A Polytheist Reflection and Response to Convenience, Consumption, and Peak Oil Part 3

It is easy to understand why convenience is currently winning the hearts and minds of American consumers.  This has much to do with lower upfront cost to the consumer, while the consumer is able to put it out of their minds that much of the convenience we expect and pay for comes at the cost of someone else’s life, livelihood, home, and abysmally low pay or slavery.  Follow any given ‘cheap’ product, and you will find a pipeline of suffering for the animals and plants involved.  Look at any major clothing line or electronics company.  The neodymium mining poisoning Inner Mongolia, the gold in Nigeria in which there are children going blind and infertile, countless countries whose citizens labor for Nike, Gap, and Apple at slave wages or are slaves.  Lots of people are dying just to get a bit of the stuff out of the Earth, make a piece of clothing, or make another electronic gadget that feeds into these systems that keep products cheap for the consumers while costing a lot of people their lives, land, and sovereignty.  It happens here, too, whether you look at New York City’s garment district, falling wages for what once were solidly middle-class jobs, or the paltry amount, around $39,000 or less, that a lot of chicken farmers make per year.

The costs are hidden from the American consumer in terms of jobs, too.  Think about it. When was the last time you heard of a cobbler?  When was the last time you knew the person or the people who made your shoes?  Your clothes?

Resilience does not just mean that the system is preserved in a healthy way, but that people, and the environment are too.  Resilience in our own relationships, economically and personally, mean that we need to reweave our interdependent lives with one another here.  Recognizing that the child labor of a gold mine is wrong; it is another thing to divest ourselves from it as consumers.  Recognizing that there is blood on the diamond trade is one thing, but refusing to buy diamonds at all is a whole other story.  Recognizing that we do not want to support sweatshops or we want to buy American is easy to say, but it is in supporting better ways wherever we can that real change is made.  Resilience requires actions to preserve not only our relationships, but our own integrity as well.  Resilience is an active choice, an activity, and a way of living.  So too, is convenience.

This issue comes up quite a bit when the conversation is about something like the consumption of meat.  Most of these conversation are, themselves, red herrings.  What all of these various issues boil down to, is that so much of human labor and what used to be a lot of animal labor, are now done by increasingly convenient, complex machines which are able to be made because of cheap, abundant fossil fuels.

Think about it.

Whether the fumes choking cities, the heating of our planet via CO2, the plastic choking the oceans, the mounds of human, animal, and plant grief in places all over the world, the only thing that allows these cogs to move at all is cheap, abundant fossil fuels.

The only reason the meat industries are any kind of threat to the environment are because of the fossil fuel powered trade, transport, and machines that allow for the CAFOs and other industrial food/feedstock/animal raising/slaughtering operations to remain economically viable. The entire life cycle of the meat industry, the agricultural industry, and countless others, including the aforementioned on-demand delivery services, depend on tenuous, fragile systems.  From the truckloads of meat, plants, etc. that crisscross the country, wrapped in petroleum-derived plastics, shipped using incredible amounts of diesel delivered on petroleum-derived/made asphalt, kept cold using natural gas, coal, or oil-powered refrigeration technology in the holding areas, distribution centers, supermarkets, and consumers’ freezers/refrigerators, then cooked by means usually powered by coal, natural gas, or oil.  Keep in mind as well that the gas, coal, and oil that keeps the economy and trade moving, that lubricates the countless machines of capitalism, consumerism, trade, and industry, are all looked for, found, extracted, mined, processed, and refined, then transported and burnt, largely by diesel-powered machines.

Meat production itself is not the problem.  Rather, it is the means by which this incredibly wasteful cycle of goods, services, and means of production are kept afloat. That doesn’t mean that our meat consumption isn’t a problem, but it pales in comparison to the things that make such consumption economically viable and reduce the ability of smaller farmers, ranchers, and growers to support themselves and their communities. It’s the same cycle that enables the wholesale destruction of the environment in places that mine for rare earth minerals, like Nigeria and Inner Mongolia for things like gold and neodynium in order to continue cycles of consumption of things like the very laptop I’m typing on. None of the components that make this thing up, nor the power it uses to remain on, or the Internet itself, is without deep costs to the environment.

