Sunday, June 29, 2008

Competing visions of $200+ per barrel oil

The LA Times seems to have the relatively happy-talk version. Cernig of Newshoggers has the much more bleak version. I'd like to believe in the happier version, that aside from more carpooling and staycations, all will be rosy. Just to be on the safe side, though, it would be a good idea to prepare for the worst case scenario. Cernig quotes a Newshoggers researcher, Kat, for what would seem sensible preparation for the worst case scenario:

$250 a barrel oil by next year?! Screw the so-called free-market shinola that got us into this mess, and continues to make it worse by the day. If we really don't want to starve during this unfolding economic firestorm, we'd best find a way to force Congress to:

1) immediately start a domestic Marshall Plan to manufacture millions of plug-in hybrids (heavily-subsidized so they'll be cheap-enough for us to actually buy);

2) suck up to Iceland pronto, for their help in getting all that potential geothermal electricity on line pdq; and

3) deliver a resounding whop upside the head to whoever just froze all those solar projects on federal land.

If we can get it through our Congresslizards' thick heads that this is a major economic crisis, and light a bonfire under them to do these 3 things, it might just create enough jobs so that we can not only continue to eat, but also continue paying our mortgages and utility bills.

For starters, we need to convince our Congressmen of a few stark economic and stragegic realities:

1) all the world's deep-sea oil-drilling equipment is already in use, and won't be available for several years, so they can forget that option,

2) by the time they get even one new nuclear power plant built, both the country as a whole and 99% of the populace will already be decimated economically, and

3) the US can't afford to continue spending $15b a month for the Iraq occupation, can't afford for our military to continue consuming 8% of the world's yearly oil supply as fuel in the process, nor can we afford to wait for years as our military vainly tries to impose enough stability in Iraq for Big Oil to develop Iraq's vast oil reserves, especially since, by the time that happens, we won't be able to afford the $250+ per barrel they'll still be asking for it.

That would mean challenging neoliberal orthodoxy, which I imagine is something that our political elites are psychologically unprepared to do. But on the very off chance that our Congresslizards (I just love that term, and think I'll begin using it) decide to do something useful, not only would the above be good, but I'd add a few items courtesy of Dmitry Orlov, whom I've mentioned before:
There are some things that I would like the government to take care of in preparation for collapse. I am particularly concerned about all the radioactive and toxic installations, stockpiles, and dumps. Future generations are unlikely to able to control them, especially if global warming puts them underwater. There is enough of this muck sitting around to kill off most of us. I am also worried about soldiers getting stranded overseas – abandoning one's soldiers is among the most shameful things a country can do. Overseas military bases should be dismantled, and the troops repatriated. I'd like to see the huge prison population whittled away in a controlled manner, ahead of time, instead of in a chaotic general amnesty. Lastly, I think that this farce with debts that will never be repaid, has gone on long enough. Wiping the slate clean will give society time to readjust. So, you see, I am not asking for any miracles. Although, if any of these things do get done, I would consider it a miracle.
By the way, in addition to the subsidized production and distribution of plug-in hybrids, might I also suggest another useful idea: as part of that "Marshall Plan" include a major overhaul of the nation's railroads. There is absolutely no reason for the US to not have a fully-functioning high-speed passenger railroad system. The nation is already heading towards bankruptcy - we might as well have something to show for it, such as a functioning infrastructure rather than only increasingly distant memories of failed wars which only fill the mind with anger and leave the belly empty. I also think it would be useful to remind our Congresslizards that the social unrest caused by a failure to act now in a useful way will not be contained by unleashing the sort of fascist state infrastructure that the government has been putting in place for the last decade or so. If oil stays at the $200 - $250 per barrel range for any significant length of time, the whole infrastructure needed to make that a reality will simply collapse. I wouldn't necessarily count on those Green Zones (in which the elites may hope to cower within) warding off a lot of very pissed of and desperately hungry human beings under such circumstances. Since I feel the need to repeat myself:
What is clear is that there are some huge changes on the horizon for which there is nearly no preparation. I do think that neoliberalism will become little more than a historical artifact of the late 20th & very early 21st century once that black gold becomes too expensive. As I was saying over a year ago:
The world that my generation is leaving behind for our kids and grandkids will in many ways seem much harsher than the one that we inherited. The thought used to drive me to depths of despair. The older I get though, the more stoic I have become - instead I'm realizing that those who've survived previous collapses find opportunities for finding meaningful existences, and even a measure of happiness. With crisis comes opportunity. I have little choice but to hold out hope that my kids' generation will seize that opportunity to create the beginnings of something beautiful out of the ashes of what we gave them. Hopefully a few of us middle-aged gen-x-ers can live long enough to pass on the lessons we learned of the folly of American Exceptionalism, and of the predatory capitalism that myth enabled. Maybe they'll take those lessons to heart.
Food for thought.
If we're smart, we'll place neoliberalism of the present Gilded Age alongside the Social Darwinist capitalism of the previous Gilded Age - in the dustbin of history. If we're smarter, we'll do everything we can to prepare future generations to resist the temptation of repeating the mistakes of the last three decades.

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