Guest Post: As Things Fell Apart, Nobody Paid Much Attention

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Submitted by Jim Quinn of The Burning Platform

As Things Fell Apart, Nobody Paid Much Attention

The American way of life – which is now virtually synonymous with
suburbia – can run only on reliable supplies of dependably cheap oil
and gas. Even mild to moderate deviations in either price or supply will
crush our economy and make the logistics of daily life impossible. – Jim Kunstler –
The Long Emergency

  

Here we stand
Like an Adam and an Eve
Waterfalls
The Garden of Eden

Two fools in love
So beautiful and strong
The birds in the trees
Are smiling upon them


From the age of the dinosaurs
Cars have run on gasoline
Where, where have they gone?
Now, it’s nothing but flowers

                        Talking Heads – Nothing but Flowers

America was a Garden of Eden with nothing but flowers, trees and
vegetation. We bit into the forbidden fruit of oil over a century ago.
It has been a deal with the Devil. Oil brought immense wealth, rapid
industrialization, 2.7 million miles of paved roads, and enormous power
to America. But, now the SUV is running on empty. In the not too distant
future the downside of the deal with the Devil will reveal itself.
America was the land of the free and home of the brave. Now it is the
land of the Range Rover and home of the BMW. In a few years it could be
the land of the forlorn and home of the broken down. Our entire society
has been built upon a foundation of cheap oil. The discovery of oil in
Titusville, PA in 1859 turbo charged the Industrial Revolution in the
U.S. The development of our sprawling suburban culture was dependent
upon cheap oil. Americans could not survive for a week without oil.
Commerce in the U.S. depends upon long haul truckers. Food is
transported thousands of miles to grocery stores. The cheap Wal-Mart
crap is transported thousands of miles across the seas from China.
Americans believe it is our God given right to cheap oil. We are the
chosen people. Kevin Phillips, in his brilliant book American Theocracy describes our love affair with cheap oil:

Americans constitute the world’s most intensive motoring culture.
For reasons of history and past abundance, no other national population
has clumped so complacently around so fuelish a lifestyle. For many
citizens the century of oil has brought surfeit: gas-guzzling mobile
fortresses, family excursions on twenty
thousand-thousand-gallons-per-hour jet aircraft, and lavishly lit
McMansions in glittering, mall packed exurbs along outer beltways.
Against a backdrop of declining national oil and gas output, Americans
consume 25% of world energy while holding just 5% of its energy
resources. As the new century began, Americans enjoyed a lifestyle
roughly twice as energy intensive as those in Europe and Japan, some ten
times the global average. Of the world’s 520 million automobiles,
unsurprisingly, more than 200 million were driven in the United States,
and the U.S. car population was increasing at five times the rate of the
human population. How long that could continue was not clear.

John and Jane Q. Citizen mostly ignore these trends and details,
and know nothing of geologist Hubbert’s bell-shaped charts of peak oil.
Senior oil executives sometimes discuss them in industry conferences,
but elected officials – many with decades of energy platitudes under
their belts – typically shrink from opening what would be a Pandora’s
Box of political consequences. Oil was there for our grandfathers, they
insist, and it will be there for our grandchildren; it is part of the American way.

Ignoring the facts and pretending that we can count on cheap oil for
eternity is delusional. It is also the American way. The age of oil is
coming to an end.  

  

    

There are consequences to every action. There are also consequences
to every inaction. Over the next decade Americans will experience the
dire consequences of inaction. The implications of peak cheap oil have
been apparent for decades. The Department of Energy was created in 1977.
The Department of Energy’s overarching mission was to
advance the national, economic, and energy security of the United
States. In 1970, the U.S. imported only 24% of its oil. There were 108
million motor vehicles in the U.S., or .53 vehicles per person in the
U.S. Today, the U.S. imports 70% of its oil and there are 260 million
vehicles, or .84 vehicles per person. Jim Kunstler describes our bleak
future in The Long Emergency:

 ”American people are sleepwalking into a future of hardship and
turbulence. The Long Emergency will change everything. Globalism will
wither. Life will become profoundly and intensely local. The consumer
economy will be a strange memory. Suburbia – considered a birthright and
a reality by millions of Americans – will become untenable. We will
struggle to feed ourselves. We may exhaust and bankrupt ourselves in the
effort to prop up the unsustainable. And finally, the United States may
not hold together as a nation. We are entering an uncharted territory
of history.”

