Saturday, November 12, 2005

Republicans Concerned about Peak Oil

From what I got out of this article, it looks to me like the political right in this country is starting to become a little concerned about Peak Oil. They're actually talking about increasing the number of hybrid electric vehicles sold in America.

"Leading the energy security front is a coalition called Set America Free. Led by the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, Set America Free's members include former Republican presidential candidate and "family values" activist Gary Bauer; powerful neoconservative security hawks Frank Gaffney, Daniel Pipes and former CIA director Jim Woolsey; and National Resources Defense Council's (NRDC) Deron Lovaas along with the Apollo Alliance's Bracken Hendricks.

"In an open letter signed by its members, Set America Free calls for an end to oil dependency for security purposes and makes the centerpiece of its blueprint a call to improve fuel economy rates for automobiles, diversify auto fuels and increase the number of hybrid electric vehicles sold in America."

When talking about increasing the number of hybrid electric vehicles, I can't help but think about what Jason Godesky wrote in his "Thesis#16:Technology cannot stop collapse" over at Anthropik. It has to do with 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.

The best hope technology can offer for staving off collapse is to tap a new energy subsidy, just as the Industrial Revolution tapped our current fossil fuel subsidy. For instance, the energy we currently use in petroleum could be matched by covering 1% of the United States' land area in photovoltaic cells. However, the hope that human population will simply "level off" due to modernization is in vain (see thesis #4); human population is a function of food supply, and population will always rise to the energy level available. The shift to photovoltaics, like the shift to fossil fuels, is merely an invitation to continued growth--another "win" in the "Food Race." If our energy needs can be met by covering just 1% of the United States with photovoltaic cells, why not cover 2% and double our energy? Of course, then our population will double, and we'll need to expand again.

Such technological advances can postpone collapse, but they cannot stop it. However, there is also a cost associated with such postponements: each one makes collapse, when it eventually does happen, exponentially more destructive."

It seems a civilizational collapse is inevitable, and for all we know civilization is collapsing. It is in our best interest, I think, to start preparing for the inevitable collapse instead of trying to prolong the life of civilization by improving our technologies. I think, SOME of the answers may be found here.

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