While the belief that the world will never have to deal with energy constraints and shortages is a somewhat common belief — who knows how someone could actually believe that, but apparently some people actually do — the recent comments that US President Donald Trump made that the US has “almost limitless energy resources” actually surprised me somewhat.
Is that a genuine belief? Is President Trump simply saying what he thinks (knows) many people want to hear? “Don’t worry about all of that unnerving talk about limits, accountability, and self-responsibility. You can just keep doing whatever you want, and if there are problems, then there’s always someone else to blame them on.” (Russia, for instance, if you’re a Democrat who doesn’t want to take responsibility for your party running the worst presidential campaign in decades.)
While President Trump didn’t actually say that, he might as well have. And it is more or less what most people want to hear, regardless of what political beliefs they claim to have. Limits aren’t real, and the binge will never end — beliefs not that much different from those of many drug addicts and trust-fund babies, it should be noted.
I’m sorry to have to be the bearer of bad news here, to those who have their heads in the sand, but the US, like the rest of the industrial world, is facing a future of sharply constrained energy resources and availability. While commercial solar energy, wind energy, and hydroelectric technologies will very likely remain in use for the foreseeable future, they are — despite all of the greenwashing to the contrary — simply not going to allow for the current way of life to be maintained.
Not for the majority anyway. Maybe there will be some people living essentially the same way that they do now — and averting their eyes of those who aren’t, while rationalizing that those who live a more impoverished life deserve to (basically what people do with regard to the homeless nowadays) — but the general trend will be towards decreased energy use and availability (caloric included).
While I’m sure that I’m going to get some pushback in the comments section on this, and/or accused again of being a right-wing propagandist, the simple truth, as I see it (having spent decades observing and researching the situation) is that unsolvable “problems” relating to agricultural productivity, economically recoverable resource availability, ecological collapse, cultural disintegration + the loss of social accountability, the introduction of novel technologies whose effects on wider systems are hard to predict, and a rapidly changing climate, are all beginning to bear down on the systems that civilization relies upon.
In other words, despite how simple the model used is/was, the findings of the infamous Limits to Growth study continue to track surprisingly closely with the real world — despite much propaganda to the contrary. The foundations that complex human activity and systems entirely rely upon — the natural world and the concentrated resources, ores, and energy provided by it, as well as climatic stability — are now, in many cases, beginning to crumble.
Some will no doubt point here to the idea that an abstract belief in human ingenuity and self-congratulatory “intelligence” — no doubt learned from the dumbed down, overly simplified stories that pervade modern media and literature — will magically allow people to avoid the consequences of having undermined the foundations that they live upon. That idea, though, is as much a statement of faith as any from any so-called religion ever has been. A look back at history, or at the population growth and decay patterns of any other rapidly expanding generalist species, though, suggests plainly that once the foundation/environment is wrecked, a collapse is coming in relatively short order.
So, to get back to the question that started this article off: What sort of drugs is the President on when he claims that the US has “nearly limitless energy resources?” And why is there bipartisan support in the US for this belief?
While so-called conservatives (God knows why any of them still call themselves this) may claim that this is due to untapped fossil fuel reserves, and so-called liberals may say that it’s owing to renewable energy and biofuel technologies, the belief that the US doesn’t have to deal with the reality of there being limited energy resources that are economical to develop is pretty much bipartisan. Why? Is dealing with the question of making due with “less” really that unnerving to people?
Given that consumption is an important status marker in many human societies, especially modern ones, and also in those of many other primate species as well, a lot of the issue seems to be a social one.
For the most part people just do what their culture asks them to do, and for the most part people only perceive the world around them through the lens that their culture provides them with. In a culture that’s primarily about consuming as much as possible, and either being a nondescript part of the crowd/herd or “better” than it in some way, the likelihood of many people willingly cutting back on their consumption — whether of goods, travel, status symbols, or entertainment — is probably close to nil.
Where does that leave us then with regard to energy use, and the consequences of uncontrolled energy exploitation and use (climate change, ecological collapse)? People complain about President Trump’s behavior from a distance, but how many would turn down an offer to live the life that he does with all of the wealth, carelessness, and opportunity that accompanies it?
I bring this up because I’ve had a lot of conversations in recent years with people who complain about the politics of climate change, sea level rise, and energy use — often with the implication that if there weren’t for those “whoever” (e.g. Republicans, Russians, Koch brothers, etc.), then there would be no problems.
The “problems” that are now beginning to bear down on the world, though, are systemic, they aren’t solely the result of “bad” politics. They are the inevitable result of the rapid population growth and expansion of humans throughout the world over the last few centuries. And also of the looting of the world’s natural environments and concentrated mineral and fossil fuel deposits over the same period of time.
As a quick aside here, to those who want to place the blame relating to population growth solely on the “third world,” it should be realized here that around two-thirds of all of the people in the world during the so-called age of exploration and colonization were Europeans.
While modern egos like to claim that the colonization and looting of much of the world by European powers was the result of technology or ingenuity, the unromantic truth is that it was for the most part just the result of numbers, and the specialization that accompanies high population numbers and density. As it almost always is. I bring this up because when a population is decimated by those that outnumber it, it would stand to reason that that population would then seek to grow and outnumber their competitors, so as to do the same.
That’s the kicker as regards reducing the world’s population, and also its levels of consumption — it’s a competitive disadvantage to do so. And people being what they are, and everyone knowing what that is in the back of their minds or otherwise, telling people to willingly make do with less or to acknowledge the limited nature of the energy and resources that are available to them will likely remain a very hard sell until there are no other options left.
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