March 2, 2013
The tomato and pepper plants in my plant room have blooms on them. And, after five days of snow, snow flurries, and spits of sleet that managed to give us around three inches of actual snow and no sunshine, today promises clearing skies, sun and temperatures enough above freezing to begin the melting process. (After five days with no sunshine, I’d begun to wonder if I’d been secretly transported to Germany, which reported this winter had produced the least days of sunshine and the darkest winter in the fifty-one years the country has kept such records.) So, the sight of my pepper and tomato plants blooming underneath the grow lights quite heartened me. The lettuce continues to produce and, in the corner of my kitchen, the seeds I started for transplant this spring are poking up through the soil in their little peat pots with determined regularity. Hopefully, all this bodes well for food production at my house this year.
In the meantime, we here in the US have been sequestered (or whatever the correct grammatical form of that statement is). Though most of the effects won’t be felt immediately, it looks like intransigence on both sides of the aisle means nothing will get done to stop those effects from happening. And, depending on whose propaganda you choose to believe, those effects either will or won’t affect the economy for the worse, anyway. All of this whoopla makes me wonder if the whole sequestration thing isn’t just an attempt to keep us distracted (and to allow the two parties to assign blame to each other) while we enter into the next leg down of our Imperial decline.
And, even though the latest polls show 57% of Americans now disapprove of the President’s drone campaign, lets face some facts here. In the eyes of a declining empire, it is the cheapest – and probably least oil intensive – way to cover its military assets as the Empire completes its withdrawal from two of the costliest wars in its history. Not to mention its ability to maintain a lower cost presence in the Middle East and North Africa.
Just this morning, I read another breathless article announcing that US oil production had hit a twenty-year high at a little over seven million barrels per day, due mostly to production in the Eagle Ford and Bakken shale rock. Sounds like wonderful news for a nation so dependent on cheap, easy to access crude oil for its growth. What such articles usually fail to tell us is, shale oil is neither cheap nor easy to access. Or, that that seven million barrels a day is about a million bpd less that the last production peak, when Prudhoe Bay oil production peaked and began its decline. Or, that that peak was about a million bpd less than our all-time peak in 1971, as cheap, easy to access conventional oil began its decline here in the US. Or that we continually have to increase the number of wells we drill in these plays just to keep production growing, since production at these wells peak and play out in around five years, instead of the decades of production we garnered from conventional wells before they began their decline. So, as we produce and “empty” the sweet spots in these plays and go on to the less productive areas, we are increasingly running in place. And, if that’s not troubling enough, I read a couple of articles last week indicating that in the Eagle Ford plays, at least, (and increasingly, in the Bakken as well) up to 70 % of what is coming out now is what is called lease condensates. These condensates are a part of any oil well and can be separated out and refined into useful products (a lot of them for export), but they cannot replace the role of crude oil in our economy. They just aren’t the same thing.
Late yesterday, the State Department released a draft copy of its report on the Keystone XL, basically concluding that, although climate change is real and a real concern, the project would “not likely result in significant adverse environmental effects”. ‘Scuse me? Tar sand “oil” is the most economically costly, environmentally damaging, energy intensive (and thus carbon-releasing) unconventional oil to produce, refine and transport of any in the world. The oil companies involved in its production have already said that the Keystone XL is critical to their plans to triple production over the next decades. How, then, is this project not likely to have significant adverse environmental effects if it goes through?
Our real economy increasingly behaves like the drunk who is looking for his car keys – that he dropped in the dark alley – under the street light, “because that’s where the light is,” as the high price of unconventional oil replaces the lower costs of declining conventional oil. Add to that drag on the economy the increasing costs of climate change disasters, (not to mention the likely effects of sequestration cuts,) and increasingly, it looks as unlikely that we will find the keys to that impossible dream of constant economic growth as it does that the drunk will find his car keys.
Europe’s economy seems to be there, already. The latest unemployment figure for the EU, released the other day, was 11.9 percent. (Spain was at 26.2 %, Portugal at 17.6 % and Greece, which hasn’t released new figures since November, was over 27% back then.) China, India, Japan and others in the developing world show their own periodic gaps in the infinite growth meme.
Here in the Empire, we ordinary citizens have eagerly shared the delusions of our leaders that we can continue to have it all, even as we paint ourselves ever more tightly into the corner. Infinite growth in a finite world is not possible. An Imperial economy (and for that matter, a world economy) built on cheap, easy to access fossil fuels can only contract – however unevenly – as those decline and are replaced by expensive, harder to access, unconventional fossil fuels. The damage these do to the climate and the environment we depend on for our survival will only increase as we keep burning these. At some point, either we lay down the paintbrush or we die, trapped in the corner with no way out.
Perhaps the sequester and all the austerity measures in Europe are the PTBs way of addressing these realities without really letting go of their own delusions. I don’t know. We can whine about the unfairness of such measures, that place the burden on us while they retain most of their perks, until they reverse course and try something else equally useless. It will do us little good. Nature will enforce its own austerity program, eventually. And when it does, what remains of their hard assets when all the computer bites of fantasy wealth disappear will be of no more or no less use to them than our own hard assets are to us. It all depends on what use they and we make of them – now, in preparation, or then, in desperation. Right now, we still have choices.
Well, the sun is out and I hear the thud of snow sliding off the roof every now and then. I guess I’d better go check my own hard assets – plant a little more lettuce to replace what I’ve eaten, check to see if its time to take the clear plastic cover off the little greenhouse where the transplant starts are growing and hope those tomato and pepper blooms mean business this year.