Saturday, November 22, 2014

Whistling past the gas station

Visiting the gas station to fill up my car these days, I'm smiling just a little more than most at the wonderfully low prices.

Ever since I first learned of it in elementary school, I've long clung to the idea that humanity as a whole would eventually recognize the threat that climate change poses, and take some corrective actions. Back then, I was somewhat comforted by the predictions that we wouldn't see big changes until near the end of my expected lifetime, but it's apparent now that we can chalk that up to science's inherent conservatism.

Though we might like to think otherwise, there is no captain standing on the bridge of the SS Humanity. Like most systems on the planet, our course is determined at the individual level, with political leadership serving primarily as a figurehead.

Look anywhere on the planet, and you'll see individuals with very real needs (perceived or otherwise), nearly all of which are most easily met with the application of fossil fuels.  Whether it's food, heat, a trip to Disneyland or a an emergency trip to the hospital, fossil fuels make it possible.  That's how I know that we'll never allow any notions of virtue (such as keeping the planet habitable by reducing our CO2 emissions) get in the way.

We've already dumped enough carbon into the atmosphere to guarantee that the next several centuries will take human survivors on the wildest roller coaster ride imaginable. It's quite likely that nobody will survive it, but there is some hope on the horizon, known as the Triangle of Doom.  Steve Ludlum's "Economic Undertow" blog gives the details.  We could argue about the positioning of his lines, and timeframe when they intersect, but I think his overall take is absolutely correct.

If we're to take his interpretation of the situation at face value, it all starts to hit the fan around 2016. He's actually not alone in this prediction. The Pentagon and the German Bundeswehr came to similar conclusions. Though nobody can see this as a good thing, it certainly beats the current course for self annihilation we're on.

The short of it is that the fossil fuel lifeblood of a globalized economy is gyrating wildly in price, creating an economic wrecking ball.  Swinging to the high side, various fuel intensive industries (i.e. just about *everything* nowadays) take a hit. Swinging to the low side, the all-important fossil fuel industry takes it in the shorts (as is now the case).  A few more swings, and damaged industries on both the supply and demand side start falling by the wayside, leading to an accelerated de-industrialization.

So the next time you see the price of oil (or gas, or your electric bill, or...) head for the stratosphere, or drop through the floor, you can take comfort in the idea that it may be our kid's best hope for a future.

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