Crisis on the Horizon 1: Peak Oil

Here’s my first posting on what I see are the coming problems we’ll have to deal with in the coming years. It involves Oil.

Or, more to the point, the fact that soon we’ll start truly running out of the liquid stuff.

Now, the fact is that Oil isn’t the only energy source we have. After all, nuclear gives us (in the US) an average of 20% of our electricity needs. Coal gives another sizeable hunk, and can be rejiggered into gas or diesel to use in are vehicles. We have enough Dams in this nation to give certain areas in the United States plenty of energy (and it’s not the United States who have this wealth, as well — Egypt exports energy to much of Africa thanks to the Aswan High Dam). And there’s an active alternative energies support system that is presently giving many people most, if not all, their present energy needs.

So we’re not going to lose all our energy yet.

However, Oil has many advantages that the above sources don’t have:

  1. Oil is liquid, which makes it easier to transport.
  2. Oil is relatively clean. No need to worry about poisons, pollution or Plutonium damaging the planet for millions of years.
  3. Oil can be carried along cheaply, and the technology has developed over the years for distance, power or torque.
  4. No need for a grid to use it.

And consider that (outside of the Northeastern Megalopolis) we exclusively use liquid petroleum products for transport (and even in the Megalopolis petrol is the energy used by the majority of vehicles in use at any one time); and you can see a problem is coming up.

And the thing is, even with the gasification of coal, the amount of energy gotten cannot be matched by Oil or Natural Gas today. And there isn’t really enough Gasification plants out there to cover what will be needed in the future.

And the four biggest fields out there have either proven to be in decline or are suspected to be in decline. The East Texas fields are already exhausted (as are the Oklahoma and on-shore Louisiana fields).

As an example of this, I remember visiting the Oklahoma capitol buildilng on two occasions: in 1976 and 1996. The first time the oilwell had a massive sign talking about how the oil is taken from directly underneath the Capitol building, and had graphic depictions of the logos of the oil companies that bought the crude (in full color, let me add). In 1996, the sign was reduced to a small board referring to where the oil came from and the depletion date (1996, oddly enough, I believe) and a single company listed (Phillips 66, in an old-style orange-and-white format).

They keep finding Oil, but rarely is it in big pools that are easily exploited and ready to use. Nowadays they’re buried under tons of salt water or in dangerous areas or are overloaded with Sulfer or are locked in shale. It’s getting to where you’ll use more energy to get at the stuff then you’ll get from the oil (at which point you might as well leave it alone).

So what will happen?

  • First off, we won’t run out of oil itself. We will, however, get to the point where what we get, however easy it is to get, will remain unused because our refining methods require larger crude inputs than can be supplied.
  • Second, before all this happens we’ll go crazy trying to make cars that only run on electricity (with or without gas or diesel). This can already be seen with the Chevy Volt and with Wal-Mart’s hybrid truck project. More will follow, such as UPS and the continued efforts with the hybrid car concept in other companies. Whether they’ll be affordable (especially when the other debt bubbles collapse and prices for gas-only trade-ins fall through the basement) is another question.
  • Third, eventually there will have to be rationing. My guess is that suddenly there will be a massive order of buses, and that GM and Ford will be magically saved with such an order. There will also be a sudden requisitioning of tour buses to use for commuting, as a stop-gap. Travel to and from church will, of course, be allowed (although how many people will remain believers when their favored beliefs require heavy costs to support is questionable), as will certain other, more local trips (shopping, medical visits, mall visit) — at least for a while.
  • Fourth, watch out as people struggle to deal with the new realities. Divorces will be delayed (or put aside), people will struggle with learning how to be friendly with their neighbors, lots of formerly precious baubles will be tossed aside as useless junk, people will learn to retrofit their homes with other sources for heating fuel.
  • Trucks and certain mass-transit vehicles (buses, vans) will be made, built and used and given preference over automobiles.

The above, of course, assumes a slower change with a leadership ready and able to force the adjustments. Anything sudden and irreversible (or a leadership so chickenshit that they’ll rape ANWAR), and all bets are off (and, indeed, unpayable).


Something Strange is Afoot in the News

Think of it.

First, we get some Astronaut wearing a diaper for 900 miles (a special diaper, made to NASA specifications) to that she could thump on someone she perceived as a romantic rival. That eats up the front pages for a few days.

Then we get Anna Nicole Smith’s death. And the circus that surrounds it. Amazing what a woman whose sole purpose in life was to get noticed can do when she dies young enough to have a kid in her care.

