Posts Tagged ‘Jimmy Carter’

Peak Oil, Part Two

July 26, 2010

Most Americans—and I have to include myself here—tend to think of oil primarily as a source of fuel—gas for the car, heat for the house. Our food creation and delivery system (a more accurate depiction than “agriculture”) is completely dependent on oil and gas. They power the farm machinery and the trucks and planes that bring the food increasingly long distances to market. In the industrialized world, we use roughly 10 calories of energy for every calorie of food we eat. The way I’ve always received it, modern mechanized farming has blessed us with the possibility of feeding a constantly growing world population. But according to what I’m reading now, the tremendous growth in the planet’s population coincides precisely with our exploitation of fossil fuels. In other words, the increased availability of food has encouraged massive population growth, which is exactly what happens in nature.

Most people seem to have adopted the idea that “they” will figure out something with which to replace oil. Depending on your politics, you might support nuclear energy, or you support development of solar and wind. But petroleum is not replaceable by any single substance or energy source. We tend (I have tended) to not think much about the fact that it’s used for much more than just fuel. We use it to make fertilizer, pesticides, plastics, synthetic rubber, clothing fibers, asphalt, and more. It’s everywhere and it’s in everything. We’ve built our civilization upon it. It’s not really the Information Age. It’s the Age of Oil. And now, after years of the West pushing manic economic growth on the rest of the world, every nation needs petroleum to function. China and India with their billions are hooked on the idea of having the same standard of living that the West “enjoys.” If the Peak Oil hypotheses is correct, we’re entering an era of aggressive competition over a dwindling resource, which will mean higher prices and, of course, more wars. The food distribution system and our electrical systems (and, accordingly, our communication systems) will undergo great stress. Getting our apples from Chile will become a thing of the past.

It didn’t have to happen this way. There’s been no shortage of warnings. But they’ve all fallen on deaf ears. When Jimmy Carter tried to present the facts to the public, he was ridiculed. One of Ronald Reagan’s first official acts as president was to order the removal of the solar power units that Carter had had installed on the White House roof. It was a statement—a foolish one. And we’ve lived under that ever since. The people want to continue the party, and the politicians have learned not to say anything that suggests it’s neither possible nor desirable.

When most people read about Peak Oil they tend to get depressed. But that hasn’t been my reaction at all. Part Three will deal with my personal response.

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The Tea Party

February 6, 2010

Conventional wisdom says that Jimmy Carter was a weak president who led the nation into a state of malaise, and then Ronald Reagan came along and made us believe in ourselves again. The conventional wisdom is firmly ensconced. Journalists, politicians, and mainstream historians all spout it. But it’s not the truth.

During the Carter presidency there was a brief moment when the window was open to the possibility of making some much needed change. Vietnam had left the country in bad shape—politically, economically, and psychologically. We were down, but it had nothing to do with Carter. That was already the situation when he came into office. He’s been the only president in my lifetime who said openly that the country ran on some false assumptions. One of the most egregious is the idea that we can constantly raise our standard of living, that there can be endless economic growth. This is an impossibility logically, and he seems to have known it. Carter made some effort to get the country to understand that we were entering an era of limits. He tried to get people to take the energy situation seriously. He was vilified for telling the truth. Reagan came along and undid any progress Carter may have made toward opening up a discussion about reality. One of Reagan’s first acts as president was to take down the solar panels that Carter had had installed on the White House roof—one of the most foolish symbolic moves any American president has ever made. He liked to say that “conservation just means we all freeze in the dark.” It says a great deal about the man. He gave people simple answers and resold the people on the fantasy aspects of the American Dream. The prosperity that followed was all done on credit. As somebody  once said, “we borrowed money from the Japanese and threw a party.” There wasn’t any new era of production, and in the end that’s what creates real wealth. We’ve been living in Reagan’s dream world ever since.

It’s very clear to me that we’ve already reached the end of our ability to raise our standard of living. We’re failing economically. We don’t produce anything anymore. We live in a service economy—a dead end—and we’re never going to get that old economy back. (Personally, I’m fine with it. I see immense wealth as a bar to good character.) There’s a lot of stuff coming down the road that the media and the politicians are paying zero attention to— “peak oil,” for one. Most people I talk to have never even heard of it. It’s probably the most important economic/material plane issue of our time. I’ll be writing about it at some point. I’m still learning.

I know I’ve said much of this before, but I’m bringing it up again because of the Tea Party convention in Nashville. I had an exchange with one of them recently, and I realized that they’re not really bad people. But they do live in a delusion—the Reagan fantasy—and they don’t spend much time being thoughtful. This guy had quite a few hatreds, and he was willing to give up most of them when pressed. But he demanded simple answers. The Tea Party wants the old America back, the America of a constantly increasing standard of living. They seem to see money as the only real pleasure in life. They’re going to be getting angrier and angrier as time goes on. Regardless of what happens in the future—which political party is in charge and so on—that dream is over.

Some Gloomy Political Thoughts That I Can’t Help But Think

November 28, 2009

After the Vietnam War, America was obliged to pay some karmic debts. One of the things about karma—the law of cause and effect, or “as you sow, so shall you reap”—is that it’s inexorable. You can’t avoid it. You can stave it off for awhile, but eventually you have to pay the price. In Jimmy Carter we had a president who understood, at least to some degree, that this was so. He tried to let the karma fall, and to fall with some grace. But the country refused to deal with it. Instead, it elected and then re-elected Ronald Reagan, who dished up a big fantasy that most Americans were happy to buy into. His two terms put the country through a “paradigm shift.” We are still in the Reagan era. I had some hope that Obama’s election signalled its end, but so far it looks as though he feels constrained to stay the course on the essentials of Reagan’s “vision”—vast military expansion, American exceptionalism, favoritism toward the rich, every man for himself. America is zooming toward hell because of that so-called vision. I don’t see the political will it would take to change course. If we don’t change, we’re going to reap the karma that we deflected back in the early 1980s along with a whole lot of new karma that we’ve been creating ever since. We’re heading into an exceptionally difficult period.

Obama

January 19, 2009

It’s been many years since this country has elected a president to whom I’ve been able to give any real support. The last one was Jimmy Carter (who got a bum rap). I was barely able to tolerate Clinton, and only at the beginning of his presidency. He lost me fast. (But at least he knew who Thelonious Monk was!) It’s great that Obama is intelligent, well-read, and articulate. But I think the best thing about him is that he hasn’t led an insular life. He’s had street level experience with all kinds of people. He knows what we think and how we live—all of us: left, right, and center. I believe that that’s infinitely more important than any book he’s read. It’s so rare in a politician nowadays.