Thursday, November 10, 2005

Addicts in Denial

November 10. After starting a fire to warm up the house this morning, I had the luxury to sit down for a few minutes and read a few chapters out of Kurt Vonnegut’s new book "A Man Without a Country".

This passage by Vonnegut rings true when it comes to discussing fossil fuels and the end of civilization:

“When you got here, even when I got here, the industrialized world was already hopelessly hooked on fossil fuels, and very soon now there won’t be any left. Cold Turkey.

“Can I tell you the truth? I mean this isn’t the TV news is it? Here’s what I think the truth is: We are all addicts of fossil fuels in a state of denial. And like so many addicts about to face cold turkey, our leaders are now committing violent crimes to get what little is left of what we’re hooked on.”

There it is. I mean come on, like the United States Government is really trying to spread peace to the Middle East. They want the oil underneath the Iraqi’s soil. How did that saying go? “How did our oil get underneath your soil?” And we all know how much our lives are going to drastically change when we can’t afford this stuff anymore. We are addicted to fossil fuels, there is just no two ways about it.

Talking about our addiction to fossil fuels. This thing called, “Jevons Paradox” is startling. I first learned about it in reading a post titled “Thesis#16: Technology cannot stop collapse" over at Anthropik.

Here is what Jason Godesky had to say about “Jevons Paradox”:

“William Stanley Jevons is a seminal figure in economics. He helped formulate the very theory of marginal returns which, as we saw in thesis #14, governs complexity in general, and technological innovation specifically. In his 1865 book, The Coal Question, Jevons noted that the consumption of coal in England soared after James Watt introduced his steam engine. Steam engines had been used as toys as far back as ancient Greece, and Thomas Newcomen's earlier design was suitable for industrial use. Watt's invention merely made more efficient use of coal, compared to Newcomen's. This made the engine more economical, and so, touched off the Industrial Revolution--and in so doing, created the very same modern, unprecedented attitudes towards technology and invention that are now presented as hope against collapse. In the book, Jevons formulated a principle now known as "Jevons Paradox." It is not a paradox in the logical sense, but it is certainly counterintuitive. Jevons Paradox states that any technology which allows for the more efficient use of a given resource will result in greater use of that resource, not less. By increasing the efficiency of a resource's use, the marginal utility of that resource is increased more than enough to compensate for the fall. This is why innovations in computer technology have made for longer working hours, as employers expect that an employee with a technology that cuts his work in half can do three times more work. This is why more fuel-efficient vehicles have resulted in longer commutes, and the suburban sprawl that creates an automotive-centric culture, with overall higher petroleum use.

“Most of the technologies offered as solutions to collapse expect Jevons Paradox not to hold. They recognize the crisis we face with deplenishing resources, but hope to solve that problem by making the use of that technology more efficient. Jevons Paradox illustrates precisely what the unintended consequence of such a technology will be--in these cases, precisely the opposite of the intended effect. Any technology that aims to save our resources by making more efficient use of them can only result in depleting those resources even more quickly.”

This really makes sense to me. Essentially, what I get from this is, that when we are able to improve a technology to the point where it makes more efficient use of a resource we will use that resource up faster. So Hybrid cars sound like the way to go (I wish I could afford one) if we want to use less oil, but according to Jevon the oil will be used up even quicker.

We really need to get "Beyond Civilization" as soon as possible.


Chris said...

...well, but the technology to save fuel is not a new thing, in most states of the world, there are cars, which doesn´t have 4 litre cylinder capacity and which doesn´t need 5 galons per 100 miles... ...but in America everything is bigger... ...the problems too... ...sorry for the truth!

Curt said...

Dear Chris,

Chris wrote: "...well, but the technology to save fuel is not a new thing, in most states of the world, there are cars, which doesn´t have 4 litre cylinder capacity and which doesn´t need 5 galons per 100 miles... ...but in America everything is bigger... ...the problems too... ...sorry for the truth!"

I agree with you. We waste to much in the United States.

Curt said...

Dear Chris,

I noticed that your response was from a European perspective. This morning, I ran across a passage by Kurt Vonnegut that made me think of your perspective again. I thought I would share.

"In case you haven't noticed, as the result of a shamlessly rigged election in Florida, in which thousands of African Americans were arbitrarily disenfrachised, we now present ourselves to the rest of the world as proud, grinning, jut-jawed pitiless war-lovers with appallingly powerful weaponry who stand unopposed.

"In case you haven't noticed, we are now as feared and hated all over the world as the Nazis once were.

"And with good reason."