And when this circus begins to die down, Britney Spears takes clippers to her hair in a lame attempt to look like Sinaed O’Conner. Eighteen million newspaper articles, television show bulletins and radio reports later, she’s seen wearing a wig. (to be fair, I would have done the Bald Britney, but that’s another story).

 – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.

I get the feeling that the press has on its hands a story so big and so earth-shattering that it can barely sit on its hands. So it’s been coming up with these bizarre “news” items and playing them for all it’s worth in an effort to distract people.

So what is it? War in Iran? Nukes blasting at various places? A dropping of the dollar way below where it is now? Maybe a 9-11 type of action, this time on March 11th (on a half-year anniversary of the infamous 9-11 “bombings”).

No matter what, every day watching what now passes as “news” and listening to what people are talking about is getting creepier and creepier. I don’t like what I see, and I’m afraid I’ll like less what I’ll see when the time comes.

The News Now Officially Sucks!

I have a friend who was once in the newspaper business for years, slogging in the minor leagues of small towns and county seats where the newspapers mainly wrote to the elders who still read them. He got out because he saw the news industry start focusing on stars, to the news industry’s growing shame and collapse.

Now as it’s happened, one can say things have been on a downward curve. But still, people could find “real news” in the American press and media, if they knew how to find it.

No longer.

Ever since the Super Bowl, I’ve had to deal with fluff, fluff and more fluff. Not only that, but bizarre fluff.

First, it was astronauts in diapars. Jokes and other stuff, plus the consistent fixation on those diapers that allowed 900 miles of driving without a potty break.

Now, Anna Nicole Smith’s death has become a circus. AT LEAST three men claiming to be the father of his surviving child, biops hogging all the time on the newsmagazine shows, and more and more jokes.

And meanwhile we have the Democratic party becoming the rump party the Neocons and Republicans have always wanted them to be, with their majority meaning less than nothing in the House and Senate (that’s right, folks; the minority party is running things and they’re haughtier than ever!). Meanwhile we’re setting up a war with Iran and Russia is looking with baited breath.

The cold weather has us further in a vise, yet oil and gas prices seem to be dropping in anticipation of Spring. How this is happening I have no idea.

For all we know, we may have finally turned an ugly corner with the start of declining oil yeilds. The draft may have been implimented already, or the rednecks, NRA types and other conservatives have been given a “order 66” to clear out all groups within reach not considered “loyal” to the conservative order. Or Bush may have been shot.

But we won’t know, because the news focused on a diapered astronaut and some third-rate bimbo’s death from diet pills.

Remembering the Flint Buick Plant

There’s a big blank spot in the north side of Flint.

It used to be a factory. Once the largest Automobile factory in the world.

Between North Street and the Flint River (actually Industrial Street, but Industrial Street had long been taken over and obliterated by some 1980’s updating) stood a three-story blond brick building that had housed the production lines of various Buick automobiles since 1904, before the formation of General Motors. Indeed, Buick was the engine that built General Motors.

My father worked there for thirty-two years. When he started working there, a GM employee was one the best things you could have been. People loved our cars (or at least bought them), and the union was strong. Now, of course, nobody wants to buy our cars and the only thing the UAW union can do now is insure its workers get good retirement packages (and how long that can happen is now up in the air).

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I first remembered the building when my mother would drive up to pick up my father there. At the time it was dark, so there was this dark hulk brooding over the street with the windows shining bright in the night. Dad would come out of a square hole in the building (it was long and tall, that’s all I knew then). The city was closed, not even the donut shop was open then.Later on, mom would pick dad up during the day. By day the building actually looked a bit friendly, with its blond brick and greenish windows. The hole in the building had become a garage-like door through which people came in and out.

I actually took a tour in time for the 19th million Buick to be built. It was interesting to see the assembly line go as the car went from frame to automobile. I even saw where my dad worked (his area was fenders at the time). The cars themselves were not memorable for good reason, as this was the nadir of quality control at GM. Japanese cars were just then beginning to overtake Volkswagen (then under pressures from a massive exchange rate change that made their budget cars extremely expensive), not yet in a position to hit at GM. GM was also using aluminum (aluminium for our European readers) in the cars, making for complaints from my dad.

