Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Fermi's Paradox

Today, as the price of oil closes at over 120.00 dollars a barrel for the first time ever, the American political process has mired itself in the "mother of all panders" as the idea of a gas tax holiday during the summer has somehow gained traction in the media.
Understanding the breath of this inanity requires more than an understanding of just how low our politicians will go to get elected, it requires an understanding of just how gullible and uninformed the electorate truly is.

Perhaps this is as close as the national consciousness can get to the concept of Peak Oil. Understanding and responding to it in an intelligent fashion may take a bit more time and a real change in our leaders and ourselves.

Here is part of a piece about M King Hubbert from the Cutting edge that sets the stage for our cultures ability to ignore the truth of things if they are in conflict with our myths of ourselves and our sense of the unlimited finite resources we depend on.

"The story begins in 1950s when the United States was the world’s largest producer and exporter of oil, making it mostly self-sufficient. The U.S. also was the largest creditor nation, while its manufacturing output fed the world’s demand for tools and machinery.

This new world power from the West emerged relatively unscathed from the second of two world wars, for which its unprecedented access to oil proved the deciding factor. This quite literally was America’s peak in wealth and potential.

Before embarking on an ambitious plan to rebuild the bombed-out cities of Europe, the U.S. built more than 2 million homes on the home front, mostly to meet the unprecedented demand of returning GIs.
The resulting paradigm shift, constructed around a flawed assumption of infinite bounty, was the beginning of the suburbanization of America that continues to follow its terminal path. Intensive highway development would continue for decades, further solidifying American’s love affair with the automobile and redefining the American Dream. (clip)

In this context of American exuberance and seeming mastery of the world, Hubbert took a stand that was antithetical to the accepted view of what was “normal,” forecasting that the ultimate source of American power –– Texas gold — was headed for imminent decline. He took that stand, geographically speaking, in the heart of the U.S. oil patch.

Hubbert was invited to give a broad-brush picture of the overall world energy situation, including the state of U.S. energy resources, at the spring meeting of the Southwest Section of the American Petroleum Institute. Driving from Houston, he and his wife went to the Plaza Hotel in San Antonio to drop off 500 copies of his talk for distribution at the meeting. “To my surprise, I found myself surrounded by the petroleum press, wanting to know, was this paper going to be given? I said, ‘Why, certainly.’ (clip)

While the Mayor (of San Antonio) was making his address, Hubbert got a telephone call from an executive assistant in New York, expressing “considerable alarm” about his paper. The assistant pleaded with Hubbert to “tone it down,” taking out parts he claimed were “sensational.” To which Hubbert replied: “Nothing sensational about it, just straightforward analysis.” The assistant then asked Hubbert, “That part about reaching the peak of oil production in ten or fifteen years, it’s just utterly ridiculous.” more

It was 1956.

And in a decade and half, Hubbert's curve would prove to be right. Oil production in the lower 48 states would begin to decline.

Now, some fifty years later, the world is seeing the same peak that the US faced in the early 70s.

Except this time, there is no new middle east to occupy, no rich planet where we can install our puppets as their leaders.

A year before Hubbert's paper, in 1955, Western Electric began to sell commercial licenses for silicon PV technologies; early successful products included PV-powered dollar bill changers and devices that decoded computer punch cards and tape.

Albert Einstein received the Nobel prize 32 years before that for his theory explaining the effect.

Einstein's pal, Inrico Fermi spoke of the apparent contradiction between high estimates of the probability of the existence of advanced extraterrerstial civilizations and the lack of evidence for, or contact with, such civilizations.

It's called Fermi's Paradox.

And perhaps Tim O Reilly has the answer to the paradox.

They may be out there.

But they, like us earthlings, never got that far from home.

Perhaps they too had politicians that pandered to their prejudices,

while profiting from their fears,

as their finite resources dwindled.




Blogger oZ said...

I made a few changes to the post on Wed. morning for clarification and readability.

8:44 AM  

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