Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Dark Days Ahead

Molly's Blog very correctly shows the limitations faced by any country or bloc of countries that tries to escape the totalitarian hold of corporatism. (see Aug 1 “Greek Truckers” – comments) Europe, the example in question, is highly dependent upon foreign supplies of petroleum and natural gas. Hostile nations need only interfere with this supply to bring any genuinely reformist or revolutionary government to its knees.

Molly says we must give up the fantasy of The Revolution and be prepared for the long haul, which involves organization and education as well as trying to overcome energy dependence. I agree with this and always have... except for one thing. We don't have time. If we had a hundred years ahead of us, I am certain that libertarian socialism would replace the corporate state. But we don't have a hundred years. Maybe we have 30 years before global warming becomes unstoppable (the Tipping Point), the ocean dies, the methane in the permafrost is released and the climate becomes unbearable for most life forms. Putting forward the need for organization and education - as much as I agree with this – at this point is like pulling out the driving manual when you are about to go over a cliff.

This matter of urgency does not mean I think radical reform or revolution is at hand or likely to be so. Revolutionaries are a small minority of the population and their organizations are measured in the hundreds when they ought to be – given the seriousness of our situation - in the hundreds of thousands. The complete capitulation of the social democratic parties to the ideology of neoliberalism has reduced the reformist milieu to the small parties of the anti-capitalist left – at best 15% of the vote. No one in any position of power in any developed country is willing to take either the issue of climate change or peak oil seriously. All is denial and deception. The system is decadent to the core. Furthermore, corporate capitalism by eliminating the possibility of reforms within the system, (unlike the period immediately after WW2) has boxed itself in. By deliberately destroying much of our gains during the last century of struggle and reform, it would take nothing less than a revolution to restore us to a 1970's level of social democracy. But no one other than a small minority is for revolution.

The corporate state hell bent for destruction, but no reforms, and no revolution. What can we do?

1. Concentrate on slowing the destruction and delaying the coming of the Tipping Point. If we could delay it to 50 years we might just have time enough to make the changes necessary, for not only our survival, but also toward a more humane and democratic social system. Long before the Tipping Point, petroleum will become too expensive and the corporatist system will go into an even deeper crisis than it is now (like the collapse of the USSR universalized) This must be our opportunity, but at the same time we must prevent the use of even more CO2 producing energy sources like coal.

2. Continue to build community, solidarity and alternatives to the corporatist system. As it slides ever further into barbarism, with the stresses of economic crisis, peak oil and climate change, the organizations formed by socialists, greens and anarchists will be like the monasteries during the Dark Ages. Not only guarding culture and learning, but also keeping alive mutual aid, the social, the communal. By any means necessary, we must survive. The satanic concept that it is right to dominate and exploit must be damned for all eternity in the consciousness of the descendants of the survivors.

This is the darkest vision I have ever had. But I am often wrong. Hopefully I will be this time.


Blogger mollymew said...

Hi Larry,
No matter what it may seem I am nowhere as pessimistic as you seem to be. I'd like to answer the points you have raised, but, given the limitations of blogger, I will have to do it in "bits and pieces". Even my truncated previous reply likely didn't go through.

First of all, though it forms no part of the article on your blog you comments at Molly's Blog seem to indicate a belief that the "Peak Oil' idea is some sort of apocalyptic scenario. Even given the uncertainties of the various timelines put forward by various people the simple fact is that this situation is NOT one of collapse.

All that it means is that there will be a GRADUAL transition from conventional oil to unconventional oil with A Gradual price increase. During this transition a few things will happen. One is that non-petrocarbon sources of energy will become more and more competitive. Some we may approve of (renewables; some we may disapprove of (nuclear like France).

What is MORE important is that there are literally millenia !!! of non-renewable resources such as natural gas, coal and methyl hydrates that CAN be exploited and converted into forms that sustain a hydrocarbon economy. These are NOT an utopia. As far back as WW2 both Germany and japan only continued fighting because of conversion of coal into fuel.

