Thursday, January 4, 2007

Addendum - Peak Oil

Just a few notes to myself:

Declining oil does not simply imply more costly commutes: among other things, it directly and adversely impacts our ability to grow and transport sufficient quantities of food. The amount of fossil fuels used to grow basic agricultural commodities, and hence, to provide feedstock and ultimately fill our supermarkets, in the form of fertilizers, fuel for farm equipment, refrigeration and food transportation, is enormous. It is estimated by some that it takes approximately the fossil fuel equivalent of ten calories to put one calorie of food on our tables. Our ability to provide for the globe’s massive and growing population will be strained, and some speak of the possibility of a “die-off.”

While there will likely be some forms of the replacement for automobiles, the increasing cost of oil will drive up the cost of fuel for airplanes and shipping. The era of globalization will come to an end. The abundance of cheaply produced products will cease, and in its place we will need to practice virtues of thrift and frugality, as well as accustom ourselves again to want. The interpenetration of cultures will decline – although not disappear, since such interpenetration has always been a feature of human life – giving rise to questions about the empirical basis of “the fact of pluralism.” Humans will learn to live more locally and more regionally, and “cosmopolitanism” will return to being an imaginary philosophy of somewhat unstable thinkers rather than a realistic way to live.

Before this happens, the world’s most powerful governments will seek to protect their ways of life – as Vice President Cheney declared during 2001, “the American Way of Life is non-negotiable.” Andrew Bacevich has argued that we are already in the midst of fighting World War III, and that this war is now being fought over the remains of the world’s oil resources. As those remains evaporate, one can expect the fighting to become fiercer and even cataclysmic. As in all times of warfare – and it can be expected that this will be a situation of near-perpetual hot or cold warfare – power necessarily accrues to executive and military authority. Already the nation has seen a significant shift in power away from Congress to the Presidency, and ever-greater encroachments of executive power on civil liberties in the name of security. It is likely that constitutional democracy will cease to exist as we have known it, and that people will not only support the further rise of the imperial Presidency, but demand it. Whether, over the long term, the nation-state will survive the end of the oil age is an open question: with the decline of overall energy, it may prove too difficult to hold massive “enlarged orbits” together.

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