Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow

Mazar i Sharif, American Special Forces, Novem...

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August 20, 2011

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death … Macbeth, Act 5, scene 5

What might war look like in a world beset by diminishing energy supplies, increasing climate related natural disasters and faltering global economic growth?  I’ve wondered about that since I first became peak oil aware.  Many doomers seemed to expect massive oil wars breaking out around the world as the Empire fought all comers for the dwindling oil supplies necessary to maintain itself.  Others saw the possibility of an all-out nuclear war between the Empire and the various nuclear-armed countries, large and small.

Neither of these options seemed particularly realistic to me.  After all, the aim of any military engaged in warfare is to win.  And, as several writers have pointed out over the last few years, the U.S. military behemoth is the largest user of energy in the world.

So, it seemed counterintuitive to fight oil wars with huge conventional armies that suck up as much oil pursuing the war as they “save” (as our hurry to disengage from our massive wars in Afghanistan and Iraq seem to prove out).  Where’s the win in that?  As for all-out nuclear war, which would virtually guarantee what we most hoped to avoid through all the years of the “cold” war – mutually assured destruction – no win exists there either.

We do know, from the 2008 and 2010 Joint Operational Environment reports that the Imperial military has a keen awareness of both peak oil and climate change, as well as understanding the economic and societal consequence of both. (You can download the 2010 report here):

And according to this article from Matthieu Auzanneau of the Oil Man blog, the President, the National Security Council (and, surely, energy secretary Chu) are aware of these implications and consequences, too.

When President Bush signed the SOFA agreement that would lead to our withdrawal from Iraq by the end of this year and President Obama began talking about withdrawal from Afghanistan by 2014, (especially when the Republicans in Congress began going along with the idea,) it seemed to me that the Empire had finally begun to react to the realities of peak oil.  Then came the sudden increase in our “drone wars” around the world – an altogether nasty and cowardly way to fight a war, in my estimation, though not an unexpected one from a decaying empire.

So, how might a failing global Empire – determined to fight to the bitter end for its own survival in a world of decreasing energy,  increasing climate related disasters and their consequences  to the global economy – wage its wars in that future?  Conn Hallinan’s article, Shadow Wars, offers one ugly possibility.  One that probably bodes as poorly for us as it does the rest of the world.

“For decades the U.S. military has waged clandestine war on virtually every continent on the globe, but, for the first time, high-ranking Special Operations Forces (SOF) officers are moving out of the shadows and into the command mainstream. Their emergence suggests the U.S. is embarking on a military sea change that will replace massive deployments, like Iraq and Afghanistan, with stealthy night raids, secret assassinations, and death-dealing drones. Its implications for civilian control of foreign policy promises to be profound …”

At one time in my wonderings about the effects of peak oil, in particular, on modern warfare, I naively entertained the hope it might bring an end to at least the massively destructive, oil-driven wars of the 20th and, so far, the 21st centuries.  Perhaps it has, but pre-oil history is replete with empires which, in their death throes, eventually turned their covert wars against others into internecine wars upon themselves.  It would seem we have now taken one more step toward that possibility.

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow … indeed.

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25 Responses to Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow

  1. Bill Hicks says:

    Very interesting. This looks like a concession to reality in a resource depleting world in which the only way to try and maintain hegemony is through the fear of quick strikes via either drone missiles or commando raids by highly trained special forces troops. When the inevitable breakdown of law and order begin here in the United States, I could see these tactics being used domestically as the elites withdraw inside of their fortified compounds. The warriors who do their bidding will more resemble mercenaries than any conventional national military.

    It basically means that no one who might stand in the way of the flow of ever-scarcer resources is safe, no matter where in the world they might be.

    • theozarker says:

      I absolutely agree, Bill. And it means the Empire can carry out such operations for a much longer time, even given the inevitable blow-back – whether their “wars” are against outsiders or against the population here or against each other.

