Remember that show from the
70's 80's, V?
Based on the shambling zombie of an old scifi cliche, bipedal evil lizardpeople disguised as human beings (cloaked in clever Hollywood latex no doubt) come to Earth in giant flying saucers. Their world was dying due to - wait for it - lack of water. So they invaded Earth to steal ours. Using giant vacuum cleaners they sucked all the water up to their spaceships in order to transport it a gazillion billion miles back to lizardworld - presumably to fill swimming pools and keep their golf courses green.
Even as a kid I knew just how utterly stupid this concept was. No matter what technology they possessed, it would have been impossible for the aliens to move the sheer volume of water necessary to refresh their world. And more to the point, if the lizard civilization commanded the fantastically enormous resources and energy implicit their plan, they'd have been far better served to bend that technology towards finding, or creating, the resources they needed closer to home. Instead, they embarked on an ill-fated long range military conquest in order to maintain their flawed and failing lifestyle. Stupid, idiotic, and inevitably doomed to failure.
Thirty years later I wonder if the producers of that ridiculous show aren't slapping each other on the back for their foresight and prophetic vision. Because we're living that scenario right now - only we are the stupid lizard people.
Oil prices have hit record highs every morning for the last month, continuing a dizzying climb that's been going on for over two years. There are many causes for this. Increasing desperation and panic, war and conflict, uncontrolled population growth, short-sighted and self-serving leadership, idiotic energy policies, Gordian-knot regulations and taxation that continues to drive up energy costs without paying any tangibles dividends, the uncontrolled greed and avarice of those who control the assets - both those who produce energy and the parasites who trade it on the open market, an entrenched technology and industrial complex that smothers innovation and steadfastly refuses to invest in real alternatives in any significant way, our throwaway economy, and our own arrogant refusal to economize or demand a change in our infrastructure. Ultimately though, it comes down to one thing and one thing only - simple supply and demand.
Demand exceeds supply, it's really just that simple. There are too many thirsty lizards in the pond. Either we need a bigger pond, or we need less lizards or we need to get off our scaly asses and find a better way to do business.
There isn't enough oil. Oh sure, there's enough in the ground - for the moment. But it's getting harder and harder to get it out, it's either in war zones or unfriendly countries, or it's in remote and difficult to reach terrain and unless we find vast and heretofore unknown reserves beneath our oil refineries that isn't going to change. Despite advances in technology, it's getting harder to get the oil out of the ground in sufficient quantities. It's getting harder to move oil in high enough volume to where it can be refined. It's getting harder to process it in sufficient bulk to meet demand and in sufficient diversity to meet hundreds of self-serving federal, state, and local blend requirements. And it's getting harder to move the final product to where it can be used. And the end user, far from reducing need, continues to demand greater and greater volume in order to support some idealized wish fulfillment fantasy of the American Dream. Every single step of the process contributes to increasing scarcity and cost. Every single step.
As a result it costs more, a lot more. And it's only going to get worse. There may be brief respites from increasing energy costs, but unless significant changes are made, those respites are going to be further apart and fewer in number and increasingly less significant. Eventually, we will reach a point of no return - the point where we simply do not have the resources and innovation to do something about it, even if it means the demise of our civilization. History is rife with such examples, from Rome to the British Empire to the Soviet Union.
The signs have been all around us for over forty years, but up until recently we've had enough reserve in our economy to allow most Americans to go blithely on fiddling while the city burns. But oil powers everything in our economy, everything, and the cracks are getting wider, and no amount of patching is going to cover them up.
In addition to the obvious things such as the gleeful pronouncement by the news organizations every morning of record prices, and the blustering and grandstanding of the politicians, and the wailing and gnashing of teeth by my fellow citizens, some significant indicators I've noticed are:
- Car companies are starting to promote smaller, more fuel efficient vehicles. TV advertisements are shifting away from the monster SUV's. However, if you look a bit deeper, you'll see that this situation is merely clever marketing. American car companies haven't stopped building monster SUV's and not one has committed to building strictly fuel efficient or alternative fuel vehicles. GM has a test Hybrid pickup available only in California, and only because it was mandated by law, they're not making it available elsewhere and neither are other manufacturers. They don't want you to buy it. The reason for this is that manufactures are betting that the current oil situation is only temporary, and as soon as the storm passes they'll go right back to the massive eight cylinder, 350 cubic inch, four-barreled, Hemi-carbureted, Viagra induced wet-dream they've been promoting for the last two decades. Is this their fault? Not entirely. While they may have put the idea in our heads, we bought it. And continue to buy it and refuse to demand a change.
