Sunday, April 30, 2006

Tenative "overlaps and contradictions" of peak oil from mutliple sources (will revise)

Overlaps and Contradictions of Peak-Oil Related Websites
Overlaps:
Oil is a finite source of energy, because it is non-renewable. Our economy is dependent on this resource; our last 100 years or so of economic growth has been due to the availability and cheapness of this energy resource. "The Age of Oil — 100-plus years of astonishing economic growth made possible by cheap, abundant oil — could be ending without our really being aware of it.” (Semple)
Oil production/extraction will peak. “Oil is increasingly plentiful on the upslope of the bell curve, increasingly scarce and expensive on the down slope. The peak of the curve coincides with the point at which the endowment of oil has been 50 percent depleted. Once the peak is passed, oil production begins to go down while cost begins to go up” (Peak Oil: Life After the Oil Crash)
The governments of the world are not openly acknowledging that oil will peak, and that this will happen within this century.
When oil peaks, prices will go up, and the more fortunate will realize that our current way of life is unsustainable, and unaffordable, while the global economy will slide into a recession or depression. “Once production peaks and begins to fall, it could precipitate a global depression, widespread starvation, high unemployment, and even war.” (Dillin)
We need to find alternative ways of living and sources of energy, and plan for peak oil now. “In addition to transportation, food, water, and modern medicine, mass quantities of oil are required for all plastics, all computers and all high-tech devices.”

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Comment In response to Nian's Blackout Composition

Nian:Many people wrote about the black out, but your composition was different. It really sparked some reflection on my own experience of the blackout. There are several reasons why. You describe in good detail what exactly you were doing when you first noticed signs of some kind of power failure. Then you express a conscious feeling of curiosity, in a really poetic phrase: “At the same time I wanted to feel how hot summer really was, and experience life without confining myself at home all the time, and it was also a chance for me to also see the city lights swallowed in shadows.” One thought provoking item in your essay was the idea that with no electricity, everyone was in the same situation, regardless of how much money they had in their possession before the blackout. Everyone was hot, everyone had to deal with no street lights, no hallway lights, no television etc. The blackout served as a temporary simplification of society, and your essay is the only one that really addresses that. When oil production peaks, there will be a similar dynamic. Rich people won’t be more fortunate than poor people, everyone will have to face the same issues of finding food, shelter, energy, just as during the blackout, everyone had to face the August heat. You also provided some insight into the different cultural attitudes of people living in different parts of the city toward the blackout, which was cool because my experience of the blackout was very centered on how I was coping, and how the people around me were coping, I was not as observant.Then you made a prediction about what would happen to Chinatown if the blackout lasted longer. That was a whole scenario I hadn’t even contemplated. I was having fun during the blackout, and I didn’t give a lot of thought to the impact it could have on the economy in the long term, or the hardships people would have to face.