  2. xraymike79 says:

    I find this topic fascinating and disturbing. The endgame of the MIC is to dehumanize and roboticize warfare, taking the possibly morally conflicted foot soldier out of the picture:

    “The ranks of battlefield robots will only grow: The U.S. Congress has mandated that by the year 2015, one-third of ground combat vehicles will be unmanned, and the DOD is now developing a multitude of unmanned systems that it intends to rapidly field. Meanwhile, thousands of robotics researchers worldwide are making impressive gains in networking robots and boosting the sophistication and autonomy of these systems.”

    Right now the remote predator drone operators, sitting comfortably in Nevada or some other site stateside, have created their own self-descriptive, video-game-like nomenclature for their struck targets, such as ‘squirters’ and ‘bug splat’.

    And the collateral damage from these drone attachs is quite high, contrary to government claims:

    It seems that with the peak net energy cliff, civilization’s descent will be toward’s some sort of hi-tech barbarism delivered upon the lower class and Third World population.

    • theozarker says:

      Hey Mike, thanks for the article and video. We tend to see these things as invincible and yet, for all our military spending, the “bug splats” have done a pretty damn good job of holding off the most sophisticated military in the world there in Afghanistan.

      And the writer of the article is correct in saying, “don’t hold your breath” on some of this stuff if it’s still at the stage where it can’t tell a sleeping dog from a bush. Economics alone will catch up with it sooner or later. For all their cost and sophistication, a good old fashioned metal flyswatter could still take out a robot hummingbird – LOL. (For some reason, that old episode of Twilight Zone, with Agnes Moorehead, comes to mind.)

      The sheer insanity of all this just boggles my wrinkled old brain.

  3. Eclipse says:

    I think the other angle that I don’t recall seeing in your post is the idea of financial espionage. I don’t doubt the US is hoping to see China fall back a bit as it would cut oil demand.

    Further, China thinks they have us by the tail (owning our treasuries) while we have them by the balls (we can just move all our manufacturing to India and bye bye cash flow). You know, India has always had cheaper labor costs and being a British colony, they have a stronger sense of process efficiency than what I’ve seen in China (although China has improved greatly). 10 years ago, they were roughly even in terms of infrastructure, although China has since made capital improvements. So why didn’t we develop India? Why wasn’t the cheapest price winning business?

    I think India is Plan B of globalization. It’s not serendipity that led to China’s development as a manufacturing powerhouse, but a calculated political move on the part of the US. The second we incentivize India (or some other cheap labor pool) over China, they will have serious problems keeping their economy afloat.

    Which will be just what we need to keep them in check.

    I really think a big component of what is going on now is destabilizing certain markets so other markets come out ahead. This recession is cover for a lot of nasty sh*t, in my opinion, which will not be fully understood until after the fact.

    And any time anyone complains, ‘free market economics’ will garner the blame and a what-can-you-do shrug.


    • theozarker says:

      Hi Eclipse. Honestly, I don’t know a lot about global economics, but it seems to me that globalization as it exists now won’t survive peak oil by long. The costs of imports/exports will be prohibitively higher as oil becomes dearer and oil prices rise higher and higher. That certainly doesn’t preclude the kind of financial wars you’re talking about, I suppose. Wish I had a better picture in my mind of how the financial markets interact with import/export markets right now. I’ve felt that the big corporations’ increasing investments in production in the markets in which they sell the most (rather than exporting from here to, say, China) is a bow to the reality of peak oil’s effect on world markets – which is why they are creating more jobs overseas than they are here at “home” these days. But that’s a pretty uneducated guess on my part.

      Thanks very much for your comments.

  4. Eclipse says:

    International business and logistics is/was my professional area. I even wrote a book!

    The thing about global trade is it existed before oil and it will endure after oil. The economies of scale will change, but there will always be some back and forth. The ancient Phoenicians sold maritime insurance which formed the basis of today’s maritime insurance traditions and practices (i.e. they never pay a claim, ever).

