Monday, March 07, 2005

Your Future Is All Used Up 

We had just read Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez's proclamation that "the era of cheap oil is over" when, thanks to our distinguished colleague Jerome Doolittle of Bad Attitudes, we happened across the text of a long cautionary speech by novelist, essayist and blogger James Howard Kunstler, who wrote The Geography of Nowhere. The speech is adapted from Kunstler's upcoming book The Long Emergency, and deals with the uncharted territory past Hubbert's Peak, a very few years hence, when the fossil fuels begin to run out -- at which point we will have no choice but to "downscale and re-scale virtually everything we do":
The oil crises of the 70s prompted a frantic era of drilling, and the last great oil discoveries came on line in the 1980s - chiefly the North Sea fields of England and Norway, and the Alaska fields of the North Slope and Prudhoe Bay. They literally saved the west's ass for 20 years. In fact, so much oil flowed out of them that the markets were glutted, and by the era of Bill Clinton, oil prices were headed down to as low as $10 a barrel.

It was all an illusion. The North Sea and Alaska are now well into depletion - they were drilled with the newest technology and - guess what - we depleted them more efficiently! England is now becoming a new oil importer again after a 20 year fiesta. The implications are very grim.

Now, some of the most knowledgeable geologists in the world believe we have reached the global oil production peak. Unlike the US oil industry, the foreign producers do not give out their production data so transparently. We may never actually see any reliable figures. The global production peak may only show up in the strange behavior of the markets.

The global peak is liable to manifest as a "bumpy plateau." Prices will wobble. Markets will wobble - as the oil markets have been doing the past year. International friction will increase, especially around the places where the oil is - and two-thirds of the world's remaining oil is in the states around the Persian Gulf where, every week, a half dozen US soldiers and many more Iraqis are getting blown up, beheaded, or shot . . . .

Long before the oil actually depletes we will endure world-shaking political disturbances and economic disruptions. We will see globalism-in-reverse. Globalism was never an 'ism,' by the way. It was not a belief system. It was a manifestation of the 20-year-final-blowout of cheap oil. Like all economic distortions, it produced economic perversions. It allowed gigantic, predatory organisms like WalMart to spawn and reproduce at the expense of more cellular fine-grained economic communities . . . .

Right here I am compelled to inform you that the prospects for alternative fuels are poor. We suffer from a kind of Jiminy Cricket syndrome in this country. We believe that if you wish for something, it will come true. Right now a lot of people - including people who ought to know better - are wishing for some miracle technology to save our collective ass.

There is not going to be a hydrogen economy. The hydrogen economy is a fantasy. It is not going to happen. We may be able to run a very few things on hydrogen - but we are not going to replace the entire US automobile fleet with hydrogen fuel cell cars . . . .

The economy of the mid 21st century may center on agriculture. Not information. Not the digital manipulation of pictures, not services like selling cheeseburgers and entertaining tourists. Farming. Food production. The transition to this will be traumatic, given the destructive land-use practices of our time, and the staggering loss of knowledge. We will be lucky if we can feed ourselves.

The age of the 3000-mile-caesar salad will soon be over. Food production based on massive petroleum inputs, on intensive irrigation, on gigantic factory farms in just a few parts of the nation, and dependent on cheap trucking will not continue. We will have to produce at least some of our food closer to home. We will have to do it with fewer fossil-fuel-based fertilizers and pesticides on smaller-scaled farms. Farming will have to be much more labor-intensive than it is now. We will see the return of an entire vanished social class - the homegrown American farm laboring class . . . .

WalMart and its imitators will not survive the oil market disruptions to come. Not even for a little while. WalMart will not survive when its merchandise supply chains to Asia are interrupted by military contests over oil or internal conflict in the nations that have been supplying us with ultra-cheap manufactured goods. WalMart's "warehouse on wheels" will not be able to operate in a non-cheap oil economy

It will only take mild-to-moderate disruptions in the supply and price of gas to put WalMart and all operations like it out of business. And it will happen. As that occurs, America will have to make other arrangements for the distribution and sale of ordinary products.

