This is probably going to be a long and rambling post, but heck, I haven’t done one in a while (though I am sure some readers will object since I often run off at the keyboard). Over the last couple of days I have been reading a book that contains several sections regarding global warming, peak oil, etc. (I won’t name it, it is generally poorly written and is at least half the author making Tea Party rants against Obama). Then last night I watched part of a program about peak oil. I have also been a regular reader of the blog Do The Math where the author talks extensively (and with numbers, hence the title) about how alternatives have no prayer of replacing our dependence on crude oil. Anyway, I haven’t babble about the looming apocalypse for a while so felt now was a good time. With that as unnecessary introduction, let the rant begin…
While I have significant doubts about the concept of ‘global warming‘ being the result of human’s use of fossil fuels, that doesn’t mean I don’t believe (quite strongly!) that humans are destroying the value in our globe’s ecosystem at an accelerating, unsustainable rate. For the most part humans have almost completely decimated the land surface (where that surface has any value, of course; trackless deserts are pretty much left to themselves), though there has been a small trend in the opposite direction lately. We have been so steadily raping the ocean that we have almost removed all the apex predators completely and have been steadily working our way down the food chain (though we already harvest tons of krill, pretty close to the bottom of the food chain). We pump massive amounts of antibiotics and other assorted pharmaceuticals into our waterways on a daily basis that lead to dramatic impacts on sensitive life (some leading to ‘feminization‘ of fish and amphibians) not to mention flooding the oceans with nutrient runoff leading to algae blooms and thence to ‘dead zones‘. And, as is fairly well known already, our steady destruction of old growth forest (tropical and temperate) have been resulting in the lost of species at the rate that many ecologists are talking about a new extinction event (the time of the ‘Anthropocene‘). Here in the US we have created additional problems entirely fabricated by humans: the ability of nation/states or even random hackers to plunge our infrastructure into the stone age at the press of a button. We have put so much junk in Earth orbit that it is becoming problematic to launch new satellites, so we are even trashing parts of our solar system!
So, humans are having a huge impact on our planet even before we break out discussions of peak oil and the conflicts thereafter. We have already passed peaks in so many other places (fish harvest have been steadily declining for a century or longer, only by going to ‘lower quality’ fish have we been able to keep our faces stuffed) and are in the down slide that it is almost quaint to talk about something like oil. However, because humans have such a strong, wide aggressive streak, it is quite certain that these various peak-sliding-down-events will eventually (where that is likely measured in years, but could conceivably be decades if we are lucky) there will be even more massive impact on our environment as we start to wholesale slaughter one another in a desperate, but useless (actually counter productive), attempt to stave off the inevitable decline. When I have talked about the apocalypse I have generally focused on it being a US centric event, but over the last couple of days I am now thinking it will be a much more global event and there will be few places to hide. There is almost certainly going to be a sudden, sharp and seemingly instantaneous ‘flip’ from everything seeming to go well one day to the entire globe is in the shit the next day. While it is possible to predict with almost certainty that this event will happen, the timing is the result of countless actions feeding back towards one another in a non-linear fashion. Sort of like the events that unfolded in the Philippines when the typhoon struck a year or so ago, the aftermath is fairly easy to document and the resultant steps taken by various governments and groups easy to outline. Positioning yourself to be on the right side, though, may be very non-trivial. I saw the looming housing crash years in advanced and put together a very pretty plan to take advantage of it, but moved too slow and instead wound up even more screwed.
The ironic thing to me is that none of this needs to happen. Based on my research we can produce such a huge amount of food using a technique called aquaponics that we could easily manage a human population of more than a trillion without _any_ impact on the ecosystem (other than the 10% of land surface we would use)! We could continue our love of liquid fuels by utilizing duckweed and supply our electricity using nuclear energy. We could likely even harvest solar energy (thus doing away with the nuclear ‘bogyman’) using something called ‘osmotic energy‘ (see the lower half of the post) and skip the expense of solar panels (I have read several analyses that suggest the energy it takes to produce the panel is greater than the panel’s lifetime output). However, in order to prepare for the consequences of a major peak (such as oil, food, etc.) one must start long before the peak is realized as the consequences of the downside are abrupt and devastating. Since by many estimates we may have already reached peak oil and food (by conventional means, of course) we are teetering on the cusp of the slide into oblivion already giving us essentially negative time to react.
So is there any way to prepare for such an event (besides keeping cyanide capsules with you at all time so you can simply skip to the end)? The so-called ‘preppers‘ are already attempting to lay the ground work, but I consider most of those efforts doomed (e.g.). It is fairly easy to estimate what the world will look like after (with about one tenth of its population in 3-5 years and a steadily declining population for decades to come, for instance), but the actual crumbling will be much like the events inside a hurricane or tornado. Inches will matter and luck will have a disproportionate impact on who survives what. Disease will become rampant and the inner cores of cities will become wastelands where only a few hardy (or foolhardy) groups will eek out a living on the scraps left over by the riots. The countryside will be dotted with Amish inspired communities where the inhabitants will aggressively defend their territory and way of life and skeletons will litter the highways and byways.
Of course I might be full of crap, it isn’t like anything like this has ever happened before, right? Oh yea, there are a couple of examples in human history, such as the fall of Rome, several revolutions in China, you know, stuff like that. We won’t be like that, you say, things are different now. Well, the long sustained upward trajectory we have been enjoying for well over a century (really going back to the industrial revolution) has pretty much robbed us of the collective knowledge to anticipate such an event, so when the tornado strikes we will be collectively shocked that it could ever happen.
Ok, I believe I got this out of my system, thanks for reading…