The land of the delusional has no inkling that their lives of happy
motoring are winding down. The vast majority of Americans believe that
oil is abundant and limitless. Their leaders have lied to them. They
will be completely blindsided by the coming age of hardship.

Factories & Shopping Malls

     

     

There was a factory
Now there are mountains and rivers
you got it, you got it
 
We caught a rattlesnake
Now we got something for dinner
we got it, we got it
 
There was a shopping mall
Now it’s all covered with flowers
you’ve got it, you’ve got it
 
If this is paradise
I wish I had a lawnmower
you’ve got it, you’ve got it

                                     Talking Heads – Nothing but Flowers

If Americans had any sense of history longer than last week’s episode
of Dancing with the Stars (how about that Bristol Palin!), they may
have noticed that the modern age has lasted a mere 150 years and has
been completely dependent upon cheap plentiful oil. This is a mere eye
blink in the history of mankind.  American exceptionalism refers to the
opinion that the United States is qualitatively different from other
nations. Its exceptionalism is claimed to stem from its emergence from a
revolution, becoming “the first new nation” and developing “a unique
American ideology, based on liberty, egalitarianism, individualism,
populism and laissez-faire”. This feeling of superiority stems from the
belief that we have a moral superiority and God has chosen our country
to be a shining symbol for the rest of the world. It is the ultimate in
hubris to think that we are the chosen ones. An enormous amount of
credit for the American Century (1900 – 2000) must be given to pure and
simple luck.

Everything characteristic about the condition we call modern life
has been a direct result of our access to abundant supplies of cheap
fossil fuels. Fossil fuels have permitted us to fly, to go where we want
to go rapidly, and move things easily from place to place. Fossil fuels
rescued us from the despotic darkness of the night. They have made the
pharaonic scale of building commonplace everywhere. They have allowed a
fractionally tiny percentage of our swollen populations to produce
massive amounts of food. All of the marvels and miracles of the
twentieth century were enabled by our access to abundant supplies of
cheap fossil fuels. The age of fossil fuels is about to end. There is no
replacement for them at hand. These facts are poorly understood by the
global population preoccupied with the thrum of daily life, but
tragically, too, by the educated classes in the United States, who
continue to be by far the greatest squanderers of fossil fuels. –
Jim Kunstler – The Long Emergency

Every accomplishment, invention, and discovery of the 20th
Century was due to cheap accessible fossil fuels. The American
industrial age was powered by cheap plentiful oil. One hundred and ten
years after the discovery of oil in Titusville, PA an American walked on
the moon. We harnessed the immense power of oil and rode it hard. An
empire was born and grew to the greatest in history through the
utilization of oil and oil byproducts. It is no coincidence that U.S.
GDP has been dependent upon the growth in fossil fuel consumption over
the last 150 years.  

       

The self centered delusional myopic American citizenry see no
parallel between the American Empire built on a foundation of oil and
the Dutch Empire built upon wind and water or the British Empire
established on the discovery of vast quantities of coal. The Dutch
Empire of the 1600s had 6,000 ships and 1,000 windmills generating
power. The British Empire used coal to power steam engines, pumps,
locomotives and ships and forged a great empire in the 1700s and 1800s.
Today, the Netherlands has a GDP lower than Mexico. The U.K. has a GDP
on par with Italy. You can be sure you are no longer an empire when your
GDP is on par with Mexico and Italy. The United States has grown its
GDP to $14.7 trillion by exploiting fossil fuels. The American Empire is
clearly waning as its dependence on foreign oil slowly bankrupts the
country. We consume 140 billion gallons of gasoline every year keeping
our suburban sprawl mall based lifestyle viable.   

Cars, Highways & Billboards 

     

Years ago
I was an angry young man
I’d pretend
That I was a billboard

Standing tall
By the side of the road

I fell in love
With a beautiful highway

This used to be real estate
Now it’s only fields and trees
Where, where is the town
Now, it’s nothing but flowers

The highways and cars
Were sacrificed for agriculture
I thought that we’d start over
But I guess I was wrong

                                    Talking Heads – Nothing but Flowers

Americans believe our ingenuity, brilliance and blessings from God
have led to the elevation of our country to eminence as the greatest
empire in history. But, in reality it was due to a black sticky
substance that we stumbled across in 1859. Those who believe in American
Exceptionalism scoff at the idea that our empire would not exist
without oil. They prefer to ignore and downplay the impact of oil on our
society. Too bad. Here are the facts from www.lifeaftertheoilcrash.net/.