If we want a healthier relationship with meat, some peoples’ options are to simply stop eating it. That’s fine. Some simply cannot do that. A healthier relationship with meat doesn’t mean that all meat eaters just wholesale stop eating meat, it means developing better relationships with it, supporting local farmers/ranchers, and businesses that employ folks close to home and close down more of that big cycle of consumption I mentioned above.  If I want be healthier, my option is not to stop taking my medication right now.  It means I need to develop healthier relationships with my body and food, and work to get off the medication I can.  If we want healthier relationships between farmers, ranchers, markets, crafts, industries and the people they are made for and use them, we must make the effort as people regardless on which part of the relationship we are, to make things better so we all are more resilient, and our communities more stable.

Convenience today is predicated on cheap, abundant fossil fuels.  Peak oil won’t just bring challenges to our economy, it will stop its ability to move and expand.  Given how brittle our international economic and trade systems are, back in 2008 what nearly took down the house of cards was a housing and financial bubble combined with the soaring price of crude oil. That was a warning that should have shook all of us out of the mindset that we could avoid dealing with the problem of capitalism’s need for exponential growth to sustain itself, and the resultant use of energy to make that happen.

Peak oil is the bar that sets the hard limits to growth.  You cannot grow an economy at the scale we are used to if the economy cannot be empowered to function with cheap fossil fuels.  Peak oil is especially problematic for the United States, since we’ve given over almost all our transportation needs to diesel and gas powered vehicles, vehicles which deliver all of our goods, from food to medicine, from surgery supplies to toilet paper.  Our train system is deeply underfunded and barely adequate to deal with what is already on its rails.  Our bridges are falling apart, as are dams like this one, which is holding back water from 431,000 people in Texas.  We have basic infrastructure problems that need to be addressed.  My point here is not that we cannot address peak oil, but that top-down approaches from the federal government will not be adequate, and any response would be slow, at best.

What about regional responses?  With basic road funding here in Michigan taking the better part of a year just to approve funding (about half of this based on tax cuts, mind you, not raising revenues) on basic maintenance, there is little hope that there would be a top-down response commensurate with need, let alone enough to handle an emergency.  It is not that top-down approaches are not desirable, but that in all likelihood they will be too little too late, piecemeal, or simply lacking in their ability to deal with the situation.

So many of us who have chosen to deal with the problems of peak oil and climate change do so on the local level because that is where we can affect change the best on a practical scale.  It’s the permaculuralist that sets up shop down the road, growing food on their 2 acre plot.  It’s the charities, like Growing Hope and the Fair Food Network in Detroit, that increase peoples’ access to good, healthy food while teaching them how to grow it.  It’s the Transition Town Network, Reskilling Festivals, and Strawbale Studio that works on teaching folks how to do things, from arts and crafts, to making our own homes and growing our own food on a more local level.  These provide folks opportunities to make contacts who will sell to others who do not have the skills or space to do so.  It is not that peak oil is insurmountable, but that the ways our economy, industry, markets, crafts, and food production functions are inadequate to addressing the issues peak oil presents to us.

Peak oil represents a very stark choice.  We can keep trying to make this unsustainable way of life work for a little while longer, or we can learn to live with LESS (a term coined by JMG meaning Less Energy, Stimulation, and Stuff) and work towards a future in which our generation and those after have the abilities, skills, and resources to meet the challenges peak oil and climate change are going to bring.

This choice is why I am looking to engage in another way of living.  I am inspired by my animist and polytheist worldview to live in good Gebo with the world, with Jörð, Freyr, Gerda, Freya, our Ancestors, and the landvaettir.  I am inspired by my Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir to live better with this world, and to live with Them, and alongside Them, and help to bring forward a better future.  I am inspired by my animist and polytheist worldview and religion as a Northern Tradition Pagan and Heathen to align myself within this world and to this world in a way that benefits us both.  I am inspired by my work and role a Northern Tradition and Heathen shaman and priest to do these things as part of my duty to the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, communities I serve, and the generations to come.  To not only be different in how I consume, but to be different in what I do, and how I give back to this world.

I view it as my duty to my best in this regard.  Duty to my Gods, to live well in the world, and within a community of folks dedicated to doing well by our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir.  Duty to my Ancestors, to live well and help raise the new generations with care, and with the skills necessary to face peak oil, climate change, and the challenges they present us.  Duty to my vaettir, including the landvaettir with whom we will live upon, align and work, live with and build good relationships.  Duty to the Warrior Dead who gave Their lives so we could live, the Military Dead to honor Their sacrifices and to teach the future generations their stories so They are not forgotten, and the other vaettir with whom we share this world, that we may come into better alignment, and relation.

