August 23, 2011

What if we started spending money on Green Energy instead of Oil Wars?

It's 2am. I'm working on a video for an organization I volunteer with.

I posted on my facebook profile a link to an article in Reuters about how 15% of Americans are on foodstamps, and how wages are so low, and the cost of living so high, that many people cannot afford to live without them.

One of the responses was thus:

" Can you just imagine if gas prices dropped to less then $1.18 a gallon how that would stimulate the economy and create thousands of jobs because we all would have more disposable income. We wouldn't need to be a food stamp nation then would we?????"


Here's the thing:
Gasoline prices are never coming down. Ever. This type of thinking doesn't even begin to tackle the actual problem. Yes, it's true that the increase in the cost of living is largely due to increases in energy prices. And by "energy" I mean "petroleum."

If we had spent as much money on developing renewable energies as we have on oil wars, we could have solved the energy crisis several times over. But we're so stupidly stuck in the old ways of doing things, we may end up sending our species back to the stone age. Petroleum has been a party since it was discovered, but the supply has been decreasing since it started coming out of the ground. Many scientists place Peak Oil, the point at which the maximum rate of global petroleum extraction before terminal decline is reached, at right about now. After this point is reached, it will begin to take more energy to extract the oil than you can get by burning it.

And here's a dirty secret: alternatives to petrol, like Solar and Wind, they require physical infrastructure. You gotta build solar panels out of stuff. You gotta build wind turbines out of stuff. That takes energy too. During this last hurrah of oil, we should be fanatically shifting to solar and wind power, to replace out current energy infrastructure with renewables. If we don't, we may not have the energy infrastructure in place to create the energy infrastructure we will need. Get it?

The only energy input the Earth has is the sun. This is referred to as solar income. Via the fossilization of massive swaths of ancient forests, petrol was created. Petrol was like being given an inheritance by a rich grandfather (who happened to literally be a dinosaur). Now, we're not going to get any more solar income than we ever had in the past. We should be investing that inheritance on the things we need to allow our technology to sustain itself on that solar income. Instead we've been pissing it away on cars, tvs, and cheap plastic toys.

We are at a crucial, and possibly terminal juncture in human history. If we as a species can gather the collective forethought to invest in a rapid and complete transition to renewable energy, and bring our civilization in line with the laws of biological economics, we can continue to flourish and grow and evolve. And so can our technology. In this scenario, we may even achieve that Star Trek future, where we live in peace and explore the infinite vastness of outer space for the rest of eternity.

But if we fail to make the transition to renewable energy during this brief window of time when we still have relatively cheap and abundant oil, there is no second chance. If we decide to do what is cheapest in the short term, the party is over. Thanks to petrol, we've been living beyond our means. Even our food supply is infused with petrol based fertilizers. We have been running up a literal energy bill, and when biology calls in their collections agents, it's not going to be pretty. I'm talking massive death tolls, famine, disease, decay, and our permanent decline as a species.

Forget that Star Trek future. We will be stuck here on earth, and our existence will be erased from the history of the universe when the sun burns out. Just another species of dumb ape, doomed to extinction by our foolish shortsightedness.