They Blowed Up Real Good

I have borrowed from Second City TV. Yes, I have. The wonder and fun of that gem among many gems of SCTV, “Farm Film Report”. Good comedy satire is a healthy help when the reality around you is just a bit too much. You just have to laugh at the absurdity of the world and how we humans, whacky critters that we are, act in it.

The title is borrowed from comedy.

The subject here is not so funny.

A couple of recent, actually ongoing matters as I type this.

Item #1:

April 14, 2010-Volcano erupts in Iceland- Eyjafjallajokull

April 21- Flights resume

Item#2:

March 31, 2010- President Barack Obama proposes lifting restrictions on offshore oil drilling along the eastern United States.

April 9-Resigned former governor of Alaska Sarah Palin comments in a speech given to a convention crowd in New Orleans, Louisiana:

“We can produce it safely and responsibly.  We don‘t need more studies, we need more action.  Because energy produced in America is security for America.  And it is jobs for American workers, jobs that can‘t be outsourced.  Let‘s drill, baby drill, not stall, baby, stall.”

April 20- Oil  rig explodes and burns in Gulf of Mexico

April 22- Rig sinks

May 1- Crude oil flows from a broken well pipe approximately 5000 feet below the surface of the water of the Gulf, spreading north toward Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama

Two different stories in the news. Major stories, to perhaps understate a bit. Let’s say monumentally huge stories. As I said, as I write, they are both ongoing stories. The volcano is still there, belching the stuff a volcano does. The oil is not only still there, the oil is still flowing, and will be flowing from a broken pipe around one mile below the surface of the water of the Gulf for the indefinite future, until somebody can get that under control. To say that’s a challenging task is another major understatement.

The distruption of aircraft traffic in the British Isles and Europe seems to have abated, the problems of the constantly growing and spreading crude oil in the Gulf are getting worse by the hour, and the only question there seems to be gauging just how massive the disaster will be.

Two stories of bad news that seem unrelated at a glance. There certainly is no direct connection. It does not take an awful lot of effort to see an indirect connection. They are two different stories in parts of the world far apart from each other. One is a natural event. The other is an entirely man made disaster.

There has been plenty of commentary about both. That’s a given obvious result of any major news story now. Like anything, now, in the early 21st century, between the internet and around the clock cable television networks, you can find plenty of commentary ranging from insights and analysis from people who know the subject and know what they’re talking about, to random time fill speculation and repetition, to outright babbling idiocy and bullshit.

One thing has been noticably missing from anything I have come across on either story, so far, anyway. I haven’t seen or heard anything about the problem sumarized under the heading of “peak oil”. At best, the subject is almost flirted with, skirted around the edges, but never actually mentioned explicitly and clearly.

The avoidance of the thing is amazing, disturbing, discouraging, and, yet, not a bit surprising.

Nothing, other than the normal generalities that we can just summarize and paraphrase as “we need oil”.

Nothing about the future of oil and the world throroughly tied to the stuff.

As time is passing, I’m getting more used to a sort of ongoing contradiction. On the one hand, it is beginning to astound me more and more to look around, at people around me, at assorted news media, at things I read on the web, and find so many people appearing completely oblivious to the realities of the subject. On the other hand, given everything else I see, this is not actually surprising.

The volcanic eruption has no relationship to the subject of oil resources and depletion. There is something to the consequences that is relevant. For approximately a week or so, air traffic in the region of the British Isles and Europe was shut down. That generated a large quantity of news stories, obviously. A very loose acquaintance who is among my Facebook friends, an English writer, happened to be in New York City on a family vacation trip, and then suddenly found his scheduled plans for a return to England postponed, with a fair amount of uncertainty regarding how long they would be stuck camping at a friend’s apartment in Queens. In the meantime, checking out the local news broadcast of a local station brought stories over a few evenings as one of the news anchors of the station found herself unexpectedly stranded in Europe unable to fly home as planned from a vacation over there.

As I watched these things, the underlying thought for me was, is anybody thinking about this as a future scenario? Not because of some unexpected natural phenomenon causing massive atmospheric effects, disrupting air travel. Is anybody thinking about the matter of what happens when oil depletion, the downhill slope of decline on the down slope of Hubbert’s Peak, affects air travel? Is anybody considering the reality of less and less oil, at higher and higher prices, first making air travel a high priced luxury, and, eventually, inevitably, a thing of the past? Air travel in Europe, and transatlantic flight, came to a halt for about a week, and the stories of all that, all the assorted and varied problems, were considered big news. It was big news, for many people.