The technology is old and continually improving. No doubt it will cost more, and no doubt the "lower classes" will be expected to bear the cost. It will, however, happen, and there will be no sudden collapse during this transition. That much I KNOW, not suspect but know. Your comments on global warming are much more troubling to my mind.

Much more later given the limitations of this medium.

8:25 PM  
Blogger Larry Gambone said...

I certainly didn't mean to imply that peak oil was any kind of Apocalypse. The crisis that it will engender will be more of a result of the failure of the rulers to plan for it now, rather than anything innate with the rise in the cost of petroleum. It is true, alternative sources of energy can fill in the gaps in many areas, but they cannot, according to peak oil people, replace cheap petroleum. Gasoline can be made from coal, for instance, but it is a very expensive process. The end of cheap oil means the end of the three-car-30 mile commute-suburban mini mansion-shopping mall complex. To the people who like or profit from this travesty, it may well look like an apocalypse, but for the rest of us it looks like an opportunity. Indeed, peak oil – providing we don't revert to the mass burning of coal – may be the only thing to slow down global warming and give us that extra time I wrote about. Right now we should be pushing for rail, public transit, local production, and a return to community, ie integrated not separated functions and greater density etc. This would both reduce our enviro footprint and help overcome the problems presented by peak oil. But, other than a few local initiatives we see no leadership from the politicos in this regard. Here in Nanaimo they are still building stupid Gringo-type suburbs and there are obstacles put in our way to get rail running properly.

10:22 AM  
Blogger mollymew said...

Actually we aren't so far apart on this. Both you and I have lived through an incredible historical transition, the significance of which can only be seen in retrospect. Almost all of the younger anarchist lack this historical perspective. We have seen, on the plus side amongst other things such things as the victory of feminism (or at least a 75% victory with things yet to conquer and some deviations). On the minus side we have seen the gradual degradation of the idea of "economic progress" insofar as it relates to social mobility. Only us grandparents remember the time when it was pretty well guaranteed that one's children would do better than one did. We have seen a closing of automatic social mobility, and tyhe birth of a much more competitive society.

All this relates to how we will adjust to a more expensive energy economy.No doubt coal to oil is prohibitely expensive with oil like today at $75 per barrel. So is ordinary oil expploration in many cases. How prohibitive is this amongst many alternatives when oil is at $145 per barrel , as we saw in 2008 ? Or an even higher price ? I've tried to find a comparable price, but I have failed. What I can say for sure is that there IS a price for coal to oil that is economically feasible within the "general" parameters of the way that we live.

No doubt there will be the adjustments that you mentioned, and they deserve exploring in terms of libertarian politics. Too bad I have spent this email on this matter because there are things that derive from this that I have not gotten into at all.

12:33 AM  
Blogger Lucid Glow said...

Extreme measures should have been put in place by revolutionaries yesterday. Yes, we are few, but not when counting the entire world. We are millions. We just need to get our asses geared.

The truth is that humanity and all life on Earth faces extinction, fast. Anybody denying that is in deep, deep denial.

3:50 PM  
Blogger mollymew said...

I actually managed to find some proper estimates for coal to oil conversion, and I was quite surprised. This process is hardly utopian, but is a proven and economic production source in the modern world. The main player is the South African company Sasol, and this company is the designer for the alraedy operating Chinese facilities. Sasol is also contracted for a similar plant in India now under construction, and has a memorandum of agreement with Indonesia. The Chinese figures for profitability are about $35/barrel, and the Indian figures are about $40/barrel. In the USA a "research company" claims to be able to produce oil from coal at about $28/barrel. This figure has to be taken with a grain of salt as my own calculations from the present price of coal yield a cost of anywhere from $14.75 to $67.85/barrel depending upon the coal used. Coal is priced by both energy content and SO2 content.
I have no doubt that these figures are on the low side as all these developments are government financed with all that implies. They can, however, easily be doubled and yield a cost in the present range of oil. The problem of cost is the huge !!! outlay to build the plants. Six billion ! seems to be the going figure in china and India. This will be paid back over the course of the plant's operation, but this is still an extended time. These plants are also energy pigs and water pigs. It is far cheaper to burn coal to produce electricity than to convert it to oil. They also have a huge water demand. These two factors are why the Chinese have put a moratorium on further construction. It is also a fact that both coal and natural gas are finite resources even though their timeline is far longer than that for oil.
In sum I don't see "peak oil" as any diasterous scenario as there is more than enough 'wiggle room' for a slow conversion to renewables given the backup of coal and gas reserves. The whole question of global warming, however, is a different kettle of fish, and I'll try to get on to that later.
Also, and most importantly, the connection between this problem and the present opposition movements in Europe and elsewhere.

