Here we are. Christmas day has passed.
[Although I like to remind people that Christmas is not over at 11:59 PM on December 25.]
We’re starting a new year and heading into 2012.
This is always an obvious time for a little review and looking forward. On the other hand, I’m not a guy who does New Year’s resolutions. I don’t do “best of/worst of” lists. Precise crystal ball predictions have a way of being a little (a little?) presumptuous and looking very silly later. But, in general, taking this time of the year for a little review and eyes forward is always a good idea.
The state of news media in the United States entering this year is practically grotesque, even while we’re living in a time and place where, you might think, it should be better than ever before in any time in human history.
The more I look around and try to figure out the state of the world right now, the more I realize how interconnected things are between energy resources and use, economics, and the general state of the Earth (including us).
The decades since the end of World War Two have seen constant outward expansion of suburban sprawl here in the United States. The huge outward expansion in cities all over the country and institution of “single-use” zoning laws have spread cities out into metropolitan areas, instead of tightly integrated functioning cities composed of walkable neighborhoods and business districts, with increasing dependence of petroleum burning vehicles covering large distances, for virtually all of daily life and activity, for most people in most areas.
These arrangements completely depend on petroleum, and the results have seen greater and greater consumption of petroleum, to where the United States now devours about a quarter of all the oil pumped in the world. The dilemma is that we have these arrangements, more and more dependent on cheap and effectively unlimited petroleum to function, even as those arrangements totally dependent on petroleum more and more rapidly deplete the stuff that remains.
It’s obvious that this scenario can’t continue without serious problems, yet, the general public consensus in America entering 2012 seems remarkably oblivious, or hanging on to assorted delusions.
Aside from the matter of all that, another obvious consequence of all of the above, is the way cities across America have seen the spreading rings of outward sprawl turn downtown areas, and the middle core of cities, places that should be the most vital and active and rich in all sorts of measures, into zones that are virtually dead, or seriously decaying.
It seems obvious for more than one reason that we’re past the time to be expanding outward in new outlying shopping malls and cinder block corporate retail pods, housing subdivisions, and five lane highway roads covering what had been perfectly good countryside and farmland, and turn back inward to maintaining, restoring, rebuilding the hearts of cities.
How that gets going is a tough question. The thing that concerns me quite a lot is how few people are understanding that and at least saying, “yes, we need to reverse that trend of the past decades, and do this”. To me, it just defies comprehension how few people are looking at the situation that is, inevitably, going to lead to the unavoidable reality. People will be looking around at cities all over the country, and general arrangements of most activity, that have been arranged so that it’s all completely dependent on petroleum, and finding that as oil becomes harder and more expensive to acquire, we have created a major problem.
So when do we start working on this? Now might be a good time.
The economic disaster we’ve been having for several years now is not a new thing, strictly speaking, in the sense that it’s been coming for a long time.
For some time now, things have gone deranged in the worlds of banking, “finance and investment”, with all the insanely complex games and outright swindles, and corporate management, including the very idea that all of business revolves around corporations. Look around at the results.
I hope that this year sees a turn toward a general consensus of understanding of the need for economic activity grounded in reality, of respect for the idea of paying people properly in exchange for doing good work doing useful things.
In a recent article, Richard Heinberg mentions a conference of international investors talking seriously about a concept of deriving profits from problematic changes in the Earth’s climate from “weather derivatives”. This idea is startling enough in its sheer insanity even if you don’t consider all of the daisy chain domino effect house of cards economic disasters brought down by all the various “new financial products” trickery of recent years.
The year of 2011 saw a batch of disasters, in weather and seismic activity, that ought to serve as a pretty good smack in the head. The events of the year suggest pretty strongly that the planet we live on is getting to some sort of breaking point and truly about ready to kick our collective asses.
Maybe 2012 will be the year we have a large scale awakening, finally.
I address the subject of the petroleum situation regularly here, and the situation remains the same as I’ve been describing, including all the wishful thinking delusions about oil shale, tar sands, and absurdly hyped chatter about “new technologies” and reports of oil deposit discoveries without any reference context to provide the general public with the perspective of how little that is. I hope this is the year that awareness spreads of what the reality is, and we face the task of figuring out and doing what we need to do to simply use much less oil.
The main news sources are continuing to be completely useless in this subject, with the vast majority of people in the U.S. appearing to have little awareness of anything about petroleum other than that they think it should be less expensive, because they don’t like how much they pay for fuel, and some vague idea of some “oil boom” that they hear about in North Dakota. From what I can generally observe of people, there seems to be very little awareness of any real substantial information, and understanding. I suspect that a large majority of people believe the excited hype about oil shale and tar sands with little more than some dim notion that all that stuff is simply “more oil” that has magically appeared to fulfill all our wishes, maybe for centuries to come, depending on the particular stream of bullshit, and not even having any grasp at all about the differences between these things and crude petroleum.
These kinds of things will be a profound disappointment to people, depending on how much of the hype they’ve bought into. People need to stop the shared deluded thrashing around evading the reality and we need to address the one and only option, changing things so that we’re using much less oil. Anything else is fooling ourselves.
It’s absurd to think that it’s really accomplishing anything, for example, by replacing the SUV in the driveway with a new hybrid SUV and continuing to drive that 80 miles a day or something.
To repeat this: We’ve blown through the windfall of oil at an increasing rate by spreading everything out in expanding rings of suburban buildup and single use zoning, severely damaging our cities in the process by abandoning large chunks of the primary core of cities across America. It’s past time to start the work of reversing that, restoring the centers of our cities that have turned into decaying voids.
It seems that very few people are facing the simple fact that our biggest problems regarding petroleum are in how we use, or, rather, misuse it, and the biggest issue is in geography, how we’ve spread everything out to make us dependent on petroleum fueled vehicles, and drive them further and further to do the same things in life.
We’re very late in getting back to the activities of making things within our own country, and maintaining and repairing things, all more regionally and locally, and reversing the many destructive repercussions of abandoning these things in exchange for practices of having everything made by low paid labor on the other side of the planet, shipped across the globe by petroleum fueled ships and trucks, and tossing it all in garbage heaps after a few years to be replaced by more.
There’s not only the petroleum problem of shipping, I’m reading more lately suggesting that, in addition to the economic problems that are now affecting Europe as well as the United States, it’s looking more probable that China has pushed a bubble of its own and might have serious problems of its own soon.
In my last piece, seven generations, I talked about some of the obfuscation directed at the Occupy Wall Street protests, but I think perhaps the protest is a sign of finally having some awakening to reality. It’s addressing, in however general and undefined a form that might be, some badly mistaken roads that have been taken, and some corrections needed. There is some sign of an awareness that “the economy” needs to ditch the mad, convoluted financial games and swindles pretending to be “creating wealth”, to get back in line with reality in doing good work, making things, keeping things working, doing what needs to be done, not wasting and dissipating the resources of the planet, not destroying the planet, and generally living, thinking, working and acting in a way that shows some sense of something beyond immediate narcissistic hubris and avarice, of having the world able to continue on for the generations that follow in a healthy, sane, functional manner.
In 2012, let’s have a year where scales fall from eyes, the fog of delusions and confusion clears for people, and we all wake up, and we see a new wave of conscious sanity and general goodwill.