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We Wish

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Published : April 30th, 2013
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       Wishful thinking now runs so thick and deep across the USA that our hopes for a credible future are being drowned in a tidal wave of yellow smiley-face stories recklessly issued by institutions that ought to know better. A case in point is the Charles C. Mann's tragically dumb cover story in the current Atlantic magazine -- "We Will Never Run Out of Oil" * -- setting out in great detail the entire panoply of techno-narcissistic "solutions" to our energy predicament. Another case in point was senior financial writer Joe Nocera's moronic op-ed in last week's New York Times beating the drum for American "energy independence."

       You could call these two examples mendacious if it weren't so predictable that a desperate society would do everything possible to defend its sunk costs, including the making up of fairy tales to justify its wishes. Instead, they're merely tragic because the zeitgeist now requires once-honorable forums of a free press to indulge in self-esteem building rather than truth-telling. It also represents a culmination of the political correctness disease that has terminally disabled the professional thinking class for the last three decades, since this feel-good propaganda comes from the supposedly progressive organs of the media -- and, of course, the cornucopian view has been a staple of the idiot right wing media forever. We have become a nation incapable of thinking, or at least of constructing a consensus that jibes with reality. In not a very few years, the American public will be so disappointed and demoralized by broken promises like these that they will turn the nation upside down and inside out, probably with violence and bloodshed.

Charles Mann's Atlantic article begins by cheerleading for the mining of methane hydrates from the ocean floor. These are natural gas molecules trapped in ice formations in the muck around the continental shelves. Mann spotlights the efforts of a Japanese research ship conducting tests. Guess what: the Japanese are engaging in this because they have absolutely no fossil fuels of their own, and a failing consensus about nuclear power, and they are on a course to become the first advanced industrial nation to be forced to return to a medieval economy. That is, they are the most desperate among the desperate. You could say they've got nothing to lose (but a few billion of their rapidly depreciating Yen).

Methane hydrates are stable only at extreme pressures or very low temperatures. They also exist in the arctic permafrost, for instance, Siberia, where conventional natural gas drilling operations have been carried out for decades, with no contributions from methane hydrates. Undersea methane hydrate exploration projects have gone on for decades in the US, Canada, India, Russia, China, and Japan. The hope is that this so-called "hot ice" would turn out to be the gas equivalent of tar sands, which would mean at best a very expensive way to get more fossil fuels as the conventional sources dry up. That hope has dimmed in nations other than extremely desperate Japan. Like a lot of techno-wonders, the recovery of methane hydrates can be demonstrated on the "science project" scale. For now, no viable technique exists for getting commercially-scaled streams of natural gas out of methane hydrates. The Japanese themselves state that it would take at least ten years, if ever, to commercially mine methane hydrates. Japan doesn't have ten years. It's banking system is imploding, and without capital even the science projects will come to an end.

Charles Mann is equally rapturous about shale oil and gas. He writes:

"Today, though, fracking is unleashing torrents of oil in North Dakota and Texas--it may create a second boom in the San Joaquin Valley--and floods of natural gas in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio. So bright are the fracking prospects that the U.S. may become, if only briefly, the world's top petroleum producer. ("Saudi America," crowed The Wall Street Journal. But the parallel is inexact, because the U.S. is likely to consume most of its bonanza at home, rather than exporting it.)"

    This is very misleading. The US consumes roughly 19 million barrels a day. The Bakken and Eagle Ford shale formations produce about a million barrels a day combined now, and guaranteed to get a whole lot lower within the next five years. Today's near-peak production is based on furious drilling and fracking of extremely expensive wells -- known as "the Red Queen syndrome" because they are running as fast as they can to keep production up. Meanwhile, the depletion curve on shale oil is a reverse "hockey stick." 

24hGold - We Wish

      The situation is similar for shale gas, the difference being that the temporary glut of 2005 - 2012 happened because we didn't have the means to export surplus gas from the initial burst of development and it briefly flooded the domestic market. The price of shale gas is still below the level that makes it economic to produce and when it eventually rises to that level, and beyond, it will be too expensive for its customers to buy. Shale gas is also subject to the Red Queen Syndrome.