  • Approximately 10 calories of fossil fuels are required to produce every 1 calorie of food eaten in the US. 
  • Pesticides and agro-chemicals are made from oil. 
  • Commercial fertilizers are made from ammonia, which is made from natural gas. 
  • Most farming implements such as tractors and trailers are constructed and powered using oil-derived fuels. 
  • Food storage systems such as refrigerators are manufactured in
    oil-powered plants, distributed using oil-powered transportation
    networks and usually run on electricity, which most often comes from
    natural gas or coal.
     
  • The average piece of food is transported almost 1,500 miles before it gets to your plate. 
  • In addition to transportation, food, water, and modern medicine,
    mass quantities of oil are required for all plastics, all computers and
    all high-tech devices.
     
  • The construction of an average car consumes the energy equivalent of approximately 20 barrels of oil. 
  • The construction of the average desktop computer consumes ten times its weight in fossil fuels. 
  • According to the American Chemical Society, the construction of
    single 32 megabyte DRAM chip requires 3.5 pounds of fossil fuels.
     
  • Recent estimates indicate the infrastructure necessary to
    support the internet consumes 10% of all the electricity produced in the
    United States.
     
  • The manufacturing of one ton of cement requires 4.7 million BTUs
    of energy, which is the amount contained in about 45 gallons of oil.
     

Our entire civilization will collapse in a week without oil. Try to
imagine life if the 159,000 gas stations in the country ran dry. We are
running on fumes and refuse to acknowledge that fact. We sooth our
psyche with delusions of green energy (solar, wind, ethanol); drill,
drill, drill mantras; abiotic oil theories; and vast quantities of shale
gas. The concept of energy required to extract an amount of energy
completely goes over the head of media pundits and those who prefer not
to think. If you expend 2 gallons of gasoline in your effort to extract 1
gallon of gasoline, you’ve hit the wall. We have sacrificed our future
in order to maximize our present, as William James concluded in the late
1800s:

“The most significant characteristic of modern civilization is
the sacrifice of the future for the present, and all the power of
science has been prostituted to this purpose.”

Americans have a fatal character flaw of desiring others to think
they are successful because they drive an expensive gas guzzling
automobile and reside in an immense energy intensive McMansion in
suburbs 30 miles from civilization. Delusional Americans have convinced
themselves that the appearance of success is success. Leasing $50,000
BMWs for decades and borrowing $500,000 to live in a $300,000 house has
already pushed millions of egotistical to the edge. Of the 250 million
passenger vehicles on the road today, 100 million are SUVs or pickup
trucks. The average fuel mileage is 17 mpg. Approximately 70% of
Americans drive to work every day, with 85% driving alone. They spend 45
minutes on average commuting to and from work and drive 15 miles to
work. The average home size increased from 1,400 sq ft in 1970 to 2,300
sq ft today, despite the fact that the average household size decreased
from 3.1 to 2.6. The bigger is better fantasy will be devastating on the
downward slope of peak oil.    

Pizza Huts, Dairy Queens & 7 Elevens

     

   

 
Once there were parking lots
Now it’s a peaceful oasis
you got it, you got it
 
This was a Pizza Hut
Now it’s all covered with daisies
you got it, you got it
 
I miss the honky tonks,
Dairy Queens, and 7-Elevens
you got it, you got it

And as things fell apart
Nobody paid much attention
you got it, you got it

                                     Talking Heads – Nothing but Flowers

How will Americans survive without the 7,500 Pizza Huts, 5,000 Dairy
Queens, and 8,000 7-11s that dot our highways? The average Joe is so
busy tweeting, texting, and face-booking on their iPads, Blackberries,
and laptops, watching Dancing With the Stars on their 52 inch HDTV
bought on credit, or cruising superhighways in their leased Hummers to
one of the 1,100 malls or 46,000 shopping centers, that they haven’t
paid much attention as peak oil crept up on them. The globalization
miracle of cheap goods produced in China and shipped across the world by
cargo ship and then trucked thousands of miles to your local Wal-Mart
is wholly reliant upon cheap oil. Our own military has concluded that:

 By 2012, surplus oil production capacity could entirely
disappear, and as early as 2015, the shortfall in output could reach
nearly 10 MBD. – Joint Operating Environment Report 

