Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Faustian Bargain


This started as a post about the wisdom of dialing down energy use and moving into local renewable forms of energy in spite of the present availability of plentiful and cheap fossil energy. It was going to talk about seeing what’s ahead on the energy horizon and making a change before some magical market signal like $10 gas or government decree like rationing lays it down. I was going to write about how the ability to perceive a problem and act reasonably and responsibly to fix it even when the idiot box says everything is OK being what separates the human wheat from the chaff. The original idea for this post came to me while I was hanging laundry on a cloudy day hoping it wouldn’t rain (it did) while my dryer sat idle and as I was anticipating the installation of a woodstove at the same time it was announced that natural gas is going to be cheap this winter. Yesterday I read an article about Afghanistan that changed my tune.

Seems this rocky little country is sitting on an ocean of natural gas that is currently piped to Russia. Seems we (meaning government and private industry, no need to distinguish one from the other) have been trying to get the Afghans to let us build a pipeline of our own for quite some time now, to no avail. Details aside and unnecessary due to the brutal repetition of the theme, we are currently waging 2 unwinnable wars to protect private access to fossil fuels in the Middle East. Hundreds of thousands of people have died or been hideously injured. Millions of people have been displaced and now wander in fear and misery and, no doubt, simmering hatred. Tens of trillions of dollars have been borrowed from our children. For oil. For oil that we don’t even need.

We waste as much energy as we use. If we cut our energy consumption in half, we would be at 1960’s levels of consumption. Not exactly cave dwelling. More significantly, no meaningful aspect of American life would be diminished by an energy diet. Quite to the contrary, American life would be much improved by getting back in touch with our own maintenance, in the form of our food and our fuel and our hygiene. You have a different relationship with a meal you cooked, grew or conscientiously sourced yourself and a home warmed by the wood you toiled to split and stack in your yard and a shirt you hung out and kept an eye on and were, in the end, grateful to have clean and ready to wear. A wealth of rich relationships with inputs reside in an intentional life like this.

That this life is more labor intensive is obvious. That this life requires greater vigilance, attention and planning is obvious. That we might be, in this current moment of psychotic optimism, needlessly inconveniencing ourselves is obvious. That this won’t always feel rewarding but often hot, cold, frustrating or scary is obvious. Amidst the squalor and pain that our feckless and reckless pursuit of these resources foists upon the world and knowing that it is inarguably oil’s last hurrah, that this is so little to ask of ourselves is also obvious.

If we feel overwhelmed by the learning curve implied in these acts of adaptation consider the day when the machine comes for our 18 year old sons.

Read:

The Ultimate Burden

and

On War

and

If you don’t know what you want,” the doorman said, “you end up with a lot you don’t.”

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