"It never gets any easier. You just go faster." ---Greg Lemond
"Don't buy upgrades. Ride up grades." --- Eddy Merckx
"You drive like shit." ---The Car Whisperer


Pipe dreams

Tea Party anger is genuine, but very sadly misplaced. It's like watching a trust fund kid run out of money. Except in this case that money is cheap energy - easily obtainable oil and gas.

A half-decent screed on t r u t h o u t was brought to my attention today by some friends on facebook. Author Henry A. Giroux claims that Tea Party vitriol is led by a vast conspiracy of rich people getting greedier and meaner, the result of a collective loss of our moral compass over the last 30 years - since Reagan's election.

I read it, realized he was partly right, and was quickly reminded of the book I just finished a few weeks ago, James Howard Kunstler's, The Long Emergency. We have gone through about half of our total endowment of fossil fuels - specifically oil and gas, Kunstler writes - the cheap and easy-to-get half (and especially our own rapidly depleting supply of gas, and we do not have the infrastructure to import LNG at soon-to-be needed levels). It's all down hill from here. If anything, read the book, written in 2004, for Kunstler's related prediction of the housing collapse and foreclosure crisis will make the hairs on your neck stand up as stiffly as a legion of brownshirts coming to attention.

And many sources would say he's right, showing that global production peaked as late as four years ago. Consequently, Giroux is right, too. Our "ideals" did begin to change once Reagan was elected, because Reagan's election was in fact a reaction to our collective failure to deal with our own national peak oil crisis, in 1970: blaming it on the liberals and Arabs.

What next immediately jumped out at me was Giroux's absolute denial that government solutions don't work; that reams and books and stacks and entire libraries and roomfuls of computer servers of rules and regulations have never worked. His stone-faced failure to acknowledge that the Tea Party is, ultimately, a very real reaction. We're as self-centered as we ever were, 30 years ago, or 3,000. Don't believe me? When has a rule ever changed what you wanted? Needed? Have you ever seen a government RFP? I have. It was 57 pages of ADA, EEO, and DBE accommodations that would drive Bill Gates to become a turnip-farming revolutionary.

That the Tea Party is a reaction seems self-evident at first, because all liberals love to tout how proactive they are. But failing to address the action that caused the reaction you are condemning makes you just as big a reactionary.

Everyone loves to argue these days about who the real Nazis are, who's the real next Hitler. The truth is, who ever is in power the moment the permanent energy shocks and blackouts start is gonna be saddled by that unfortunate historical comparison. Unfortunate because it will be completely out of their control. We'll all slip into a collective psychosis, as Kunstler warns, looking to blame our problems on someone that is not ourselves, very much like the real Nazis and the German people of the 1930s.

You think the Tea Party supports your right to bear arms? Just wait until they're in power when the center starts really coming apart and they suddenly start taking the blame. I got yer second amendment right here. And the 1st, 3rd, 4th...you get the picture. And if Barack Hussein Obama and his crew happen to be the unlucky ones still in power when the shit goes down, then Palin and Co. will be proven right, but only by accident. If only they could be so lucky.

Truth is, labels shift and blame changes with whoever is in power because nobody wants to deal with the truth. It's the reason Palin, Paul, Miller, Angle, and O'Donnell are all part of this current zeitgeist. They're on the outside looking in, claiming to have all the answers. They'll be sorry when they're finally in and want out.

According to Kunstler, the world's endowment of cheap energy has made the illusion of modern economic utopia possible, including the ability for our nation, with all its diverse political views, to tolerate the massive entitlements that come with a modern democracy. But as the energy that underpins our entire, now global, society becomes unaffordable, we're suddenly realizing that we can't afford those entitlements anymore because we've dumped so much national wealth into an unsustainable lifestyle that only runs on cheap gas in our cars (read: the suburbs).

Employers can't afford to keep the payroll what it was. Food prices, for goods shipped in from all over the world, are getting too expensive, especially for the unemployed. Utility shut-offs ("come on, people...gawd, pay yer BILLS!") are the highest since the Great Depression. Freezing in a dark apartment has a sudden chilling effect on your democratic ideals.

But how can we get rid of all the entitlements? Privatization? I have several family members that each lost nearly $100,000 in investments in 2008, all their own private stash, when the market tanked. It's all moot anyway, no one can live on a SSA check alone to begin with.

So let's blame Harry Reid and his Mexicans.