I have no illusion that I alone, or even a small community can stop climate change or peak oil, but we can address it within our spheres of influence.  My hope is that it inspires action in others, and ripples through the communities we touch and weave with.  At the least, the next generation we raise, inspire, and welcome will be better prepared to deal with the impacts of climate change, peak oil, and the challenges we have yet to see that will come from them.  At the most we can inspire and promote local resiliency and ties, a refocus of national action on these things, and perhaps worldwide change in how we address peak oil and climate change.  If nothing else, we will improve our small community’s lot while honoring and working in better concert with our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir in this work.  I can think of no better reason to pursue these goals than that.

 

Part 1 of this series is here.

Part 2 of this series is here.

For other explorations of this topic, look here:

The Religious Implications of Peak Oil

Where is the Ground?

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  1. December 20, 2015 at 2:00 pm

    While I think this is all good, I’m still utterly unimpressed with–and am downright horrified by–the attitudes of JMG, and certain other anti-capitalists we know of in refusing to address the situation of folks like yourself and myself who rely upon medications produced by corporate capitalism for our very lives, that (at least in my case) I won’t ever be able to wean myself away from, short of a miracle, and those are thin on the ground these days. By JMG, when I brought this up, I was told “Well, everyone has to die sometime”; and by the other, I got outrage that I’d ask that question, was told I’d be taken care of, and then was given no details or anything on how that would actually take place in his self-congratulation over how caring and compassionate he was toward poor non-able-bodied sods like me (in ideal, anyway).

    When/if a big crash comes during our lifetimes, we’ll be some of the first casualties, as soon as the last of the insulin in the fridge runs out. Simple as that, unfortunately. Nothing anyone has ever said on these topics convinces me of any other possibility, because no one has ever floated any other possibility (other than the idiots I heard several years back who said “That’s why we’re raising cattle, so I can go on beef insulin.” Uhh…unless industrial levels of beef slaughter are taking place, not enough insulin will be produced, dummy, to sustain your life, and your little herd of twenty cows will not last you even a year for that) which is remotely viable. And that you, I, and all of the polytheists in the U.S. and the world can’t actually do anything to stop or change this situation, no matter how local and active and right-relational we get with other things related to this situation might be, makes me absolutely angry and hopeless over this situation. The amount of privilege that those who practically glorify this matter and their “responsible” lifestyle in response to it enjoy by being able-bodied (at least for the moment) in these discussions is quite frankly disgusting.

    I wish someone would actually address that.

    • December 20, 2015 at 2:39 pm

      “While I think this is all good…short of a miracle, and those are thin on the ground these days.”

      To be perfectly blunt, there is no answer for us. You can be horrified by their attitude, but expecting anyone to have an answer for diabetes at this juncture who isn’t involved with the medical industry, research, etc. is a recipe for disappointment. They have no ability to address it, personally or on a mass scale, and the way it is being addressed for us has no future.

      As I said in this series of posts, there is no solution for it. I’m lucky in that I am at a point in my life where I can get off of insulin medication. No one’s got the answers, and while my doctor is sympathetic towards my desire to use herbal and other remedies to account for my medication, acknowledging that all medicine was herbal, dietary, etc. not very long ago, we’re in a catch-22 there because very few longitudinal studies, or studies at all, have come back that would give them ammo to use in decision-making. She has no way of giving me an informed decision with the tools she has as a doctor to bear, or the methods she has been given of doing her job. She’s sympathetic, but unable to help.

      “When/if a big crash comes during our lifetimes, we’ll be some of the first casualties…makes me absolutely angry and hopeless over this situation.”

      I’m of the opinion/understanding it is not a matter of if, but when. Either the economic house of cards comes to crash and all the lacking investment our country has collectively made in its infrastructure comes home to roost, as we’re seeing in places near where I live such as Flint, MI or the poisoning of the Kalamazoo River by Enbridge Energy, or peak oil will slowly suck what life remains from the country via increasing energy costs. Some combination of these is most likely, to my mind, since the economy is almost entirely dependent on fossil fuels to do anything.

      To my mind, there are two responses to this: we can be angry and waste that energy, or we can put it to use and do what we can. So, I make of my anger, and times where hopelessness hits me, an offering to my Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and communities. I keep going on, I keep doing what I can as I can.