      These arguments have been well-rehearsed many times in this blog and elsewhere. But the key to understanding our energy predicament is ignored in cornucopian cases like Charles Mann's Atlantic piece, which is the role of capital. Non-cheap oil has already worked its hoodoo on advanced industrial economies: it has already destroyed the process of capital formation. These economies were not designed to run on non-cheap oil and they can't, and the capital is no longer there for even the research-and-development to change out the infrastructure, let alone carry out any as-yet-undesigned changes. Furthermore, there is no prospect that we can rescue the process of capital formation at the scale required to continue financing things like shale oil. The absence of real growth in the USA, Europe, and Japan has already destroyed the operations of interest and repayment of debt, and any new debt issued will never be repaid, meaning it is functionally worthless (we just don't know it yet). These impairments of capital formation have left the major commercial banks insolvent and central banks have worked tirelessly to rescue them by issuing more "money" in the form of credit that can never be paid back.

       What all this means is that the capital does not exist to run non-cheap oil economies, or to continue indefinitely the production of non-cheap oil and gas, not to mention methane hydrates and other fantasy fuels.

     Joe Nocera's op-ed in last week's New York Times was shorter and even dumber (and lazier) than Charles Mann's foolish Atlantic article. It was based on remarks made by Canada's Energy Minister, Joe Oliver, who said (among other patently false and idiotic things) that Canada "has the resources to meet all of America's future needs for oil." Oliver was pimping for the Keystone pipeline project to transport tar sands byproducts from Alberta down to the US. Nocera swallowed everything Oliver said whole, such as "oil mined from the sands is simply not as environmentally disastrous as opponents like to claim."  Is that so, Joe? And what's your source for that assertion? Canada's Energy Minister? The slug at the bottom of Nocera's column said he was invited onto the op-ed page because regular columnists Gail Collins and Nicholas Kristoff were off (or on book leave). Nocera's column was disgracefully ignorant. The editors should send him back to the Times business section where unreality is the order-of-the-day.

      Now, many people may draw the conclusion that some conspiracy is underway when the major mainstream media report the news so disingenuously, but that is just not so. The reason we, in effect, lie to ourselves incessantly is because of the master wish behind all the subsidiary wishes: we want to keep driving to WalMart forever and we can't imagine any other way of life, let alone the way of life that the contraction of industrial economies is tending toward -- which is to say a way, way downscaled and re-localized economic life centered on farming and artisanal manufacture. Yes, we are going medieval too, eventually, just like the Japanese, who will get there a little sooner than we will. It's hard to swallow, I'm sure. That's why we prefer the more digestible propaganda gummi bear treats like Charles Mann's Atlantic article and Joe Nocera's stupid op ed.

* This was the title on The Atlantic's cover. Charle's C. Mann's article inside was titled "Why We Will Never Run Out of Oil." Shame on the editors of The Atlantic.


For a complete list of books by James Howard Kunstler and purchase links, 

24hGold - We Wish  24hGold - We Wish  

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James Howard Kunstler has worked as a reporter and feature writer for a number of newspapers, and finally as a staff writer for Rolling Stone Magazine. In 1975, he dropped out to write books on a full-time basis. His nonfiction book, "The Long Emergency," describes the changes that American society faces in the 21st century. Discerning an imminent future of protracted socioeconomic crisis, Kunstler foresees the progressive dilapidation of subdivisions and strip malls, the depopulation of the American Southwest, and, amid a world at war over oil, military invasions of the West Coast; when the convulsion subsides, Americans will live in smaller places and eat locally grown food.
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Without checking, was not OIL at 140 odd dollars a few years back?

If so, does that mean there is little demand now or in fact there is an oversupply of Oil?

Anyway, living on a hobby farm eeking out a poverty stricken organic existence isn't much fun. Thats why most of the kiddies grow up and get off to the city.
Oh and heres another fact. Country Kids are not as healthy or fit as city kids. ( in Aust that is) Maybe they are in Japan, Okinawa for sure where they have the longest life spans. Maybe the kiddies there get off to TOKYO and get sick!

Anyway I do not care if the world burns up every bit of OIL there is because as stupid as most humans are we somehow manage to come up with alternatives.
Call me an optimist. My kids are way more savvy than I. The future is good. Their great grand kids will live to a thousand years.