My Understanding of Peak Oil

Peak Oil and Its Principle Arguments
As I understand the Peak Oil Theory, there are a several essential arguments. The first argument is our entire society and way of life is dependent of petroleum in its many forms. The most obvious use of petroleum to fuel our cars, but there are many more uses for this form of energy. Petroleum is used to power the production of many goods and services, most importantly the production of food. Tractors and other farm machinery is gasoline powered, pesticides are made from petroleum. It is necessary to use gasoline powered cars and trucks to transport food from place to place, which is essential in today’s world economy and market, because there are very few regions that are completely self sufficient and grow all their food supplies and produce all their goods. Cars are no longer made of metals but rather plastics that are made from petroleum. Cosmetics are made from petroleum. Almost every facet of today’s market has products made from or with petroleum.
The second argument is the highest extraction of oil ever, or the peak in oil extraction will coincide with the moment that half of all the earth’s supply of oil has been consumed. This is estimated to occur sometime between 2006 and 2016. Essentially this means that oil is a finite resource, meaning that it is non-renewable; there is in fact a limited amount. Oil is not our only source of energy, but the other sources, natural gas, tar sands etc. are non-renewable finite sources as well. Natural gas is estimated by Peak Oil theorists to peak 10 years after oil does.
The third argument is that because the primary source of energy that our entire way of life depends on is on the verge of peaking, and other seemingly abundant but non-renewable sources of energy are about to peak as well, we have to make extreme revisions in our society and provisions for the ultimate end of oil extraction. The collapse of this current way of life is imminent, but we as a society can determine how this collapse will occur. To create the most comfortable transition into a fossil fuel free society, there are certain steps we must take.
The peak oil theorists say that we must exercise population control; oil has given us a mentality of everlasting abundance which in turn has resulted in ever more children. Because we will have to change our energy needs one way or another, our way of life will not be able to support as many people as it did previously, the only responsible thing to do is to enforce some kind of population control. They also say we need to switch to renewable sources of energy, like solar, wind and hydro power.
Another important part in the method to surviving the termination of fossil fuels is to simplify our current culture and society and develop smaller, localized communities that can be self sufficient. With the absence of fossil fuels and possibly the lack of a better alternative, we will not be able to rely on transportation to attain food and other goods, so we will have to localize production to ensure our survival.
In Richard Heinberg’s book Powerdown, which is mainly about peak oil, he mentions that there have been several counter arguments to the Peak Oil theory. Cornucopians claim that oil will not peak for much longer than Peak Oil Theorists suggest. In fact, the official U.S. government estimate for the peak in oil production is supposedly 2037. But discovery already peaked in 1960, and the U.S. domestic oil sources peaked a while ago, proving that this is a worldwide trend.
Cynics of the peak oil theory also argue that even if petroleum will peak, tar sands are abundant. This is true, however, the extraction and refining process is extremely costly. The energy involved is enormous, and the impacts on the environment are gargantuan. Tar sands are too a finite source of energy, and if we must learn anything from the peak of oil, it should be not to rely heavily no non-renewable eco-friendly sources of energy.
Methane hydrocarbonates are also abundant. As sea life decomposes, they release methane into the ocean which stores it. There is very large amount of this natural gas stored in the ocean, but extracting it could jeopardize the environment. There are no commercial methods for extracting methane from the ocean, but many environmentalists theorize that any attempt would realize a huge quantity of methane into the atmosphere and could destabilize the way methane is stored on the ocean floor, causing terrible disasters including but not exclusive to tsunamis, a large increase in ocean temperature thus melting the poles.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Mexico City Earthquake of 1985, from my mother and father's experiences

It was the beginning of my parent’s relationship. My mother was working as a bonds trader in New York and my father as an actuary for the Mexican Government. They had engaged in a few conversations over the phone, with my mother mostly acting as interpreter, because employees with Spanish language skills were a novelty in the 80s. On a business trip, the man who would become my father got a chance to come to New York and meet my mother in the Windows of the World restaurant. A relationship developed from there…
On Thursday the 19th of September, 1985, just as the flower of their relationship began to bloom, an earthquake rated 8.1 on the Richter scale hit Mexico City. At that period my father was living and working there. My parents already began conversing on the phone every morning, as a way to cope with the incredible distance between them (my mother was living in New York, which my Father was living in Mexico City). On Thursday morning, around 7pm, my father related to my mother that there had been terrible and terrific thunder storms the night before. All of a sudden he was telling her “I’ve got to hang up its shaking too much here, I must go”. The first thing that came to her mind was not a temblor or earthquake, but more thunderstorms. It wasn’t until a colleague at the trading floor called her attention to the Reuter’s report from Guatemala City which stated that Mexico City had been hit by a huge earthquake that had destroyed the city’s telecommunication systems that my mother understood what my dad was talking about. My mother soon realized that all methods of communicating were down, she did not have any contact with my father for an entire 5 days, five days of worrying and contemplating the end of their brief relationship, due to the earthquake.
My father was staying with his brother when the earthquake hit. He had an important business meeting that day. He attempted to go to work because he thought it was just a tremor. “The building where I used to park my car was completely destroyed, the headquarters the company’s office [where I worked] was completely destroyed, and the people who were preparing things for my meeting that day, all of them died and it was very sad, and I was very lucky because I didn’t arrive on time.”
Indeed my father was lucky; the temporary collapse of society included the collapse of many buildings, around 500 buildings collapsed according to official records (which deliberately reported fewer casualties than actuality). “I felt a misery for I learned about the extent of the destruction and the number of people that died, that was much more than the official figures that the government reported.”
The official records reported a total of 4,541 deaths as a result of the earthquake, but independent versions report figures as high as 30,00 people, which is possible, due to the number of people living in near-shanty towns on the hills around Mexico City which would have been especially susceptible to collapse because of the lack of structural integrity.
Slight tremors are common in Mexico City, because unlike New York or other similar cities, there is no bedrock or rock formations to support structures built on lake sediment. Instead, it is built on the former Lake Texcoco, which was drained and filled in by the Spaniards upon their conquest of the Mexica (or Aztecs) and Tenochtitlan. From time to time, the tectonic plates beneath or near the city shift slightly, causing frequent tremors. The ripple affect of earthquakes are intensified by the movement of the sediment foundation, which carries and transfers the force rather than absorbs it, making the earthquake of 1985 extremely serious for Mexico City. Another factor that lent the city to vulnerability was the cheap construction of many of the buildings surrounding the city’s center, where the poorest people dwelt, and the shoddy construction of much of the downtown’s more modern buildings. “But most of the destruction was downtown and some of the old neighborhoods of the city like Colonia, Colonia Guerero, La Condessa…” Today, there still remain sky scrapers and other buildings around the downtown that have not been reconstructed, removed or dealt with at all.
As soon as traveling by car was possible, and traffic was functioning (because of the efforts of regular people directing traffic), my father with his brother Arturo drove across the city to check on my brother and sister, who were 15 and 16 respectively.
In my own experiences of collapse (9-11 and the Blackout) there has always been a very moving sense of solidarity and cooperation, and my father acknowledged that as well. The government is never quick enough to react, they are never immediately present, and that forces people to constructively interact for the benefit of the community. Although the destruction was widespread and terrible, these redeeming qualities were present those few days after the two earthquakes (a second earthquake occurred 36 hours later which rated 7.5). “Of course I was shocked at the extent of the destruction, but after a little while I was very proud seeing the initiatives and cooperation at play with the population who show a great deal of support and helped anybody in distress and cope with the immediate needs of the city at a moment in which the government are not doing anything at all. People were directing traffic, helping to rescue people from collapsed buildings; people were doing really a lot of very good things, [people] were inviting others to eat with them. They were much better than any authorities.”