      “The amount of privilege that those who practically glorify this matter and their “responsible” lifestyle in response to it enjoy by being able-bodied (at least for the moment) in these discussions is quite frankly disgusting.
      I wish someone would actually address that.”

      I don’t see that my response to this is categorically different from JMG and others. Either we do what we can, come together and address what issues we can, or we die separately. We can dispense with the myth of progress and do what is within our power to do, or we can experience the Long Descent while leaving nothing lasting to future generations. It isn’t glory that drives myself, JMG, and others, nor is it privilege. It’s the desire for us and our future generations to survive, and perhaps thrive.

      In the end, I cannot offer you hope of surviving this any more than I can offer myself that. Further, I won’t. That’s neither in my power to do, nor would it be a kindness to lie to you like that. I do not believe that peak oil’s impacts, which we’re starting to feel now, will come as a crash, but as a kind of slow collapse that will, initially, look like normal for some places in the US and like hell for others. We can do what we can to make as best a future for ourselves and our descendants as we can, but there is no miracle at this point, and no cures that I know of on the horizon. We can do what we can do with what time we have left, so that is what I will do. It is my duty.

    • December 24, 2015 at 8:01 am

      Just to address one part of this: there is no reason why only corporate capitalism can produce insulin; certainly socialist-run labs can or could do so just as well. Other forms of insulin are being developed too including an Indian company already testing an oral insulin. As far as collapse goes it’s hard to not see it as a long process of cascading falls. And I would hope our communities will evolve into stronger links of mutual aid that do our best to help those with the most needs, including medical during those harder times.

      • December 24, 2015 at 8:10 am

        I would hope so, but the current technology is overwhelmingly dependent on factory farming and massive slaughter operations. My issue is not that socialist, or any other ‘ist’ could or could not produce it. It is a matter of infrastructure.

        There is nothing available to replace insulin or the methods that produce it. Without local communities acting to work on this issue, I do not see it being well-addressed. I do believe it can be addressed, but it would require both time and investment to do.

    • January 5, 2016 at 12:14 pm

      This issue often bothers me too. I get most annoyed when it seems like some of these Doomsday Preppers (if not JMG, then some of the regular commenters on his blog) seem to be *looking forward to* the collapse. I sometimes get that impression reading Gods and Radicals as well.

      The truth is, when society collapses, a whole lot of people are going to suffer and die that would have had longer, happier lives before the collapse. We’re going to go back to the days when dying in childbirth was common, dying of bacterial infections was common, and while the instances of Type II diabetes will probably go down, people with Type I diabetes are out of luck.

      It’s one thing to do what you can to prepare for that, since it looks like its inevitable, but it’s another thing to think it’s going to be awesome and acting like you can’t wait for it to happen. Not all people who write about the collapse have that attitude, but it’s definitely there among some of them.

      The only comfort I can see for people who are dependent on “Big Pharma” for staying alive is that you probably won’t live to see it completely collapse. If you have children or grandchildren though, they probably will.

      • January 6, 2016 at 2:30 am

        While I can’t comment on Preppers, if folks in the peak oil, permaculture, and other movements seem to be looking forward to the Long Descent, I don’t think it is in the sense of “Alright! Here comes the end!”

        At one point I responded to peak oil and climate change with deep despair. I felt so small before these things. My views have come into being more like looking forward to the future in terms of greeting it, and seeing the good things in it where I can. I blatantly say things like “We have nothing to address the issues at hand”, and after that my reaction could be to dwell in despair, or to look forward to the challenges of relearning how to do things as diverse as growing my own foods, making things from metal, leatherworking, making my own inks and paper, and the other things that interest me and, in passing down these things, will make life easier for when the Long Descent has made economic and societal collapses present, painful things for those who did not take the time to prepare. I don’t have to look forward to myself or others’ suffering, and no peak oil folks I know of do.

        What we do, however, is look forward to a future in which our values are lived things. In my own case, I look forward to a future in which I can live in better concert with my Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir in ways that are sustainable, and will allow my descendants to prosper in, not just live through, the Long Descent.

