Global Energy Crisis: Why the US won't play along.
Worried voices can be heard around the world these days, speaking in strident tones about the horrors of climate change. They demand that the G8+5 summit in Heleigendamm next month for example, be about action, action taken to reduce carbon emissions by forced agreement. The U.S. is balking at this saying that remedies must take the form of technological solutions rather than by forced measures.
The American position is understandable enough, given that their economy would suffer dramatically if carbon-reduction measures were forced on it. The U.S. is top dog in the world at the moment and it would be foolish to think that they will give that up without a fight. Isn't that exactly what they are proving in Iraq and Afghanistan? While the military action in the Middle East is ostensibly and idealogical conflict fought against the bogey-man of the "terrorist," and while nobody is saying it, the real reson why the U.S. is there and why they aren't leaving anytime soon, maybe never, is oil. Peak oil production in the continental U.S. was reached in 1969 (see Hubbert report: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peak_oil) and world oil production is predicted to be reached by 2010. This means the cost of retrieving each barrel of oil from then on is going to become increasingly more difficult and expensive, so the value of oil reserves that are relatively easy and cheap become more valuable. They lie in the Arab countries of the Middle East. No superpower can afford to let those reserves fall under the complete control of regimes antagonistic to their cultural agenda.
The American cultural agenda can be read by viewing the commercial messages aired every 15 minutes on network television. It is an agenda of motor vehicles using petroleum products, drugs derived from petroleum and other products from plastic disposable diapers to processed foods derived from or packaged in plastics, themselves derived from petroleum products.
The voices heard around the world should be worried. Americans aren't giving up their suburban lifestyle anytime soon. And the alternative is worse.
Coal gas has long been known as a source of energy, pharmaceuticals, plastics, and chemicals necessary to industry. Many regions produce their electricity by burning coal. Any reduction in the use of petroleum products will likely result in an increase of coal usage. Coal burning produces more greenhouse gases than does burning oil. In addition it is higher in sulphur and other deadly pollutants.
But back to the U.S. and global warming.
The threat assessment of global warming has included: disruptive weather in the form of violent storms, flooding, wind damage, altered growing seasons leading to crop failures, even long-lasting drought. None of these threats are greater in the minds of the White House and the American people, than the thought of the end of the era of the automobile. It is a nation founded on personal freedoms and the automobile has become the over-riding symbol of that freedom. To be unable to "get away" from your problems by going for a drive, or unable to go visit a loved one anytime you feel like it, or to have access to a resource (like food) simply by hopping in your vehicle and going to get it, is anathema to the American way of thinking, and contra-indicated by their whole social planning strategy, centred as it is, on suburban living. They would rather give up unassisted breathing than give up their automobiles, and that is exactly what they will be doing if they start using coal as an alternative source of fuel. People in Taiwan and mainland China wear surgical masks as they walk down the city streets or travel by motor scooter about their daily lives, because the air is harmful to breathe. This is the fate of North American cities. Like the frog boiling gradually in the pot of water as the heat is turned up, we, the citizens of North America, just like those in Asia, will asphyxiate ourselves before we give up the automobile and its associated freedoms.
Therefore, we may conclude that the U.S. government will not untertake ant action that will mean the reduction in the use of the personal vehicle by its citizens. The dynamic isn't as simple as the political rhetoric: we serve the people and they want their cars. It is more subtle. The government, any government, exists to serve its dominant class (see John Ralston Saul, Voltaire's Bastards for a fuller exposition). In the Western nations and increasingly throughout the world the dominant class has become the corporation. The corporations sell goods and services and influence the government with huge amounts of cash and considerations at the personal, party and public levels as well as intense lobbying by highly proficient professionals. These corporate interests profit by pandering to the tastes of the multitudes without regard to their direct well-being. The corporation after all is designed to look after the well being of only one group: their stockholders, and the stockholders typically want only one thing: profit.
Technological solutions to the coming oil shortage will be found. Given that massive profits can be had by pandering to the comforts of the masses as in cheap, personal transportation, the solutions likley won't be "Green", ie. Friendly to the environment, polar bears and such. However, declining air quality has a more insidious effect. In Silent Spring, Rachel Carson warned of the disaster awaiting us as rampant insecticide use meant declini9ng bird and non-harmful insect populations. Recently reports of honeybee population decline has agricultural experts worried as the bees are the best, maybe the only effective, long term means of pollinating plants, the stuff we eat. Food production can be affected more drastically by a scarcity of insects than by erratic weather. Air pollution kills insects – the good kinds- and that starves the birds and that affects humans in ways perhaps not yet understood.
The overwhelming message seems to be: ya gotta give up the cars, and the consumptive lifestyle that goes with it. But the automobile itself, or rather, the internal combustion engine, is not the problem. It is the plenitude of them. In 1850 there were only one billion humans on the planet. Today there are 6.7 billion humans. If population had stalled at say 1920 levels when the automobile began its heyday, global warming wouldn't even be a topic of idle discussion. And even if we were to reduce the greenhouse gas production per capita by 50% not the 10% or 20% talked about by Kyoto, it won't make a bit of difference to climate change since that takes decades but it will take only one more lifetime for the population to double to 12 billion people (estimates vary, some predict 11 billion by 2050.)
Let me say that again,
even if you halve the greenhouse gas output per capita, it means nothing to global warming if the population doubles.
Will the population double before we have technological solutions to transporrtation needs, flora and fauna preservation issues and catastrophic weather phenomena?