Interview Questions
Where you and what were you doing when the earthquake of 1985 hit?
Do you remember any specific thoughts when it happened?
What did you do to protect yourself?
Do you remember any specific images? Can you describe what they are?
What did the city look like?
Where did you go?
What was your reaction?What parts of the city were completely destroyed?
How did you cope with it in terms of finding shelter, water, food?
Was there a lot of devastation? Do you have any recollections of it?
Were you scared, worried, sad, shocked?

Break Assignment

Collapse by Jared Diamond

The Anasazi and Their Neighbors:
11,000 B.C. The first People Arrive to U.S. Southwest, from Asia, surviving as Hunter Gatherers
2,000 B.C. Corn arrives from Mexico for farming, before there were no crops available in the area for domestication
800 B.C. Squash Arrives from Mexico for farming and Beans arrive some what later
A.D. 1 People in the Southwest have begun settling down in villages and depending on
Agriculture and irrigational ditches, using three different available solutions: dryland agriculture which meant farming on elevations where there was enough rainfall, farming on areas with a water table was close to the surface for plant roots to reach, or collecting water runoff in ditches or other methods to irrigate fields.
A.D. 400 Cotton Arrives from Mexico for domestication
A.D. 600 Native American Farmers move into the Chaco Canyon
A.D. 700 Chacoans start building in stone
A.D. 800 Corn is already imported from 50 miles away in the Chuska Mountains to the Chaco Canyon
A.D. 900 Diversion of water into irrigational channels produced deep arroyos make irrigation and thus agriculture unachievable until they fill up.
A.D. 920- 1120 The Chaco Canyon Inhabitants build structures of two stories to five or six stories.
A.D. 1110-1120 Last construction to take place anywhere in Chaco Canyon
A.D. 1117 The first retrenchments of people began due to “collapse/abandonment”
A.D 1130 Mimbres Collapse, drought begins in the Chaco Canyon
Corn comes from 60 miles away from Chaco Canyon, because farming has failed.
A.D. Mid to Late 1100s Chaco Canyon, North Black Mesa and the Virgin Anasazi collapses
A.D. 1170 The last wooden beam used for construction in the Chaco Canyon is cut.
A.D. 1300 Mesa Verde and the Kayenta Anasazi collapse or are abandoned
A.D. 1400 Mogollon and possibly the Hohokam collapse or are abandoned








