Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to Socialism or regression into Barbarism.
- Rosa Luxemburg, "Junius Pamphlet" 1916

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

This is what peak oil looks like

A Chevron refinery burns in
Richmond, CA on August 6, 2012.
Lance Iverson, AP

A California oil refinery burst into flames yesterday, and it's telling that the majority of articles on the subject don't even pause to talk about injuries or fatalities (few and none, as far as I can tell) before speculating on the effect this will have on gas prices.

They're right to be concerned, evidently:

"Watching the national average rise since last week, one might have expected war broke out in the Middle East or a major hurricane shutting down production, neither of which happened, yet gasoline prices spiked." -Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst for the price watch websites run by, emphasis mine.

Yes, these spikes in prices are caused by lapses in refining capacity, and not supply of crude oil per se, yet there was a time when there were sufficient stockpiles of fuel in the petroleum production chain that hiccups in refining were smoothed out before disrupting the fuel supply. And yet according to the LA Times, California's stocks of gas and diesel are down 14.7% and 13.7% from this time last year. Any interruption of fuel delivery, whether due to burst pipelines or damaged refineries, is now being immediately felt at the pump. Like a diabetic whose blood sugar just crashed.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

New Foundations

Good morning folks! Hopefully not too many of you have removed this blog from your RSS feeds (people still use those, right?), because I'm rebooting Seldon's Gate. When Kir'Shara decided to take a step back from the project, he was the only regular contributor, and so naturally expected to be turning out the lights on the way out. He offered me the chance to continue the work, though, and I figured it was time to make good on my promise to myself that I would post more.

Maybe now, as the driver, I won't be able to make any more excuses!

When Kir'Shara founded this blog, he drew his inspiration from a series of novels written by Isaac Asimov. The Foundation series recounts the fall of an interstellar empire, predicted by a mathematician who develops a model for the behavior of human societies that is accurate at large scales, although prone to error at small scales--ironically similar to climate change models. Foreseeing the collapse of his society, Hari Seldon founded a group of individuals called the Foundation whose purpose was to preserve the collected knowledge of humanity, and to work to ameliorate the effects of the collapse, because preventing it had become impossible.

Sound familiar?

John Michael Greer, of the Archdruid Report, states accurately that what we face is a not a problem (problems have solutions), but rather a predicament, a situation that must be endured, that requires adaptation rather than solution. I think that Seldon's Gate has done an excellent job chronicling the continuing catabolic collapse of our industrial society, step by step and stone by stone, in the face of escalating energy costs and climate change. Anybody who reads through our archives will see the inescapable pattern of current events, drawn in strokes both broad and subtle by Kir'Shara. With my turn in the driver's seat, I'd like to turn out attention to building our own Foundation, to action in the face of this slow disaster we now know so well.

For we are not powerless. Yes, climate change will almost certainly exceed 4° C, and the trail off of fossil fuel production will result in inevitable and painful contraction of the world's industrial economy. But we need not watch it all fall down around our ears; even facing an unstoppable catastrophe with inadequate resources and ineffective leadership, the crew of the Titanic still saved a third of the people on that doomed ship. With luck, we can do better.