So. When I come to power as Ruler of the World, the first order of business will be to tell everyone to keep a close eye and guard on anyone with ambitions to be Ruler of the World, or, worse, delusions of grandeur convincing them that they already are.
Of course, it’s an old classic kind of joking around for somebody to make some kind of statement with a variation on some form of when I’m in charge, this is going to be different, to make a point about some thing or another and how they think it should be, probably exaggerated to ridiculous extreme just for fun and to get the point across. It’s not so funny to have real live megalomaniacs running around the world causing real problems.
I think I should probably say clearly, right here and now, that it’s not like I’m sitting here with some grand plan before me and announcing to the world, hey, world, I’ve got the answers to problems right here, so listen up. Sorry. No grand plan, and no delusions of grandeur here. Some things do become apparent, though.
So let’s just say that the really general solution for some things is going to be expressed in the really short form: things getting more local, at least more regional.
As things stand right now, we have the big glaring drama of the “international crisis” of the Ukranian epic uproar, and this is probably a perfect example of people getting a little carried away with international everything. This problem of people getting a little too international isn’t just about the complexities and even the occasional insanity of international geopolitics. We have the whole saga of the relatively recent phenomenon people have been calling globalization, in banking and finance and what people have neatly summarized as “the financialization of everything”, where problems and mistakes and even insane greed and fraud cause rapid-fire domino effects through the financial and economic matters of nations all over the world. Getting a little too carried away with international commerce of the trans-national corporate kind, of “globalization”, is a big problem.
Hanging over all of that is the very basic fundamental problem of things designed and functioning around notions of limitless and cheap fuel resources of hydrocarbon deposits, this collection of natural resources of the Earth that provided a giant one-time windfall, that modern industrialized civilization has been blowing through for a couple of centuries.
Part of the problem in getting people to grasp the scene is that, first, is it a little complicated, although it’s also not too complicated for anybody with a decent basic level of education and reasonable intelligence to understand it. It takes a little time an attention to get your head around it. That runs into a pair of problems that go together. People who don’t want to bother, “I don’t have time for that shit”, especially when they think they already understand it, clearly don’t, and if you try to get them to understand this, they think you’re being a condescending jerk. The other component is that too many people simply carry around notions in their head based on an endless barrage of bullshit being fed to them by politicians, people trying to sell something, and a mostly useless news media, when it comes to anything under the heading of “energy issues”.
Right now, we have this kind of thing raising its head, and compounding problems, as it always does, and it’s raising its head in the circus surrounding events in Ukraine. In all the noisy public chatter around that in American news, the fact that Russia is a major supplier of natural gas finally seems to have found its way out into daylight. What has followed from there, predictably, and unfortunately, is that people have gotten policy notions in their head based on fantasy and nonsense.
If you’ve been following the news chatter about the “Ukrainian Crisis”, you’ve probably heard the chattering of ill-informed political leaders like Speaker of the House John Boehner, suggesting that we can free Europe from the circumstances of depending on Russia for natural gas, by simply cranking up things and shipping off what they imagine to be vast plentiful quantities of natural gas here in the US.
For a start, people in that delusion are neglecting the physical properties of natural gas, being, you know, a gas, and the difficulties that brings in getting the stuff from a source well to anywhere else by any means other than pushing it through a pipeline. Despite all the casual nonsense pumped out about it, shipping natural gas across an ocean to another continent is not a trivial matter. Given the physical density, and properties of energy density, it’s a big complicated and simply dangerous deal. The laws of physics, spelled out by the simple equation of the general gas law, and the nature of a gas, tell us that to get a significant amount of mass of the stuff from here to there, to be a substantial energy supply, requires enormous cooling of the stuff and enormous pressure to get the stuff into the state of being liquefied natural gas. Then that LNG has to be handled, with great obvious difficulty and danger, carrying it in specialized tankers that can handle it, and God help you if there is any kind of leak or rupture or mishap, by neglect, accident, or even some act of deliberate ill intent.
But all that is a secondary point. It assumes that there actually is the vast endless plenty of the stuff that many people seem to think we have. It looks to me like loads of people here in the US have latched on to the idea that was proclaimed by President Obama, two or three years ago, in the State of the Union address, this propagating meme that says the United States has 100 years of natural gas supply still left in the ground waiting for us and available thanks to wonder miracle technology of hydraulic fracturing methods. Any credible information and opinion I can find says this is so far off reality that it’s not funny, not that this would be a good joke anyway, unless you’re a truly sadistic bastard.
Too much distorted, misunderstood, or even completely fictional nonsense is flying around in the hydrocarbons department, and I guess that, aside from what I’ve already said earlier about people not doing some personal homework because of the time and bother, lots of people believe pure nonsense because they read or hear something, and they would like to believe it’s true, therefore, in their mind, it’s true.
The running theme of “energy boom” and a supposed imminent American “energy independence” has taken the place that should be occupied by people in positions of authority and leadership, and people charged with the task of informing people, taking on the difficult task of getting people to understand the situation we’re in, and getting to work on the changes that need to happen.