When worldwide oil demand slightly exceeded worldwide oil supply in
2008, prices surged to $145 per barrel. A 10 million barrel per day
shortfall is unfathomable by the purposefully ignorant masses. The
sprawling suburbia that now houses the American population will become
not viable when oil prices rise above $200 per barrel. Out-of-town
shopping and entertainment malls will be deserted. The prosperity borne
from the advent of oil is waning. Jim Kunstler explains the end game in The Long Emergency:

The entropic mess that our economy has become is in the final
blow-off of late oil-based industrialism. The destructive practices
known as “free market globalism” were engendered by our run-up to and
arrival at the world oil production peak. It was the logical climax of
the oil “story”. It required the breakdown of all previous constraints –
logistical, political, moral, cultural – to maximize the present at the
expense of the future, and to do so for the benefit of the very few at
the expense of the many. Even mild to moderate deviations in either
price or supply [of oil and gas] will crush our economy and make the
logistics of daily life impossible.
 

The United States is already tottering, as the oligarchy of the Wall
Street banking syndicate, global mega-corporations and corrupt political
hacks in Washington DC have pillaged the wealth of the country and left
a middle class gasping for air. The mood of the country is already
darkening as The Fourth Turning
gathers steam. The recognition by the masses that peak cheap oil is a
fact will contribute greatly to the next stage of this Crisis. Fourth
Turning periods always lead to war. American troops are not in the
Middle East to spread democracy. They are the forward vanguard in the
coming clash over depleting oil resources. We are entering an era of
strife, war, chaos and destruction. The facts of who controls oil supply
and who needs oil (U.S. – 25%, China – 10%) are clear. Kunstler bluntly
deals with the facts:

Fossil fuel reserves are not scattered equitably around the
world. They tend to be concentrated in places where the native peoples
don’t like the West in general or America in particular, places
physically very remote, places where we realistically can exercise
little control (even if we wish to). The decline of fossil fuels is
certain to ignite chronic strife between nations contesting the
remaining supplies. These resource wars have already begun. There will
be more of them. They are very likely to grind on and on for decades.
They will only aggravate a situation that, in and of itself, could bring
down civilizations. The extent of suffering in our country will
certainly depend on how tenaciously we attempt to cling to obsolete
habits, customs, and assumptions – for instance, how fiercely Americans
decide to fight to maintain suburban lifestyles that simply cannot be
rationalized any longer. –  
Jim Kunstler – The Long Emergency

Mr. Kunstler believes that the U.S. will be forced to downscale,
localize and adapt to a new reality. I wholly support his attempt to
warn the American people and would urge those who chose to think that
preparing for a more agrarian lifestyle that will be forced upon us by
circumstances is essential. No technological miracle will save us from
our fate. Decades of inaction will have a price. I truly hope that his
optimism that hardship will renew the American spirit will reveal
itself:

“But I don’t doubt that the hardships of the future will draw
even the most secular spirits into an emergent spiritual practice of
some kind.”

As I live in the outer suburbs and commute 30 miles per day into the
decrepit decaying city of Philadelphia every day, I’m less optimistic
that the transition will be smooth or even possible. Kunstler’s view of
the suburbs is accurate:

“The state-of-the-art mega suburbs of recent decades have
produced horrendous levels of alienation, loneliness, anomie, anxiety,
and depression.”

Families stay huddled in their McMansions, protected from phantoms by
state of the art security systems. Their interaction with the world is
through their electronic gadgets. Neighborhoods of cookie cutter 4,000
sq ft mansions appear deserted. Human interaction is rare. Happiness is
in short supply. As I sit in miles of traffic every morning during my
soul destroying trek to work I observe the thousands of cars, SUVs, and
trucks and wonder how this can possibly work when the peak oil tsunami
washes over our society in the next few years. Then I reach the bowels
of the inner city and my pessimism grows. This concrete jungle is
occupied by hundreds of thousands of uneducated, unmotivated, wards of
the state. They live a bleak existence in bleak surroundings and depend
upon subsistence payments from the depressed suburbanites to keep them
alive. How will they survive in a post peak oil world? They won’t.

The Hirsch Report and Jim Kunstler’s  The Long Emergency
both were published in 2005. M. King Hubbert warned U.S. leaders
decades in advance about the expected timing of peak oil. The warnings
have fallen on deaf ears. We were busy with our wars of choice, home
price wealth, gays in the military, and the latest episode of Jersey
Shore.

And as things fell apart
Nobody paid much attention