Home     Writers     Op/Ed     Book Reviews     News     Bookstore     Photoshops     Submit     Search     Contact Us     Advertise  
  You are here: 

Tue

15

May

2007

Rigged to Blow - Kunstler
Tuesday, 15 May 2007 11:59
by James Kunstler

It's hard to venture around this land and not feel like you are living in something like an obsolete Las Vegas hotel exquisitely rigged for implosion. The massive system that we've poured all our national wealth into, and elaborated to the last limits of refinement over half a century, is poised for failure. The prospect is so dreadful that no legitimate authority in politics, business, the news media, or even those cultural outlands of the arts and religion, can bring themselves to express a plausibly coherent view of what happens next to a living arrangement with no future and an economy of no purpose.

The system I refer to, of course, is the car-crazy infrastructure for everyday life, and all the activities supporting it, that most Americans now living regard as the natural and normal medium for human existence, as salt water is the natural and normal medium for squid. The public brings no critical reflection to being in it, and so its failure will eventually come as a deadly surprise – as a red tide surprises the denizens of a tropical sea. When it occurs, the public will not be able to escape from their investments in this way of life. Some may feel swindled, but they will not lose their sense of having been entitled to a happier destiny, so the chances for the acting-out of massive political grievance are high.

It's a tragic irony that we got so good at the advertising game the past half-century, because in doing so we rigged a sub-system dedicated to reinforcing all our false entitlements. So when the dreadful moment of recognition comes that we can't possibly continue being a nation of happy motorists shuttling between the strip malls and subdivisions, the bewilderment will be monumental. Nobody will believe that it is happening, or have a clue how we got ourselves into such a fix.

For the moment, America is being subjected to the slow squeeze on gasoline prices, rather than a sudden sharp shock, with the pumps now averaging $3.09 nationwide. But there's a lot tension accumulating in the process. Gasoline prices are going up remorselessly now mainly because of bottlenecks in the refinery sector. Demand has gotten so high – we are driving so much, regardless of up-or-downticks in measured economic activity, because the way things are laid out we have no choice – that our existing refineries are operating at over 90 percent capacity (when they are running). This has led to the deferral of a lot of routine maintenance, so the refineries are either running flat-out or they're not running at all.

Most of our oil refineries are more than fifty years old. The metal in their pipes and retort vessels is fatigued. Things break. The companies that sell gasoline, like Exxon-Mobil, realize that they are in a "sunset" industry, so they are not interested in investing any fraction of their currently enormous profits in new refineries (especially when they can use that money to buy back their own stock and jack up the share price). Besides, the public regards oil refineries as obnoxious, and if a new one were even proposed somewhere, an army of NIMBYs would arise and march on the local zoning board to oppose it – so why bother?

Last week, a reader sent me an elaborate Powerpoint show put together by a Peak Oil "optimist," someone who believes that there are vast recoverable reserves of oil waiting to be be tapped out there – as opposed to those like myself who don't think new supply will offset declines in the known oil fields of the world. It seemed to me that most of this optimist's case was based on the fantasy that the tar sands of Alberta and the oil sands of the Venezuelan jungle will make up for what we no longer get out of places like Ghawar in Saudi Arabia, Cantarell in Mexico, West Texas, and the other old standbys.

The Alberta tar sands are big, but even the Canadian government does not project them paying out much more than three million barrels a day when they reach maximum production in five or ten years, and the process will probably poison all the groundwater east of the Canadian Rockies. Meanwhile, world demand has reached about 85 million barrels a day. The project in Venezuela I regard as even less likely to ever reach production. Hugo Chavez has just chased out the foreign oil companies who have any technical expertise, but I think the jungle itself would defeat even them, and it will certainly prevent Chavez's lame crew from getting any product out – he's having technical problems out in the old familiar Maracaibo Basin.

The current sense of stalemate or stasis in Middle East politics the past year is certainly promoting an air of unreality. The civil war in Iraq grinds on no matter what the US police force does there, or what Congress and the White House do here. We bluster about Iran, but we don't do anything about them, and they bluster back at us. The Saudis bust a hundred Islamic revolutionaries every few months and keep their operation rolling. The Holy Land is tense but quiet for now.

Events in geopolitics – things that happen "above the ground," as they say in oil circles – seem kind of stuck for the moment. We forget that these things become unstuck rather suddenly, through slippage, or a process like phase change in physics, where conditions persist – until suddenly they don't. This is pretty much what happens to a fifty-year-old Las Vegas hotel. It stands there out on the Strip year after year, perhaps with decreasing decorum, but it persists until the day comes when somebody throws a switch and the whole edifice comes down, reeking carpets and all.
More from this author:
McMarching Through Georgia (9560 Hits)
by James Kunstler My travels last week took me to small college town in Georgia and into the heart of Vermont, and the contrasts...
Ass Kicking Republicans (7771 Hits)
by James Kunstler If an American political party was ever in for an ass-kicking, it's the current incarnation of the Republicans....
Democrats and 'Energy Independence' (9381 Hits)
by James Kunstler The day after the impressive Democratic election victory, Senate Majority Leader-to-Be Harry Reid declared that a top priority...
The American Fiasco - a Moment of Clarity (8574 Hits)
by James Kunstler Last week, I had one of those clarifying moments when the enormity of the American fiasco stirred my livers and lights...
Not So Wonderful (7549 Hits)
by James Kunstler It's a Wonderful Life, Frank Capra's 1946 Christmas card to America, is full of strange and bitter lessons about who we were...
Related Articles:
Our Rigged Elections: The Elephant in the Polling Booth (5143 Hits)
To say that this election could go either way is not to say that the Republicans have any chance of winning it. As a civic entity responsive to the...
Forecast For the Year Ahead - James Kunstler (11966 Hits)
by James Kunstler Forecast For the Year Ahead First a Look Backward Let's get this out of the way up front: the worst call I made...
The Warming - Kunstler (7590 Hits)
by James Kunstler Everyone was walking around upstate New York delirious in their shirtsleeves on Saturday as the thermometer soared into the...
The Cheap Oil Mirage - Kunstler (9539 Hits)
by James Kunstler The American public is understandably happy to see the bottom fall out of the oil futures market. But temporary circumstances...
In It to Win It - Kunstler (6457 Hits)
by James Kunstler Of all the president-wannabes who emerged from their thickets, mole holes, burrows, and termite mounds last week, the...


Add this page to your favorite Social Bookmarking websites
Trackback(0)
Comments (1)add comment

a guest said:

0
Athabasca River Drying Up
Something of note: the Athabasca river transports glacial water north to the tarsands, where it is heated with natural gas, thus providing steam for separating the oil from the sand.

Nevermind peak oil - look at peak natural gas, and peak water levels in this river.

http://tinyurl.com/2fzqr4
 
May 15, 2007 | url
Votes: +0

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

adsense

Top