Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Rearranging the Deck Chairs

Some musings for the beginning of meteorological summer:

It seems that one symptom of our tortured age is the fact that government--at all levels--has a hard time doing anything productive. Majoring in minors seems to be the current modus operandi for our legislative bodies. Legislative paralysis and ineffectiveness is a sign of the times.

From where I stand, this is where we are at the moment: poison continues pouring unabated into the Gulf of Mexico; the economic crisis in Europe threatens to bring the worldwide economic house of cards crashing down around us; here in Ohio, the rate of home foreclosures continues to rise while more and more commercial properties exhibit "available for rent" signs; Ohio's main manufacturing industry--automobiles--is largely on life support, which means we've seen lower tax revenues and looming cuts as the next biennial budget is slated for debate, beginning next month. The only positive news right now is that enrollment at the two schools where I teach is at record levels. This record student population provides us all with a bit of job security, though it's likely temporary as we are to a great extent state-funded. What happens if higher education tax support and government student loan support goes away?

I don't know about the rest of you, but I have a foreboding sense that we haven't seen anything in the way of economic dislocation yet. I get the feeling that the other shoe could drop at any time. Where this will all end is unknown. It's truly a scary time.

So what is our state legislature doing? Well, last week the Ohio Senate passed a bill that would allow concealed weapon permit holders to bring their guns into places that serve alcohol. That's right. In the face of imminent economic, ecological, and social collapse, this is clearly the hot issue of the year that they've decided they needed to focus their attention on. Of all the harebrained ideas...???!!! (Apologies to the hares--I really think they would be smarter than this.) Of course, according to this bill, the person who comes packing heat into Joe's Pub is required to abstain from imbibing. But how could that provision be enforced? After all, the excuse given for allowing concealed carry in the first place was to make sure others don't know who's packing. Presumably bartenders and maitre d's would be included among the ignorant. Leading law enforcement figures in Ohio have testified against this bill, stating the obvious: firearms and pints of ale are a potentially dangerous combination. If this provision becomes law, they testified, we'll see bar fights turn deadly. But never mind; the senators, in thrall as they clearly are to the gun worshipers, ignored both the officers' testimonies and other pleas for sanity.

Hopefully the Ohio House of Representatives, and/or Governor Strickland, will keep their heads screwed on when this bill shows up on their desks, and prevent(s) it from becoming law. But I don't think I'd wager any money on it.

Meanwhile, the toxic goo continues spilling out into the ocean, with no end in sight. Neither BP nor government officials, nor anyone else, seems to have a clue how to stop it. And hurricane season officially opened yesterday, with meteorologists predicting a "more active than average" season. This means we have a rather good chance of finding out what one gets when a Category 3 or 4 hurricane--or two or three or four of them--mates with a fountain of petroleum.

To top it off for now, the Columbus Dispatch reprinted a column from Charles Krauthammer in which he blames environmentalists for the Deepwater disaster. Yep, that's right. Krauthammer asserts that because tree-huggers have blocked drilling in ANWAR and shallower offshore waters, they're the reason folks like BP have been forced to drill in these increasingly treacherous locations.

Sorry, Charlie, but it ain't so. The reason BP and other oil companies are drilling in deep water and other hard-to-reach and hard-to-protect-from-spill sites is because we've already tapped out all the safer places to drill. All the easy-to-reach oil reserves have been exploited, and many of those reserves are in declining production. And another thing Krauthammer and other so-called conservatives (Drill, baby, drill? What is it they're "conserving" anyway?) don't understand: Expanded drilling isn't going to do more than temporarily slake our thirst for petroleum. Even if we allow drilling in these so-called "safer" places like ANWAR--which we probably will do, sooner or later--the amount produced won't offset the decline in production from the depleting wells in other places around the globe. The end of cheap petroleum is at hand; any newly developed sources are going to be increasingly costly--in monetary terms, in ease of access, and, potentially, in environmental harm.

Krauthammer and his ilk fail to understand a simple fact: our continued addiction to petroleum is to blame, not BP, not environmentalists, not the lack of effective regulation. We have painted ourselves into a corner by building a civilization on a finite resource--one that we knew from the beginning would eventually, someday, run short. And one that, so far at least, has no replacement in sight that can do everything that fossil fuels can do. As the US Joint Forces Command reported this past February (here, beginning on p. 24), like it or not, we're likely to begin experiencing petroleum withdrawal symptoms soon, as worldwide supplies begin to decline and demand picks up when the worldwide economy tries to recover. The Joint Forces Command predicts the end of surplus petroleum by 2012 and severe shortages--as much as ten million barrels a day--by 2015.

The scenario pictured by this prediction is not a pretty one. We need to be prepared for it, but nobody's talking about it, let alone making plans. Instead, our so-called leaders are stalemated or dealing with side issues like guns in bars. The only thing--the ONLY thing--that can put an end to this madness is for us to end our addiction to the stuff and to leave as much of it as possible in the ground. Energy writer Richard Heinberg's latest newsletter explains this all better than I can. I recommend reading it all the way through.

But as the inevitable oil crunch and the implosion of the global economy develops, and as legislative paralysis continues, we can surely expect more scapegoating from people like Krauthammer.

An ancient Chinese curse reads, "May you live in interesting times." I believe we're there. Interesting indeed.


  1. Did you follow any of the media coverage of Rand Paul's comments on the Civil Rights Act? He brought up an interesting point about the private/public distinction. It's the same argument used to justify guns in bars/restaurants. Even if a restaurant owner wants to prohibit guns in his establishment--his own private property--he can't because the state says so. Just like the same restaurant owner can't refuse service to someone based on the color of his skin. It's interesting how that works.

  2. Dontodd:
    Interesting comment. Yes, I had followed some of the Rand Paul coverage, though not carefully.

    I do not think, however, that the analogy is completely valid. Under Jim Crow, proprietors were allowed to refuse service so someone simply because of his/her race. We're not talking here about refusal of service, and we're not talking about excluding persons. We're talking about excluding weapons.

    Ohio's current concealed carry law forbids CC permit holders to bring their weapons into an establishment that sells alcoholic beverages by the drink (i.e., to be consumed on the premises). State law--not the proprietor--is banning the weapons. The bill recently passed by the Ohio Senate would amend that section of the law and allow CC permit holders to bring their weapons into such an establishment.