Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The End of Suburbia

I was hungry, so I did what most Americans do, I grabbed my car keys and drove over to the local Burger King. Within three minutes of ordering, I strode out with a burger with onion rings and BBQ sauce for $1.99 which I paid for with a credit card.

In this country, we take this extreme level of convenience for granted; this is our “normal”. Yet outside the USA, this level of self-indulgence is rare – hell, in most of the world, its unheard of.

Consider that the burger came from beef raised on a “factory” ranch. The cattle feed is mostly feed corn; a crop that requires a significant volume of fossil fuels to produce. The onion for the rings may have come from Mexico; transported (using fossil fuels) to its ultimate production. The energy to cook this meal (out West here) was produced by hydro-electric power. But in most areas of the country, electrical energy is generated using coal or natural gas.

The car which I so conveniently used to retrieve my burger was produced at a huge energy cost; again fossil fuels were consumed in massive quantities to turn iron ore into steel, plastic and other raw materials; then fabricating these materials into the final product, delivering it to a dealer… and ultimately (yes, fossil fuels) to turn the key and drive the quarter mile to the Burger King.

The United States of America represents a small fraction of the global population yet we account for over a quarter of the world’s energy resource consumption. Though few of us give a second thought to the huge energy cost of indulging what we here in America almost consider a right, they should. You see, the luxuries we take for granted is on a downward trajectory, it is coming to and end and it will be permanent.

I recommend everyone watch a little known documentary titled “The End of Suburbia”. The title is somewhat misleading, though the rise and fall of the suburbs is the central focus, the peak of our world oil production, in view of ever increasing demand, will become a global issue. The hard fact is that ALL economic growth is completely dependent on the availability of affordable energy - and the continued availability of that energy, in the opinion of MOST experts, has peaked.

By “peaking” I am referring to the top of a bell curve where all the easily accessible, and therefore low cost, petroleum and natural gas has passed. Domestic (within the US) energy production peaked in the 1970’s. The “fracking” issues recently in the news are the results of attempts to force the more difficultly obtainable petroleum to enable extraction. This bears repeating: Most experts believe that world production has already peaked; or will within the decade at best!

Though the focus on this startling documentary is on the eventual decline of our post WWII middle class way of life, this film produced in 2004 is almost prophetic in shining a glaring spotlight on the overall decline in living standard of the Western World and the United States in particular.

Most AMAZINGLY, many of the economic predictions described specifically in this film made in 2004 have already happened:

“Seven-trillion dollars lost out of the US Stock Market. Two-Million jobs lost in the United States. Federal budget surplus gone; state budget surplus' gone. The middle class disappearing.” This film accurately predicted the global recession we are currently experiencing as the cost of energy continues to rise as demand outstrips supply. New power generating facilities are not being built as investors know there are no additional sources of energy to fuel them. The situation is dire.

Alternative sources of energy are, and will be, insufficient to supplant the huge cheap, and formally abundant, fossil fuels. There is insufficient land mass on the planet to generate wind, solar, nuclear or bio-fuel source energy at the rate the world consumes fossil fuels. There is great concern that converting food production into fuel production will result in increased food costs, lingering recession and a lower standard of living, the likes of which Americans cannot even begin to imagine.

I have repeatedly expressed throughout this blog that I believe that our generation has lived in the best times man ever has, and ever will have, in the history of this planet.

20 comments:

DJan said...

I agree. It's already changing for many of us. Since I will be 70 this year, I don't think I will see the worst of it, but our children will. At least I HOPE I won't. Ten years is not a very long time and then I will be 80.

Rubye Jack said...

Yes, it is a sad situation we are in and it will be interesting to see what becomes of us humans.

Wow, that was awkward said...

All this from a cheap burger? Impressive!

Jono said...

We are born, live, and breathe in order to "consume". That is why we are not referred to as humans, but "consumers". We are apparently on this planet in order to use it up and we are doing a fine job. Glad I don't have any kids.

Robert the Skeptic said...

