Monday, January 03, 2005

What should we have done?...

DarkSyde has written a lengthy post over at Unscrewing the Inscrutable titled A Midwinter Night’s Mare (there must be a joke I’m missing here, but why isn’t it titled A Midwinter’s Nightmare?). Dark, essentially, describes how we have greedily devoured the world’s petrochemical reserves to a point in which all probable outcomes are bleak, to say the least. Due to our misguided management of the earth’s natural resources, we have positioned ourselves for impending wars, pestilence, and famine. And, according Dark, this is not a good thing. The question he cannot address, within a natural evolutionary framework, is… Why is it not a good thing? Indeed, to be consistent within the Methodological / Philosophical Naturalism worldview, one must conclude that there is no should. Dark wonders what future generations of humans will think of our greedy ways. Will they condemn us or will they learn from our mistakes, and forgive us? Yet, given the there is no should parameter established by M/PN, Dark’s concern is just as valid as those of the fellow who sucks the earth dry of oil and, with regards to future generations, simply shrugs his shoulders and says, “screw ‘em!” I’m not quite sure why, but this blog is listed as one of the architects of the nightmare, and is linked to at the end of Dark’s post.


LotharBot said...

In the framework of philosophical naturalism, the only reason we might care about the world's oil reserves is that we personally might be caused some sort of pain or emotional turmoil over them. But there is no "should" there, no moral imperative -- there is only a preference to avoid pain. That preference carries with it *NO MORAL OR ETHICAL FORCE* under philosophical naturalism. Running out of oil might cause pain, but pain is just the firing of certain neurons, and the only "should" that applies there is that the neurons should fire when they recieve the proper electrochemical signal. Under philosophical naturalism, as long as the laws of physics are satisfied, it doesn't matter how much pain is involved; there's no ethical or moral reason to prefer less pain over more pain, and therefore, the argument has no force.

Of course, the argument that we've mismanaged oil is, itself, pretty stupid. Here's the thing -- oil industry experts and oil company owners aren't fools. They're not going to let oil run out in a catastrophic way, because that doesn't help their bottom line or their lifestyle. What's best for their bottom line is having another energy product lined up and ready to go as soon as oil prices get high enough, so that they can corner a new market and reap the profits. While various articles often hint at a conspiracy to silence those who claim the oil industry is nearing collapse (as if the complaints haven't been public for at least 20 years) and they often cite mysterious unnamed experts, the people whose money is on the line if the oil industry collapses don't seem interested in moving their money elsewhere. If there's any expert testimony you should listen to, it's the testimony of where people put their money.

CyclingRoo said...


The phrasing (of the referenced article's title) is a direct play on Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

And Dark's analysis is based upon an unprovable assumption: we will utilize hydro-carbon based petro-fuels as the main engine of our economy. Dark's analysis would be correct if his assumption were correct. But history proves that man has migrated from one fuel source to another. Will petro-fuels be around for a while? Of course. Will they be our only fuel source? I hope not (and I doubt it).

To challenge the petro-fuel predominance, we will need a different mechanism to exploit stored energy. Other sources (and means) do exist. You need only look at the future painted by ultracapacitors to know that electical storage systems may surge ahead with technology advanaces.

Of course, there still needs to be an "original" source of the energy to be stored in ultracaps (or other sources). But there are other renewable long-term storage mechanisms - like the oceans.

Am I predicting something here? No, just musing. But wood gave way to coal. And coal gave way to oil. All are carbon-based. But maybe something beyond carbon-based energy storage will evovle. I certainly know that we are working mightily to find tenable alternatives.

Finally, I wonder why this blog is considered an architect of the premise under discussion. Were you a naughty boy over Christmas? Did you get a lump of carbon fuel in your stocking?

Rusty said...

Okay, I see the joke now (as Foghorn Leghorn would say, "I keep pitching 'em, but you keep missing 'em!"). I've never heard of "mare" as a reference to a nightmare... as far as I know, "mare" either refers to a horse, or to a "sea" on the Moon.

I agree regarding the potentiality of alternative fuel sources for the future. I think Dark's concern is that we might not make it far enough to utilize said sources before we obliterate ourselves.

Of course, I remember a professor from a City & Regional Planning course I took in college (back in the '70s) predict that by the '90s we'd have so depleted our petrochemical reserves that automobile travel as we then knew it would be forbidden. One of my co-workers remembers taking a field trip as a kid and hearing that his grandchildren wouldn't know what a tree was. The Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline was supposed to wipe out the caribou population and only transport oil for about 10 years before it ran dry. The caribou are still there and it's been over 25 years since the pipeline started production. The company I work for is actively involved in the petrochemical field around the world and I have never heard any of the process engineers comment on the potential lack of supply (in the near term).

Michael Crichton gave a talk on this topic a few years ago and lamented that if we can't trust our weather forecasts for the next 10 days, how can we trust predictions for the next 100 years?

I traverse a tangent though as the point of my post was to highlight the simple fact that a truly consistent naturalist cannot explain why he cares about such matters.

DarkSyde said...

'Twas merely a late night mare my friend. I doubt things will get as bad as my prose would lead to. I listed you to balance out the lefty Blogs, and I listed those righty Blogs that are frequented by the more rationale among the right. (A lot of blogs on either side of the aisle are chock full of raving ideolgues screaming out obsceneties and tag lines). It wasn't an insult but quite the opposite and a chance to return the favors you've shown me in the past for bringing traffic and discussion to my self absorbed ramblings. That article got a ton of hits and was all over the energy boards, so maybe it helped your traffic. TY for linking it.

DarkSyde said...

Now as to what we should have done? It's easy to look back and say what we should have done, but in this case we didn't have a hell of a lot of options. We use oil because it is the most convenient/economical form of stored energy many times over. It's not anyone's 'fault'. It is our responsibility however in the sense that we're going to have to transition at some point. The US is the one most vulnerable simply because we use the most oil per capita. Peak Oil sin't about running out of oil, it's about not being able to bring it to market at the same pace as world demand is growing. When Ghawar starts declining rapidly (It is estimated to be declining at 8% per annum right now. That's why they're having to prime it with sea water and pump more and more to maintain a steady output) it's going to produce a gap between the rate we can bring it to market Vs the rate of consumption, and that's going to out a squeeze on the price. And yes it is faught with chaotic complexity, much like a weather forecast, trying to figure out the ramifications from that. Just to give you an idea how complex it is, when SARS hit China there was good sized blip in petrol consumption merely because those Chinese who could afford it went out and bought cars, or used more taxis and car pools, to avoid riding on public transit.