What happens when it’s not a week’s suspension of air travel in part of the world? What happens when the idea of commercial, regular, travel by airplane is, essentially, done? Then what? Not a word about this. This is even after the crazed fluctuations of oil prices a couple of years ago brought major, massive stress and woe to the commercial airline business. There seems to be a general public perception that major increases in the price of oil does, in fact, have the effect of causing serious financial problems for airlines, but along with that, there also seems to be a kind of consensus of blindness and denial and evasion of what will happen as time rolls on. I think the prevailing view is something along the lines that oil prices might fluctuate a bit and that is all about political and business market artificial manipulations, or, I don’t know, something. This is into the domain of vague ideas found when people don’t really know and understand what’s going on, so who knows?

It was worth noting that it appears that travel by rail had a significant role during the air shutdown. No help at all for people wanting to cross the Atlantic ocean. However, for people wanting to cross land in Europe, taking the train was a workable option as an alternative to flying. This is something people should be thinking about in the United States. That’s a subject in itself. One obvious thought that probably occurs to you is “wait a minute, for decades any rail locomotive has been diesel powered, so how’s that going to deal with insanely expensive or effectively unavailable oil?”. Good question. It’s worth noting, though, that while the standard railroad locomotive for many decades has indeed been powered by a large diesel fuelled internal combustion engine, the actual motive power driving the wheels is not the big diesel engine. It’s a bunch of electric motors; the big noisy diesel is driving an electrical generator, and electrical power from that drives the electric motors turning the wheels.

The point is, as this was going on, there was something of a clue to be had for the future. Getting around Europe was still a working proposition. They have functioning train transportation. How is that in the U.S. right now?

Crossing the Atlantic ocean? Still a problem. Very few people seem to be thinking about this stuff. There most definitely are people thinking about this stuff, but it seems apparent to me that it’s a minority. In everything I encountered in news stories about the air travel shutdown due to the eruption of the volcano with the name that I cannot spell or say, nothing at all in the usual news sources about what will happen when oil depletion is bringing the party to a close. The only things I found mentioning all this were in places on the web where peak oil is already a central topic.

That is the thing that struck me the most about the story. The eruption certainly is a big story (especially if you live on the relatively small island of Iceland, I would guess!). The disruption in transportation by airplane is definitely a big story. But I could not, still can not, stop thinking about the larger question, the bigger long term larger scale matter. That temporary disruption was only a demonstration run for a future that is not far away, not far away at all. It is impossible to confidently predict the future of how this story will go and lay out a timeline. I don’t think it is going far out on a limb, however, to say that within the next 20 years, at the longest, the idea of commercial airplane travel anything like what we know now, and have had for the past 50 or 60 years, will be all but gone, if not completely gone. What might still be around, in terms of commercial airplane travel, will probably be a relatively small scale area of business, a relatively small number of operations, working on a small scale, something along the lines of present charter and regional “commuter” airline operations, with few passengers, and mighty ticket prices, only used by people and organizations with the pressing need and the ability to pay very high costs for the flights.

I can imagine people reading this and thinking “yeah right, good grief, man, he’s gone over the edge, that’s nuts”. Sure, alright. We’ll see.

Then we turn to the Gulf of Mexico. My god, what a mess. It only looks like it will get far worse. An old friend of my youth now lives in southern Mississippi, where she has lived since she moved there years ago with her late first husband. I have not seen her in years, but I recently reestablished some contact with her when she turned up on (once again) Facebook. She has now volunteered to take part in training to learn how to help deal with the destruction as crude oil comes rolling in. As I understand it, besides the obvious problems that look to be ahead in terms of sea life and the fishing business in the region, it looks like the oil will be washing into the general area of the Mississippi delta and marshlands around southern Louisiana, and from what I can gather about all of that, it is a kind of area that is about as vulnerable to terrible harm from something like this as you can have. It’s just awful. Words cannot say how bad this looks.

It’s obvious for comparisons to be made to the huge spill that came with the wreck of the Exxon Valdez tanker around 20 years ago, in Alaska. There are obvious differences, though, which are obvious to you already if you have paid any attention to this. A finite amount of oil in a tanker run aground compared to an open pipe where a well was drilled in the ocean floor, and then, now that the old field below has been tapped, the opening broken off to pour the oil into the sea, indefinitely, until this, a mile underwater, is closed off, or the oil runs out completely, years from now (not a good scenario, that). The geography of the site where the Valdez spill happened meant that while the harm was horrific, it was at least somewhat contained to a particular area. In this case, it not only is looking like it will cause terrible harm to an area with a fragile and important ecosystem, and in an area where among other things, fishing is a major enterprise for the local people, but this could spread and affect the entire gulf and hundreds of miles of shore.

It’s deep irony that this has come only weeks after President Obama proposed a lifting of a ban on offshore oil drilling off the coast of the United States.