        A whole lot of people are going to die whether or not I look forward to the Long Descent. That’s a given. I do not think, though, that we are going to have to go back to a time when people die of bacterial infections or women die in childbirth. Will mother and infant mortality rates go up? Yes, probably. However, the Long Descent doesn’t mean that our means of best practices in medicine need to go away. It means that we need to do what we can to save medical texts for future generations. It means we keep on instilling handwashing procedures. It means we make our own soaps, use sterilization methods for surgical instruments, and with plastics going away as a resource, probably use more glass for things like medication containment. The collapse of complex societies needn’t mean that we lose these valuable sources of knowledge. It will mean we need to make efforts to save that knowledge, and pass on expertise, though.

        After a certain point despair becomes an indulgence. It’s a normal reaction, but staying there does not actually help prepare for anything, and it doesn’t help one’s community to stay in that headspace. If the way you have to prepare for the oncoming collapse is to prepare with joy, prepare with joy. If it is determination, then determination. My point here is not about one’s emotional reaction itself, so much as what it inspires one to do. Anger and despair are normal reactions to these. If they stir you to act in ways that will aid in preparing for the future, at the end of the day, they are useful. If they paralyze you, they are impediments.

        Look out on those who are greetings these times with fierce joy, but realize that most of these folks who are, have done or are doing the work that will lay the foundation so that they and theirs will be in a better place than they were at the start to meet the coming challenges. Some need to respond with joy and with a hopeful eye towards the Long Descent wherever we can find it, because despair can destroy resolve.
        I certainly can’t speak for others, but in talking with others and looking at others’ reactions, this is what I see.

        In my own case, I am looking to the future with grim determination, and joy that the things I am teaching my son and working with those who partner with us to build will be a better society than what we have. One where the land is treated as a partner, and holy. Where our Gods are not only worshiped, but are consulted and intertwined with the depth and breadth of our lives. Where the Ancestors are not only prayed to, but their bones (someday my own) will lie nearby, giving direction and sharing wisdom, celebrating the fullness of the cycles of life. At the end of the day, I realize I cannot save the world, and cannot even save my own country.

        I can only do the best with what is within my ability and power to do, I look forward to the future with determination, hope, and the willingness to do all I can so my Kindred, and those who join us in Kindred, family, and alliance, will be better placed to survive the Long Descent. Death is life’s guarantee. The best I can do is to rise where I may to meet it with dignity, having done all I can to make the way forward better for my Kindred, family, tribe, and allies’ descendants.

      • January 7, 2016 at 2:12 pm

        Preppers aren’t quite the same thing, that’s true, but there’s enough overlap between them and the organic gardening/permaculture/homesteading community that I run into them a bit.

        Some of them seem to have a romanticized view of returning back to a simpler time before Big Bads like the federal government and Monsanto were running our lives. I don’t think they’ve really thought things through enough.

        I do have trouble falling into despair when I think about these things too much. I teach Environmental Biology to students who are in their late teens and early twenties, and I have to be very careful to balance letting them know the urgency of the situation with not making them throw up their hands and decide there’s nothing that can be done. I’m not sure if I’m always successful. (I always feel really bad when I have to break it to them that it’s too late to stop climate change at this point, for example.)

  2. Farmer Nute
    December 20, 2015 at 8:26 pm

    As a small-scale rabbit farmer, I just want to say thank you for focusing on industrial meat and consumption in your blog. It’s disgusting the way the industrial system treats the lives of those plants and animals that nourish our children and ourselves. If everyone starts with bettering what they eat and where it comes from, the ripple effect that happens in a person’s life is significantly transformational. Thank you again for bringing up this vital point, it is only through awareness that we grow!

    • December 20, 2015 at 8:31 pm

      As someone who wants to someday engage in the same (alongside chickens, goats, sheep, and other smaller scale animal raising) thank you for sharing your skills, and your food. Folks like you and yours are vital, both for those who do not wish or cannot raise their own animals, and for those who wish to follow your examples.

      Do you have an online presence or would you like to share a way folks can get ahold of you if they would like to buy and/or learn from you?

  3. December 25, 2015 at 5:05 pm

    “I’m of the opinion/understanding it is not a matter of if, but when. Either the economic house of cards comes to crash and all the lacking investment our country has collectively made in its infrastructure comes home to roost, as we’re seeing in places near where I live such as Flint, MI or the poisoning of the Kalamazoo River by Enbridge Energy, or peak oil will slowly suck what life remains from the country via increasing energy costs.”

