Bill Totten's Weblog

Friday, April 08, 2005

Downhill Slope

by Charley Reese

King Features, Inc (April 04 2005)

The peak production of oil and its inevitable decline is now within sight. The United States has only two choices. It can begin now to deal with the shortage and consequent high prices, or it can do nothing and suffer the dire consequences of what some shortsighted person in the future is sure to label "the oil crisis". Only a lack of preparation will make it a crisis.

I noticed that some writers are still yodeling the old tune "Don't worry. There's plenty of oil out there." Well, in the first place, on the subject of oil it is best to consult geologists, preferably those who have retired from oil companies and no longer have to speak to preserve their paychecks. Writers are just word people, and these days you have to wonder whose payroll they are on.

Belief in an infinite amount of oil in a finite world and belief that technology can solve all of our problems are just two of the postmodern world's superstitions. They are, as the theologians say, a matter of faith, because no proof is available.

Technology moves at a much slower rate than most people imagine. The way it works is that some genius makes a breakthrough, and for the next 100 years or so lesser people gradually add modifications and improvements. It's taken more than 100 years to get to the car that I just filled up with gas for $30. Yet it remains a box on wheels driven by a fossil-fuel-powered engine connected to mechanical gears.

You would do better to believe in the Easter Bunny than to believe that the Gods of Technology are going to wave their magic wand and solve our energy problems. That's especially true because nobody is paying them to search for solutions. It still takes about ten years to go from oil exploration and discovery to the refineries. How fast do you think the economies of India and China are going to grow during that decade? How much more oil are they going to need? Which do you think can be done quicker - finding and producing oil or increasing the demand for it? Which do you think will do the most damage to the American economy - blowing up another office building or a $100 barrel of oil?

By the way, one thing the Technology Gods do accomplish very well is eliminating jobs. I would think that any fool could see that the steady elimination of jobs in the face of the steady increase in the population is a train wreck not too far down the tracks.

The Industrial Revolution, based on fossil fuels, is about to start winding down, and it cannot be replaced by the Information Age. Industry produces things people can use. Information just clutters their brains, mostly with data that is of no use to them.

Capitalism and market forces cannot solve the energy problem. Capitalism is driven by profits. If there are no profits on the short-term horizon, capitalism won't go there. Capitalism didn't cure polio; the money was in crutches, wheelchairs and iron lungs. Big oil has been buying up coal fields for years. When the price of oil goes sky-high, big oil will up the price of coal. Coal, competing against cheap oil, can't be priced too high; as an alternative to very expensive oil, coal can be priced much higher.

No, the transition will have to be made by government. The quality of government, however, depends on the quality of people in it. Seymour Hersh said recently that Congress has lost twenty points of average IQ since the 1960s. I would only add that it wasn't very high back then.

Better start taking your politics seriously, folks. If we keep sending the same kind of opportunists, nitwits, special pleaders and party hacks we have up there now, then bad times are surely coming. You can't expect a bunch of shade-tree mechanics to service a space shuttle, and you can't expect a bunch of knuckleheaded office-seekers to solve the complex problems we are facing today.

Copyright 2005 by King Features Syndicate, Inc

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