Published Feb 18 2009 by Energy Bulletin
Archived Feb 18 2009

Deep thought - Feb 18

by Staff

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Meet the doomsayers of our time

Cathal Kelly, The Star (Toronto)
For millennia, doomsayers have been predicting the end of the world as we know it. These days, theory dovetails with fact: oil is disappearing. Should we be listening?
... The Star met with Paul at a pub in the city's suburban west end. He didn't want his name or any other "personal data" used, for reasons of "operational security." No pictures. No visits to his house.

He is a hulking man in his mid-50s who lives alone. Though he is a conspiracy-minded fellow, he was also disarmingly self-aware and funny.

"What did you expect?" he asked with a smile. "Head-to-toe camouflage?"

In the jargon of his peers, Paul is a 'doomer.' Those who don't share his concerns are 'sheeple.' And sheeple don't rank in Paul's world.

The high priests of the doomer set include the acerbic critic of suburbia, James Howard Kunstler, and Matt Savinar, founder of They envision the Peak Oil aftermath as something out of Mad Max.
(15 February 2009)

Buckminster Fuller's Critical Path

Big Gav, Peak Energy
Critical Path was the last of Buckminster Fuller's books, published shortly before his death in 1983 and summing up his lifetime of work.

Buckminster "Bucky" Fuller was an American architect, author, designer, futurist, inventor and visionary who devoted his life to answering the question "Does humanity have a chance to survive lastingly and successfully on planet Earth, and if so, how?". He is frequently referred to as a genius (albeit a slightly eccentric one).

During his lifelong experiment, Fuller wrote 29 books, coining terms such as "Spaceship Earth", "ephemeralization" and "synergetics". He also developed and contributed to a number of inventions inventions, the best known being the geodesic dome. Carbon molecules known as fullerenes (buckyballs) were so named due to their resemblance to geodesic spheres. Bucky was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Ronald Reagan in 1981.

"There is no energy crisis, only a a crisis of ignorance" -Buckminster Fuller.
(15 February 2009)
Big Gav does a big round-up on this visionary who was so popular in the 60s and 70s. I never have been able to get very far with his writings, relying instead on people like Big Gav to pick out the treasures. -BA

(some conservatives re-thinking growth)
Patrick Deneen, What I Saw in America ("The Political Theory of Daily Life")
... What leaps out immediately in this summary of the positive benefits of growth are two connected arguments:

1. High levels of indebtedness are now needed to increase growth;
2. Fast growth will help repay the debt, along with solving many other problems.

The basic circularity implicit in our current moment reveals a deeply troubling truth about our current economic condition: growth is fundamentally generated by deepening and extending bad behaviors (such as indebtedness), the costs of which are to be obscured by economic growth. However, because those costs keep rising - in every sense, not only monetary, but socially, environmentally, generationally - the need for higher economic and social costs to spur greater growth, and greater growth to service and obfuscate the costs, increases exponentially. In recent years the frenetic logic of this basic truth has led us to a condition like a runner on an out-of-control treadmill, running madly to get ahead, at best standing still, at worst about to be thrown off the machine.

We need to think here broadly about the necessity of growth in modern society.

... "Growth" is not necessarily, or even likely, a source of human happiness. Why is it the overarching and one univocally agreed-upon goal of our modern politics?

Economic growth is a relatively new goal for human civilization.

... Economic growth became one of the fundamental imperatives in modern society in part because of a change in philosophic, theological, and, correspondingly, economic orientation. Before the advent of early modern philosophy - broadly speaking, liberal political philosophy combined with early iterations of capitalism, represented above all by the combination of John Locke and Adam Smith - society was conceived as an organism in which the work of individuals was understood consciously to contribute to the good of the broader society. Ancient and Christian thinkers spoke often of society in terms of a body, and its members as parts of a broader whole whose vocation - 'calling' - oriented their work toward the achievement of communitas.

... A body "grows," but organically, slowly, and at some point achieves a fullness that does not permit greater expansion. Like a body, a society that grows excessively is considered diseased, repugnant and horrific to behold. Ancient philosophy and theology stressed the need for small communities as the best settings for achieving the full measure of virtue. Small settings encourage solidarity while discouraging belief in self-sufficiency. In such settings we see more clearly our bonds and obligations, understanding our place in the work of the community and our connection to past and future generations. At the same time, smaller communities make it far less likely that we pursue (or successfully achieve) worldly glory or wealth, those solvents that undermine solidarity and virtue.

... the replacement for solidarity was growth. A wealthier and productive society could serve as a salve for those who failed to achieve comparable material success as "the industrious and rational," and would give protection to those whose accumulations might otherwise be an object of envy in a more static society comprised of self-understood monadic individuals.

... Growth replaces virtue; material comfort stands in for solidarity.

This has worked well in theory, but it has of late confronted a great material fact: there is no infinite growth within a closed system. Lately we have accumulated growing evidence of the rising costs of our pursuit of limitless growth, whether most evidently in resource depletion, devastation of plant and animal life, growing mountains and oceans of waste ...

... In particular, the utilization of fossil fuels beginning in the early years of the 19th-century was the catalyst for an explosion and acceleration of economic growth, largely unbroken for the past 150 years. Those concentrated accumulations of pre-modern sunlight permitted - for a time - the transcendence of limits otherwise imposed by daily and seasonal energy inputs and humankind's efforts to live within those limits that the natural world imposed.

... Leonhardt rightly notes that "growth" allows us redress of innumerable problems, but doesn't really get to the half of it: maintaining growth has rested on the need to generate ever greater problems that we have relied upon more growth to solve, or at least to obscure the consequences. Above all, our reliance upon economic growth allows us to ignore the deepest challenges of achieving and sustaining social cohesion and personal and social virtues, to unlearn any lessons that previous generations had to learn.

Patrick Deneen is Associate Professor of Government & Founding Director, Tocqueville Forum on the Roots of American Democracy, Georgetown University

(16 February 2009)
This long blog post was highlighted by Leanan at TOD's DrumBeat. Patrick Deneen, along with a few other conservatives, is formulating a new (old?) kind of conservativism that has more in common with re-localizers than it does with George Bush and Karl Rove. Other posts by Deneen:
End of Right Patriotism?
Liberalism Discredited.