Jul 2 2010

Beyond Petroleum – The Game Has Changed

Kal @ 21:39

The Oil Drum has a daily update article on The Gulf Oil Disaster. Today the article is named BP's Deepwater Oil Spill - Some Less Technical Issues - and Open Thread, but it is a comment to that article that I found to be very interesting. It is by someone who signs himself as ccpo. Comment follows:

There are a lot of people on this forum who've not been here for the last several years, thus missed a LOT of discussion. We see that here in the blind allegiance to systems exhibited in this comment thread and zero acknowledgment of the limits we now face. I am not going to waste time trying to review years of discussion, but encourage all of you to consider carefully that you cannot discuss the spill or, for that matter, anything else in isolation. The game has changed.

What we know without doubt:

While capitalism need not inherently be a growth paradigm, in practice, it is because it relies on profit, not equal trade. Also, the inherent failure of capitalism is that capital/resources are held privately, thus no "commons" exists, thus everything, literally is commoditized.

We know now that resource constraints create real limits such that unending growth is, in fact, impossible. (We've known this for a long time, actually, but a large percentage of the population ignores this in favor of the fantasy that technology overcomes limits in all cases.) Any system that requires growth is a failed system awaiting collapse. Period. Time is the only unknown, but collapse is inevitable.

Capitalism, as currently practiced, is dead. What will replace it will be possibly something quite similar, but it will have some changes, such as those resources needed by all will need to be part of The Commons. This in no way means people cannot choose to do business and engage in trade, but the exchange will essentially have to be need-for-need/in-kind vs. profit motivated. That is, there might be a shoemaker, but they'll be exchanging for what they can't make for themselves, and only that which they need.

The room for profit, if there is any, can only be in terms of goods that are made from renewable resources. But even those will reach limits and have to achieve a state of equilibrium in terms of consumption. If this equilibrium is reached via the economic model as currently practiced, we will have exactly what we have now: a tiny very wealthy subclass, a small middle class subclass, and a vast majority of poor.

Here, you have to stop thinking Ameri-/Euro-/OECD-centric to "get" it. The discussion above is one made by people who grew up in a world that has used many times it's "fair" share of resources and that has, in actual, undeniable fact, brought us up against the resource limits we now face. All this talk of profit, capitalism, economics and freedom is so much bull poop and fantasy. Most of the world doesn't get to live in that context precisely because that *is* the context. The rest of the world *is* our slave labor. Full stop.

For any successful continuation of what we consider society over the long term - and choose whatever floats your boat, for we could argue it till we're all in the grave - we must accept resource limits as a condition. That means we look at them differently, distribute them differently. Anything else = bend over and kiss your rear goodbye because any competitive, profit-based, unregulated system will default to growth, thus death. Ask the yeast.

And here we haven't even dealt with climate yet!! It will take a severe regime of restrictions on use and migration to other energy forms to avoid boiling the planet, in essence. unconstrained use of resources, i.e. capitalism as currently practiced, will result in a Terra so changed you won't recognize the human social structures that remain, long-term. Environmental degradation and climate-related instability are already having effects. These will worsen with time; agriculture requires some minimal stability in climate. Given environmental degradation is guaranteed under "free market," unregulated, winner-take-all capitalism, the paradigm was, and is, doomed.

Ah, and what of complexity? Why even bother? If you don't understand the system you were born into is based on a fallacy of unending growth and the superiority of technology over resource limits and environmental health and stability, you'll never accept that complexity has limits and eventually shifts from being the answer to being the problem. If you understand diminishing returns, you you should have no problem understanding this. If you further understand that non-linear systems are inherently unstable and ultimately unpredictable, you are even better off. If you then understand that chaotic systems actually have structure, but that the exact order of events can never be known even as the expected events themselves can be (at least, to an extent), then you should have the full picture. To wit:

We live in a complex system. Parts of that system are non-linear (climate), parts are chaotic (pretty much anything "human.") If we, as a species, continue to essentially run our systems on high octane fuel, something is going to give. A tire is going to blow, a strut will fail, the steering fail... and we hit the wall at 200 mph.

In my opinion, we already have. We are now waiting to see of the roll cage holds and, if it does, whether the fire crew can put out the invisible fire before we are burned to the point of being unable to recover.

So, you can all wrangle the fine points of capitalism and all your other -isms and insult one another as "catholic" or "communist" and pretend it matters. Or, you can wake up to reality and accept one of two things: either, you stay married to your ideology and choose to use it as an excuse to suck up all the resources you can regardless of the effects long-term, or you can accept that the systems we have now are only the systems that we have now, are no the systems we have had, are not inviolate or imbued with any special value beyond what we assign them and that, as with the past, the systems must change for survival.

And, yes, going all Darwin and saying survival of the fittest is the way of the world, so screw everyone else is a defensible position. Not mine, but if it toots your horn, fine. But own that choice and understand that is what you are advocating when you blindly support the systems currently in place. It's suicidal, or, as I say sui-genocidal, but whatcha gonna do? People are people.

What's this got to do with BP and the spill? Responsibility and perspective. This spill is the best opportunity we've had so far to discuss the directions we take in the future because it has brought to the fore resource discussions and the environmental impacts of our use of fossil fuels. These conversations are urgent. They need to be had. But don't be under the illusion we are discussing the world as it has been. We are not. We are discussing what must be. Anything less is so much peeing in the wind.



Category: Beyond Petroleum | Resource Depletion | Sustainability
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