    I think we’ll see stronger regionalization of trade. As energy costs more, it will no longer make sense to produce as far away as China. Mexico will be more competitive than China when gas is at $10/gal, but only if they rein in the narcogangs. This is why we’ll probably see the US intervene in Mexico, to secure cheap manufacturing.

    A weak currency is a positive for exports. A strong currency inhibits exports. Currency valuations play a big part in international trade. From experience, I know companies will buy based on this. Note that last year US exports grew about 3% in a flat economy with a weak dollar.


  5. theozarker says:

    Okay, Eclipse, here’s what I think. It’s true that global trade existed long before oil. But if we are on the verge of this global financial system collapsing, it will mean the effective end of energy production – especially fossil fuel production since it pretty much requires global financing to produce and ship around and probably collapse of large scale renewables for similar reasons – although small scale local industries might survive (but I don’t think so). And the effective end of energy production means an end to the type of global trade we have today. A lot depends on what survives such a collapse, ie. governments, financial institutions and industries, etc. It will take years, I think, for anything other than local or regional trade within country to become “regional” in the sense of even neighboring countries because we will have to find “new” ways to do all these things. The entire global system is just too enmeshed in fossil fuel energy with little to no renewable energy to take its place. We used to have a network of non-fossil fuel dependent trade – ship building, canal and river, as well as ocean-going – but that is no longer true. And as far as rail, modern cargo vessels and air, without fossil fuel we can’t even repair what we had, let alone build new ones. If we can relearn the skills that allowed a type of pre-oil global trade, then eventually one will redevelop. But I doubt it will be anything like what we have now – ever again.Global economy and trade built on fossil fuels is pretty much a one-trick pony.

    Mike, I don’t think they even see the country. It’s been swallowed up in a tiny corner of the belly of the Empire. And if they think it will save the Empire, they’ll destroy the tax base of the country the same way they’ve destroyed the consumer base of the country. The country doesn’t really exist for them – only the Empire. LOL, they’re sort of like the Borg – we have been “assimilated” into the Empire and the Empire must survive.

    Okay, that’s what I think. Please continue. This is fascinating to me.

  6. xraymike79 says:

    “I don’t think they even see the country. It’s been swallowed up in a tiny corner of the belly of the Empire.”
    – I like that phraseology.

    The U.S. empire is opportunistic and nihilistic. As I said on another blog, If one were to follow the trail of destruction caused by U.S. foreign policy ‘blowback’ to its source, we’d find the military industrial complex and the multinational corporations(i.e. the corporatocracy) as the real inception of our problems in the world.

    There is a basis in fact to the Middle East term “The Great Satan”. U.S. Government fabrications such as the WMD/Al-Qaeda storyline with Iraq, the chimerical ‘War on Terror’, and a host of other propaganda too numerous to list are all narratives our leaders dictate to the mainstream media and gullible public in order to get the sheeple on board with resource wars and the continuance of U.S. hegemony.

    There is a conspiracy theory(this appears to be what Eclipse is hinting at) that somehow the CIA is behind the Arab Spring. This is not true. The seed for the Egyptian, Tunisian, and Yemen revolutions was in Wallstreet and the Federal Reserve where QE and commodity speculation unduly spiked the price of food. The U.S. will try to co-opt and steer the revolts in their favor, but they would just have soon kept their U.S. puppet Strongmen in charge, as has been the case for decades.

    Supportive sources for commodity speculation and food price spikes:

    Robert Alvarez: Food, Egypt, and Wall Street:

    The Incoming Food Crisis

    Rising Food Prices and the Egyptian Tinderbox: How Banks and Investors Are Starving the Third World

    TRNN Replay: Global food bubble on the way?
    Jayati Ghosh: Food prices set to surge due to Wall Street speculation

    There are many more sources to prove Wallstreet’s bloodlust for profiting off hunger, but these should suffice.

