Monday, May 4, 2009

Monday Morning Thoughts

Power; what is it?

Whether its political, physical, or electrical. Power is the ability to drive some result. It is a stored ability to take nature into the logical hands of humanity.

It is also the ability to bring the inanimate to life. To turn hot into cold, cold into hot, and move water up hill. Power is magic. It is the march of civilization forward. Power is energy.

Push your car down the freeway at 75 mph for 15 miles and tell me its not worth $2.50 gallon. The wealth of our world, your standard of living, the hope for a brighter future are all tied to petroleum. And therefore all power be it financial, political, or industrial is founded on the btu's of energy contained in a barrel of crude. The power of the future will be whatever source the next btu we burn is harvested from.

The power represented by petroleum though is by default. Its for lack of a competing option. This lack of a discernible 'silver-bullet' substitute gives rise to a real conundrum of those looking ahead.

Enter the logic of Peak Oil. The well quantifiable reality that there may not be any more oil to tap. That we have peaked (or will soon peak) the world's oil reserves and though demand will continue to grow the resource to extract will become further and further from our ability to harvest it.

This shouldn't be scary. It shouldn't be something to worry. We have developed, built, and invented our way out of scarcity before. Why is it now that it seems like there is no route to more?

Part of my motivation to write this is in response to the Peak Oil arguments of doom. The fact that the future is a dynamic opportunity for human improvement. The reality that in the past the only time that the most talented among us couldn't move beyond an obstacle was when institutions conspired to maintain the obstacle. Usually not on purpose, but none the less well meaning assumptions influenced rules, laws, and direction away from innovation..

For those of you who are familiar with Peak Oil I place before you an unfamiliar argument. That its not a big deal as it relates to our standard of living. That with cheap oil gone our standard of living will not be effected and though petroleum costs will rise I am confident that the American standard of living will not be substantially eroded in the short term. The rapid need for communal gardens, composting toilets, and the 'End of Suburbia' will not drop suddenly on the world's doorstep.

Instead I offer a competing view. That we will sacrifice quality of life and needlessly develop petroleum resources that in the future will be worth far more than the btu's they represent today. That western agriculture, industry and lifestyles will hit these higher prices like a speed bump. Unless we embrace a more dynamic and wider reason for diversifying beyond petroleum instead of a bleak future it will just be less bright than it needs to be.

If Peak Oil is a reality it will not be the end of western civilization. The full weight and creativity of the western Capitalist system will move rapidly to maintain the value and market position of its invested capital. Not to mention the well established standards for fuel, energy, and infrastructure regulated by government with petroleum products in mind.

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