As if Nevadans are going to wake up November 3rd and find all the illegals gone before Sharron Angle even takes her oath. Or even the year after. Although, in a few years, Nevadans will wake up to find all the water is gone and no one can afford their AC bills. I'd like to see Angle fix that. If she tries to come to the great lakes with a water pipeline, long a Nevada pipe dream - after they've let private mining operations drain their unreplenishable aquifers at the expense of all those people living a friggin desert (Lake Mead is at it's lowest level since the Hoover Dam made the goddamn lake!)...she'll have a fight on her hands, by god, cause I'm voting local. That's one example of socialism against which I'll join a revolution.

(Plus I love that she got so upset when that fat woman on The View called her a "bitch"...that after she told Reid to "man up." She can dish it out, but can't take it. Gender stereotypes go both ways, Sharron.)

And now that we're trying make things more efficient and sustainable, they call people like me a "socialist." With our bike lanes, VMT-reduction goals, 20-minute neighborhoods. They may be right, because it will still be underwritten by oil. Socialism is only an attempt to keep it all banded together with bailing wire and bubblegum what won't stay together on it's own without a huge endowment, a trust fund of cheap energy - gas and oil.

And don't give me the nuclear power argument - do you think the technicians needed at those plants are gonna get to work in nuclear cars? Nuclear's contribution is currently far too low, and electric cars are barely on the market. The time is now, the danger immediate. By time the market responds it will be too late. You only have to look once at Russia's nuclear situation for a clue as to what our own infrastructure may soon look like. And the "socialist" solution is provoking the very reaction about which I've decided to write.

Is it too late? It depends on your definition of "too late." The reality is probably that renewables will never satisfy our current demand. Kunstler argues that contraction, in that scenario, is the only way. He is proving to be more right every day, and it is a bitter pill for an ever growing number of people to swallow.


igowithfergus said...

Interesting post. The Tea Party is an insurgency and while I don't believe they will take power, there will be other insurgencies. Insurgencies are necessary to bring about the death of the nation-state.

I thought you would have read Kunstler years ago. He's right to warn about the coming energy crisis and he's right that the current crop of 'green' solutions aren't sufficient replacements, but he has no answers. He is only looking back into the past and he has little understanding of how this world has changed in terms of technology and communication and how that impacts how we will react to the coming crisis. He has no concept of the makr and hackerspace cultures which may hold the key to the future.

Have you ever read John Robb? Check out "Brave New War" and his blog He has some ideas about how the future will be organized which are very interesting. I believe his next book will pick up where BNW left off and explore Resilient Communities in more detail.

Definitely check out BNW and keep in mind that it is about more than just terrorism. Be patient because he gets around to some good ideas about the future of globalization. You will also see how our response to systems disruption whether caused by terrorism or an energy crisis is similar.

Imho, the USA will collapse under the weight of the twin deficits, trade and government, and although painful, this will be a net good thing. Nation-states are dying and will be replaced by new organizations which will serve people's needs better in the coming chaos. I suspect the internet will enable an emergent intelligence that will best respond to the crisis we will face.

brianfmorrissey said...

I will have to check that out. But A) I've been reading Kunstler's column since '06, maybe not regularly until just a couple years ago. But really right in line with my own developmental trajectory. I'm excited about digging into his other more suburban-focused book, Geography of Nowhere.

B) I wouldn't say he has no answers. He definitely does, it's just more likely an answer nobody wants to hear. I won't doubt you that BNW is enlightening, but I'll venture to say that that if you buy JHK's prediction of a global energy crisis, and accept that our current "green" slate of options won't supply current demand, then there's some alignment, at least.

A community that reestablishes itself through farming and sustainable energy, albeit amid a vastly contracted global setting of humanity, is not a failure by any means. One that, quite frankly, I welcome every time I am nearly run down in a crosswalk or am subjected to more 5 seconds viewing of Fox News or Jersey Shore.

Give me a lit candle, my copy of Shakespeare's complete works, the satisfaction of a a hard day's labor, and I think I'll be a pretty happy post-industrial agrarian.

It certainly beats Duncan's Olduvai Theory. Now that guy has an answer nobody wants to hear.

brianfmorrissey said...

I think the part of JHK's answer that nobody wants to listen to is the "vastly" contracted part. But, again, if you buy the overarching energy crisis prediction, there is no way we can continue without a lot of people dying. Either starving, or being bludgeoned for a bag of corn meal. It's ugly, yes, but far from not being an answer.

Things need will get a lot more local, in the non-virtual sense, anyways. We need to start producing things of real value again. All of us. And in the near future, that will be food. Then ideas and art, hopefully, once again.