    • theozarker says:

      “The U.S. empire is opportunistic and nihilistic.”
      Of course. That’s the nature of empire. It swallows territory (either militarily or economically), sucks up resources and manipulates other governments and peoples for its own end. But once it reaches a certain level of complexity, it has sown the seeds of its own destruction because these things take on a life of their own that the empire can no longer control.
      We are hitting the wall of resource depletion and climate destabilization and all of these leaders (who, after all, have grown up pretty much knowing nothing but the Empire) are suddenly confronted with the empire’s “mortality”.
      My point, in the article, is that I think they (at least the military) are beginning to glimpse the terminal nature of the illness that’s beset the Empire.
      They will try to save it at all costs, sure that they are saving the nation by doing so. It’s all they know. Yes, the Arab Spring was a legitimate response to the financial manipulations of food, etc. by the Empire, but you know damn well that the CIA and a host of other acronym groups are doing their best to manipulate these people’s revolutions to the benefit of the Empire and its allies.
      Sadly, I suspect, the death of the Empire will do as much damage world wide as the life of the Empire has. At this point, I think all the people of the nation (and nations affected) can do is prepare as best they can for the fall and try to stay out of the way of the debris.

  7. Eclipse says:

    I haven’t gone through all the responses in detail and there’s a cranky toddler at my elbow ensuring I don’t complete a coherent thought, but just off-the-cuff

    1. There will be several permutations of global trade as we hit energy, financial and resource limits, but it will persist in one form or another. I think we all agree on that. Will it sustain a Walmart business model? Probably not, but Walmart won’t die overnight. They can still cut costs by migrating production to India and then closer to home–despite the increase in energy costs, there are still have economies of scale to work with.

    Businesses are not reading Kuntsler or this blog and giving up. They are doing what they’ve been conditioned to do, cut costs, cut people, cut quality, go to India etc… in a bid to survive. It won’t stop until there’s a dead end. As things stand now, we are a ways away from business hitting the wall in the current paradigm. Those that have capital, will attempt to adapt and companies like Walmart have a good shot at maintaining or possibly lowering their costs.

    2.Peak Oil isn’t that there isn’t any oil, but that there’s not enough to meet demand and that the easy cheap oil gone–I assume we all agree on this. We will, by necessity, become uber efficient and that will include outsourcing menial production to other countries more centrally located than China. Given that the CIA (I think it was them, some Govt agency) said that Mexico is our biggest national security threat, we may actively develop Mexico’s manufacturing base to stabilize our borders.

    3.Financial collapse is not as big a barrier as natural resource limits. When we run out of phosphorus, for example, or when water supplies are too low to sustain agriculture, then TSHTF. Even in a financial collapse there is money in the system and people looking to buy commodities. During the Great Depression 75% of people had jobs.

    I’ve been following Peak Oil since 2000 and have seen a lot of predictions come to pass. The one thing, I observe, is change is much slower than we realize. At least up to a point. Financial collapse won’t be the watershed, it will either be the war that arises out of the financial mess or, more likely, an immutable natural resource limit that we can’t work around and can’t conserve well enough to even limp along.


  8. xraymike79 says:

    TheOzarker said: ““The U.S. empire is opportunistic and nihilistic.”
    Of course. That’s the nature of empire. It swallows territory (either militarily or economically), sucks up resources and manipulates other governments and peoples for its own end. But once it reaches a certain level of complexity, it has sown the seeds of its own destruction because these things take on a life of their own that the empire can no longer control.”

    Certainly I agree with you there; but in terms of nihilism, the MIC is even more dark and corrosive to America than we even realize. Have you seen Pilger’s documentary called “The War You Don’t See”? There is one particular segment where Julian Assange is interviewed and he talks of the laundering of taxpayer money through War. Similarly, humans are laundered out of the country to ‘black sites’ and secret prisons in our ‘War on Terror’. And this insidious process is intensifying.