    It is a matter of when, when exactly we run out of oil. I for one do not think the economy or our entire civilization will fall apart when that days comes. Inevitable it will have to change, yes, but collapse is not assured. In fact, cheap oil is one of the reasons we have not converted fully to an alternative economy. It is still the cheapest, and most profitable resource we have at our disposal.

    I like to think that the system as a whole is adaptable, and more resilient than it is given credit for. What is not resilient or sustainable is our use of fossil fuels.

    The point being that there are alternatives, and these are getting cheaper all the time. DTE just recently announced plans for a massive solar farm…

    http://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/michigan/2015/12/24/solar-lapeer-michigan-dte-energy-mississippi-east-largest-array/77900978/

    There are alternatives for all these things, fuel, energy, electricity, all of it. There are synthetic oils that don’t need petroleum to synthesize. Even with plastics, there are alternatives, but the issue is that they aren’t cheap and they aren’t as convenient. Yet I think that we can convert over to new, more sustainable sources. I think that as oil gets more expensive, and the profit margins shrinks, the alternatives will look a lot more attractive. That said, I am ambivalent at best when it comes to capitalism, but you can trust it to follow the money.

    Still, I don’t understand what it is like to be a diabetic… I don’t really understand the processes involved in making insulin. If CAFOs are what is needed to keep people like you alive, then the question is not if we need them, but how do we do them better for everyone, including the animals? I have to wonder what would happen if a shaman ran a CAFO?

    I agree that we need more local integration and resilience, but I would think more regional as well as global integration. Oil reserves will become a global problem, and we all need to be part of the solution.

    The question is how do we change it all to the better, for ourselves, and for the environment? It will take all of us to figure that out.

    • December 28, 2015 at 11:24 am

      “It is a matter of when, when exactly we run out of oil. “
      That is not peak oil. Peak oil is the point at which demand outstrips our ability to supply it. It is not like running out of gas in your gas tank. It is the price being so high, you do everything to avoid having to go get a gallon of gas, of putting as many car trips into a single run so you would save fuel, and then still coming up red at the end of the day. We will likely never run out of oil. It is the EROEI (Energy Returned On Energy Invested) that will determine when we stop drilling for it, because it will no longer be profitable or energetically viable to do so.

      “I for one do not think the economy or our entire civilization will fall apart when that days comes. Inevitable it will have to change, yes, but collapse is not assured.”

      This is why I keep using the term The Long Descent rather than collapse. Collapse implies something quick and harsh, which could still happen, but I’m much more in favor of the view of Richard Heinberg from the Post-Carbon Institute and Archdruid John Michael Greer in terms of how things will go down with peak oil, resource depletion, and climate change.

      “In fact, cheap oil is one of the reasons we have not converted fully to an alternative economy. It is still the cheapest, and most profitable resource we have at our disposal.”

      Unfortunately true, though the costs and EROEI is getting smaller by the moment.
      Saudi Arabia is supposed to have 25% of the world’s oil supply, and rather than just…say, tap the Ghawar, they’re now drilling offshore for oil, costing immense amounts of money and investment of oil, natural gas, and other natural resources. They’re putting their local ecologies and fishing industries at risk. If the world’s largest oil producer is now investing to produce offshore oil having done much of their oil drilling with fields internal to the country, this should be a big red flag. This article is old, but gets to my point, namely that Saudi Arabia was and is just bolstering production. This is a study published by The French Institute of Petroleum (IFP) in its 2014 November issue of Energies Nouvelles which says “Saudi Arabia needs to invest significantly in order to maintain its oil production levels and develop its gas resources.” They were anticipating a 10% growth in offshore oil production.

      “I like to think that the system as a whole is adaptable, and more resilient than it is given credit for. What is not resilient or sustainable is our use of fossil fuels.”

      If, as you say, the use of our fossil fuels is not resilient or sustainable, then the system is unsustainable, and very, very brittle. There are sectors of the system that are easier to adapt to renewable energy, climate change, and peak oil, I’ll grant, but how America does things is based on on-demand services and championing convenience above resilience. Between the goods it takes in (being a net importer in this regard), the services it uses, and how it produces its food, the potential points of stress in the system are many, and most of them are dependent on cheap, abundant fossil fuels. Our roads, for example, are still going largely without being repaired. The overall investment that we as a country need to make in our infrastructure, especially bridges, roads, and the energy infrastructure, is not commensurate with our needs. If things continue in Congress the way they have, and at least for the next two years we’re stuck with the Congress we have, then I have little hope even with a Bernie Sanders win that anything can be done to effectively address climate change.