Yes, I’ve said that before. It’s not going to just go away because people don’t like reality.
Instead of dealing with this, and all that goes along with it, in all its complications and effects, we get things like the current beating of war drum lunacy and preoccupations of political actors meddling in everything anywhere in the world. That gets even worse, as the chatter right now, about the “Ukraine Crisis” seems to be divorced from the reality of actual events to an astonishing, and disturbing degree. But that’s a subject all its own. The story of that is large and messy enough to need a separate look. In more than one way, though, that episode sort of ties in here. It’s a case of politicians keeping people distracted (in this case, seemingly trying to start World War III over something that should not be any of our business), keeping them seriously misinformed about it, and, more directly related to “energy issues”, even squawking about foreign policy motions based on delusional notions about the remaining hydrocarbon resources here in the US.
Yet another of the endless examples of the kind of deluded narratives bombarding people and profoundly confusing and misleading them popped up a day or two ago. I flipped on a TV briefly and there was the infotainment hour of CNBC clown Jim Cramer, interviewing Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal. I didn’t stick with that for very long, being unable to stand more than a couple minutes of it. The bullshit was flying, think and deep, including the two of them riffing on what they were calling “the shale revolution”.
Part of the chatter from those guys was a common repeating meme that swirls around hydrocarbons locked in shale formations, that goes something like: the big energy boom from the miraculous shale revolution can bring lots of high-paying jobs in gas and oil and we need jobs for our economy. This has become such a constantly repeated idea that I suspect it seeps into people’s minds and becomes accepted by sheer repetition and some process of mental osmosis. Obviously part of this meme comes from the excited perception of small towns in North Dakota bursting with loads of new activity and money (not always with great positive effects) because of the activities in extraction of crude oil from dense shale formations (“tight oil”, not “shale oil”) in the Bakken formation. That and all the frenzy of activity in extracting natural gas from dense shale, thanks to the supposedly new methods of hydraulic fracturing, drives these ideas of a boom in oil and gas jobs, along with deluded notions of coming “energy independence” coming from all this.
The people hyping this don’t talk about how all that activity has come into play because the deposits of natural gas and crude oil involved are what we have left. As far as I can tell, and obviously I give this subject some attention, is that the resources being extracted are not some new discoveries, and the “new technologies” being hyped up, drilling techniques, the infamous fracking, all that, are not really new ideas and developments. All that is complicated and more and more expensive, and comes into play because depletion and diminishing returns in crude oil and natural gas means that’s what’s left.
But beyond all that, the TV chat with Cramer and Jindal also involved the recent notion that says: cheap plentiful natural gas here in America can bring back American manufacturing business taking advantage of cheaper energy costs thanks to all that cheap plentiful gas. That idea sounds nice to people, but it’s more complicated than that. Aside from the fantasy element compared to reality, as I’ve already pointed to, along with that, it seems to be often the same crowd of people chattering about how gas is so plentiful now with our Shale Revolution, that we should turn it into LNG and export it! It’s not likely that you’ll hear them asking the question of what happens to the “plentiful supply” and cheap prices, if it’s being converted to LNG and shipped off.
Where we find our way back to more realistic thinking is considering that what had been “offshored” activities in making things once made closer to home probably will be reversing and being done closer to home, and not because of these illusions of newly replenished endless cheap natural gas to feed the factories. It’s because of diminishing returns in petroleum meaning that long distance transportation (including all manner of shipping stuff) simply is going to become more and more problematic and expensive with passing time. It already is, and has been for some time, which makes it especially astonishing and perpetually puzzling to me how it is possible that people seem to have such a hard time getting to grips with this.
Credit to writer James Kunstler for summarizing something very well, and repeating the point often. That simple point is that the whole phenomenon and set of business practices we know as “globalization” is not some long standing natural order of things, it’s a very recent short term phenomenon, and it is based upon, and completely depends upon, two basic requirements: a relatively stable state of worldwide peace, and an effectively unlimited supply of cheap petroleum for transportation fuel.
Who knows what might happen in geopolitical events, especially given that it seems we have lunatics trying to start up World War III with their general megalomania. There’s serious irony there, in that the neocon political contingent involved in this kind of thing undoubtedly actually believe that they’re the Good Guys making the world safe and secure by their quest for world domination. It should be obvious by now that a large portion of the whole neocon philosophy of world affairs includes having the US military as international police force guardians of “our” oil, even while we’re continually fed downright Orwellian propaganda that it’s all about “defending our freedom” or something.
Turn your mind back to all the war chatter revolving around attacking Iraq, and recall the famous, or infamous, comment by then VP Dick Cheney, beating the war drums telling the American people we had to attack Iraq, about “the American way of life is not negotiable”. That comment made absolutely no sense in the context of arguing that military action was necessary against that evil dictator Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction that threatened world peace and security and to liberate the Iraqi people. Now, take that same comment and look at the scenario back then as “Iraq has a large chunk of the remaining oil in the world under its soil, and that Saddam character isn’t being very cooperative“. Add “the American way of life means that we’re going to keep driving around for mile and miles to do every little thing and we’re going to do it in big oversized overweight unnecessary SUV and pickup trucks and nobody is gonna tell us any different!” and suddenly Cheney’s “not negotiable” comment turns from “what is that supposed to mean?” to “oh“.
