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Many more articles are available through the Energy Bulletin homepage.

Will China’s peak herald the “peak human”?

Jonathan Watts, Guardian
There have never been more people on earth then now, and we have never consumed more energy, but could the age of peak man be upon us?

For China at least, the answer is yes and perhaps sooner than expected. Two influential reports this week suggest the world’s most populous nation and largest energy consumer is likely to trim its size and appetite soon after 2030.

The last national census results, released Thursday, showed China’s population growth has slowed by half in the past decade. Since 2000, about 70 million extra people – the equivalent of a Britain and two Irelands – were added to a nation that is now home to 1.34bn people. This is slightly lower than previous forecasts by Chinese demographers, who expected numbers to peak below 1.5bn by 2035.

Partly as a result of such trends, energy demand could taper off earlier than previously predicted. On Wednesday, the influential Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory issued detailed new projections indicating China’s power consumption was likely to flatten out 20 years from now because there will be less need for steel and cement.

… Even if it remains as it is now, the environment will also continue to come under immense pressure from a population that is increasingly mobile (one in five people are migrants), affluent and resource hungry. Last year, 50,000 cars were sold every day in China – more than any country at any time in history. Ownership rates are still far lower than in the US and Europe so there is a lot of room to grow. Even if China’s expansion lasts only two decades instead of three or four, that is plenty of time to squeeze scarce global resources.

And, of course, even after China’s population and energy demand plateaus, other developing nations will continue to grow.
(29 April 2011)
We posted the story about the report on China’s energy use, but most of our commenters were skeptical: A surprise: China’s energy consumption will stabilize. -BA

Live long. Stay healthy. Join the immortals

Catherine Mayer, The Observer
The seven ages of man are a thing of the past. We’re never too old to find a new lover, start a business or even have a baby. Now, we’re ready for anything – except death. Welcome to the world of amortality.

… the natural order is itself in flux. My father still dives in his 80s, still lectures, researches, writes books. People are living longer, sometimes much longer. Across the developed world the average lifetime has lengthened by 30 years since the beginning of the 20th century. The fastest-growing segment of the world population is the very old, with the number of centenarians up from a few thousand in 1950 to 340,000 in 2010 and projected to reach nearly 6 million by 2050. You might have thought we’d use all that extra time to squeeze in a few additional stages of life – from the seven ages of man observed by Shakespeare, when life expectancy at birth was below 40, to maybe 10, 12, 15 stages now that a man born in Stratford-upon-Avon looks forward to an average span of 76.9 years.

Here’s the crazy, counterintuitive thing: the ages of man are actually eliding. Youth used to be our last hurrah before the onset of maturity and dotage, each milestone benchmarked against culturally determined expectations. Those expectations are now swirling and re-forming like glassfish in a current. What that means is that the premises on which our governments legislate are outdated. Our economies are based on data that no longer applies. There is a profound disconnect between how we imagine life and how it actually unfolds.

The meanings of age have become elusive; visual clues untrustworthy. Children dress like louche adults. Their parents slouch around in hoodies and trainers. Rising phalanxes of Dorian Grays rely on exercise, diet and cosmetic procedures to remain transcendentally youthful.

… Things change. Amortals don’t, not at the core. These are the swelling ranks of people – and I am one – who live agelessly, doing and consuming many of the same things from teens into old age. For us, the concept of age-appropriate behaviour has little meaning. We don’t structure our lives around the inevitability of decline and death because we prefer to ignore it. Perpetual motion is a hallmark of the condition; we are prone to overwork, to adventuring. Nothing banishes those pesky intimations of mortality more effectively than illicit sex or emotional drama or some high-octane combination of the two.

… genes don’t make us amortal; our socialisation does that, and the elements of that socialisation have changed dramatically as the culture of deference died, and traditional forms of authority ceded dominance to a makeshift cast of celebrities and scientists and a globalised, digitised range of cultural influences. Family, too, has lost traction as a vehicle for cultural transmission. As generational differences erode, relationships between adults and children change, often becoming closer. But if there is a weakness to amortal parenting, it is that amortal parents may be better friends to their kids than they are parents.
(1 May 2011)

The world system after 1945

Immanuel Wallerstein, Eurozine
1968 as world revolution and beginning of the end for the twentieth-century superpowers: Immanuel Wallerstein on the logic of global history from the Yalta Conference to the Second Iraq War. Based on a lecture given at The Vienna L’Internationale Conference, 27 October 2010.

… Let me offer you a slightly different set of temporal cutting-points to illuminate this story – 1945, 1956, 1968, 1979-1980, 1989-1991, 2001-2003, 2008-2010.

1945: This was of course the end of the Second World War. More important, it was the end of an intense 30-year-long struggle between the United States and Germany in their efforts, begun in the 1870s, to succeed Great Britain as the hegemonic power of the world-system.

The United States was the triumphant one. It was the only major industrial power to emerge in 1945 with its infrastructure unscathed. It had become the most efficient producer in the world-system and dominated the world market. All of Eurasia – not only the defeated Axis powers but the victors as well – were struggling to reconstruct themselves. The United States was able therefore to assert its hegemonic position and impose a new world order favourable to its interests.

Its only constraint was the remaining military strength of the Soviet Union, whose army was occupying virtually the whole of east-central Europe. To ratify its hegemonic position, the United States felt it necessary to enter into an arrangement with the Soviet Union, one we have come to designate metaphorically as Yalta. This arrangement had three parts.