      “The point being that there are alternatives, and these are getting cheaper all the time. DTE just recently announced plans for a massive solar farm…

      Part of the problem with the energy sector is that the top-down model is highly inefficient. Local energy production can do a better job providing resiliency, while top-down models like DTE are more in line with convenience models. This is a problem with intermittent energy resources like solar and wind, where monopolies could actually make it harder for energy production to be effective. That, and what to do with the excess energy we cannot use when the sun shines or wind blows well?

      Another issue facing the renewable energy sector, at least here in MI, is with the recent proposed regulations that a person must be connected to the electrical grid, and tweaks to how much companies would have to pay someone for putting energy into the grid itself. It effectively monopolizes energy production with the big companies while stripping or hampering the ability of the local folks to invest in solar, wind, and other methods of energy production.

      “There are alternatives for all these things, fuel, energy, electricity, all of it.”
      My primary issue is not that we do not have the technology, but that it will not be able to scale at a rate commensurate with our needs. There are 700 million or so cars on the road in the world right now, with each tire costing about 7 barrels of oil to produce. How can we hope to replace even a fraction of these vehicles running fossil fuels as well as having all their tires made with those 7 barrels of oil? The trucking industry provides the main means of transport and delivery. Would electric or variable-fuel vehicles be able to effectively make the long trips necessary to keep the trucking infrastructure for goods and service delivery going?

      “There are synthetic oils that don’t need petroleum to synthesize.”
      You’re going to need to point me at them, because I found this here: “The team’s conclusion is the U. S. could eliminate the need for crude oil by using a combination of coal, natural gas and non-food crops to make synthetic fuel.” So…we’re going to increase the consumption of coal, natural gas, and arable land to produce synthetic fuel? How is that sustainable, or wise, especially when coal is bad for the environment in terms of pollution, environmental damage otherwise, and climate change? Why would we turn over more land to produce fuel and synthetic oils? How much benefit and for how long would we see an EROEI from this investment? After all, the article states “Even including the capital costs, synthetic fuels can still be profitable. As long as crude oil is between $60 and $100 per barrel, these processes are competitive depending on the feedstock.” We’re now at $38.10 per barrel as of this morning. This isn’t even sustainable on an economic level if we go through another demand destruction cycle when oil gets high enough to be an effective EROEI for this.

      “Even with plastics, there are alternatives, but the issue is that they aren’t cheap and they aren’t as convenient.”

      I’ll echo my points above. There are alternatives ready to go, but in many cases they require more inputs than the original product itself.

      “Yet I think that we can convert over to new, more sustainable sources. I think that as oil gets more expensive, and the profit margins shrinks, the alternatives will look a lot more attractive. That said, I am ambivalent at best when it comes to capitalism, but you can trust it to follow the money.”

      That would be true, but we saw how capitalism follows the money. It followed it from oil, to flirting with alternative energies, then when demand was destroyed by prices barreling out of control, then taking oil back down to low cost, it went right back to funding oil production. There is so much investment in the infrastructure as it is that it will take serious political will and government intervention to change it. This, in no small part, because of how subsidized the fossil fuel industries are. This article by The Guardian points this out very effectively: “Fossil fuel companies are benefiting from global subsidies of $5.3tn (£3.4tn) a year, equivalent to $10m a minute every day, according to a startling new estimate by the International Monetary Fund. “

      “Still, I don’t understand what it is like to be a diabetic… I don’t really understand the processes involved in making insulin.”

      The majority of insulin production is made with human-made insulin rather than using porcine or bovine derived insulin. That more or less stopped in the 1980s, as according to this site, it took around 2 tons of pig parts to make 8 ounces of purified insulin. Porcine and bovine insulin is still being produced, and still requires a lot of inputs, but the majority of insulin produced “According to the Eli Lilly Corporation, in 2001 95% of insulin users in most parts of the world take some form of human insulin”.

