How Can We Dance When Our Earth Is Turning?

An afternoon of History Channel left me thinking about supertankers (Modern Marvels is about the best thing to ever air, well, ever), oil, the cost of transport (which isn't really that high on every road: the supertankers do allow for a huge economy of scale), the ridiculousness of it all, etc. Nothing really came of all the thought but there you have it. Tonight I saw a bumper sticker: no blood for oil. It struck me as a true visual irony. Not merely something unexpected or unfortunate. But a literal contradiction between what I witnessed and the phrase I read. Surely one driving a car around can't be totally unwilling to spill a little blood for the very fuel that drives the vehicle. Or contrapositively (and better phrased), if one won't spill blood for some fuel, then surely one wouldn't be driving around (especially with said bumper sticker). The bumper sticker must have been a visual joke.

I'm sure the driver was and still is against war for our most beloved resource. I doubt the driver has little choice but to drive and spend oil. Then I remembered Oil Wars by Tim, an entry sparked by the very same slogan as my little rant. I read it some time ago intending to respond point by point. Now I'm irked and motivated and a little pissed at the state of things. To think I was driving around, combusting gas to go from one place of entertainment to another. Nothing remotely useful came of the gallon or so I burned. I was rather content--happy even--until I started pondering that rusty bumper and its salient message.

The roots and consequential results which yield the overall state of things are generally intermingled--nay, entangled, often reciprocal, and difficult to actually bifurcate into the categories of 'root' and 'consequence'. Regardless of how our love/dependence on oil came to pass, it has led to a current and total infrastructural necessity for oil to live life. Not just for average Joe Americana to live a more posh lifestyle, but to actually earn a living to get food to his table, to stay warm, to stay clothed, so on. As Tim stated modern agriculture, modern transportation, modern energy production for household use, modern anything totally depend on oil in some fashion or another. But just because I and the driver of the car I saw earlier this evening are not "starving naked hippie[s] living in a clay hut" doesn't mean we should "stop screaming about the fuel that powers [our] lifestyle". I thought Tim jested, but there's a tone of seriousness at the end of his rant. I'm here to say that an America without it's current oil supplies might not be as apocalyptic as I (and I'm sure he) generally think. Also, though I drive a gas-burning auto I'm more than entitled to my right to not like needing to do so nor the idea of fighting for the very stuff that makes it go.

Modern agriculture heavily depends on gas, diesel, and other oils of all kinds to grow crops and livestock en masse and transport them cross country if not intercontinentally. I say this constitutes a huge problem for my future diet. Yet there exists an obvious though initially expensive and complicated solution. Food prices would probably sky-rocket if the transition isn't handled properly. The ideal farm needs to shift away from the huge factory mode back to a far smaller and scaled back, yet diversified local mode. Simple example: instead of two 1000 acre plots growing a single crop each in different regions, shift to twenty farms of 50 acres (10 in each region) all of which grow both crops cutting on shipping needs and on big mechanized equipment (the fields are far more easily managed manually if need be). Yes many more people will need to spend far more man-hours making the same amount of crop. And yes the prices of the crops might need to be raised to cover the cost of production, but produce prices rarely reflect their production costs accurately. The US heavily gives tax breaks and subsidizes farming. It's just not a profitable big business in a lot of ways. Smaller-scale farming might actually be better for prices somehow. I don't know. The economy of scale card in agribusiness creates all sorts of environmental problems to save money that will surely later be spent correcting the problems. Or something like that. But it seems like the real value of food would at least be better represented at the local grocer.

Modern livestock raising would really have to change. Americans eat too much meat. Livestock is a huge energy draw that we really wouldn't be able to sustain in a totally oil-less society. But again we'd be far better off with every [small] farm and suburban residence having a chicken coop than one single huge centralized chicken factory. The energy needed to raise all the hens is dispersed amongst many people. The labor can be done manually and there's no electricity need for many many small chicken coops. That's just one idea.

Modern good-getting: the way we must go about obtaining our consumables is stupid. We have to drive to the supermarket. It's never within an easy quarter to half-mile from home. Modern American towns aren't scaled for people. They're scaled for cars. Older downtowns and a handful of major cities survived the automobile revolution, but they represent a small percentage of urban dwellers. Most older downtowns are kind of run-down and without residents let alone grocers. Everyone else has to drive to get anywhere in a reasonable fashion. Transit sucks in most American cities that have it, too. This (urbanish planning) is probably the one point I'm most knowledgeable and passionate about and could go on and on and on, so I won't. Region design is next. Why not localize, diversify, and have more smaller farms around smaller (in area), centralized towns? Food doesn't have to travel as far to the grocer. And average Joe doesn't have to travel far to get his food. Maybe he *gasp* won't even need to drive a long commute to work? Who knows what wonders might abound?

Modern construction: a whole lot could be said about how to improve this. Most of it's probably covered by some website that lists requirements for certification for the platinum, gold, and silver standards. A big one though is that we don't need to use wood where wood doesn't abound. Also, be sure to manage the forests we harvest for the future. Use locally produced building materials. Pretend huge gas-guzzling trucks don't exist to bring everything cross country. Sure, some things need to be shipped far. But why ship bricks in from Raleigh when there's a brick factory in Knoxville?

Tim's last few points are really about shipping again, the need to use far less electricity, the need to use far fewer huge fossil fuel plants (nuclear pound for pound of pollution is about a zillion times more efficient), and the need to de-centralize the grid and have thousands of tiny cleaner producers (wind, solar, small scale hydro, biomass, etc). Also, I think that we could probably still mine coal (with coal-powered steam equipment), use coal-fired engines to ship the coal to coal plants, to produce electricity. Tim is just flat wrong there. We still have plenty of that stuff lying around and the know-how to produce more (quickly if necessary). With electricity we'd still have the Internet. I don't think anything could make it go away now. Mail, water, and sanitation are bigger problems that would probably be a lot better off with better city planning, more environmentally friendly farming, so on (remember the whole root, consequence, and which is which thing).

So there we have it, a short rant about another rant I once read and a bumper sticker I eyed today. We don't need more oil. We need to get away from our usage levels as fast as possible. Diversify. Don't privatize Iraq's supply and pump more out faster. We'll just use it and run out of oil all the sooner. We'll be less prepared to deal without it than if we focused as a whole on changing our oil-necessary lifestyle, including how we get around, the scale of everything, how we grow what we subsist upon, how and where we build, our electricity use, our electricity production, and (who knows?) maybe even reducing the amount of plastic we use and throw away. It all might make some small impact. But for now most have to drive to live any sort of life in America. Many might not like it even while they're driving. Oil is a stupid resource to go to war over. Fresh water or food (land or fishing rights) might make sense. But our oil-driven economy, lifestyle, and war-machine is now a de-funct, unneeded, empty shell. It keeps itself going, but only as long as oil keeps flowing. If we're suddenly cut off the shell will crumble. It's now time to drastically shift before our hand is drastically forced.

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?