Right now, we generally still seem to have much of the citizenry locked into some sort of sclerotic notions of what “the American way of life” is supposed to mean, revolving around consuming. That seems set in people’s minds as consuming hydrocarbon fuel resources as if they’re infinite, regardless of what physical reality is telling us.
That idea, seemingly set as a permanent normal way of doing things, with indignant objections to the thought of changing anything about it, does raise the word sclerotic as a good adjective to describe it. Even people who seem to understand that we have some problems in the hydrocarbons department then turn around and grab on to beliefs that we’ll just simply switch over to “renewables” and “alternative energy” and simply power everything that way… and essentially continue on with everything the same, like: we’ll still drive dozens of miles every day in the SUV, but it will be “green” then. Very few people want to even think about the way we’ve set things up and arranged things over recent past decades, in suburban sprawl, or getting food from places hundreds or even thousands of miles away, and buying piles and piles of stuff made on completely different continents and shipped to the local mall or strip shopping center full of corporate chain retail barns, often many miles from where we live.
But, then, it has been a while now that we’ve had the idea planted in the American psyche that making things here is archaic, outdated, passé, but we’re a consumer society, still. The idea that we were sold was that we’ll just consume stuff made elsewhere, and to a large degree not even maintaining and repairing anymore, but just tossing out malfunctioning stuff and buying more stuff to replace it, and then add more new stuff to it. We would just be all in corporate management managing the chain, or a “service economy”, or finance, which is a whole epic of distortion and malfunction now. There we find the idea some people have nicely captured using the phrase “the financialization of everything”, which neatly describes an increasingly unreal segment of the economy, where you could almost say that people decided that finance would be a product, a game unto itself, not a means of facilitation of doing things. We can see what that fairly bizarre notion has gotten us.
Getting much more local isn’t just about wasting less resources, and not just about making things here, rather than somewhere on the other side of the planet.
In the links at the end of this note is a story doing a quick itemization of what could simply be called a wave of disaster in retail commerce. All that gets into all kinds of complicated areas, and I’m not going to pretend that I have it all sorted out. With that, I’ll say that I don’t have much patience left for people of the sort who have some twitching reflex response like “oh, sure, you complain about all this stuff, but don’t offer any solutions!“, like you’re not allowed to even address a problem unless you have some neat action item bulleted list plan all lined up that will just fix everything right up (with no cost or inconvenience, while you’re at it, please). It’s an indicator of more than one problem.
Part of the collapse of all the corporate retail listed there can surely be attributed to a long run of overenthusiastic, arguably just crazed overextensions over the past couple of decades or so, of retail commerce and consumer existence, people regarded as consumers first, and anything else coming after that.
Many people who understand much more than I do about the economic circumstances have pointed out that much of that has revolved around obsessive compulsions and drive for “economic growth”, and more growth, and more, regardless of any real connection to practical reality, or any kinds of limits.
The phenomenon of “the financialization of everything” has to be counted in on this, as it seems clear that so much of the “growth” of the past couple of decades, including retail corporate commerce, has been all about people “making money” (in quotes deliberately) by creating massive debt arrangements in financing new stores, new commercial buildings and real estate deals, and figuring out how to skim large chunks of it for themselves, and leaving behind the projects involved to do what they may, not really caring about how it goes, or if any of it was really needed or a good idea, because they got their cut, and off to the next big deal they go.
There’s more involved than that. What adds to the problem and the glaring clues of how some things need to change is what effect the changes in retail commerce have had.
A few days ago I saw a note online from someone in a small town in Indiana somewhat familiar to me, a place with personal meaning. They mentioned closings of stores there or stores possibly soon to be closing, wondering what might be left at some point in the near future. They said there is a “Super Wal Mart” there, not a great place, and wondered if even that wretched place might disappear. There’s a narrative here that seems largely ignored, of large corporate chain retail driving local business, actual local community business, out of existence. When the binge of charging “growth” for corporate retail chains fizzles and implodes, with things like Wal Mart, especially, killing local business (for “lower prices for consumers”, of course), when the corporate chain operations abandon places around the country, because it doesn’t matter to them except an entry saying “Store XXXX is underperforming”, then what happens?
We have a large array of very real and immediate problems staring us in the face that have common ground in a running binge of “growth” with no other purpose, endless greed, astonishing short term thinking (despite what corporate managers and other might have thought about their grand “long term” plans that actually ignored so much about so much), and spreading too much too thin, physically spreading out in suburban sprawl, overextending in so many ways.
We are going to get more local, for a batch of reasons, and sooner than most people seem to think.
We should actually try to be conscious about it.