Wednesday, April 7, 2010

on being frustrated and peak oil

I am frustrated. No, I am beyond frustrated.

I want to be an activist for the ideals I believe in. I want to spread knowledge like wildfire, avoid ignorance and complacency and be well-rounded and real. I want to be a 'Pro' person; I want to be defined by the things and ideas I believe in, and not the things I would necessarily be against.

Why is it that 'liberal' and 'conservative' have to be the terms with which we are defined? Why is it that if we belong to one that the other is perpetually wrong and has no redeeming qualities? I want to know what makes it so difficult for us to find common ground, when most people want the same things: good education, health care, the right to human dignity, racial and gender equality, and the right to make a living. Granted, a few select people have hatred or biases that are unfounded. But overall, the nonpartisan issues far outweigh the ones that we should be fighting about, and I am frustrated that no matter what I do, I am forced to appear somewhere on a political spectrum that I have no faith in.

There is a myriad of issues that affect all of us. Whether putting my energy and efforts toward these issues label me as a 'raging liberal' to some friends and family, or whether my moderate and inquisitive nature makes me seem like a 'right-wing nut' to others, I have to carry on and do what I think is right.

I can't stand listening to people that think in only black and white. Nothing is just black. Nothing is only white. Nothing is just left. Nothing is only right. If anything, we should think in a dazzling array of colors that cannot be defined and let the tints and hues speak for themselves and inspire us. I refuse to be padlocked into one-sided thinking, and I hope you refuse as well.

Dearest America, we are going to have some problems, and I am afraid for us. I am afraid for the liberal activists and the small-town conservatives; I am afraid for our children and their children; I am afraid for the misfits, the jocks, the business men and the farmers. I am afraid that we are so wrapped up in ourselves to step back and measure the weight of what this last century has brought us, both good and bad.

We are going to run out of cheap oil. This is not up for debate or dispute. It is the scientific conclusion of the best paid, most widely-respected geologists, physicists, bankers, and investors in the world. It does not matter who you voted for or what you call yourself, because within a decade we will not be able to afford to drive our cars to work. Everything we do is surrounded and influenced by petroleum. Yes, it powers our cars and has the potential to ruin our fragile habitat. But there is more.

As of 2002, about 10 calories of fossil fuels were required to produce every one calorie of food eaten in the U.S. Pesticides and agro-chemicals are made from oil; these are necessary because of the single crop farming that is practiced across the nation. Most farming tools - tractors, trailers, combines - are constructed and powered by oil-derived fuels. Our refrigerators are manufactured in plants powered by oil and run on electricity, which, not shockingly, also also comes from natural gas and coal.

The average piece of food that you eat in the United States is transported about 1,500 miles before it sits in front of you on your plate. In Canada, this is almost 5,000 miles. Not only is our transportation and agriculture created in dependence of cheap and plentiful oil. Our water distribution, national defense, electronics, all plastics, modern medicine, and almost all high-tech devices requre fossil fuels. I would also like to point out that almost every alternative energy source out there uses petrochemicals at some point in their construction.

What does all this really mean, for you and for me? It means that you shouldn't just be concerned about how much it will cost to fill up your gas tank in five years.

In 2006 in the Chicago Tribune, Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Salopek described Peak Oil consequences as "unimaginable. Permanent fuel shortages would tip the world into a generations-long economic depression. Millions would lose their jobs as industry implodes. Farm tractors would be idled for lack of fuel, triggering massive famines. Energy wars would flare. And careless suburbanites would trudge to their nearest big box stores, not to buy Chinese made clothing transported cheaply across the globe, but to scavenge glass and copper wire from abandoned buildings."

If saying all that makes me an unforgivable liberal, take into account the speech of Congressman Roscoe Bartlett, a Republican from Maryland. He spoke to the U.S. House of Representatives for an hour in 2005 about Peak Oil.

"Is there any reason to remain optimistic or hopeful? Let me go back to Matt Savinar, that not-too-optimistic journalist. "If what you mean is there any way technology or the market or brilliant scientists or comprehensive government programs are going to hold things together or solve this for me or allow for business to continue as usual, the answer is no. On the other hand, if what you really mean is is there any way that I still can have a happy, fulfilling life, in spite of some clearly grim facts, the answer is yes. But it is going to require a lot of work, a lot of adjustments, and probably a bit of good fortune on your part.'"

I am frustrated. What I am frustrated most with, however, is that many papers (such as the UK Guardian) have admitted to covering up the looming crisis for years in order to avoid widespread panic and keep the world's economy in check.

I am frustrated that my whole life will change in less than a decade, and no one is getting frustrated with me. We need to rise up, to inspire one another, to invest in the transition we will all be going through together. We need to employ the innovators, discover how to localize again, use the remaining oil to fuel the creation of the technology that will eventually bring us through to the other side, to a calmer and newer era of our lives. I have no doubt we will make it through. I just wish more of the global community was interested in using Peak Oil as a way to bring us together.

If you have, in fact, reached the end of what has become a novel, I want to encourage you. Do your own research, dig up your own facts, use sources from all sides of the political spectrum, read books, watch documentaries... get inspired. Get angry, but more importantly, get inspired.

Together let's start to think in colors and leave black and white behind us.

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