21 April 2013

The Oil Drum

I came across this website--The Oil Drum--some time ago, and I'm finding myself spending more and more time reading the posts there. It's hard going. They assume you know a hell of a lot about global energy and economics, and they use so many acronyms they have a FAQ for them. But two things keep me coming back. One, the site descriptor is "Discussions About Energy and Our Future." Who isn't interested in that? Two, their mission statement appeals to me:
1. Raise awareness
2. Host a civil discussion
3. Conduct original research in a transparent manner
4. Create a global information community working toward a common goal
Simple. Direct. Meaningful. Who could argue?

I tell my students that everything they know, love, and hold dear depends on cheap, abundant energy. Sure, the Bill of Rights is grand and all that, but without cheap, abundant energy it would all go "poof." Americans like to believe that their wealth and freedom is about the triumph of their ideology. Unfortunately, no ideology, no matter how righteous, trumps Nature. More specifically, the Second Law of Thermodynamics. I like to say the First Law is "You Can't Get Something for Nothing." Seems reasonable to most people. That electricity you use to power your computer came from something like atomic fission, the burning of fossil fuels, or dammed water surging through penstocks. The Second Law, however, says "Shit Happens." More specifically, "Shit Has Always Happened and Will Keep Happening." Order, in any system, requires energy inputs. That energy stops coming in and the system will become disordered. Chaos is natural. The Gershwins understood:

In time the Rockies may crumble, Gibraltar may tumble . . .

Yeah, that's about it. Everything requires energy to keep it going. Your house needs maintenance to keep it from falling down. You have to eat or you will wither away and die. You car needs gas or it won't go. Your society needs labor--both physical and mental--to sustain it. And the benefits you accrue from being a member of said society go along with that. In the days of the Founding Fathers there was human labor in abundance like indentured servants, debtors, and African slaves. There was also lots of easily-exploitable timber, water, and topsoil. It's not a coincidence that rights for women, immigrants, and African-Americans came AFTER the Industrial Revolution. Societies that don't have cheap, freely-available sources of energy are the same societies that have grinding poverty and oppressed citizens.

So, if you care about your future, your wealth, and your freedom, you care about energy and where it comes from. We, that is, the 300 million Americans and the 7 billion world citizens, have already plucked the ripest, juiciest, and lowest-hanging fruit on the energy tree. What's left is harder to reach. Aren't you the least bit curious about how we'll get it?

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