Friday, November 11, 2011

News to Me

For the past three days, the newspaper has been 80% about the scandal-du-jour, this one at Penn State; before that it was the bankrupt capital city, of course.  Before that, miscreant weather.  Seemingly serious stuff, but exciting and diverting, too.  The smaller filler entries are always taxes, crime and fires.  A lot of people would agree with old Will Rogers ("All I know is what I read in the papers..."), but would have to update that with the addition of other, noisier and trashier media (tabloids, AM radio, overexcited cable right-wing propoganda).
If we had any to start with, this constant assault displaces any sense of  proportion between what's entertaining and what trends and events will actually be important to our lives.  Do the yeast cells in the wine vat, living it up consuming the delicious sugar in the grapes, notice that it will all soon be gone and they will die in the alcohol wastes?  We think we're the crown of creation, each one of us a sacred personhood, but it looks as though we're a lot more like those mindless yeast cells.
The hares in the snowy north multiply, like every species, as much as they can, taking more than full advantage of all shelter and food resources.  The foxes follow suit, and their population collapse soon follows that of the hares, who in their numbers ate everything.  My point is that the only news worthy of 80% of the paper is this:  7 billion people on the same earth.  William Catton noted way back in 1981 that the resource-depleting indistrial age which allowed such astronomical population growth was not proof of the inevitable march of progress, but came about due to two non-repeatable achievements:  the discovery of a second hemisphere, and development of ways to exploit the planet's fossil fuels.
"Use of oil has quadrupled earth's carrying capacity since 1900." (Paul Chefurka, 2007)  The normal carrying capacity of non-industrialized earth is about 1 billion; a sevenfold increase in humans obviously overshoots the fourfold increase in capacity.  Memo to the foxes:  the huge supply of hares (oil, arable land and usable water) is temporary.  You can conserve and limit your numbers or just live it up today.
We foxes don't want to hear it.  "As President Carter discovered, it is not easy to take a country conditioned to believe that every problem has a technical solution and to persuade its citizens that a major change of orientation has become necessary."  (Stewart Udall)
We are amused at the cargo cult beliefs of the Melanesian islanders during World War II, who saw the advanced Westerners in their midst get every good thing from the sky. And how do our deepest beliefs differ? We in the United States virulently rejected the few Cassandras who saw beyond today (Carter, Dr. Hubbert, the 1952 Paley Commission, Udall and those damn granola-crunchy commie tree-hugger environmentalists) and bought the "Morning in America" meme that since we're exceptional, resources are either inexhaustable or technological substitutes can always be found.  G.E. will just bring good things to life (Ronnie R. was paid to say that; he was well-paid by Big Oil and Big Medicine, too). Well, technical superiority failed in Vietnam, the oil embargo coinciding with the 1970 peak in domestic oil production was not noted for the huge economic-political impacts it had and will have, the atomic age was overestimated, and we don't notice the stark reality that 95% of the world's fossil energy has been discovered and everything in the developed world moves by or is made of it.
There was no mention in the print or broadcast media of what was discussed at the ASPO (Association for the Study of Peak Oil) conference in Washington last week; boring stuff, I guess.  There was a little room left for the dozens of paragraphs about awards, local politics and crime that padded out the full-pages coverage of the latest scandal.  As long as we keep things in perspective...


1 comment:

  1. We only complain when the foxes enter our safe territory, then we shoot them. We don't need to know why they are here. As long as the lights turn on and the heat comes on and the roads are smooth, we won't care. When these things don't happen we will create a fuss, but it will be too late. Then and only then, will we change our orientation, if there is time.