DJan At 62 I'm not far behind you. Our generation will miss the worst of this.

Rubye Rather than raising the living standard of the rest of the world, our will (is) significantly decline.

Awkward Consider me just a simple miner pondering why the canary seems to be dead. [Parrot sketch does not apply, in case you were thinking]

Wow, that was awkward said...

You are all that other than simple my friend!

billy pilgrim said...

a quick look at a graph showing the parabolic increase in our population over the past 100 years tells should tell us that the end may not be pretty. of course the major religions want their followers to breed like rabbits to maintain or increase their market share.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Jono It a really sobering decision today whether or not to have children. Yes, a completely "consumer" society seems clearly unsustainable.

Awkward Sometimes I truly wish thins were more simple.

Billy I think the term "market share" is going to become an Oxymoron of biblical proportion.

secret agent woman said...

I will stop by for fast food very occasionally if I'm on the road, but if I'm home and hungry I cook. I like to think I'm not the only one who does that.

Robert the Skeptic said...

SecretAgent Well hopping in the car and driving essentially walking distance for a $1.99 burger on the Visa card is not a common occurrence for me either. I wonder, though, how many frivolities such as this are multiplied by our population nation-wide on a daily basis? The point is a lot of us can, probably do, and the future of being able to continue this behavior is ending.

daxkitten said...

If you haven't read this fiction book, try it: "One Second After" by William R. Forstchen. It's not exactly about lack of energy due to us running out, but it is about what would happen if all things electrical went out. Scary scenario! Highly recommended.

Robert the Skeptic said...

DaxKitten This is fascinating... and not as non-fictional a scenerio as one might assume. EMP (Electro Magnetic Pulse) effect is a very real - everything has a computer chip in it now, from pacemakers to the carburetor in our car. Place your cell phone on too close to your credit card and see what a mess that makes.

One of the tactics the Chinese military is working on is targeting destruction of our satellites. Bring down the GPS system and our offensive weapons are rendered blind.

My wife has electric door locks and electric windows on her car. My truck is manual and the windows open with a crank. Guess who's car systems broke first? Good contribution.. thanks!!

daxkitten said...

Oh, cool, you've read it. I should have known!

Robert the Skeptic said...

DaxKitten No, I haven't read the book, but I did look up the reference and synopsis and am familiar with the technology. The threat is very real.

Jerry E Beuterbaugh said...

"Plead Ignorance" has been included in this weeks Sites To See. I hope this helps to attract many more new visitors here.

http://asthecrackerheadcrumbles.blogspot.com/2012/01/sites-to-see_20.html

Nance said...

Headed off to Netflix and Amazon to see if either will put this documentary on my television screen tonight. And THAT'S hooked on convenience! Thanks for the recommendation, my conscientious friend.

Dawn @Lighten Up! said...

I am originally from Youngstown, Ohio, and visited my Mom up there over the hoidays, where we experienced something like the 10th earthquake in the few months since they've started fracking. Yeah...I'd say something is wrong. Great essay, Robert. :)

Marylinn Kelly said...

Thank you for the referral. We need to see the documentary. It is clear we are not who we once were and this is not the world as we once knew it and would more canaries have made us pay attention sooner? Probably not. Always an important wake up call here.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Jerry Looked at your blog, think you may be missing the point with the article of mine you linked to. Thanks anyway.

Nance Warning, it's pretty depressing watching. But would be very interested in your take on the film.

Dawn I have only recently become aware of the fracking issue. But there will be equal pressure to extract the "clean coal" (laughing) that is much more difficult to reach... with devastating consequences for the environment. It just keeps getting worse, doesn't it.

Mayrlinn I believe you are right, more canaries would probably not help. We won't admit we are running out of gas until the car coasts to the side of the road.

I haven't been visiting many blogs recently, just feeling overwhelmed. But I promise to stop by.

Jerry E Beuterbaugh said...

It is actually your site as a whole that is being promoted, with that particular article being linked to on account of it being where the image came from. In other words, I could have linked to another article if it had an image that caught my attention.