The jig is up

Oh, the conundrums faced by TPTB.
Consider Ben Bernanke and the other goons at the Federal Reserve Bank: They have to raise interest rates. But they can’t. If they raise them, thereby strengthening the declining American dollar, they destroy any hope for economic growth. And if they don’t raise them, the dollar plunges straight down the toilet (the flush kind, not the composting kind).

And then there’s Congress and the Treasury Department: They have to bail out Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. But they can’t. If they use taxpayer money to bail out these institutions, they’re passing along a $5 trillion bill to future generations. That’s nearly half this country’s annual GDP, so it’s automatic endgame for the U.S. dollar. If they don’t bail out Freddie and Fannie, the failure of these institutions will forever destroy the mortgage market. Either way, the jig is up. The sloburbs are belly-up, with no ambulance on the way.
People keep asking me for solutions. But, as illustrated by the choices facing the Fed, the Treasury Department, and Congress, there are no solutions, at least not at the level of society. There simply is no way to prop up civilized society when oil costs more than $100 per barrel.
Well, there might be one option: fascism. Oh, wait. We’re already there. As Vladimir Lenin said, “fascism is capitalism in decay.” Or, as I pointed out — with far more words than Lenin — in one of my recent books: “The administration of George W. Bush is characterized by powerful and continuing expressions of nationalism, identification of enemies as a unifying cause, obsession with militaristic national security and military supremacy, interlinking of religion and the ruling elite, obsession with crime and punishment, disdain for the importance of human rights and intellectuals who support them, cronyism, corruption, sexism, protection of corporate power, suppression of labor, control over mass media, and fraudulent elections. These are the defining elements of fascism.”
For more about the increasingly marginalized mass media, see my older and wiser brother‘s recent book, Conservative Resurgence and the Press.
Even if there are no solutions for society, there are individual options. Matt Simmons, uber-wealthy energy adviser to BushCo, is pinning his hopes on wave power in Maine while starting to learn how to garden. Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens is investing heavily in wind power. Both men know the oil game has nearly run its course.
We’ve been discussing individual options at the level of normal folk for a while on this blog, and several people have asked me pointed questions, on and off the list. By an overwhelming margin, these questions focus on two topics: my religious beliefs and my personal outlook. That is, they focus on what I believe and what I live for. The latter is a recurrent theme among my acquaintances, many of whom wonder, given my outlook on civilization, how and why I choose to keep going.
I’ve given much thought to these questions during the last two decades. So it’s time I articulate some responses. Within the next month or so, I will post entries about, and perhaps even titled, “What I believe” and “What I live for.” These topics require considerable introspection and more than a little effort, so the posts will be longer than usual, and they’ll take more time than usual to post. I’m spending a lot of time at the mud hut, too, so that’ll slow me down.
I’ll give a glimpse about both forthcoming posts. One of my favorite quotes is from Arundhati Roy’s book, Power Politics (p. 7): “In the midst of a bloody military coup, for instance, you could find yourself fascinated by the rituals of a purple sunbird, or the secret life of captive goldfish, or an old aunt’s descent into madness. And nobody can say that there isn’t truth and art and beauty in that. Or, on the contrary, in the midst of a putative peace, you could, like me, be unfortunate enough to stumble on a silent war. The trouble is that once you see it, you can’t unsee it. And once you’ve seen it, keeping quiet, saying nothing, becomes as political an act as speaking out. There’s no innocence. Either way, you’re accountable.”
If you’re interested in surviving the ongoing apocalypse, the coming month looks like a great time to take a break from the self-indulgent entries on this blog. In the meantime, you might want to study the report my students prepared last spring, Dmitry Orlov’s excellent book, or any number of other websites dedicated to peak oil preparedness.

Comments 19

  • Roy was right on the money. It’s not hard to find things to live for. Though I’m sure the Titanic has hit the burg, I’m also convinced that this is one of the most interesting times to be alive. If you could choose all of the times to be alive, how could you choose a more exciting world than the very peak of peak oil? As for beliefs, observe, test your hypotheses, believe the data within measurement error, and only reject, never accept your hypotheses.

