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‘The End of the World as You Know It’ — or not

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"‘The End of the World as You Know It’ — or not"

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Someone else who makes Climate Progress and most everybody else into optimists, relatively speaking.klare.jpg

“In the new world order, energy scarcity will dominate our lives — determining when we drive, if we travel, and what we eat” — so says Michael T. Klare, Five Colleges professor of Peace and World Security Studies.

Klare is in the Kunstler school of energy dystopia, not a view I share (see “Why I don’t agree with James Kunstler about peak oil and the “end of suburbia“).

He writes in Salon (here):

What this adds up to is simple and sobering: the end of the world as you’ve known it. In the new, energy-centric world we have all now entered, the price of oil will dominate our lives and power will reside in the hands of those who control its global distribution.

In this new world order, energy will govern our lives in new ways and on a daily basis. It will determine when, and for what purposes, we use our cars; how high (or low) we turn our thermostats; when, where, or even if, we travel; increasingly, what foods we eat (given that the price of producing and distributing many meats and vegetables is profoundly affected by the cost of oil or the allure of growing corn for ethanol); for some of us, where to live; for others, what businesses we engage in; for all of us, when and under what circumstances we go to war or avoid foreign entanglements that could end in war.

While I have been a fan of Klare’s writing on security, I think that he, like Kuntsler, just doesn’t understand how electric cars (mostly in other countries) and plug-in hybrids (in this country) together with renewable energy like wind and concentrated solar thermal power, will avert much of the medium- and long-term pain from peak oil — though it won’t avert either the short-term pain or climate catastrophe if we don’t aggressively deploy those technologies starting now.

Instead, Klare repeats standard stuff like this:

To meet soaring energy demand, we would need a massive influx of alternative fuels, which would mean equally massive investment — in the trillions of dollars — to ensure that the newest possibilities move rapidly from laboratory to full-scale commercial production; but that, sad to say, is not in the cards. Instead, the major energy firms (backed by lavish U.S. government subsidies and tax breaks) are putting their mega-windfall profits from rising energy prices into vastly expensive (and environmentally questionable) schemes to extract oil and gas from Alaska and the Arctic, or to drill in the deep and difficult waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. The result? A few more barrels of oil or cubic feet of natural gas at exorbitant prices (with accompanying ecological damage), while nonpetroleum alternatives limp along pitifully.

Actually, it is in the cards. True, the major energy firms (i.e. oil companies) may not make those investments, but lots of other people already are.

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9 Responses to ‘The End of the World as You Know It’ — or not

  1. tidal says:

    Klare writes: >

    Actually, to a *MUCH* larger degree, they are investing those mega-profits into share buybacks… which presumably signals something about how valuable – and ‘relatively’ cheap – they presumably think their *existing* reserves are…

  2. tidal says:

    Ooops, I guess my Klare quote got eaten by the html editor… Previous post should read in full:

    Klare writes: “Instead, the major energy firms… are putting their mega-windfall profits from rising energy prices into vastly expensive (and environmentally questionable) schemes to extract oil and gas from Alaska and the Arctic, or to drill in the deep and difficult waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.”

    Actually, to a *MUCH* larger degree, they are investing those mega-profits into share buybacks… which presumably signals something about how valuable – and ‘relatively’ cheap – they presumably think their *existing* reserves are…

  3. paulm says:

    How quickly could electric transport replace the existing petrol model? Can solar support the manufacturing energy requirements in the near future? What about all the other cheap products we get from oil – manufacturing cost will sky rocket.

  4. David B. Benson says:

    paulm — Bioplastics, both biodegradable and permanent, are already at the pilot plant stage. Expect demonstration plant stage within a year.

  5. Become a CLIMATE HERO by simply speaking out!

    A failure of unimaginable proportions is bound up in the the willful blindness, hysterical deafness and elective mutism of so many opinion leaders, economic powerbrokers, politicians and business tycoons who do not speak out openly, loudly and clearly about the world we inhabit as bounded and limited in space with finite resources. Their idolatry of the endless expansion of the global political economy is not only selfish, arrogant and unrealistic; they are also perversely choosing to espouse a “primrose path” of unbridled economic globalization to our children, a path to the future that a relatively small planet with the size and make-up of Earth cannot possibly sustain much longer, much less to the year 2050.

    At least to me, this failure by my not-so-great generation of leading elders is a “sin of omission” and tantamount to a passive criminal act against the family of humanity, life as we know it and the Earth God blesses us to inhabit….and not ruin, I suppose.

    Steven Earl Salmony
    AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population,
    established 2001
    http://sustainabilitysoutheast.org/index.php

  6. hapa says:

    @paulm

    How quickly could electric transport replace the existing petrol model?

    pretty fast. the electric grid is big and universal; “idling” overnight fossil fuel plants would fill the batteries with very low additional fuel consumption; and far as i can tell, all the wind capacity one could ask for needs can come online in a matter of years if steel is diverted from things like, oh, i dunno, heavy cars, maybe.

  7. Earl Killian says:

    paulm, hapa: I’m an EV advocate, but I don’t see the transition being that fast. Take a look at the two graphs at the bottom of
    http://climateprogress.org/2008/03/13/killing-the-electric-car-again-part-1/
    to see what I consider to be a fast transition to new technology for (1) new sales, and (2) the vehicle fleet. Click on the small pictures to see them at readable size.

    The problem is that it takes a long time for new vehicle sales to change the vehicle fleet (e.g. 15-20 years).

  8. Robert says:

    “While I have been a fan of Klare’s writing on security, I think that he, like Kuntsler, …”

    Unfortunate spelling mistake!

  9. hapa says:

    @earlk: …and it can take millions of years for the ocean to erode a cliff and shell oil’s thrilling “blueprints” scenario has 40% of energy in 2050 generated by fossil fuels — mostly coal, a near tripling.

    but that is not our situation.