Petroconundrum: How Much Will Our Energy Policy Screw Us?

The energy economy seems to doom us, but we’re doomed anyway unless we can reach beyond our current understanding of the world.

The continual talk about how to tackle climate change leads some to proclaim doom while others show their optimistic stripe. Of course, that conversation only happens among those who believe the science. That’s a problem: just because you don’t believe the science doesn’t mean you shouldn’t participate in the conversation.

If you will take the science hypothetically and then proceed to discuss the best ways to handle the problem, your input would be useful.

Often the discussions happen with distorted sets of facts. How much does the government pay in oil subsidies? Corn? And so on. And how much do these things matter?

For example, someone might argue oil subsidies help insure against losses from exploration, and do not pay for production. Assuming that, the question becomes why do we (and other countries) subsidize exploration if we do not directly reap the benefit? In other words, why would some countries pay individually to prop up a global market that helps friends and enemies alike? It continues to not make sense.

But usually we need to step back from such specifics anyway. The specifics serve mostly to confuse issues and trap us. Will anybody really care how much of a subsidy the oil industry received if we end up with catastrophic climate change? I doubt.

No, the broad issues deserve the attention. Issues like the total carbon output and how to reduce that. It seems likely that singling out industries will only serve to make discussions worse, so the focus must be on the overall emissions.

But reducing emissions only gets us so far. We do need to look at ways to reclaim carbon and restore the environment. And again this must be a broad approach. While science on atmospheric carbon removal exists (things like allowing fish to convert algae into fish instead of catching all the fish, and proper grazing strategies for livestock), we will need to undertake many approaches and some will prove more effective. Some will likely seem highly effective until we find out how little carbon they can store before being full.

Most importantly, the conversation about society must be had. What should cities of the future look like? How to organize businesses and labor. How to improve our government. People avoid these conversations at best, at worst thinking they cannot happen or do not matter. If we had been having them all along, we might not be in the predicament we face.

The hybrid transport system of public roads but private cars might not have developed how it did. The wages, laws, and consumer expectations might not have been what they are.

People often gloss over the fact that more than one universe is possible. More than one organism. So, surely, more than one design of economy can function. Even if the difference isn’t an extreme one, we might find one suits us better than another.

So it turns out the energy crisis, climate change, these still do not describe the problem. The problem remains that we must improve our understanding of our own limits and abilities. You can spend all day trying to catch a fish with your bare hands, only to notice the blackberry bush behind you as the sun goes down.


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