Thesis: “Capital is reckless of the health or length of life of the laborer, unless under compulsion from society. To outcries about physical and mental degradation, premature death, the torture of overwork, it answers: “Ought these to trouble us, since they increase our profits?”
As President Hope and Change proposes unpopulardouble-digit budget cuts for the Environmental Protection Agency and the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, what are his sponsors planning for back in the boardroom?
Tellingly, the news was commented on by the Agriculture, not the Transportation, Secretary:
The money can also be used to “create opportunities for producers, to receive assistance to produce new cellulosic crops and products,” [Secretary of Agriculture] Vilsack said.
So, this is the big game plan — to send Wall Street more money, restructure the car-making corporations, and subsidize moonshine for gas tanks.
To the extent it’s anything more than a subsidy to vested interests, this is a squarely three-cornered [yes, I said squarely three-cornered] plan for failure. The working and middle classes are maxed out, and will not be buying many new cars in the foreseeable future. Peak oil renders each further day of cars-first transportation a an armed robbery from our children. And “alternative” fuels? Not only are they not alternative, they’re also not new.
If you doubt this, I suggest you investigate the concept of energy-return-on-energy-invested, or EROEI, then take a tour of reality, starting here.
For its part, the falseness of it all seems rather well grasped by at least some of the folks who manage the biggest corporate players in the field. As quoted in Business Week for February 5, 2009:
[Exxon CEO Rex W.] Tillerson told reporters in January that Exxon isn’t investing in existing alternative energy technology because “we think these technologies are old. If there is going to be a fundamental shift” away from fossil fuels, the technology “hasn’t been discovered.”
Tillerson allows that a shift from fossil fuels is coming, but not for decades. Exxon forecasts that oil and gas will continue to supply 60% of the world’s energy needs through 2030, and that a “game-changing” shift to alternatives will begin only after 2050.
What about the energy it takes to manufacture and maintain both that equipment and the spaces and surfaces over which it gets operated?
That further energy burn has to be counted against transportation, too. Undoubtedly, some serious chunk of the 31.8 percent of total annual energy use that gets spent in what remains of the U.S. industrial sector goes into making and servicing cars and roads.
Most of the gross profit that goes into funding the big business marketing juggernaut derives from corporate capitalists’ unrelenting pursuit of lower labor-costs. Robbing workers to manipulate buyers, in other words.
Trouble, however, is afoot, my friends.
Per today’s edition of The New York Times:
Cheap oil, the lubricant of quick, inexpensive transportation links across the world, may not return anytime soon, upsetting the logic of diffuse global supply chains that treat geography as a footnote in the pursuit of lower wages.
The cost of shipping a 40-foot container from Shanghai to the United States has risen to $8,000, compared with $3,000 early in the decade, according to a recent study of transportation costs. Big container ships, the pack mules of the 21st-century economy, have shaved their top speed by nearly 20 percent to save on fuel costs, substantially slowing shipping times.
Albert Gore, he of the Nobel Peace Prize and the 20-room mansion and the penchant for stating ideas only when he’s far out of power, has just delivered a speech calling for radical reform of the USA’s energy infrastructure.
In recent years, our politics has tended toward incremental proposals made up of small policies designed to avoid offending special interests, alternating with occasional baby steps in the right direction. Our democracy has become sclerotic at a time when these crises require boldness.
There are times in the history of our nation when our very way of life depends upon dispelling illusions and awakening to the challenge of a present danger. In such moments, we are called upon to move quickly and boldly to shake off complacency, throw aside old habits and rise, clear-eyed and alert, to the necessity of big changes. Those who, for whatever reason, refuse to do their part must either be persuaded to join the effort or asked to step aside. This is such a moment. The survival of the United States of America as we know it is at risk. And even more – if more should be required – the future of human civilization is at stake.
[W]hen we look at [our] seemingly intractable challenges at the same time, we can see the common thread running through them, deeply ironic in its simplicity: our dangerous over-reliance on carbon-based fuels is at the core of all three of these challenges – the economic, environmental and national security crises. We’re borrowing money from China to buy oil from the Persian Gulf to burn it in ways that destroy the planet. Every bit of that’s got to change. But if we grab hold of that common thread and pull it hard, all of these complex problems begin to unravel and we will find that we’re holding the answer to all of them right in our hand. The answer is to end our reliance on carbon-based fuels.
What if we could use fuels that are not expensive, don’t cause pollution and are abundantly available right here at home?
We have such fuels. Scientists have confirmed that enough solar energy falls on the surface of the earth every 40 minutes to meet 100 percent of the entire world’s energy 2 needs for a full year. Tapping just a small portion of this solar energy could provide all of the electricity America uses.
And enough wind power blows through the Midwest corridor every day to also meet 100 percent of US electricity demand. Geothermal energy, similarly, is capable of providing enormous supplies of electricity for America.
