Here I am again dealing with an annoying irony: I have zero interest in writing a “political blog”, and this here is, I would say, certainly not that, yet I could understand if somebody thought it was for a simple obvious reason. It ends up inevitable, and a repeating event, to find myself writing about things of that realm because the severe dysfunction and flat out madness there fouls the works in just about everything.
The latest entry on James Howard Kunstler’s Clusterfuck Nation blog sums up quite a bit nicely. In the comments section, somebody quoted something from another site that might be one of the best and most succinct things I’ve read about the events of about a week ago.
“We the passengers of the Titanic just elected a crew that doesn’t believe in icebergs.”
Reading another entry on the same site, I thought there was another pretty quotable item, found beneath a particularly hellish photograph, an aerial view of a Canadian tar sands strip-mining operation, showing what kind of obscene destruction is wrought by these things.
The caption read:
“A tar sands mine and plant near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada. The recipe is simple: scrape the skin off the earth, boil what you find, wash the residue, dilute it with explosive fluids and send it 3,000 miles to where someone can make an inferior product with it. For some reason, the business model isn’t working.”
Seriously, that might be the best summary of the subject of tar sands I’ve ever seen.
The subject of the deposits of bitumen found in some quantity around the province of Alberta up in Canada certainly is a substantial one, for a few reasons, and in recent years I’ve found myself thinking about it fairly often. Part of that is the wonder and puzzlement of how that subject has become like many others, obscured by noise and confusion, misunderstanding, raw ignorance, people’s wishful thinking and ambitions, and all the usual.
For a start, it’s not such a subtle item to observe that the material is often referred to as “oil sands”, which is a badly misleading misnomer. Unfortunately, it’s a kind of misleading trick that works on people who don’t know that, and in that sense, it becomes a subtle thing that slides by a lot of people, who simply accept the term at face value. The idea is planted in their heads regularly, and this kind of trickery seems to work on a lot of people, who end up thinking thoughts more or less like “well, how about that, look at all that oil, why aren’t we using that?”. For a start, it isn’t oil… and from there things take some explanation. A lot of people don’t want explanation. That might take some time and effort and then they might end up actually understanding something as it is, which could be inconvenient.
Now that we have a Congress dominated by a Brand R majority to look forward to, it’s probably not going out on a thin limb of speculation to guess that there will be a burst of activity from that sclerotic body to act on approval of the infamous Keystone pipeline from Canada through the United States to bring hydrocarbon sludge to American refineries.
I’ve already mentioned the subject of tar sands and what’s involved plenty often before, so I won’t review it all now. The quote above more or less sums up the minimized short version, if you’ve missed that. What is necessary to restate is how there still is nothing like a good solid general public concensus and understanding of all that. With the Brand R developments, and the approach of what one online writer called Republibama government, there will, as I’ve just said, almost certain to be a big push for the Keystone pipeline, complete with lots of mendacious and delusional noises about “energy independence”, with President Obama possibly making a token theatrical performance out of grungingly going along with it.
In a different camp, the usual boiled down reduction often comes down to something like “tar sands bad, because climate change”. That isn’t actually wrong, exactly, but the simplistic bumper-sticker reduction, of what really is a subject with a bit of complexity to it, has an unfortunate effect of doing to this topic the same as what happens to a lot of important topics. The tar sands territory does certainly have the issues of burning more and more hydrocarbons, including, it’s important to understand, the burning of hydrocarbons in the form of natural gas, to process the stuff, bitumen, into a kind of synthetic crude to then simply arrive at what would normally be a beginning point in what we’ve known as “oil production”, having crude to feed into a refinery. The kind of reductive simplistic thinking I see avoids further issues. One is the using up of natural gas, another finite hydrocarbon resource, and the matter of all the processes involved and the ratio of energy return on energy investment (EROEI).
To cut a review short; the story of the tar sands is a story that should make some things as plain as they can be about the diminishing returns of petroleum, the arc of Hubbert’s curve, with the bitumen of tar sands and all that’s involved is a demnstration of a form that is just about as literal as possible of the idea of scrounging for the dregs of what’s left.
Almost nowhere in the realm of American politics is there any recognition of the reality of our situation in this department. As Kunstler pointed out, there is almost nothing in terms of any sensible action to make major changes, or even relatively minor, but important, changes, to adjust to reality and, to use Kunstler’s phrasing when he writes and talks about this, make new arrangements. As he also pointed out, quite accurately as I see it, looking around, for the most part Americans completely ignore, dismiss, and even openly revile and mock taking on this large task, because of some vague notions planted in their heads, on a regular basis, that there is some kind of oil (and natural gas) miracle of coming “energy independence”, so, as some English speakers say, “no worries, mate!” (or as some here would say “it’s all good!”).
The increasing bizarre dysfunctions of politics are just continuing to revolve around this kind of mass delusion, with all the problems in this area that I’ve written about so often. A lot of it might be simplified down to an attitude of determined delusion. Basically, what I mean is people thinking that if there are limits in physical reality, and their plans depend upon a requirement that there are no limits, then, there are no limits. It’s an astonishing thing to see, and yet, here it is, all around us. Economists and politicians both indulge in it. The business of usury depends on this notion, and when actual reality intrudes and causes serious problems, bombarding people with pretense seems to be the answer in that realm. When the consequences of the clash with actual reality happens, the resulting problems are, always, we’re told, due to something else.
We all know about how much some people love to chirp about “innovation” as a cure for all, like, never mind those pesky pessimists and their warnings about hydrocarbon depletion and other things, “innovation” will wave its magic wand. One idea that gets lost in all this noise is that maybe, in fact, innovation in many things is exactly what we need, and the problem is that what people think that might be tends to be nothing like what we actually need. In the energy department, good luck finding anyone in a high profile position saying that most fundamental issue is realizing that we’ve been operating for far too long in ways where a kind of brute force application of hydrocarbon fuel resources is the source of everything, and we need to rethink and revise all kinds of things we do and how we do them.
Instead, in some broad general way, it seems like a lot of things have problems revolving around people who almost seem to just have an attitude that shouting “more power!” solves everything… whatever form that power might be. Never mind what you actually do with it, or, too often, misuse, or waste.