  • Fascism, that’s a good one. When applied to this president falls flat. Every modern president can be labeled as a fascist. JFK created truly scary laws that would give the government power to forcibly put the people to work, separate families, and appropriate supplies for the continuation of government, yet he’s regarded in many circles (Especially those in college) as the greatest leader the free world has ever known. Don’t even get me started on Clinton’s excesses, which were not only scary, but shocked the consciousness!
    The man’s presidency gave new meaning to not only cronyism, but was the single best definition of corruption the Oval Office has ever known. I personally would rather associate the Chinese leadership, or that of Saddam, Sudan, N.Korea, the UK, etc with that word. Using it on a waste like W., dilutes it so it means less when it’s used.
    Again I say: Point your anger at a better place. As much as I completely agree that the W. presidency has been a string of disasters, culminating in a horribly mishandled war, there are far better places to posit your writings and anger over a potential societal breakdown. OPEC would be a great place to start. They’ve been with-holding the exact amount of reserves they’ve got in the ground, calling them state secrets, bolstering them whenever they think it’s politically necessary, etc. If they’d ust come out and say eactly what they’ve got, the world would know exactly where it stands. How about The Bernanke/Greenspan Fed for it’s colossal failure to take action back when we all knew that housing was a bubble about to burst. Now our dollar is losing its gold standard spot to the point it’s near Peso status.
    /End Rant.
    Pickens and Simmons are putting quite a lot on this. When very wealthy people are saying, “Oh crap!” The rest of us might want to take notice. Too bad it’s a little too little, a little too late. They’re touting solutions that require oil just for simple maintenance, particularly in the case of windmills. All the machinery and product is literally made of oil. Oil that we can all attest that is getting exponentially more expensive, and will as time goes on. Even the amazingness of “Nucular” (To borrow a Bushism) energy is that exactly what do they think powers the machinery that not only transports the Uranium and digs it out of the ground, but powers the very machinery that vents air into the mine every hour? The fact is that there just isn’t a solution outside a major drawack in use, and that’s not going to happen unless by force.
    When I read the part about why you want to keep going I had to think of why I want to keep going as well. For me it comes down to this: At the very least it’s going to be fun as hell to watch it all go down! When I drive my gas guzzler to and from work (and sometimes while I’m at work) I can’t help but think about all the people around us all that are woefully unprepared for even the power going out for a couple days, much less a major catastrophe like energy and food prices bordering on unaffordable.
    Interesting times indeed Debra.

  • Turboguy:
    Just because I’m picking on Dubya doesn’t mean I’m impressed with his predecessors. But BushCo has known about peak oil since before their selection, and they’ve done nothing to forestall the economic collapse of this country. They have enriched the wealthy while simultaneously attempting to destroy the middle and lower classes. Meanwhile, we’ve burned 10% of the world’s oil during these two presidential terms.
    However, the complete absence of leadership in the Executive branch is hardly new, and the arc of history is greater than this administration. Neoconservatism, as epitomized by Dubya but more or less initiated by Reagan, is the sentiment of the times. I doubt any post-Carter president could do much about it. In addition, absence of leadership is hardly restricted to the Oval Office. For other examples, peer into Congress (which, for example, passed Dubya’s dream FISA by an overwhelming margin), the private sector (start with GM, ADM, and Microsoft — and these are the good guys), the nonprofit sector (among those who could have a positive impact, but are looking the other way: Sierra Club and the United Way), or any government agency at any level.
    My two cents, doubtless overpriced.