The quickest, cheapest and best way to start using all this renewable energy is in the production of electricity. In fact, we can start right now using solar power, wind power and geothermal power to make electricity for our homes and businesses.
But to make this exciting potential a reality, and truly solve our nation’s problems, we need a new start. That’s why I’m proposing today a strategic initiative designed to free us from the crises that are holding us down and to regain control of our own destiny. It’s not the only thing we need to do. But this strategic challenge is the lynchpin of a bold new strategy needed to re-power America.
Today I challenge our nation to commit to producing 100 percent of our electricity from renewable energy and truly clean carbon-free sources within 10 years.
Bravo and amen, right?
Not right: Like the rest of the phalanx of overclass power-guardians to which he still belongs, Al Gore is unwilling to expose capitalism to any question. As a result, he actually does not mean what he says. Contrary to his own words, Gore remains utterly unwilling to permit consideration of the changes it would take to cure the disease he is trying to publicize.
Why do I say this? Where’s the proof?
Here it is:
We could further increase the value and efficiency of a Unified National Grid by helping our struggling auto giants switch to the manufacture of plug-in electric cars. An electric vehicle fleet would sharply reduce the cost of driving a car, reduce pollution, and increase the flexibility of our electricity grid….
If you want to know the truth about gasoline prices, here it is: the exploding demand for oil, especially in places like China, is overwhelming the rate of new discoveries by so much that oil prices are almost certain to continue upward over time no matter what the oil companies promise. And politicians cannot bring gasoline prices down in the short term.
However, there actually is one extremely effective way to bring the costs of driving a car way down within a few short years. The way to bring gas prices down is to end our dependence on oil and use the renewable sources that can give us the equivalent of $1 per gallon gasoline.
In other words, cars are non-negotiable in Gore’s plan, despite the fact that they account for 70 percent of “our” addiction to petroleum. In addition, via its encouragement of suburbs and its stimulation of greatly increased industrial production of many kinds, cars-first living also creates a huge further unnecessary drain on our existing electrical power grid. Making cars and suburbs ain’t cheap.
Yet, Gore naturally assumes, cars-first must continue.
This non-negotiability of automobiles exists, of course, because corporate capitalism itself is not negotiable, despite its blatant non-sustainability and consequent extreme danger to the human future. The simple fact is that without the preservation of the ultra-wasteful but ultra-profitable autos-über-alles way of living in the United States, corporate capitalism would implode. Ergo, not even Al Gore can summon the courage to say “cars must go.”
Instead of saying that, Gore says says in his speech that “people rightly complain about higher gas prices” — as if cars could ever be made ecologically and financially inexpensive.
But the basic facts are inherent in the technology and the system that forces it upon us: In order to serve as the primary mode of everyday transportation in any society, the automobile requires sprawling cities. Sprawling cities in turn dictate long commuting distances for vehicles carrying one or a few occupants. Long commuting distances require relatively high-speed travel, in order to get those occupants to their scattered, appointed places reasonably on time. High speed travel in cars for one or a few occupants requires comparatively large-sized, collision-worthy vehicles. (Glorified golf carts going 45 mph are super-extreme deathtraps.) Comparatively large-sized, collision-worthy vehicles are inherently heavy and massively fuel-inefficient.
All in all, it’s simply an inescapable fact that building cars to carry one or a few occupants and equipping those cars with the hundreds of pounds of comforts, amusements, and safety mechanisms that make the trips bearable is also super-wasteful of energy, albeit also super-profitable for investors. No amount of design or alternative fueling is going to change that.
Yet and still, capitalists can’t and (barring a popular uprising) won’t do without all this waste/profit.
The planet, meanwhile, can’t do with much more of it. Generating enough new electricity from wind and solar to make it all happen: a) is almost certainly impossible, and b) would eat up the entirety of the new infrastructure Gore is now proposing. Whether we burn oil to do it, or sacrifice our one-time shot at building a sustainable electric grid to it, perpetuating autos-über-alles for much longer will spell death to progressive human society.
Hence, we must transcend Al Gore and the masters he continues to serve. As Gore himself says:
If we keep going back to the same policies that have never ever worked in the past and have served only to produce the highest gasoline prices in history alongside the greatest oil company profits in history, nobody should be surprised if we get the same result over and over again. But the Congress may be poised to move in that direction anyway because some of them are being stampeded by lobbyists for special interests that know how to make the system work for them instead of the American people.
Or, properly stated:
If we keep going back to the same policies that have never ever worked in the past and have served only to produce the highest gasoline prices in history alongside the greatest oil company profits in history, nobody should be surprised if we get the same result over and over again. But the Congress may be poised towill move in that direction anyway because someall of them are being stampeded by lobbyists for special intereststhe capitalist classthat, who know how toalways make the system work for them instead of the American people.