Further irony is finding the statements made by a former state governor, who could not be bothered finishing her one term as governor, and since resigning the job has apparently made gigantic piles of money going around the country and talking. Talking, and saying virtually nothing worth saying or hearing. The greatest irony was that the speech in question was given to a convention crowd in New Orleans, right there in the neighborhood of the present ongoing disaster, telling everybody that all this offshore drilling business was perfectly safe and there was no reason to “stall”. Her word, “stall”, which for somebody in a position of actual responsibility, like the President of the United States, would be better replaced with “careful examination of facts and issues and rational consideration and decision making”.

Sarah Palin is a narcissistic idiot who really, truly, does need to just shut the fuck up and go away. I really don’t know how much more plainly obvious it can be.

This has come up before, but there is a big difference between “simple” and “simplistic”.

The world is complicated. Cliches, platitudes, and rhetoric from simplistic morons have no use. It only makes things worse.

The reality is that there is a demand for oil, that is increasing greatly and steadily. Coupled with that is the reality that not only is oil a finite resource, we smack face first into the reality postulated by Hubbert in 1956, a theory which was proved to be right dead on target regarding oil discovery and production in the United States. He predicted that U.S. oil production rates would peak around 1970, then go into steady and irreversable decline. People mocked, laughed, ridiculed him as having gone off his rocker, and apparently most people ignored him. Then in the 1970s, actual data showed that, in fact, U.S. oil production reached a plateau of peak level around 1970-1971, and then went into steady, permanent decline.

He predicted that a peak of oil production worldwide, the all time peak for oil production for the entire planet, the oil supply of the entire human race, would happen sometime in the early 21st century.

It’s 2010. We are here.

Guess what? Worldwide oil production data shows that oil production hit a high level in 2005, and has been tracking a wobbly plateau curve since, and started a downward curve in 2008 that has continued downward to date.

Only more time will show us if this has been the all time worldwide peak in oil production, and we are down on the downhill slope of depletion, steady decrease in oil flow, after more data is charted. But we might have actually hit the peak in 2008.

To borrow from the title of a book by Richard Heinberg on the subject, the party’s over.

NOW. Not some indefinite “far off in the future so let’s ignore it and pretend everything is swell” era.

Which is something that, for, I suspect, almost all, if not all the bunch chanting “drill, baby, drill!”, is something that just does not register. I have to suspect that for people like this, the vast majority of them have an idea in their heads that all this is just about having our own source of oil that does not depend on “them pesky Ay-rabs” or something along these lines.

The simplest way to gauge any of that matter is not to just accept my assessment. Take a close look at any of the people joining in with the simplistic “drill baby drill!” chant and see what else they say about any matters that relate in any way to anything involving oil use and resources. Are they saying or doing anything regarding reducing use of oil, making more efficient use of it, even suggesting eliminating use of oil where possible (not convenient, possible)? Are they doing or suggesting anything that appears to entail facing a future with decreasing and more and more expensive oil, and eventually, for all practical purposes, none? Do they say “drill baby drill!” and then show off their shiny new pickup truck or SUV?

I should stop and point out something at this point. There is, in my estimation, absolutely no reasonable glimmer of a possibility that the idea of “peak oil”, the theory and the reality of Hubbert’s peak and the actual historical data, are unknown and have been unknown by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. They both have long term associations and involvements with the oil business. Between his political games roles, he was the CEO of Halliburton, it’s not as if he could be oblivious to the oil world and this has certainly been no secret. It’s not as if I’m revealing some unknown nugget of investigative journalism here.

It’s difficult to even start into anything like this note, for the simple reason that it’s really, really, hard to avoid going down all sorts of paths of subjects and subtopics that could all be rather large books by themselves.

One thing to spend some time pondering is this. Dick Cheney has been quoted often for what is now a fairly famous statement: “the American way of life is non-negotiable”. That got big cheers from his supporters. Of course it did. It was typical “cheap applause” material, easy accepted rhetoric (what, are you against the American Way Of Life?!). Phrase something, some easy platitude, in some way that if anybody dares to so much as question what you’ve said, they can be attacked as UNAMERICAN. How dare they, that nasty person hating America and “our way of life”.

What should be stark and obvious is a very simple question that should arise in anybody’s mind upon hearing a statement like that. What, exactly, does “the American way of life” mean? What is it in the mind of Dick Cheney that he regards as “the American way of life”? Is it the “American way of life” of Thomas Jefferson, of the right of individual human beings to live their own lives, with government existing to serve its citizens and not the other way around, of the United States as a nation keeping its distance and separation from the affairs and squabbles and conflicts of other nations of the world? Is Dick Cheney’s “American way of life” more resembling a worldwide military empire with its highest priority to serve the demands of unlimited and unrestricted consumption of the resources of the planet?