- Truckers are up in arms. They've marched, er driven, on Washington to demand relief from impossible fuels costs. They haven't yet marched on Peterbilt, Ford, or Volvo to demand development of more efficient or alternative fueled tractors though, and they haven't removed those giant king-sized sleeper cabs that add tons weight to a significant number of long haul rigs. There is little innovation in the shipping industry and every year sees an increase in the volume of long haul over-road transportation, rather than a shift to more efficient container-based rail transportation between regional distribution hubs. And before anybody gets up in arms over my apparent targeting of the heroic truckers, you should know that I have a commercial driver's license and extensive experience driving tractor/trailer rigs for the military, and my wife works in the shipping industry - I'm familiar with the process, thanks.
- The collapse of the home mortgage industry, which was driven directly by a slowing economy and inflation, caused by soaring oil prices. All the little things are adding up, and increasingly people simply can't meet their monthly payments. This hasn't stopped them from taking out loans with insanely compounding interest rates however. And once you have the house, you have to have the boat to put in the driveway, and the monster truck to pull it. Americans still live with the idea that it just can't happen to them, but it does and is and it's happening more and more frequently now.
- As a direct result of the mortgage collapse, the homeless population is reaching new highs. In addition to the drunks and the addicts and the mentally ill, it's becoming a way of life for a significant number of the middle class here in America and there's not much sympathy, or aid, to go around. Cities, such as Santa Barbara, California have given up trying and have simply resigned themselves to the fact.
- The number of gas station drive-offs is up geometrically. There is some indication that thieves are stealing credit cards and license plates specifically to facilitate drive-off theft; it's becoming an sub-industry of the criminal underworld. In some cases, thieves will jack a large truck or SUV, fill the tank at a local station and drive off without paying, siphon out the gas and sell it - and abandon the worthless vehicle. Police increasingly are not following up on reported drive-offs, even if the perpetrator is caught on camera, because the shear volume of gasoline thefts is overwhelming their available manpower. There has been a significant increase in outright volume theft, i.e. thieves forcing the locks on storage tanks at gas stations, school bus depots, and other such storage facilities and taking hundreds of gallons. Gas stations and bulk storage facilities are having to implement round the clock security, driving costs up even higher. Additionally, gasoline theft from parked vehicles, both private vehicles and agricultural and commercial equipment, has doubled or even tripled in some areas. Exact figures vary depending on source and region, and not not every supplier is willing to provide precise data, fearing that it will make them an easier target - i.e. some franchise gas stations are not allowed by their parent companies to implement a pre-pay option, because the company does not want to invest in the equipment necessary. The sale of locking gas caps is up significantly.
- I've noticed that people are driving a bit slower on the highways. I've always driven the speed limit and I notice lately that others are too. There's been no real talk of returning to the widely unpopular, and widely flouted, 55mph national speed limit imposed by Nixon during the OPEC embargo of the 70's, but then again it's an election year.
- I've notice that there are less folks in the grocery store and a lot more in the bulk food stores.
- The cost of a 12-pack of Killian's Irish Red has gone from $10.95 to $18.59 in less than a year. People are switching to cheaper beer.
- A new form of energy related spam has appeared in my inbox. While the government and industry may be mired in their ways, grifters and scam artists are nothing if not innovative. Lately I've gotten daily messages advertising suppressed technology that purports to turn water into gasoline - a reemergence of the old Brown's Gas (Oxyhydrogen and/or Aquagas) scam from the 70's. I get spam for 'magnetic molecular fuel alignment systems' (magnetism, is there nothing it can't do?) and Tesla technology that will give me 100 plus miles per gallon, or even free me completely from oil's greasy shackles. I've seen ads in recent additions of reputable magazines for bio-diesel reactors and a home ethanol distiller that purports to make all your gasoline from sugar and grass clippings. Somebody is buying this crap. And the scams come in all sizes from the small to the large, from the single slick con artist selling magic herbal fuel additives to an entire bogus medicine show that is doing its level best to sell us rubes on the idiotic assumption that converting highly efficient food producing cropland into inefficient ethanol snake oil is a really, really good idea.
I could go on, the signs are all around us, but I won't. Should we be afraid? Yes. Should we be pissed? Yes. Should we be depressed? No. We have the technology, the resources, and the innovation to do something about it. We're not lizards, we don't have to go the way of the dinosaurs. Far from spelling our doom, this crisis can lead to real innovation and force a change to our civilization that is long, long overdue.
It's an opportunity, and the time to take advantage of it is now, while we still can.