  • I completely agree with you Guy, which is why I say your ire would be better focused on places other than W.
    I like to place far more blame on Congress than I’ll ever place on any sitting President. All Bush can do is give recommendations, it’s up to, or it should be up to congress to slap the hand of the President when he’s reaching too far. You do bring up a fantastic point though: Congressional complacency. I thought by voting the other way than I did the first time around I’d bring change to Congress. HA! If the Republicans were voting to burn down Chicago in a day, the Democrats would cry foul and instead vote to burn it down over a two week period.
    If you scrutinized the complacency of our congressional leaders as you do with W’s excesses, I’d be right next to you with my fist in the air! I believe that is who’s feet the majority of the blame can be rested.
    Lastly I thought Hubbert first began talking about the Olduvai peak in 1956. They’ve all known, even Carter, yet none did anything about it. What could they have done? If tomorrow the president came out and said the easy times are over, and it’s only going to get harder from here, ending in the US being literally reverted to a “Western Style” era, he’d have abysmal poll numbers, and a major backlash against him… wait. Too late for that one, LOL! Seriously though, it’d be political suicide to come out and say something like that, and they know it! People don’t want to be told that they’ve got to slow down, be careful, and don’t drink out of the carton. They want to hear that good times are here to stay. The current presidential race exemplifies this. Americans are piling on in droves to vote for the person that is telling them he’ll do everything right, and make all the bad stuff go away.
    “Hope” and “Change” are not strategies. It just doesn’t work that way.
    As scary as it is that one presidential candidate leads the race on a platform without substance, the other has the exact same strategies in mind that got us here in the first place.
    Again Guy, thank you for this blog and your work in this field. It is truly a pleasure to correspond with you, though for the most part I am horribly outclassed.

  • There are many places to aim one’s anger, but as Pogo aptly stated, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” For whatever it’s worth at this point, we have ways to wage influence.
    National politicians in this country (except those like Bush, who inherit positions beyond their abilities) mostly start out as state or local politicians. Yet we are far less likely to vote in, or pay attention to, those closer-to-home positions, where fewer votes can swing an election. Ironically, in terms of numbers, the less likely we are to be able to influence an election, the more likely we are to turn out.
    Increasing numbers of us hold stock through retirement plans or personal investments, but few of us bother to make our ethical wishes known to boards of directors. Those boards are left to assume (correctly, perhaps?) that our concern is to make as much money as quickly as possible.
    Few of us know our neighbors’ names, let alone belong to neighborhood watch programs.
    Too many of us talk only to people who think like us–-unless we’re arguing. And too many of us think talk, or writing random checks to do-good organizations, is action.
    Few of us rely on multiple media. The fact is, virtually every opinion and possible answer to any given problem is being discussed somewhere, but far too many of us rely on single sources of news. Especially troubling is the number who rely on sources with an obvious political bias, despite the Pew Center finding that heavy viewers of Fox News, for example, actually know less about public issues than do most folks, including those who rely on local television. We have to be careful about assuming causation, of course–we don’t know if people are ill-informed because they rely on Fox, if they rely on Fox because they’re ill-informed, or a combination of the two.
    Ignorance about issues is inevitable but can be overcome. Apathy is a choice. An old joke asks the question, “What’s the difference between ignorance and apathy?” The answer: “I don’t know and I don’t care.” The wit and wisdom of Walt Kelly’s Pogo lives on, but it isn’t delivered to your house every day. You have to go get it (via books or The same might be said of political knowledge, and of a world worth living in.

  • The Grim Reaper Report:
    “And I looked,and behold a pale horse;and his name that sat on him was Death”(Revelation 6:8)—or is it OPEC?
    Tis neither dear friends, as Brother James told us above Pogo has the answer.

  • The Grim Reaper Report:
    Regular unleaded gasoline now sells for $7.25/ Kotzebue,Alaska.This is the highest that the Reaper has seen.Mere pennies away from $5/gal. in Los Angeles,and also close to $5/gal. in Chicago and New York City.
    As Professor Guy has prophesized “Later this year,we fall off the oil-supply cliff”.

  • A question for Professor Guy:
    Are the sloburbs where the Yuppie Scum live?
    Anyone else can chime in on this.