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Really, is man on earth for fun? My bet is that life is tragic and trying to escape from that is understandable.
You may beleive that humans are gods-like (always "manage to come up with alternatives") but poverty (not misery) has been the reality of humanity for hundreds of centuries.
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All life is suffering according to Buddha.
But one can follow the eight fold path to 'fun times'.

There is always an alternative.
I do not believe there is a God nor "that humans are gods-like" but I do believe you reap what you sow, so if people want to be pessimistic then let it be.

The future is good...enjoy it!

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I may not necessary disagree with you. Sometimes, the difference is just a matter of vocabulary : I would use "joy", not "fun" as expression of a fleeing behavior from reality (well, its true that humans hate reality and love fairtales).

There is always an alternative, but the alternative is not necesseraly to our advantage or a progress. The world in which man has dropped in does not provide him the guarantee of a good future. Its a matter of belief and you don't choose what you believe in. Instead of being optimistic or pessimistic, you also may be neither : whatever the future, the world is magnificent, the existence remains a mystery forever and human life a tragic adventure ("you reap what you saw") and this is why man is able to enjoy it
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So, finally, the MSM is exposing the myth of peak oil as well as global warming -- and Kunstler is pissed. As well he should; his diatribes against modern industrial society being exposed for the mindless screeds they are and have been.

The Atlantic Monthly article, WE WILL NEVER RUN OUT OF OIL, detailed and factual, strikes to the core of the fraudulent environment movement. Our problems have never been industrial, but philosophical: humans like Kunstler and Mayor Bloomberg of New York thinking they know best how to order other human's lives. They don't like it that individuals commute in individual cars -- best to mandate mass transit. They don't like strip malls -- best to legislate them out of existence. They don't like humans using the earth for increasing their standard of living -- best to retreat to the woods because Mother Earth might throw some calamity our way. They don't like humans defending themselves -- best to ban guns and allow the police, hopefully not on strike, to handle things. They don't like large soft drinks being sold, or french fries, or donuts, or candy -- best to ban everything upon pain of fine, incarceration or both.

Kunstler must have recovered from his recent health problems (courtesy of modern medicine) and is now feeling healthy enough to attack again all that which may his recovery possible.
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On the other hand, lets allow companies to put more sugar and especially more chemicals into the things people drink at eat. Fat, heck ya load it up and slap a couple extra pieces of processed cheese and four or five slabs of bacon on it for good measure. Let’s encourage everyone, especially children in elementary schools to start filling up on garbage as much as possible because you know, vegetables just don't taste good and we should always be allowed to do what we want when we want no matter what the end result will be years later. Common Jimmy, lets head on down to Walmart and grab all the grease laden, salt jacked junk food we can and then sit in front of the big screen also purchased at Walmart to watch brainless TV shows while feeding on the wonders that chemical cooking has given us. While we’re watching that TV, built off shore, lets slam back more of the sugar loaded drinks and complain about how them there foreigners have stolen our jobs. Let’s poke fun at those people out there working as we drive your big old SUV down to the government office to pick up our welfare checks. Then it’s back in front of the TV for today’s gripping MSNBC top news stories showing those people over there somewhere that always complain when Amerika tries to bring them democracy by killing their kids with drones. What are they, nuts? Don’t they know the Amerikan life style is the greatest this earth has ever seen?

After a few months living the life we can always head down to the hospital where free medical aid will help get our blood vessels opened up again so we have the energy to head over to Walmart where we can fill up on some junk food. Dang, it just doesn’t get any better than this. Eat like morons because technology will be there to get us out of the mess we create and the government will always be there with our welfare checks because there are an endless supply of rich people that the government can tax. And hey, we’ll never have to worry about the banks raiding our accounts because we don’t have money in the bank, we outsmarted them and filled our basement with junk food.

Why on earth would anyone ever want to live a sustainable life style and accept responsibility for their own actions when the government will be there to take care of you? Ah, the Amerikan dream

Now run along Jim, be a good Obama worshipper and turn in your guns.

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I may not necessary disagree with you. Sometimes, the difference is just a matter of vocabulary : I would use "joy", not "fun" as expression of a fleeing behavior from reality (well, its true that humans hate reality and love fairtales). There is always  Read more
Sirius369 - 5/3/2013 at 10:05 AM GMT
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