Wednesday, November 2

Occupy the Roads

The linchpin of our modern world civilization is oil. We got to this point in technological, medical and economic advancement because oil has been cheap and easy to get to for the past century or so.

We developed an addiction to oil. As western civilization expanded it relied more and more on oil to grease the cogs of progress. And we used more. And more. And more. And now we're so terribly dependent on it that if it were to stop flowing as freely tomorrow as it does today we wouldn't know what to do.

We don't have a ready substitute. Before oil we relied heavily on coal. But we cannot revert back to coal to replace oil. That EROI needs a bailout. Nuclear power cannot replace oil to power cars, lubricate machinery, or drive our economy. Even if we could work out the logistics to make it work, the cost to retool our entire machine is prohibitive. Hydrogen is a net energy loss. It takes energy to create fuel cells. We need electricity to build a hydrogen economy. To get electricity we need oil to run machinery to deliver and maintain our power grid. We're back to oil.

The problem is scale. The oil drinking monster has grown exponentially as we've refined (pun intended) our process to extract and process petroleum into the products we use and throw away. We now consume an amazing amount of petroleum based products every day (an estimated 82 million bbl/day)

I read an article recently and the author sums it up nicely this way: "Even though energy may represent something like 10% of GDP, it’s what makes the other 90% possible."

I watched a small bit of the new show Rock Center with Brian Williams the other night, and I was disappointed to see the piece on Williston, North Dakota and the seeming praise for the booming Bakken development. Bakken is bad. Bakken is fracking. Bakken is feeding he addiction. It's not helping us scale back and reduce our dependence on oil. We don't need to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, we need to reduce our dependence on oil altogether, no matter where it comes from.

And while the boom will help some unemployed get back on their feet and pay the bills for awhile, if this addictive behavior continues unabated we're destined to run headlong into the post-carbon apocalypse with our pants down.

Rock Center didn't do much to help us recognize we have a real problem. The buzz today is jobs. It's all about jobs. But the lack of jobs isn't the problem, its a symptom. And while Wall Street greed and corporate corruption is rampant and pervasive, it is also a symptom more than the cause. Ultimately the disease is our addiction to cheap easy oil. Everything else hinges on that one factor.

So there should be an Occupy the Roads movement. Protest SUVs, unnecessary driving, and poor or non-existent funding for alternative modes of transportation. And for crying out loud protest subsidies for Big Oil, the Big Three and the sprawl monster that is gobbling up our landscape. We need a Critical Mass for the economy. Oh wait, that's OWS.

In The Cyclist's Manifesto Denverite Robert Hurst states that the bicycle will not save the world but that it might be the solution to individual problems. I wasn't comfortable with his position when I first read the book, and I'm even more convinced now that he may not be entirely correct in that assumption. The bicycle is the mode of transport for the revolutionary, for the visionary. Protests go upon an army of two wheels. When you're down, out, poor and despondent, the bicycle is a salve for your soul. It keeps you going when nothing else can. It bridges the chasm of time and space.

Our need and greed for oil has fostered a society of speeders, distracted drivers, road ragers and gridlocked people. Faster, faster, faster go the cars, while pedestrians, cyclists and other motorists get ground under the wheels of progress. And the courts overlook vehicular crimes as "accidents" and as being a part of everyday life. Victims become criminals and criminals become the victims.

Occupy Boulder marching on Pearl Street Mall

[edited to add minimal content]

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