  • I just checked out a DVD based on Jared Diamond’s book “Guns, Germs and Steel”. It showed the early development of agriculture in the Fertile Crescent, and how the early clusters of mankind overpopulated their habitats until the civilizations failed locally, and then expanded across similar latitudes.
    I think there has to be a genetic factor at play. Small groups of humans can be sustainable, and in rare cases remain sustainable for relatively long periods of time on this planet. But there is a tendency to grow and grow beyond sustainability and then fail. This happened before the Age of Petroleum. But oil intensified the mechanics of this genetic predisposition and thus exponentially increased the pace and the scale of inevitable impacts.
    That is why I said earlier that whatever befalls us in this generation will likely be repeated sometime down the road by our survivors.
    I think fascism is a phase of the overall exploitation involved in this phenomenon, usually a latter phase. First people organize to survive. Then hierarchies emerge and power is attained. Eventually desire for power is a self-sustaining goal for a minority hierarchy and lower classes suffer within the evolved system.
    A couple of very good books on general topics related to this are “Ishmael” (a novel) by Daniel Quinn and
    “Against the Grain” by Richard Manning.
    Stan Moore
    Petaluma, CA

  • postscript to the above (enter interesting, but rarely considered Biblical references):
    First, I think there is a very interesting kernel in the Bible that is rarely discussed that relates to this. In the early pages of history discussed in the Old Testament, “God” scattered the builders of the Tower of Babel to discourage men from congregating into cities. I think the point was that men were better off living in agrarian settings and subject to all sorts of societal problems and ecological failure when clustering.
    Another very interesting Biblical reference I came across quite unexpectedly was in reading the book “Beyond Growth” by economist Herman Daly. (And by the way, a great protege of Herman Daly is a former PhD student at the University of Arizona named Dr. Brian Czech who is the director of the Center for the Avancement of the Steady State Economy). Anyways, Herman Daly referred back to the Old Testament discussion of the “Jubilee Year” after a cycle of 7 “Sabbath Years” had been completed. The idea of the Jubilee Year was the complete redistribution of wealth within the Hebrew Nation. This redistribution of wealth would have obvious benefits is shaping the development of the power hierarchy in the nation. If the U.S. had a fifty-year cycle of redistribution of wealth so that all the families of the nation had relatively equal resources, how likely is it that G.W. Bush or Minny Others in power would be there? Of course, Bill Clinton got in and I happen to believe that Bill’s boorish behavior as a low-class horny hillbilly human offset his political genius and that was the prime cause Bush was ever in a position to steal the election of 2000.
    So, I guess we are back to genes after all, as in, we are all defective…
    Stan Moore
    Petaluma, CA

  • It’s time for a little old fashioned belt tightening. Has anyone here gone hungry yet? Has anyone run out of gas? Have the store shelves gone bare? I didn’t think so. We’re all working ourselves up in a frenzy of anticipation. Remember when we saw it happen in the Soviet Union? Remember watching it going on in Ethiopia on TV? Now it’s coming down off the TV and stalking our living rooms. But since we’re Americans, mostly of the self indulgent baby boomer generation and spawn, it’s a REALLY BIG DEAL when it happens to us. Make your preparations and get ready to do without. Try eating insects to see how they taste and walk to work if you still have a job. Yeah, I know it makes the bile rise when you realize our much vaunted democracy is a big fraud and the fat cats who are supposed to represent us are screwing us blind. But what are you going to do? Read up on the French Revolution and keep your ammunition dry.

  • I was in Tucson yesterday and found myself thinking about the people around me in the stores, and what they’d be likely to do in a prolonged supply bottleneck. I think most urban and suburban dwellers would head for city hall after looting the stores and the neighborhood Mormon households (a year’s supply of food in every one), but not start heading out into the surrounding deserts.
    The average city-dwelling American fears the wide open spaces – snakes, scorpions, banditos and velociraptors all live out there.
    They wouldn’t get far due to lack of water – on foot, one could carry maybe four gallons which would last you 2-3 days depending on time of year, and walking fast that would get a fit person about 30 miles from Tucson.
    Recent Mexican immigrants might head back south to the border and home, which they know from personal experience can be reached on foot.
    Rural Mexicans in Sonora and Chihuahua know a lot about living off the land and doing without the mod cons. Without family connections you might be out of luck, though.
    It would be interesting to have a ‘desert survival school’ over the border somewhere to learn the finer points of desert living off the grid and out of the supply pipeline.

