run-up was all about supply and demand.
... Interview with French monthly La Décroissance ("The Degrowth") on the occasion of the publication of The Party's Over in French ("La Fête est finie")
Q: "The party is over," but who was at the party?
In one sense, the "party" was attended primarily by the peoples of the industrialized world who benefited disproportionately from access to cheap fuel and all that it made possible. Americans and Europeans drove cars and shopped at supermarkets, while people in less industrialized countries often experienced a reduction in quality of life as a result of globalization, pollution, and the other consequences of cheap oil. In another sense, the "party" was a species-wide phenomenon, in that cheap fuel enabled an unprecedented expansion of population and resource extraction. So I suppose one could say that, while some were consuming the wine and caviar and others were serving it (and receiving slave wages), we all were involved in the party in one way or another and our fates are entwined with it.
Q: How was this book received in the US and why such a long time for a French translation?
The book was published in North America by an independent publisher, New Society. Within the independent publishing world, the book was a big success and created something of a phenomenon: I was invited to give at least 300 lectures plus dozens more radio and television interviews. I still receive emails almost daily from people who say that reading my book changed their entire view of the world. However, books published by small, independent presses typically receive almost no notice in mainstream journals, and so the vast majority of Americans have never heard of my book and have never seen its cover in a bookstore.
... Don't Panic; Prepare!
The financial sky is falling. Hey, that's not my opinion; it's news straight from the front pages of the Wall Street Journal and New York Times. America's top mortgage companies and investment banks, and the world's biggest insurer have either already gone bankrupt or are in the process of doing so.
For someone who wrote a book titled "The Party's Over," this might seem like a propitious moment to shock readers into greater depths of fear and apprehension. After all, we're only witnessing the doom of the financial world now; we have yet to see the collapse of the transport and food infrastructure, which is merely fluttering at the moment as the result of high oil prices. When the inevitable and imminent decline in world oil production really starts to bite, the support structure of normalcy will truly come unglued.
Okay, so let's all have a good scream now: AAAAAIIIEEEEEEGGGGGHHHHHHH!!!!!!!
Good. Now that that's out of our systems, let's reflect. Panic helps no one. We have a diminishing amount of time in which to work within a system that still has some semblance of stability. We should take advantage of every remaining moment.
... A Few Peak Oil FAQs
1. People have forecast the end of oil many times before. They were wrong every time. Why should anyone take Peak Oil theorists seriously now?
Supply problems with oil are inevitable eventually, since petroleum is a non-renewable, depleting resource. All experts, if pressed, acknowledge that world oil production will reach a peak and decline. Therefore Peak Oil is only a question of when, not if.
So it is perfectly reasonable to investigate the question of when supply problems are likely to appear. Indeed, it would be foolish not to do so. ...