      My concerns here don’t shift a whole lot in terms of the overarching infrastructure weakness, as there’s no justification for using CAFOs to produce insulin due to sheer scale needed for current, let alone increasing numbers of diabetics being mostly handled via these methods. My concerns about infrastructure weakness remains the same for the current production of insulin via human-made means, which according to Eli Lilly “At Lilly, insulin-making E. coli is grown in 50,000-liter tanks called fermentors. There are more than 5,000 tanks on site.According to Lilly, a batch of insulin from one fermentor could produce a year’s supply of insulin for thousands of people. “Our facilities are designed to produce insulin crystals in multiple metric-ton quantities,” Walsh says.”
      It’s not sustainable, but it does seem to me to be a hell of lot more effective and sustainable than the 2 tons of pig parts for 8 oz of insulin.

      “If CAFOs are what is needed to keep people like you alive, then the question is not if we need them, but how do we do them better for everyone, including the animals? I have to wonder what would happen if a shaman ran a CAFO?”

      Mercifully, CAFOs aren’t required to keep me alive. There’s a really good overview of what CAFOs are, how they are operated, and the legal structure for them at its Wikipedia page. As for food raising, I reject the CAFO model entirely, as it is not sustainable, nor is it healthy for the land, plants, or animals. CAFOs are only able to operate because of how squished together everything is, and intentionally are legally required by the Clean Water Act to be a place that “(a) confines animals for more than 45 days during a growing season, (b) in an area that does not produce vegetation, and (c) meets certain size thresholds.”. It requires immense amounts of inputs. If a shaman ran a CAFO I would imagine the spirits would hurt and/or abandon them. I do not believe improving CAFOs is possible, as the way CAFOs are legally constructed by law in both EPA and Clean Water Act guidelines would be incredibly hard to change and would probably not result in being any more sustainable.

      “I agree that we need more local integration and resilience, but I would think more regional as well as global integration. Oil reserves will become a global problem, and we all need to be part of the solution.”

      Oil reserves are already a global problem. Many countries whose countrysides have been devastated for or by fossil fuel companies find themselves left to twist in the wind. When climate destruction wracks their nation, many countries don’t have the resources to fight the companies or sue them, as the very means by which they produced fossil fuels are where much of their tax revenue and GDP came from. This is also true in our country, in states where oil is the head of industries. Since Americans own the mineral rights for their land, communities are easier to divide between folks who go for deals with the companies and sign NDAs, and those who are not early adopters. It creates situations like those in Pennsylvania where entire communities are suffering harm but most in them cannot speak out due to the NDAs they signed for fear of being sued.

      Regional and global integration models, to my mind, will not work (at least for America) until we get over political grid-locking and wedge issue politicking. The national scene is deeply divided, and with the increasing rigidity of rhetoric, especially from the right, this is going to get harder to do unless the voters start electing candidates who will work across whatever aisle they’re in.

      I am not disagreeing with you here, but I don’t see it happening. Countries whose economies are mostly based on fossil fuels do not have encouragement to come out from the shadow of these industries, either politically or economically. They’re also not encouraged to be honest with their oil reserve numbers, such as in Saudi Arabia, where they are state secrets. If word was to get out that Saudi Arabia had peaked, there would be a cascade effect in the markets, maybe even a massive sell-off. Nigeria just went through a regime change, the first successful hand-off of political power in an election, and it is known that the national oil company is rife with corruption. They are in much the same position as Saudi Arabia in this regard.

      “The question is how do we change it all to the better, for ourselves, and for the environment? It will take all of us to figure that out.”

      Because of the failures of Kyoto, Copenhagen, and now the Paris climate change conferences to produce effective, binding change, I’m not very hopeful for looking to the global communities for help. There’s no doubt we need to come together, but America has to take the first step, as we’re the country inspiring all the economic and resource pipelines that encourage China and India to follow in our footsteps and burn like there’s no tomorrow. After all, why should other countries risk, if not commit harm to their own economies and industries to keep America’s afloat? Given that the national dialogue has stalled on renewable energy, climate change, and peak oil isn’t even mentioned, much less on Congress’ to-address list, I take more hope from local efforts expanding outward.

      Don’t take me for a moment to say that these conversations, conferences, and work towards global, national, and regional solutions are not important. They are. The problem is, so long as our Federal and State governments keep kicking the proverbial can down the road, climate change and peak oil will keep going unaddressed because our country is a large part of the inertia holding the world back from addressing them effectively as a global community. I prefer to encourage local action at this point because that’s where I am seeing the most good being done.

  1. December 28, 2015 at 5:29 pm
  2. March 24, 2016 at 3:43 am
  3. March 24, 2016 at 3:51 am

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