  9. theozarker says:

    Eclipse, my concern is with the complexity of all the interlocking systems we’ve built as well as their connectedness to resource depletion and climate destabilization. Over years, we’ve stripped away the redundancies in these man-made systems in the name of efficiency and with it the resilience of the various systems. Because they’re so connected from side to side and top to bottom with less and less resilience, I think cascade failures are a real possibility. And once enough lower level system join the cascade, they can take the whole thing down. I went back and found this article from the Oil Drum, Australia that is pretty good at explaining this. ( [updated]. We may disagree on what constitutes a “fast” versus a “slow” crash of the entire complex of systems, but I think there is a real possibility of a complete crash. In fact, I think it is already underway and has been for a while now. There is no way to “undo” or simplify the complexity of our global civilization no matter how much we patch it here and there. As Joseph Tainter pointed out, collapse is the final simplification of a too complex system. I think what the military is doing right now is an attempt at simplification, but I doubt the complex system of the military bureaucracy can be simplified at this point other than by collapse. Which part of these interconnected systems will start the collapse “for real” is impossible to say. Just as is the time frame.

    Mike, I don’t know what to tell you. This is quite common in dying empires and I don’t know that we, the people can change the course of that. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t speak out against it or try to change it. In doing so, we at least keep it from changing us as humans. Just that it is part of that process of them trying to save an Empire in collapse.

  10. Eclipse says:

    I didn’t find the link terribly persuasive and here’s why…

    Globalization has been undertaken with pretty much zero redundancy and failsafes. Meaning, companies accept $20 million dollar projects with no back-up plan. Things go wrong all the time and we muddle along. Heck, ocean insurance is notorious for never paying claims and yet we keep sending crap by ocean, only to have it literally fall off the ship.

    I’ve seen some really stupid planning and execution at the Fortune 500 level, yet these companies continue to be profitable. It amazes me that anything at all ever gets done.

    There’s no resiliency in the global paradigm, never has been and that has only been catastrophic on a small level, if at all. Things may change, but I think you will be surprised at how far we can limp along.

    I think a broad based collapse would be signaled by a resource limit. Not price fluctuations, which right now are more market games than anything else, especially with all the computer algorithms in play, but an actual limit in supply.

    We should start a betting pool as to when Walmart will go out of business. That could be fun.


  11. Eclipse says:

    PS: You could argue that oil is in short supply, I know we’ve peaked, but I think we aren’t hitting the wall yet. There’s too much room for efficiency improvements and we can mitigate the immediate impact of PO. I think that will be the next phase, super fuel efficiency. When that isn’t enough and there’s no easy cheap alternative fuel available, then we’ll have problems.

    If we came out with cars with 50+mpg and retrofit kits for existing cars, that would be a huge game changer in the short term. I expect this to happen as I believe we have the tech for it.


    • theozarker says:

      E, we’re already mitigating the immediate impacts of PO and, loss of resiliency. In a sense, we have been off and on since our own peak back in the seventies. There is no resiliency left in our aging water infrastructures – with an average of 700 water main breaks per day across the nation and utility companies losing almost $3 billion per year in wasted water; our roads and bridges infrastructure have lost much of their resiliency through aging and poor usage; the resiliency has been taken out of the air traffic system to the point where a major snow storm in one major city can shut down traffic across half the country for days. I don’t know how old you are, but when I was a teenager, back in the mid to late fifties, a gallon of gas was a quarter. For a while after the oil embargo of the seventies we conserved, but as soon as Prudhoe Bay came on line it was party time again. Now the oil we bring on line isn’t even keeping up with the losses from the older major fields around the world.. Cities around the country are trying to raise rates and taxes for repairs, but on whom? The last I read something like 58% of the working age population was either unemployed or underemployed. Back when I still used air travel in the sixties and early seventies, there was so much route redundancy built in that the kind of stoppage across large portions of the country from a snow storm was largely unheard of. And don’t get me started on the millions of acres of arable land we’ve lost to suburban sprawl, desertification and industrial pollution over the last thirty to forty years. Honestly, I think you’re deluding yourself about how much resilience there is left in the system – not just here, but around the world. And all that stupidity in the financial system and the economy in general that you think doesn’t “need” resiliency to continue is an illusion. Why do you think the economy is in the mess it’s in now? Because over the years that stupidity has left it a little weaker each time “we” have had to bail it out. And yes, at one time there was a good deal more resiliency in the system. I think you would be surprised at how long we have limped along and how little “limp” is actually left in the system.

