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

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

“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):

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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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