9:02 AM  
Blogger Dick said...

I think we must be aware that this is not only an environmental crises but also a social crises and we are faced with the emergence of a new fascism, totalitarian politic and increased international competition for the last remaining resource of the world. Ultimately states will need to maintain their power in times of decreasing affluence and increasing poverty and hardship. States will increasingly turn to national interest over public welfare and invoke war to strengthen their command over populations and the gain the acquisition of strategic resources. We will see more war like tose in Afghanistan (where the issue is mineral resource like lithium) and Iraq and eventually in desparation to maintain power outright war between imperialist powers. We are powerless to change any of this, all we can do is cobble together teh means of survival. Our best chance is through the formation of self sufficient eco-villages networked together and organized on anarchist principles. Social democracy is already dead, unions are fighting a loosing battle, protests don't change anything, rebellion strengthens authority if it doesn't work and becomes another problem if it does.

9:59 AM  
OpenID arashikensh0 said...

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6:39 AM  
Blogger mollymew said...

No doubt there will be competition for resources, and energy resources may end up being relatively unimportant. As a for instance China today accounts for something like over 90% of the production of rare earth elements which are of cricial importance in electronics.

That being said one might share Larry's pessimistic view if one looked merely at the two issues that he identifies. The opposition movements in Europe are simply and plainly not even peripherally connected to these issues. The 15% upper figure that he cited applies ONLY in Greece and Portugal which have functioning neo-Stalinist parties that swell the number of oppositionsists. France may hover at about 11% if you incude all the Trots from A to Z. The situation in Spain and Italy is that convinced oppositionists are far less numerous.

The opposition in southern Europe has gained its dynamism from the fact that people see their interests under immediate threat ie it is conservative in the non-political sense of the word. It is NOT unexpected that people will get angry and mobilize around issues that they see as immediate in terms of their welfare. There is the problem for the issues that Larry feels strongly about. They are obviously NOT immediate, and that is the reason they haven't generated mass movements.

What would I say ? I would say that any tactical choices of anarchists or libertarian socialists in general would have to be informed by this general understanding of human nature in the average. If you want to prevent an energy crisis or global warming this can ONLY be done as a beneficial "side-effect" of other projects that have a more immediate appeal. In terms of Dick's choices this would mean that if such eco-villages were to become numerous they would have to depend on more immediate benefits rather than commitment to an overriding goal such as "saving the Earth".

Personally I think it is possible to stumble towards such immediate near term campaigns that have beneficial long term side-effects, but I am doubtful that "revolution" has any magic properties that make such side effects likely. In the case of Europe and its Stalinists and Trots I see every reason to assume the opposite.

10:24 PM  
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11:00 AM  
Blogger Dark Daughta said...

I don't think you're pessimistic. I think you're extremely, brutally realistic which is what we need in these times. How else can we ever get down to the business of strategizing on the left? Lefty radicals are outnumbered. As a mama, I maintain that at least part of the reason for this is that we don't like to breed the way right wingers do. They have always seemed to intrinsically understand that their power and leadership was linked to numbers, theirs over ours. So they fuck (within the institution of marriage) like rabbits for the express purpose of having little right wing babies. We on the left rely on mass education, hoping against all hope that we will be able to somehow persuade masses of people who don't define as particularly left or right and those who are on the right to see the error of their ways and stop being so oppressively conservative in their views and agendas. It is a painstakingly long road many of us have chosen. I don't much believe in it. But you're right that we're going to have to do something pervasive soon if profound change is ever to come about.

2:13 PM  

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