Key Processes and Factors of Anasazi Collapse:
According to the author Jared Diamond, Chaco Canyon, in the U.S. Southwest, was favorable for human survival and settlement for several reasons. Firstly, the canyon received rain runoff from many side channels which increased ground water levels, which meant that farming practices did not have to depend on local rainfall, which was minimal. Secondly, the area is rich in biodiversity. Thirdly, Chaco Canyon was hospitable to human survival because of its low elevation it has a long growing season for crops. Lastly, there were pinyon and juniper trees for timber close by.
There are two major disadvantages for the Anasazi society’s location at the Chaco Canyon, as identified by the author. Water management was a source of constant effort. The Anasazi sought to combat the lack of rainfall at their low elevation by creating irrigational channels that brought water directly to their crops. This method backfired around A.D. 900 when deep arroyos were cut resulting in water levels below field levels.
The second disadvantage of Chaco Canyon is because it is located in a dry area; the rate of tree regrowth is too slow to compensate for the Anasazi’s constant need for timber. Diamond states that when the Chacoan’s exhausted their source for timber, they also lost a principle source of protein, the pinyon nut. They now had to rely on different species of trees for timber, which were located up to 50 miles away. They had no other means of transporting this timber except through human labor.
The author explains that once agriculture was no longer possible in the immediate area of Chaco Canyon, and the nearby forests were depleted, the Chacoans began to rely heavily on settlements surrounding the canyon. Rainfall might collect in one settlement’s dams and completely miss other settlement. But, because there was a system of distribution, one settlement’s surplus meant food supplies for everyone in the network.
This heavy interdependence, with no material contributions coming from the center, Chaco Canyon, resulted in a complex society. The population grew so there were more people dependent on a fragile environmental situation. There was no longer any self sufficiency amongst the different settlements within the network of the Chaco Canyon.
When a drought occurred around A.D. 1130, the groundwater table decreased to a level where whatever could no longer reach the plant’s roots. Dry land agriculture failed because there was no rainfall. Water tables were depleted because they were not getting fed water from water runoff. Irrigation ditches had long since failed, so there were no other means of raising crops, without water. It must have been a constant struggle to get water for drinking purposes as well.
Stored supplies could not last more than 3 years, so once crops failed, food stores rotted, people began to disperse and incorporate themselves into other societies, starve, resort to cannibalism, or engage in fights over the remaining resources. By A.D. 1200, Chaco Canyon was abandoned.
There were four factors leading to the Anasazi Collapse. There was environmental damage as seen with deforestation and water mismanagement, climate change with the unpredictable rain fall and resulting droughts, heavy dependence on friendly trade partners which lost their own sustainability with the lack of rainfall and the Anasazi response to the damage, which led to more dependence on neighbors.
In a civilization where they walked for 50 miles or more to attain supplies essential to the community, it is puzzling that people did not disperse and incorporate themselves into neighboring societies such as the Zuni etc, before warfare, starvation and cannibalism began. If decreased food occurred, and people became disenchanted with their religious leaders, what other tie would they have to that society? Optimism may have chained these people to their society; they might have thought that things would improve, and hope is always present.
It may have been difficult to leave Chaco Canyon, because it seemed to be the only habitable place in the area, even with the environmental damage. The Anasazi did not have any other area that they could feasibly move to, all together. Similarly, once we damage our planet beyond repair, our society will have no other location to turn to, Earth’s all we got.
The author mentions that the Chaco Canyon society reached a point when it was the outer lying settlements that were completely supporting the interior, where the most elite lived. The settlements were responsible for supplying the elite with food supplies, timber, and other objects like pottery and turquoise. This dependency made everyone especially vulnerable to drought and any other agricultural hardship.
The entire world functions in a similar fashion. There are cities which are supported by material imports from the surrounding agricultural areas, factories etc. Religion no longer plays such a pivotal role in trade between cities and surrounding areas. Religion today has since become more widespread and less localized.
So what do modern cities have to offer? Cities are often the principle market for any good. In return, farmers, manufacturers and capitalists receive currency, which is the primary commodity in the world trading economy. In the face of drought, it might have been more feasible for the Anasazi to sever ties to a religious elitist interior, and settle else where, but today our economy and society has become so complex that it is not possible to achieve widespread self sufficiency, in the face of human made climate change, loss of resources etc. These issues are really facing us today, and no one will be prepared if the collective does not prepare because we have lost the ability to simplify society and become small self sufficient units.

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