Saturday, May 31, 2008

End of the World as We Know It?

Do you feel fine?

The environmental movement could not have come at a better time. With oil prices skyrocketing we should be conscientious of our use of resources, but there are those out there who turn to hysteria to guide us:

James Howard Kunstler isn't one to mince words about what's coming. "The suburbs will turn to slums, salvage yards and ruins," says the author of the book The Long Emergency. "Expensive oil will thunder through the economic system cutting a wide swath of destruction." As Kunstler sees it, sometime during this decade half of the world's recoverable petroleum will have been extracted. From here on out, we'll be living on a dwindling supply of hard-to-reach fossil fuels. This is the cornerstone of the "peak oil" theory and Kuntsler foresees apocalyptic fallout. It will become unfeasible for people to drive from the burbs to distant jobs, and as the petroleum refugees flee their McMansions, the sprawling cul-de-sacs will turn to ghost towns. As the global supply chains collapse, major importers like Wal-Mart will go out of business.

But do they have a point? I'm one of my few peers who have a car (a fairly economical compact car), but with gas prices at $1.28/L I feel less inclined to offer to drive people home after a meeting or get-together. Would I give up my car if I have to? Perhaps. Unlike many people in Ottawa though, I don't live, work, or go to school downtown though. If I could walk to school and work it would be nice, but its impractical to think our cities can be designed that way.

The recent anxiety about increases to food and gas make me feel uneasy. While I wasn't alive in 1970s, it does seem to be a repeat of history. It may be optimism or me being naive that we know more today, and combined with the environmental movement, we will be able to combat this better than they did back then.

The discussion of interest rates is also interesting. There is pressure to continue to lower them, because of the cost of everything else is going up; however, inflation is the other concern.

In the next 10 years I plan to buy my first home, get married and have my first child, but what kind of world would I be bringing a child into? While my partner and I will both have Master degrees, and will have the capital to weather the storm, not everyone will be as fortunate.

No matter what your political beliefs are, there must be an acknowledgement that inequalities between people financially will increase. But I believe that in the long run, capitalism will help solve the problems we are currently facing. The environmental movement has increased demand for ideas, innovation and new products to reduce and has made people more conscientious of their energy uses. This is all good.

Unfortunately capitalism hasit has also increased "trendy" products where companies/producers will use the buzz words of "green" "organic" etc... but they are just trying to sell their product or get people to consume, which is the exact opposite of what the movement is about.

Our governments need to support SMART alternative energy solutions not just carbon programs or taxes. Want people to have solar panels to heat their homes? Reuse rain water? Drive a car with alternative-fuel? Make it accessible and less expensive. Do you want out government to support more students to take sciences in university and support innovations to solve our problems or do you want them to give "equal" and "fair" support/incentives to all students, even if they get a useless English or History degree?

This needs to happen now, because if we continue at the current rate of price increases no one is going to care about the planet when they are living paycheck-to-paycheck trying to pay to live.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't let the doomsayers get you down.
During the industrial revolution in Britain the luddites attacked factories because they were sure that they would bring about the end of the world as the populace starved to death because of lack of employment.
The Malthusian theory, as interpreted by the doomsayers (not by Malthus himself) predicted that the end of civilization was just around the corner as a result of human population growth. Those predictions have been ongoing for over 200 years. Some corner!
Walter Gordon, finance minister under Lester Pearson, wrote a book that said Canada would become a part of the U.S. because we were selling our industries to U.S. interests. That was 50 years ago. We're still selling off our industries and we're still independent. (At least mostly independent.)
During the cold war there were literally hundreds of books and dozens of movies telling us we would be wiped out by nuclear armaggedon long before the turn of the century. We're still here and just as bone-headed as we ever were.
Things change. There are disruptions in the course of history. Some are good, some not, Some are localized and some widespread. But the one thing seems to be that people find a way to adapt.
Personally, I think the world went to hell in a handbasket following the sixties. But I'm getting old and I'm very cynical. Things keep on moving along with oe without my consent and they will continue to do so long after I'm gone. Just be willing to adapt and don't let "the sky is falling" crowd cause you to lose any sleep.

Sun Jun 01, 12:51:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Powell is right. Doom and gloom sells. Did you know that the Alberta oil sands, if every other oil source in the world was dry tomorrow, theoretically (Not in practical terms as exploitation and distribution would be impossible) Alberta could provide the whole world at today's rate of consumption for the next 50 years?...Canada also has vast fields of natural gas, that is already discovered and ready to be tapped. Cars can run on natural gas which would be converted to propane (A sulphur smell added to NG for safety by odour detection)...Canada has coal reserves which can be converted to fuel: An old proven technology developed by Germany during WW2.
That is not to mention that the Arctic promises new discovery and Alaska has proven reserves. So, worst case scenario the world (Middle east, Brazil, Russia and others) for some geopolitical reason including war would stop Opec and go to full protectionalism and for that reason the US invaded and took over Canada for it's energy, there should be enough to provide North America for at least the next 200 years or more right here.
BTW, I remember the 70's and it was not that bad: Very overblown.

What you are going to see within your lifetime young lady is a more localised environment again: Back to how people use to live around the 1940's and 50's. More urban centrist living (Suburbs involving driving will eventually all but dissapear) with less air travel and more localized made/grown products. Much smaller modes of transport and more public transit will emerge. Rail travel like your great grandparents used will be back and this for the longer distance travel needs.
Yes, importers like Walmart and many others will suffer and eventually dissapear.
Things will be more pricy but of better quality and repairable. Gone will be the 'disposable cheap products'. Yes, pineapples and other exotic things that can't be grown or made in North America will be for the rich class but we can do without like our ancestors did.
A simpler time, a more human time might not be that bad after all.

Short version: The world will become 'big' again.

Sun Jun 01, 09:13:00 AM EDT  

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