My dreams contain more rationality and even my nightmares are not as frightful as what I observe when I am awake. The State of the Union Address and the Republican rejoinder afterward underscored this living nightmare reality. The talking-head commentaries afterward confirmed the madness.
I had planned to deconstruct the President's comments on energy as an example. As I went through the text of the speech, about energy, I realized how hopeless it would be to simply point out the inconsistencies and outright non-truths. There were too many, and the common person won't care anyway. Governor Mitch Daniels' responses regarding energy issues were just as insane, of course. And all the talking heads could do is analyze the whole thing in the framework of things like “energy independence” and “jobs creation”.
Now I understand why zombie movies are so popular. The vast majority of people appear to be zombies. And clearly the so-called leaders (political and thought) have had their brains eaten.
Here is the President enunciating what is essentially a drill-baby-drill (Republican) notion:
Nowhere is the promise of innovation greater than in American-made energy. Over the last three years, we've opened millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration, and tonight, I'm directing my Administration to open more than 75 percent of our potential offshore oil and gas resources. Right now, American oil production is the highest that it’s been in eight years. That’s right -- eight years. Not only that -- last year, we relied less on foreign oil than in any of the past sixteen years.
What can we possibly conclude from this statement? Does the President really believe that opening lands for drilling is going to substantially increase our oil production, or even if it did (marginally) at a cost that would make it economical? More still does he grasp the energy cost of retrieving energy? Does he get that drilling more holes and deeper for a marginal increase in flows is just plain dumb? And does he realize this is not likely to produce any real improvement, even in the short run? I won't try to point out all of the illegitimate notions expressed here. For better analysis than I can do go to The Oil Drum or Our Finite World for high-quality analyses of the oil and natural gas situation in the US.
The highlight in my view was the fact that he did not use the phrase “clean coal”. He alluded to clean energy. After repeating the hyped claim about America having one hundred years of natural gas (very likely a completely fabricated claim by the gas industry), he went on to say:
What’s true for natural gas is true for clean energy. In three years, our partnership with the private sector has already positioned America to be the world's leading manufacturer of high-tech batteries. Because of federal investments, renewable energy use has nearly doubled. And thousands of Americans have jobs because of it. [Emphasis mine.]High-tech batteries! Great. And just what will we fill those batteries with? What will generate the electricity? Renewable energy use has doubled? I suppose a 100% increase sounds impressive until you realize that we are starting from a miniscule base. And, thousands of jobs when there are tens of millions who could work but are not? Is there a disconnect in scale here? The real cost-effectiveness of solar and wind is still hotly debated, but when you add in EROI and external costs the evidence strongly suggests that these sources can never produce the wealth of energy needed to run our current kind of economy, nor will they ever scale up effectively. Moreover, where will the money come from to make investments? Will we borrow it? Will capitalism suddenly discover that the return on investment in alternatives is really so great that capitalist will race to pump money into the industries? Get real.
Later in the speech he asserts that he will direct the military to make substantial uses of alternative energy (the military has already been experimenting with several forms with mixed results). I suspect he believes that an economy of scale phenomenon will drive down the up-front costs (investment in energy production equipment) and help make solar and wind capital more affordable to Americans. That isn't an unreasonable assumption if it were not the case that right now it is fossil fuel inputs to the manufacturing costs that subsidize the production of that capital equipment, as well as being needed to maintain the systems once built and installed. Until alternative energy sources can produce enough excess energy beyond what is demanded from the consuming economy to build their own replacements, we do not have a true renewable process. The current approach is not sustainable, nor will costs ultimately go down as much as might be expected. The reason is simple. The costs of fossil fuels will continue to rise because of the twin phenomena of peak production and declining EROI. These increasing costs could easily negate any economy-of-scale effect. I have heard from a military insider that people in the Pentagon have, in fact, derived that same model and are quite worried that this “political” move by the administration will end up costing the military much more in the end! Of course there are many Pollyanna types even in the military who are convinced this will all be obviated by technological breakthroughs. They don't know what those breakthroughs are going to be. They just have faith that technology will always come through with solutions. Ah well, just one more scary thought to deal with.
Mitch Daniels, in his Republican response speech said, “The extremism that stifles the development of homegrown energy, or cancels a perfectly safe pipeline that would employ tens of thousands...” He obviously feels that Obama has not allowed enough drilling. He also asserts, without any evidence in support, that the proposed pipeline from Alberta tar sands to Houston (which Obama has temporarily suspended - not killed outright) would be perfectly safe. How in the name of all that is holy (or unholy) could he make that claim in a rational world? There is so much evidence that pipelines are dangerous to the environment. There is more than enough evidence that increased production of really heavy oil from Alberta will produce many times more CO2 than just from refining and burning the fuel products.
It doesn't occur to either of these men that their statements are empty words, unsupported claims, and generally internally inconsistent (as well as usually inconsistent with reality). Moreover, it never occurs to the electorate that both sides have it so horribly wrong. Most people are choosing sides in meaningless debates. They go for ideological-based faux-reality. And it never occurs to any of them that most of what passes for assertions about how to best govern are just ludicrous gibberish. It's the rhetoric not the substance of the messages.
And this attitude, or lack of awareness is everywhere. Is it any wonder that I would feel like I am living in a nightmare? George Orwell came pretty close to inventing a fictional dystopia in which double-speak was the norm, in which truth is lie and lie is truth. But in “1984” the powers that be actually had a rational plan in mind. They were forcing society to conform with constraints through their manipulations (we never learned exactly what those constraints were but assumed they were simply based on power struggles). Our leaders have no real plan. They are bumbling through and by helping the 1% get richer just hastening the day of demise for all. Orwell's world might have been frightening, but it didn't have the seemingly random logic of a dream/nightmare. Our world is completely out of control and chaotic, even as political and thought leaders try hard to produce the illusion of rationality and even progress (or promised progress).
The SOTU address, the rejoinders (even the Occupy response), and the analyses by political experts, all demonstrate just how far from reality our political and economic worlds are. It was somewhat amusing to watch the Republican candidates (read that clowns) perform in their debates and speech venues, as well as revelations of their complete hypocrisies with respect to their behaviors in life. But that race is just one small piece of the overall picture. What is happening in Congress, the Executive branch, the Supreme Court (where corporations were afforded the right of free speech - using money to talk) would have been considered totally unrealistic in former times. Completely, and totally, those governing the US have demonstrated that the United States way of life and means of government are without reason.
Yes those governing, and would-be governing, are without a shred of understanding of reality. But they are there largely because the electorate shares that same fate. Most people in this country are generally ignorant, undiscerning, selfish, unempathetic, and lazy. I think I know why (lack of sufficient sapience) but that is of no avail. This is just the way it is. So with a general population of people who are in this situation, what else should we expect from our leaders? People get elected when they make promises to people that those people want to hear. It doesn't matter if the promises can be fulfilled because they correspond to reality. All that matters is that they get the power and the wealth that comes with modern elected offices. Damn everyone else.
And that is exactly what is happening. Just how bizarre will this nightmare get?