Saturday, February 15, 2014

Nelder: Peak Oil Isn't Dead

Chris Nelder's article: 'Peak oil isn't dead; it just smells that way' is a helpful and relatively recent update on the peak oil discussion.

Since at least 2005 there has been a massive increase in the financial investment to fund production in oil.  This has been paid for by higher prices for fuel.  The result, however, has been merely a rough global plateau of production in crude oil since that time.  Global demand keeps rising as population and expectations rise also.  So other forms of liquid fuel (such as ethanol) have been employed to supplement supply.  However the energy intensity and the energy return on energy invested (EROEI) of these alternative fuels is significantly lower than for crude oil.

The world, in summation, already has an energy-related transport crisis in the respect that the fuel we use to run our vehicles is now much, much more expensive than it was compared to a decade ago and the prices continue to rise at a faster rate than our incomes do.  The result can only be reflected in a lower general standard of living without changes in lifestyle.

The Jilted and the Landless

Britain has gone to pot and its the fault of the baby boomer generation says two media journalists (Ed Howker from 'The Spectator' magazine and Shiv Malik from the 'Sunday Times' and 'Prospect' magazine).  If it wasn't for the short-term horizons and rampant consumerism of the British people from my generation then those young adults of today - those born from 1979 and later - would be enjoying a good supply of cheaper, better quality housing, as well as jobs that paid a reasonable remuneration and were also secure.  It is claimed that the denial of those things has led to their "postponement of adulthood" and a lifestyle of poverty and aimlessness. [1]

The crisis in Britain, as described in Malik and Howker's book 'Jilted Generation' is particularly relevant because it is also mirrored in most so-called 'first-world' nations today.  I have no real argument against their description of the predicament of the post 1979ers but a lot of the analysis of this book lacks depth and historical understanding.

It may be quite normal for young adults to pin the blame for things gone wrong on the generation who came before and I can relate to that.   Who would argue against the proposition that there aren't, indeed, huge numbers of baby boomers who should be accepting a great deal of responsibility for the dire situation that our offspring find themselves in now. Many boomers have wielded high levels of decision-making power in our political and social institutions.

Howker and Malik, however, fail to describe the global trends and forces that acted upon the their parents' generation. In addition, barely recognise the extent to which many baby boomers very actively engaged in a rebellious backlash against the very unsustainable materialistic lifestyle and attitudes that these same authors rage against now.  There did exist, after all in the 1960s and 1970s, a notable counter-culture stratum of society, and it wasn't ever all about drugs and other politically naive distractions.  One of the most fundamental aspects of the youth counter-culture, for instance, was the 'Back to the Land Movement'. [2]  In the 1960s and 1970s young people flocked to rural areas with the aim of creating a simpler, better way of existing free from many of the constraints of what they saw as a dysfunctional and (ultimately) unsustainable mainstream society.  Though 'back to the land movements' have existed long in time 
"...what made the later phenomenon of the 1960s and 1970s especially significant was that the rural-relocation trend was sizable enough that it was identified in the American demographic statistics..."[2]
A strong belief existed in the 1970s that a movement onto rural land would result in lower housing costs, better living standards, improved health, and general wellbeing.  One would engage directly in organic agriculture and home building and, through these actions, earth-centred lifestyles and communities would become self-sustaining.  The hope existed that a new culture would emerge and spread quickly and widely enough to avoid a 'limits to growth' catastrophe in the new millennium.  

Needless to say, that dream didn't pan out.

Time and opportunity constraints mean that the full explanation of political and social trends that begin to explain the failure of counter-culture (such as concentration of power, consumerisation of politics, etc) cannot be explored here.  However, the issues that relate to the availability/cost of land are, perhaps, where it might be the most fruitful for an inquirer to explore reasons for the degeneration in civil life and severe depletion of common wealth (in the 'rich' industrialised nations at least).

Land, the authors of 'Jilted Generation' acknowledge,  is "the major cost in the purchase of a home" [3].   Lack of land (in terms of decentralised ownership) may be the very reason why 93% of homes built in London between 2000 and 2010 have been "poky one and two-bedroom flats." [4] The fact that less than one percent of Britain's population own it entire base of farmland [5] might explain why a 'back to the land movement' cannot exist there. 

For surely land is the only form of genuine cultural escape when we find ourselves living out an empty materialism - expressed as 'consumerism' - in a deprived 'dollars-and-cents' reality.
Brenda Rosser

Picture:  Drop City was an artists' community that formed in southern Colorado in 1965. Abandoned by the early 1970s, it became known as the first rural "hippie commune".

[1]  'Jilted Generation - How Britain has Bankrupted its Youth' by Ed Howker and Shiv Malik.  Icon Books Ltd, Omnibus Business Centre.  Published 2010.  ISBN: 978-184831-198-5

[2] Back-to-the-land movement, Wikipedia

[3]  Page 41:   'Jilted Generation - How Britain has Bankrupted its Youth' by Ed Howker and Shiv Malik.  Icon Books Ltd, Omnibus Business Centre.  Published 2010.  ISBN: 978-184831-198-5

[4]  Page 213:   'Jilted Generation - How Britain has Bankrupted its Youth' by Ed Howker and Shiv Malik.  Icon Books Ltd, Omnibus Business Centre.  Published 2010.  ISBN: 978-184831-198-5

[5]  Reclaim the Fields
Ed Hamer discovers a European youth movement taking action on the issue of access to agricultural land.