It will have to be reorganized at the regional and the local scale. It will have to be based on moving merchandise shorter distances at multiple increments and probably by multiple modes of transport. It is almost certain to result in higher costs for the things we buy, and fewer choices of things. We are not going to rebuild the cheap oil manufacturing facilities of the 20th century.
We are governed, do not forget, by a consortium of oilmen, and the question that will continue to drive Amercian foreign policy for the next few decades is: when oil production slows to a trickle, whose hand will be on the spigot? F. William Engdahl, author of A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order, notes Mr. Bush's recently announced goal of "ending tyranny in our world," and points out that "the use of tyranny as justification for US military intervention marks a dramatic new step." As in the past, he suggests, the targeting of tyrannies is likely to be a highly selective process:
While Georgia may now be considered under de facto North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) or US control since the election of President Mikheil Saakashvili, the other states are highly suggestive of the overall US agenda for the new "war on tyranny". If we add Syria, Sudan, Algeria and Malaysia, as well as Rice's list of Cuba, Belarus, Myanmar and Zimbabwe, to the JCS list of Somalia, Yemen, Indonesia and the Philippines, we have some 12 potential targets for either Pentagon covert destabilization or direct military intervention, surgical or broader. And, of course, North Korea, which seems to serve as a useful permanent friction point to justify US military presence in the strategic region between China and Japan. Whether it is 10 or 12 targets, the direction is clear . . . .

Today, with US troops preparing a semi-permanent stay in Iraq and moves to control global oil and energy chokepoints, the situation is far more advanced. China and India have rapidly emerged as major oil-import economies at a time when existing sources of the West's oil, from the North Sea to Alaska and beyond, are in significant decline. Here we have a pre-programmed scenario for future resource conflict on a global scale.

Cuba as a "tyranny target" is a surrogate for Hugo Chavez' Venezuela, which is strongly supported by Russian President Vladimir Putin, via Cuba, and now by China. Rice explicitly mentioned the close ties between Cuban President Fidel Castro and Chavez. After a failed CIA putsch attempt early in the Bush tenure, Washington is clearly trying to keep a lower profile in Caracas. The goal remains regime change of the recalcitrant Chavez, whose most recent affront to Washington was his latest visit to China, where he signed a major bilateral energy deal. Chavez also had the gall to announce plans to divert oil sales away from the United States to China and sell its US refineries. Part of the China deal would involve a new pipeline to a port on Colombia's coast, which avoids US control of the Panama Canal. Rice told the Senate that Cuba was an "outpost of tyranny" and in the same breath labeled Venezuela a "regional troublemaker".

Indonesia, with huge natural-gas resources serving mainly China and Japan, presents an interesting case, since the country has apparently been cooperative with Washington's "war on terror" since September 2001. Indonesia's government raised an outcry in the wake of the recent tsunami disaster when the Pentagon dispatched a US aircraft carrier and special troops within 72 hours to land in Aceh province to do "rescue work". The USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier, with 2,000 supposedly Iraq-bound Marines aboard, together with the USS Bonhomme Richard from Guam, landed some 13,000 US troops in Aceh, which alarmed many in the Indonesian military and government. The Indonesian government acceded, but demanded that the US leave by the end of March and not establish a base camp in Aceh. No less than deputy defense secretary and Iraq war strategist Paul Wolfowitz, former US ambassador to Indonesia, made an immediate "fact-finding" tour of the region. ExxonMobil runs a huge LNG [liquefied natural gas] production in Aceh that supplies energy to China and Japan . . . .

Control or militarization of Malaysia, Indonesia and Myanmar would give US forces chokepoint control over the world's busiest sea channel for oil from the Persian Gulf to China and Japan. It would be a huge blow to China's efforts to secure energy independence from the US. Not only has China already lost huge oil concessions in Iraq with the US occupation, but China's oil supply from Sudan is also under increasing pressure from Washington.

Taking Iran from the mullahs would give Washington chokepoint control over the world's most strategically important oil waterway, the Strait of Hormuz, a three-kilometer-wide passage between the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea. The major US military base in the entire Middle East region is just across the strait from Iran in Doha, Qatar. One of the world's largest gas fields also lies here.

Sudan, as noted, has become a major oil supplier to China, whose national oil company has invested more than US$3 billion since 1999 building oil pipelines from southern Sudan to the Red Sea port. The coincidence of this fact with the escalating concern in Washington about genocide and humanitarian disaster in oil-rich Darfur in southern Sudan is not lost on Beijing . . . .

The list of emerging targets in a new "war on tyranny" is clearly fluid, provisional, and adaptable as developments change. It is clear that a breathtaking array of future military and economic offensives is in the works at the highest policy levels to transform the world. A world oil price of US$150 a barrel or more in the next few years would be joined by chokepoint control of the supply by one power if Washington has its way.
Keep an eye on those 13,000 troops in Indonesia. Considering the manpower crisis faced by our military, it will be interesting to see how many of them are still there at the end of the month.

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