Peak Oil News: Beltway wakes up to Peak Oil and Global Warming

Friday, March 18, 2005

Beltway wakes up to Peak Oil and Global Warming


By Bill Henderson

Seems like the Beltway movers and shakers are starting to clue in to our Bottleneck predicament.

Well, to be honest, there are beginning tentative steps, even within the Bush Administration, to recognize that continuing US prosperity and security depend upon confronting and solving building global-scale problems - E.O. Wilson's Bottleneck problems: global warming, species extinction and severe resource depletion (peak oil, being the first daunting example).

Unfortunately, but predictably, the nascent dialogue is ludicrously Americancentric and must stay completely within business as usual (Plan A as Lester Brown calls it) because 'The American lifestyle is not negotiable'.

So even as awareness of the imminent dangers of peak oil,

"The effects of any oil peak are similarly not ignored. Specifically, the impact on the economy of the United States. 'The development of the US economy and lifestyle has been fundamentally shaped by the availability of abundant, low-cost oil. Oil scarcity and several-fold oil price increases due to world oil production peaking could have dramatic impacts ... the economic loss to the United States could be measured on a trillion-dollar scale,' the (Hirsch DOE) report says."

of a nuclear Third World War triggered by America's resource war policy path,

"According to regional sources, Russia has de facto established guarantees for Iran's security, and is beefing up its southern border, from the Black Sea into Central Asia, a signal that Moscow is taking the threats against Iran and Syria very seriously.

"One Iranian official summed up his view of the situation by saying, 'The Third World War has already begun.'"

and - unthinkably worse but as near as your gas pump - of the horrible to contemplate extinction of all life as we know it as runaway global warming could possibly heat up our atmosphere to near Venus conditions,

"The prospect of only a very limited rise in average world temperature­one that society might easily adapt to­now appears highly unlikely. An increase in average global temperatures of 2° C (3.6° F) above preindustrial levels­an amount of increase thought to separate non-catastrophic from catastrophic levels of global warming­will soon become unstoppable. Further, there is a growing fear among scientists of runaway global warming due to cumulative effects associated with a lessening of the carbon-absorbing capacities of the oceans and forests ­ a probable consequence of global warming itself."

Beltway movers and shakers are awakening to the evidence but refuse to take off the blinders and contemplate anything but the present economy and the present drifting loss of governance instead of even contemplating the need for a Plan B.

These people who still seek to manage the globe refuse to contemplate a future without a Super Bowl, even if it means watching the big business circus within a Fortress America as billions die outside.

First of all, in January, there was the agreement between energy corporations, Beltway think tanks and ENGOs that America must develop a new energy policy.

"Energy is fundamental to U.S. prosperity and national security. With the advent of globalization, the onset of global warming, and the war on terrorism, the complex ties between energy and U.S. national interests have drawn tighter over time....

"U.S. energy policies to date have failed to address three great challenges. The first is the danger to political and economic security posed by the world's dependence on oil. Next is the risk to the global environment from climate change, caused primarily by the combustion of fossil fuels. Finally, the lack of access by the world's poor to modern energy services, agricultural opportunities, and other basics needed for economic advancement is a profound concern."

Like the war in Iraq there were many good reasons for this new energy policy - but the many good reasons are completely about American self-interest.

Thomas Friedman enunciated being a Geo-Green to Beltway perfection in combining environmentalism and geopolitics in supporting sharply lowered energy consumption and a gasoline tax. First of all it would reduce American dependence on foreign oil and stop the flow of American dollars to mullahs who are American enemies. And:

"It would reduce the chances that the United States and China are going to have a global struggle over oil - which is where we are heading. It would help us to strengthen the dollar and reduce the current account deficit by importing less crude. It would reduce climate change more than anything in Kyoto. It would significantly improve America's standing in the world by making us good global citizens."

'Even though we pretend to manage the globe we're so small minded that policy solutions to peak oil and greenhouse gas production are reduced to driving hybrids and exploring only the practical efficiencies possible in continuing business as usual: suburbs, Wal-Marts, salads transported thousands of miles, etc. We don't acknowledge anywhere that we have been profligate wasters of energy.'

Friedman is justly famous for his take on the progress trap of globalization; THE LEXUS AND THE OLIVE TREE should be required reading by all those who believe that their local governments have any freedom to use government to do anything but make the world a better place for business. But he probably doesn't even know who E.O. Wilson is, except in a dated misunderstanding of sociobiology; probably has never even heard of Wilson's Bottleneck metaphor for our 21st century; probably isn't even aware of the reality of global-scale problems as he jet sets around the world interviewing the suits who are in power because they think the same focused business small mindedness as he does.

While in Europe trying to appear conciliatory while remaining malevolent disfunctional Daddy, President Bush announced a plan to help China and India access US technology to be able to develop their coal fired power plants much more efficiently. Somebody in the Bush Admin actually understands that American prosperity and security is at risk to Asian economic expansion producing so much CO2, so much greenhouse gas, that Americans will be effected by subsequent global warming.

Not yet recognition of how close we all are to a cliff; not yet recognition that we are already skidding off the road, but recognition of the cause and effect of global-scale problems and the need to at least tinker with Plan A and get proactive if - and we'll get Beltway parochial again - the present economy is to keep expanding.

Not yet even close to recognition that extra-sizing your dominion on this small blue planet might entail using America's technical prowess to help other competitive emerging economies get past coal, past now peaking oil to a post-fossil fuel, clean energy economy so that we all survive and not just as peasants or hunters and gatherers.

Those on the Beltway have yet to advocate a Manhattan-style program accelerating investment and government and industry cooperation to get to an alternative energy economy fast in order to keep growing without global warming and species extinction - except for Lester Brown Two very hopeful recent technology stories - photo-voltaic/nanotech paint and a new method of effectively using sunlight to split water for hydrogen - are examples of possible new energy sources that could supplant fossil fuels if developed in time.

Lester Brown, Beltway enviro extra-ordinaire, comes close to understanding our Bottleneck predicament in his recent examination of how explosive growth in China threatens American security. Brown, echoing Wilson, projects how the rapidly expanding Chinese (and greater South-Asia including India) footprint combined with projected developed world growth is ecologically impossible and is exacerbating building global-scale problems such as global warming.

Brown has also taken the next step and proposed a wartime-equivalent rational-comprehensive governmental framework to begin to confront and ameliorate building global-scale problems. He recognizes that Plan A has failed and that we need to evolve a Plan B.

Unfortunately, Beltway shakers: you are probably waking up to reality too late. Skeptics have advanced detailed arguments that it will take decades that we don't have to develop a post fossil fuel economy. Peak oil is starting to bite. You should have paid attention to M.King Hubbert's graphs. You should have recognized the true dangers of greenhouse gases a half century ago and begun needed change. You we're too busy taking care of business.

You still reject anything but Plan A.

And now Bush Admin unilateralism - especially in choosing the resource war path for us all by succumbing to temptation in trying to seize control of Iraq for narrow American self-interest - has poisoned the cup of multilateral cooperation needed to confront building global problems. There was a science and business path . But it needed American leadership. But the leaders were too small minded, too preoccupied with self-interest to recognize common danger and the need for change.


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