First and most important, the world was divided into two spheres of influence – a Soviet zone (the third of the world running from the Oder-Neisse line in Germany to the 38th parallel in Korea) and an American zone (the other two-thirds of the world). Both sides agreed tacitly not to attempt to use force to change these boundaries. There were many tense moments in their relations during the following years, but the outcome of each dramatic uprising or quasi-confrontation was in each case a return to the status quo ante. This agreement remained in fact inviolate until 1989.

… The key turning-point was the world-revolution of 1968, which pulled all these pieces together. First of all, it should be underlined that this was a world revolution, in the elementary sense that between 1966 and 1970, uprisings of various kinds occurred in all the three different geopolitical arenas then existing in the world-system – the pan-European world, the so-called socialist bloc, and the so-called Third World. Every national and local occurrence had to be sure its own particular story and explanation. But there were two underlying themes that were common to all the events in all three zones, and it is these commonalities that are relevant to our discussion here.

One was that everywhere the protestors were denouncing the misdeeds of US hegemony and the fact that the Soviet Union was in fact collusive in these misdeeds as a result of the unwritten Yalta accords. After 1968, neither the United States nor the Soviet Union would ever be able to regain the unquestioning fidelity of their presumed allies or the unquestioning belief in the bright futures each was guaranteeing to everyone.

The second commonality was, if anything, more important. The protestors everywhere called into question not merely the governing doctrines of the Cold War but the honesty, relevance, and real objectives of the traditional anti-systemic movements that had inspired and framed popular struggles for at least a century.

The three varieties of the Old Left – the Communist parties, the Social-Democratic parties, and the national liberation movements – were tarred by the protestors as failures. They had come to power in most states by that time, and they had not at all changed the world, as they had promised in their long trajectory since the late nineteenth century. The protestors proclaimed these movements to be not part of the solution but part of the problem. None of these movements would ever be able to recover from the political shock this caused. These movements ceased in fact to be movements and became merely parties. They lost the ability to mobilize the faithful who believed and were ready to sacrifice themselves for the certain glorious future the movements had promised.

These movements had been the movements of modernity. The modern was to have been the fulfilment of the struggle, the end of the process, the heaven on earth. At the end of this struggle, all problems would find resolution.

It is no accident that, as part of the world-revolution of 1968, the world saw the coming to the fore, the flourishing, of all the movements whose causes had been put aside as having to await the end of the process. These were the movements that asserted the rights of the “forgotten people” – the women, the ethno-racial “minorities”, the “indigenous” peoples, those whose sexual practices were other than the hitherto defined norm. They were also the movements of those who fought for a saner world ecology, those who struggled for peace, those who pressed the necessity of non-violent struggle.

… The years 1967-1973 were the turning-point in two crucial ways. It marked not only the end of the period of unquestioned US hegemony in the world-system but also the end of the greatest expansion in the world-economy the system had ever known. What the French called “les trentes glorieuses” – a typical Kondratieff A-cycle except that it involved a far larger expansion of the world-economy than any previous one – reached its point of exhaustion. The quasi-monopolies that had sustained the expansion had been sufficiently undermined that the world-system entered into a Kondratieff B-cycle of stagnation, one that has been going on ever since.

What we call today the financial crisis of the world-economy is simply the culminating point of this long Kondratieff B-phase. The world Left passed the 1970s in search of new organizational forms that would replace those that the Old Left, the traditional anti-systemic movements (now in semi-disgrace), had institutionalized.

The world Right was much more practical. They launched a coherent program to transform the direction of the world-system and to push back against all the advances in social welfare that had been achieved during the 1945-1967/73 period. They were determined to reduce real wages worldwide, repel all the pressures on producers to internalize the costs of combating damage to the world’s ecology, and to reduce, even eliminate, the benefits of the welfare state. This program was called neo-liberalism.

… In 2008, the next-to-last speculative bubble burst. The world, and most especially the United States, entered into the so-called Great Recession, which is actually a world depression. And it will be sometime until we emerge even partially from the deflationary consequences.

Keynote address at Points of Connection, The Vienna L’Internationale Conference, 27 October 2010.
(29 April 2011)
The most coherent summary of the last 65 years I’ve run across. It provides a historical background against which the trends of peak oil, etc. will play out.

Also posted at Znet.

“Immanuel Wallerstein has since 1976 been Distinguished Professor of Sociology at the State University of New York (SUNY) in Binghamton. He is the founder and director of the Fernand Braudel Center for the Study of Economies, Historical Systems, and Civilizations in Binghamton. Has published countless books and articles. Wallerstein’s so called “World-Systems Theory” is a poltico-economic and comparative macro-theory of social development, in particular capitalism.”

More articles and a bio of author Immanual Wallerstein:
“Born 1930, New York City, and resident in the United States. I am a sociologist, retired from teaching and currently Senior Research Scholar at Yale University. Politically, I have always considered myself on the left, from childhood on. And I have always been active in a variety of organizations, but I have always been of the “independent left”, whatever that means. Recently, I have been active in WSF meetings.

I have been arguing for a long time that we are in the transition from our existing capitalist world-economy to some new system, and that the great political struggle of our time is about which new kind of systemic order will replace our existing one. I have said it could be better or worse, depending on our collective ability to push the worldwide decision in one direction or another. I have said that a crucial element in this is a vast debate about the kind of better system we wish to build.”