Is some young man, who might have signed up for military service and committed his life and entire existence for the duration of enlistment with the idea and purpose of defending their country, going to the other side of the planet, not “defending freedom”, but as a security agent for an oil company or an oil industry contractor? Are they possibly dying in some desert shithole, or maybe coming back home to live the remainder of their life permanently and massively damaged, so that you can happily blast around in some huge lumbering truck (pickup, SUV, van, take your pick, America!) 50 to 100 miles a day simply to haul your own personal ass around and fit some idea of a big manly truck as a fashion statement?

Bear in mind, I should say here, I have no quarrel with the idea of a truck, inherently, considered separate from some other factors. We’re talking about something with a purpose that can be very useful. My problem is when the idea of the thing, its basic purpose, of a utilitarian tool to haul stuff around, is lost, irrelevant, to people who go out, buy, and drive such things as “daily driver” transportation almost solely for the purpose of hauling around nothing but their own personal individual ass, just because of some stupid petty reason. Like, literally, being some kind of fashion item, a personal vehicle that proclaims their major manly man status of being at the wheel in command of a big tough truck and not some “little wimpy tiny car”. I had a recent conversation that involved the things I’m talking about now. I was talking about these things, and attempting to explain the general fundamentals of the things covered under the summary term of “peak oil” to somebody who, unfortunately, appeared to completely fail to get the idea, or, possibly, refused to get the idea. During that conversation, they mentioned being out and about somewhere with their son and having a good laugh mocking the sight of what, from the description, sounded like one of these “Smart cars”, a tiny little two seater that you only occasionally spot here. I said that they might see it in an entirely new light, and regard it as much less ridiculous and uncool, when gasoline is 20 dollars per gallon, and often not conveniently and readily available to buy whatever the price.

I’m certain that the entire conversation was futile, and everything I said was dismissed and forgotten as some sort of crazy rambling. I might as well have been saying that the house was about to be attacked by flying monkeys or something.

There are people whose daily lives really do assert a need for the kind of functionality provided by having some form of truck available to them as transportation. As I said, that, I have no argument with at all. That is reasonable, that is based in practical demands of reality. I fact, I will go so far as to say this. For people like this, whose lives truly do need the help and functional capability provided by some sort of truck, they would do well to understand their own self interest, and the interest of the society and country they live in, in objecting to the narcissitic stupidity of people driving assorted trucks because they think it makes them look cool. Even worse, not just that, but sometimes even some damned borderline sociopathic concept in their mind of their mighty truck helps them assert some “King of the Road” roadway dominance, up to and including a concept that if they crash into something, they will “win”, as if a collision is some sort of battle, because of sheer mass on their side. Yes, I have actually personally encountered that attitude in people, stated plainly and unapologetically, as if this were reasonable and normal.

For the people who really need a truck daily, for practical functional necessity, keep in mind that the “fashion item” and “King of the Road” operators of personal transportation behemoth trucks are helping to burn through the remaining oil supplies of the earth much faster so that the day will arrive, that much sooner, that you will be facing the problem of no longer being able to operate your own truck to do what you need to do.

As I said. It’s difficult to not go down all kinds of paths of discussion here, on American politics, the American economy and world economy, world geopolitical and military matters, virtually everything. The reason is one that is relatively simple to distill in simple form. Oil, specifically the peak of oil, will affect virtually anything and everything in the world with the only exceptions being areas of the planet where humans have continued to live in ways that have never been substantially influenced by the changes of human existence that began in the middle to late 19th century with the industrial revolution.

So the reality is that there will be more and more demand, as we continue along, a society where virtually everything presently regarded as “normal life” revolves around a steady reliable supply of cheap petroleum, to get whatever oil is available. Given that, offshore underwater oil drilling will be part of the picture. The reality of that, however, must be faced realistically, and regarded as it really is. For all of the fantasy bullshit coming from the “drill baby drill” cheerleaders (see the speech quote up above), the reality is that drilling for, and pumping, oil from underground deep beneath very deep (and turbulent) waters, is a massively difficult, expensive, challenging at best, and just flat out dangerous, risky enterprise.

People along the gulf coast of the southern United States are now getting a serious, terrible example of this reality, and judging from what I can gather of the news about the situation, what’s going on right now might only be a precursor warmup to the destruction and woe from that one accident.

This is a smack in the head wakeup. The quest for oil anywhere and everywhere possible will only get more intense, more demands for the stuff, and with that, the reality is this. You want the stuff? Well, this is the risk in deciding that you will go after it no matter what the risks are. The damage from this recent accident, an event still going, looks to be vast, deep, with major repercussions, and this is just one well, one accident.

A mountain in Iceland, an offshore driling rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

Both of them, they “blowed up real good”. Funny stuff as a phrase on SCTV in “Film Farm Report” as sketch comedy.

This is real, it’s not satirical fiction, and it’s not so funny.

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