  • Below is a posting I just placed on the Claverton Energy Planning Group website (in Britain) under the title: Why Al Gore’s Plan Will Not Succeed as Intended:
    I believe that history has already shown that human nature will
    prevent Al Gore’s plan from saving us from greenhouse gas – related
    global climate change OR peak oil effects.
    The simple reason is that his plan does not mandate, nor could it
    mandate an actual reduction of greenhouse gas emissions through the
    burning of fossil fuels in toto. So, what will happen is that
    consumption (and thus depletion) of fossil fuels will continue on,
    and to the extent that electrical generation is substituted to other
    generation sources, the consumption of fossil fuels and production of
    greenhouse gases will just be shifted to other areas of local
    economies. In fact, the massive industrial production of wind
    turbines and other infrastructure in a growing economy will put more
    pressure to consume fossil fuels in order to manufacture and install
    the alternate electricity sources.
    This effect has been seen time and time again in human endeavors,
    even in energy-related consumption scenarios. In the 1970’s some
    cities put their employees on four day work weeks in order to save on
    commuting fuel expenses to get to and from work stations. The
    workers did not consume less fuel, they just traveled elsewhere on
    their days off work and had more leisurely (wasteful) consumption of
    fuel that previously.
    Part of the flawed thinking behind the whole process at stake is the
    underlying desire for continuous economic and population growth.
    Our planet is finite along with its resources. Already we are
    dramatically overconsuming resources on an unsustainable basis,
    including food, timber, fresh water, soil, etc. We must change this
    underlying mindset FIRST if we have any real chance of successfully
    bringing ourselves into compliance with natural laws of supply and
    demand for survival habitat on this planet. That is fundamental,
    but I do not see it happening, even with Al Gore (perhaps ESPECIALLY)
    with Al Gore doing the planning. Al Gore is stuck on the profit
    motive for everything and that generally blinds one to the realities
    of what works and what does not.
    Stan Moore
    Petaluma, CA

  • Thank you Stan,
    I was particularly interested in your reference to human nature.On another note,I believe all human cooperation is doomed to failure,because it is always antithetical to human nature.This is best exemplified in the TOTC(Tragedy of the Commons).
    This theory will always be the limiting factor on the size of any survival group.We are all barbarians under the skin,concerned solely with our own selfish self-interest.In other words,cooperation can only be enforced when a group is small enough so that everyone can watch everyone else.

  • His name is Mud !!
    And he’s the CEO of Fannie Mae, who made $11.6 in total compensation last year as a reward for destroying his company.Now this unconscionable,dishonest,incompetent,rapacious scoundrel wants the US taxpayers to pay for the losses of his gigantic fraud .
    When will the taxpayers say “enough already”.
    p.s.I dropped the final “d” in his name in the interests of honest and accuracy.

  • In the end it comes down to the fact that you cannot control another human being, except by force. You can teach, lecture, try to persuade — but in the end, people will do what they’re gonna do.
    As a wise professor once told us as the beginning of his genetics course, “Human beings are just DNA’s way of making more DNA”.

  • The world’s crises have completely changed my outlook on everything important. For a variety of reasons, my life would be in a mild crisis state even without PO and climate change: I have a background in the humanities, but have shifted into a technical field, and I’m trying to decide what to do when I complete my present course of study. Factor in the prospect of global doom, and psychologically, I’m reeling. My family thinks I’m crazy, and I wouldn’t dream of talking to other students about these things.
    Presently, I’m taking summer classes toward a (second) B.A., but wondering whether I’m wasting my time and very limited money. I’ve always wanted to do a Ph.D., though I suppose it’s not going to happen if the doomers are correct. Especially Jay Hanson has me terrified: “The exhaustion of fossil fuel will leave many millions of Americans with no access to food or water and facing certain death. For example, ten or more millions of people in Southern California alone will die within a couple of days after drinking their toilet tanks and swimming pools dry.” Harrowing. Still, it’s hard for me to fathom, being so distant from my experience.

  • At the rate the world is growing, something has to give sooner or later. There are just too many people and not enough resources.

  • I was on the forefront of ‘Bernanke haters’ from day one and I suspect there are now many more haters around these days. This lastest statement of this New World Order tool is typical. Banks provide credit? How? I can’t see how this is possible! When he admits this ability has been ‘diminished’ he doesn’t say how or why! And who are these other ‘financial players’?