Culture Change e-Letter
Petroleum culture versus
The fallacy of the technofix
by Jan Lundberg
We may contemplate the stubbornness of
the polluting habits of consumers and snarl at the motives of leaders of
ecological destruction. But our exasperation is rarely vented, because of
the pointlessness of having to oppose almost every member of society.
There seems to be no chance of a peaceful mass crusade, let alone a civil war,
when everyone is participating as the enemy.
"No one wins / It's a war of
man," sang Neil Young. And, as the Pogo cartoon by Walt Kelly
revealed, "We have met the enemy and he is us."
Some of us are trying to live
petroleum-free, but it's almost impossible unless we cut ourselves off from
modern products and forms of communication. Yet, the movement to "get
back to the land" which popped up in the late 1960s is still alive and
well. The technical means of doing so, ironically, is improving
constantlywireless internet and all that jazz.
With each generation's increased
self-removal from Earth-based living (relying on manual methods and
do-it-yourself/mutual-assistance survival), transitioning
to sustainability is more doubtful. Cell phones in the countryside and
newer trucks made with computer components, that can't be repaired, don't help
us in the long run. Bring back the work animals, as long as they are well
Personal cost of petroleum culture
Petroleum culture has a high personal cost beyond the health aspects. Along
with the go-go-go pace of using cheap energy and going long distances so fast,
the connection between loved ones diminishes. "I-me-mine" is
convenient and habit forming when everything one appears to need is available
from petroleum products or products/services facilitated by petroleum.
Alienation between family members, partners or best friends is a
terribly common condition traceable to one's not feeling the need for
close cooperation and support. When a person has his or her own "pile"
there is little need, apparently, for love, loyalty, devotion or time with family.
There are two kinds of consumers
participating in "petroleum living:" the unconscious and the
deliberate. Or, the willing and the murderousif we agree that driving species
extinct and warming the climate ought to be serious crimes. The
unconscious/willing petroleum consumers burn and spill petroleum at lower levels than
the deliberate and "murderous." With a war on Iraq mostly
concluded, with oil wealth in the balance, does an oil user deserve the
war-criminal label when we consider thousands of civilian casualties and
deformed babies on both sides?
There is much to do; no end of reforms
and efficiencies to employ. A huge stack of Worldwatch Institute
policy-options would be marvelous to be acted on by governments. But,
regardless of the inaction on deliberate energy waste and pollutionwhich feeds the fat
catsfundamental change now
approaches us all. It will hit us at the top of the Richter scale due to our
rail-shipped goods use one eighth of the energy trucks use, but it is too late
to remake the transportation system before it collapses from fiscal pressures
and the lack of abundant oilat low priceswithin a few years perhaps.
Renewable energy's shortcomings
The renewable-energy technofix camp
thinks of itself as beyond petroleum. If one includes their passive
supporters, it is huge. It has its beneficiaries and enforcers. Those who
question the renewable energy utopia are marginalized or dismissed as belonging
to the George
Bush camp of fossil fools. The credulity of the technofixer can be
typified in statements by the
popular visionary, Saint Fuller:
"We are blessed with technology
that would be indescribable to our forefathers. We have the wherewithal, the
know-it-all, to feed everybody, clothe everybody, give every human on earth a
chance [without damaging the integrity of the planet]" R. Buckminster
Fuller is ultimately old fashioned, and
fails at transforming the techno man in us into a hero. And,
how many billions of humans is "everybody?" Fullerism
may be so technofreaky that a new age of sustainability must do without this
out-of-date vision. Fuller's famous "trim tab factor" that
compares a massive freighter's mini-rudder effect to a subtle influence within a
social movement is clever and hopeful, but may be just techno-religion at
work. We don't need to think in terms of huge freighters forever linking
bioregions that don't need each other's invasive species.
This is not to say that email and
websites don't help spread the word on peaceful resistance to the war machine
(a.k.a. U.S. $ociety). But when environmental activists say they love
email and the web, some of us question whether they know what they are really up
against as defenders of the Earth.
One paradox in the renewable energy
dream-world as manifested thus far is that it is so petroleum dependent. The imbedded
energy in the manufactured "solar" gadgets, their petroleum-plastic content, and their
transport constitute one example of petroleum's serious role in "renewable
energy." Another example is the petroleum content of cars and their
infrastructureeven if the cars run on biodiesel or solar-charged batteries:
asphalt pavement (tarmac) is mostly the dregs of oil refining. Tires were formerly from rubber plantations, but since the early
1970s are mostly petroleum. Most of the
car's pollution comes not out of the tailpipe, but from the manufacturing and
mining process "upstream."
The Worldwatch Institute has a careful
function to fulfill, walking a fine line between accusing and cajoling polluters who are
bringing the curtain down on life. But, as we support the contribution of
organizations that measure the decline in our life support system, we
must guard against mere "symptomology"studying the problem.
In collaboration with the UN Environment Programme, Worldwatch's latest Vital
Signs paperback says "the benefits of a growing global economy are still
not reaching billions of people." Does Worldwatch really expect that
"benefit" could happen, when the staffers there know that the growing economy is harming
billions of people and the web of life?
Overpopulation and petroleum
The issue is not so much what form of technology is more terrible, but how many people are engaging in
the technologies. There
appears to be very little thought given to how large a population size is sustainable with a
renewable-energy economy. Petroleum is fast dwindling
(see our related articles on www.culturechange.org).
The funded environmental
movement has no accountability while it is paid to tout the renewable-energy
technofix. Hypocritically, many of the professionals involved admit privately that there is
no chance of a huge "green consumer economy" lasting beyond the
upcoming loss of
abundant petroleum. Very few funded environmentalists want to rock
their own boat by using their funders' stock-market earnings to tell the public unpleasant truths about economic growth,
carrying capacity, and entropy. So, the party goes on "forever,"
and enviros in suits live alright today on a burning, dying planet.
The world's huge
overpopulation is the controlling factor. Agricultural dependency on petroleum
and oil-fueled vehicular distribution of food means that soon there may not be
as many consumers surviving for the anticipated green economy. In that sense,
renewable energy will take over, but only as far as serving the small population
that may survive and thrive in local-based bioregional economies.
Until we resume petroleum-free living,
we will have to heed Neil Young's lyric, "The same thing that makes you
live can kill you in the end."
Earth living can be called a mix of
current know-how or enlightenment combined with the wisdom and experience of the
millions of years' successful evolution in harmony with nature. Here are some links toward
understanding the requirements of living and sensible "development":
See our alternative
To learn about the imminent global peak
in oil extraction, see webpage http://www.peakoil.net/
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