David Collum: We've Got A Recession Coming

aggrivated, your comment made me think back to an old episode of The Extraenvirontmentalist podcast in which the hosts interviewed Andrew Nikuforuk, a Canadian journalist based out of Alberta who has covered the tar sands extraction in his province and the knock-off effects it that extraction has brought about. One of the fascinating points of the talk is when he was comparing our current reliance on fossil fuels – and the way that reliance influences and shapes (and distorts) other institutions within our society – with the reliance upon slave labor in the Roman Empire.
Basically, he said that divesting from the energy of slave labor in the Roman Empire was an idea that could not even be considered, much as divesting from the energy supplied by fossil fuels is an unspeakable topic in most public discourse today. And the reason for that is relatively simple. In Rome, slaves were employed in order to provide comforts for rich people. Likewise, in modern society, fossil fuel (or, energy slaves, as Nikuforuk calls them) exist to provide comforts for rich people. Getting people, even well-meaning people, to give up comforts and luxuries that they’ve come to take for granted is often a losing proposition.
So, we will go on spending considerable amounts of money, energy, and human lives in order to maintain that current regime – because it is just impossible to develop any political momentum around the idea of giving it up. Too many – almost all of the population of countries in the “global north” – benefit from it. It will continue until it collapses from exhaustion, because that’s just what things like this do. Just like the Roman Empire did.


I remember one of the number-crunchers on The Oil Drum calculated that if all Americans simply agreed to drive at a 34-mile-per-hour speed limit that no wars in the Middle East would be needed.

Because from my perspective, so long as all of these people railing against the development of the oil sands are living incredibly resource-intensive lifestyles, their words are hollow. Just look at the blurb about James Cameron from the piece you linked – he “touched down” to talk about the problems with oil sands development. Basically he burned through an unbelievable amount of petroleum (probably on a private jet) in order to travel to an area where petroleum products are being mined and developed and talk about the evils of the processes to get those petroleum products.
It’s no different from the likes of Al Gore campaigning against climate change while living in a 7000+ sq ft mansion and jetting all over the globe.
Now, I’m not saying that ALL instances of, say, air travel are on the balance destructive. For instance, when someone like Geoff Lawton jumps on a jet to travel halfway around the world in order to teach permaculture approaches to people who live within a fragile and degraded landscape, that is probably a net positive. But the OVERWHELMING majority of just air travel is inherently destructive, and we could live pretty well if we gave it up.
Giving up on air travel is one of the things that I did in my own life, even though I could certainly afford to fly to a lot of places. I did not travel anywhere by air for six years, and only broke the streak this summer in order to fly with my daughter to a wedding involving a branch of my family that I grew up with close ties to but due to geography and life don’t get to see them anymore. And I did it with full awareness of the destruction my act was contributing to, but I decided that maintaining those family ties was worth the exchange in the end. And truth be told, I may never fly anywhere again.
When a critical mass of people actually start doing without some of the luxuries afforded by the industrial system that is eating the earth’s ecosystems, and replacing its products and services with increased self-reliance and localized production, then I’ll believe that there is political momentum. Until that point, it’s more or less cognitive dissonance.