  12. xraymike79 says:

    Theozarker said:
    “Over years, we’ve stripped away the redundancies in these man-made systems in the name of efficiency and with it the resilience of the various systems. Because they’re so connected from side to side and top to bottom with less and less resilience, I think cascade failures are a real possibility.”

    — exactly what we’ve done with our food supply:
    Loss of Genetic Diversity in U.S. Food Crops

    Climate change and a virulent plant disease could destroy the food supply.

  13. xraymike79 says:

    Eclipse said:
    “PS: You could argue that oil is in short supply, I know we’ve peaked, but I think we aren’t hitting the wall yet. There’s too much room for efficiency improvements and we can mitigate the immediate impact of PO. I think that will be the next phase, super fuel efficiency. When that isn’t enough and there’s no easy cheap alternative fuel available, then we’ll have problems.

    If we came out with cars with 50+mpg and retrofit kits for existing cars, that would be a huge game changer in the short term. I expect this to happen as I believe we have the tech for it.”

    I think you’re being overly optimistic. How about Jevon’s Paradox? And the cost of replacing the entire fleet of American cars????

  14. Eclipse says:

    I’m not optimistic other than in the sense that collapse is going to be a lot slower than we think. The Collapse Now argument ignores lots of waffle room where there are steps that can be taken to keep things going.

    Here’s the thing that we need to look at, we have 700 water main breaks and yet everyone still has water. No one is dying of thirst in the US. It’s crazy. When repair work stops, that would be bad. In that sense, I think you’re looking at the wrong marker or collapse. First, this would be a problem regardless of the economic and PO landscape. Things get old and break. Second, it’s not the _need_ to adapt or repair, it’s when we _can’t_ adapt or repair due to hard limits–we are not there yet and I’m trying to work out what the path to that point would be.

    Ever been to Managua Nicaragua? In the 1990s, they had buildings in their capitol that fell down during the last big earthquake and they were never repaired, rebuilt or cleaned up. So it was skyscraper next to rubble (and may still be,I don’t know). Their water system is contaminated and with no money to fix it, each section of the city goes without water for 24 hours every three days to keep raw sewage from infiltrating the drinking water. That’s collapse.

    By contrast, my area is undertaking a huge infrastructure repair to improve the water system.

    A lot of stupidity and lack of resiliency can be tolerated by people and systems. Up to and including 700 water main breaks a day and replacing the entire fleet of American cars (although I hope we come up with retrofit kids instead).

    There is no resiliency, there never was. Humans are not proactive enough for that. Things are going to fall apart, but not today, and a lot of things we take as signs of collapse, may be effectively mitigated.


    • theozarker says:

      Honestly E, I hope you’re right, but I think you’re wrong – LOL. Thanks so much for a very interesting exchange of ideas.

      You, too, Mike.

      (Got to get busy on next weekend’s post.) Carry on.

  15. Eclipse says:

    Here’s a good link on think tanks correlating food prices with unrest. The chart is a great visual.

    The thing is, they had the riots. Some people died, but life went on. Not collapse.

    I think that’s our immediate future. Lots of chaos and problems, but life limps along. Just stay inside during the riots.

    Now, I’ll stop posting so you can write your next post, but I wanted to share that link as I thought it was a good one.


    • theozarker says:

      Hey E, thanks for the link. I’d read another article about that report the other day without the graph. My thought was that it won’t just be food riots or civil unrest. I think too many little red lines on the sand pile are beginning to connect and once you reach that tipping point, everything comes down in a sense. Yes, life will go on; it did after the fall of Rome. It just won’t be a very pleasant life for those that survive it – at least for a very long time, I think.

      Thanks again for the article. Now, off I go to the dungeon, to write. LOL

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