Then came the 1980’s. Never mind Reagan, America was discovering Japanese cars at the time. Sick and tired with what the concept of “panned obsolescence” had become (by the late seventies, cars were being built with a six-year, 90,000 mile lifespan in mind) and gagging at Union opulence (since when did birthdays become paid holidays?) and worker reaction against imports (that the cars were crap wasn’t their fault, that they had a hand in forcing the reaction was reasonable, if not obvious) didn’t help. GM tried out their “Buick City” concept (just-in-time production and heavy robot investment), but the immediate automobile quality doomed the plant UNTIL Michael Moore reported that GM was about to close Buick City. GM responded as they felt they had to (Michael Moore had become a famous leftist gadfly by then, and he would have had the ultimate scoop for Flint – something to be avoided at all costs at the time), and by 1987 Buick City was building the first American car to make it onto the JD Powers lists (the Le Sabre).

So things went until the late 1990s. GM was still wanting to keep Buick City open and had gone through with contract negotiations when a wildcat strike hit part of the plant. Things had changed by then, and while the threat of such a strike in the seventies would have caused the company to give in (My dad had his birthday off as a paid holiday in the mid seventies. Any wonder there was no sympathy for Unions then, or now?) now GM had another alternative: Closure.

So Buick City was closed. So was the Chevy Engine plant that was instrumental in the Sit-Down strikes of 1937.

The building was closed in 1999, and torn down in 2002.

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Understand the sea change that happened during this time:

  • In 1976 (when I did the tour of the Buick plant) it was expected that for Flintoids you get a job, you worked it for thirty-plus years, and you retired. You got married, raised children, and hoped they did better than you during that time; but there was always the factory (and others) to come in if your son didn’t do what you expected. Now, good luck if you’re working class and can find steady work.
  • In 1976, the biggest employers were General Motors and Ford. Now the biggest employers are Manpower and Wal-Mart. From honored jobs with the wages and benefits to match (if a bit much) to institutionalized part-time or temporary status.
  • In 1976, education was easily afforded by those who qualified, and (outside of Liberal Arts) there were jobs ready for when you graduated. Now college students are expected to mortgage their future for the education, and the jobs aren’t necessarily there IF (note the difference now) you’re able to finish.
  • In 1976 we were willing to try to save gas, save money and stop inflation. Now we want to drive boats, spend like tomorrow has specifically been canceled (by Jesus, let me add) and would cheer an expansion in prices if it meant the poor could no longer eat.
  • In 1976 we were aware of our “infrastructure” and tried to keep it up, even if we didn’t have a word for it. Now, we just bemoan the fact that we’re falling further and further behind and have embraced the concept of “benign neglect” (after all, you’d have to be taxed to keep it up properly; AND WHO WANTS TO PAY? SURELY NOT YOU.).

Yes, things have changed, and for the worse. And all the “copied” music on all the iPods in America do nothing but allow the iPod users to exult in and embrace the decay.

Anyone remember the Roman Empire? or at least read about it?

Super Bowl Posting 2007 (vol 2)

Having just watched the Super Bowl, I can say a couple of things:

  1. Payton Manning had Chicago’s number all through the game. Had Indianapolis been able to replace a couple of their field goals with touchdowns, the game would have been over long before it actually way (well into the fourth quarter, with the second interception).
  2. “Bad Rex” only came out during the fourth quarter. While it is true that Rex had to step up and didn’t, you can’t blame him for losing the game (as he did drive the team for its second (and last) touchdown).
  3. If not for Devin Hester’s touchdown return of the kickoff, the game would have been over long before it actually was.

To be honest, Chicago didn’t play much of a game. The offense did too many “three-and-outs,” the defense did nothing to stop Payton over much of the field, and every takeaway was quickly matched by a turnover.

And while I say that “Bad Rex” (the one throwing interceptions and trying to do too much) only showed up during the fourth quarter, there were problems over much of the game. Two messed-up snaps is not a sign of a quality quarterback, even with it raining during the whole game.

Overall, Indianapolis was the superior team in every aspect and this game showed it. Right down to the mood shot of Rex Grossman with a couple minutes left in the fourth quarter. The ONE thing I didn’t want (the mood shot, that it was of a Bear was an extra pain).

Billy Joel did a good Star Spangled Banner. Much better than the “can’t mail it in if he tried/trying to show off and failing badly” Star Spangled Banner that happened last year.

Prince did good, though I kept hoping he was acting to a background track simply because of the rain.

As for the commercials, they were commercials. The days when people were truely surprised by the commercials has come and gone, killed off by expectations and constant attempts to better last year. I do think things have leveled off, although there’s always some good and bad.

And in the end, congratulations Indianapolis Colts. You dominated the whole game and countered everything Chicago did.