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  • Friday, September 02, 2005


    Dark Signposts to an American Future

    Recriminations abound concerning the role of Pres. Bush and his faith-based budget orientation on the ongoing crisis on the Gulf Coast. The harsh and terrible results of Katrina are still unfolding, the human tragedy of this catastrophe still raw and in motion. Yet I don't think it's too soon to begin thinking about a future for the USA.

    The doom and gloom of predictions of "peak oil" and the inevitable changes oil and energy scarcity will wreak on US society are no longer merely a theoretical model. We now have a concrete and ongoing example of what will happen when a sizable percentage of our oil supply becomes unavailable. Gasoline prices are rising sharply and I very much doubt they will go down significantly even when the refineries and oil rigs are producing again.

    Here's an example of the pervasive attitude of endless energy availability.

    We were recently looking into adding air conditioning to our forced hot air furnace. One of the decisions we faced was how energy-efficient we wanted the unit to be. The more efficient, the more the equipment cost. The installer/estimate guy said "Of course, there comes a point where the trade off of higher initial cost of more efficient equipment outweighs the energy savings over time."

    I said "Well, what if the cost of electricity doubles?" He was taken aback and said "Yeah, then of course it's worth it but that can't happen. Electricity rates are regulated and can only rise a certain amount in a given period."

    What stunned me was the assumption that regulations would somehow control the physical availability of electricity and related cost increases.

    Like that oft-quoted maxim about keeping in mind the impact of our decisions on seven generations of people, we need to think ahead. Only now, we don't have the luxury of seven generations. Right now I can see the impact of my decisions on one generation. Over the course of the lifespan of a furnace/air conditioner, approximately 20-30 years, I will likely see the equipment be unable to be used due to energy restrictions.

    That, my friends, is a sign of how bleak the future looks from here.

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