Way to the 19th Century

SUBHEAD: If we're lucky America will be able to get off modern industrialization some time before the Civil War.

By Juan Wilson on 8 December 2012 for Island Breath -

Image above: A 1940's wooden toy fire engine. From (http://www.lassco.co.uk/?id=58&tx_evlasscoproductdetail_pi1[uid]=16834).

It's time to twirl the dials on the way-back machine and take a trip through time to an era where we will be able to live meaningful lives that can have a future... a long future. By that I mean one without all those delicious fossil fuels we've been slurping down by the millions of barrels for the last century.

 Unless of course your a white, middle-aged, male Republican, you have probably come to realize that the jig is up. No amount of wishful green-washing the truth is going to avoid the dilemma we are in.

More power than we can use
That dillema is that we find ourselves in is, in some ways, too good to be true. We've discovered more oil (and natural gas, coal and nuclear fuel) than we can possibly burn.

And America is digging deeper and in more places stuff like deep-sea oil, shale-oil, tar-sands, and fracked natural gas. These exotic and dangerous techniques may actually become "economically viable" as we burn through the cheap and easy stuff.

Some idiots are planning not only on American energy independence, but for the USA to become an energy exporter once again - and that's not a good thing.

Forget about the all the rest, if the world just burns what are proven reserves of oil alone, we will possibly commit suicide as a species. We're already more than halfway there. Climate science is pretty assured we'll pass the  2ºC  "stop sign", and speed on to the  4ºC "bridge is out" warning with the pedal to the metal. 

Certainly, if we continue on the path to nine billion people on Earth living like the average American does today (and that is what people want - and more) we will fry ourselves. And not only will we take ourselves out, we'll fry the joint for most of the mega-fauna like, tuna and tigers, as well.

The answer to our prayers
The solution to this dilemma is simple  - but likely unreachable with our current mindset. Answer: We must voluntarily reduce our burning of fossil fuels to a sustainable level. That would likely be to pre-WWII levels. Back in the early part of the 20th century most home heating, transportation and energy needs were supplied by coal - not oil.

Back then America's consumption of oil was less than 5 barrels per person per year. Since the 1970's we've upped our habit to 25 barrels per person per year. Getting back to the 1930's level of consumption means an 80% reduction for each of us. A tall order in itself. An effort that would dramatically change everyone's life.

The devil in the details
However, unfortunately,  that won't quite save our asses. We would have to be burning vast amounts of coal to maintain a sustainable 1930's lifestyle of steam locomotives, ocean liners and coal scuttles next to the stove.

Moreover, back in 1930 the world only had two-billion people. Today we are on our way to eight-billion people. Obviously, the world will not be able to afford to live like average Americans in the 1930's.

In fact, to see what even resembles a sustainable level of consumption and population we would have to dial back to the early part of the 19th century when there were only about a billion humans, and oil had yet to be drilled for. Too bad we learned that trick in 1859 in Titusville, Pennsylvania.

A life in the past in the future
Think about what your life might be like if you lived in a world much like it was 200 years ago.

Would it be less meaningful or enjoyable? I think not.

Think about what you would need to live that life. The tools, the professions, the livestock, etc.
Do you have those things presently? I think not.

Well get cracking! I know you love your Mekita Compound Miter Saw with Laser and that Ryobi Lithium Battery Powered Nail-Gun you got at Home Depot, but make sure you still have a hammer, saw and screwdriver in your toolkit. And next time your wandering the hand tool aisles of the Depot think about a decent set of files, chisels and maybe a couple sizes of hand wood planer - if they still carry them.

Personally, I've recently bought of a used 1940's era Royal office typewriter on Ebay, and set set of conventional drafting tools (including a slide-rule for calculations). These items are very cheap now and will be serviceable for many decades into the future. I doubt my trusty iMac will be there, or that my iPod Touch will serve as much more than a drink coaster.

Drill baby drill! Burn! Burn! Burn!
We are going to have to get out of our habit of burning stuff. If you think about the uses of oil in pharmaceuticals, fertilizers, high-tech gizmos, and almost any manufactured product - it is dependent on fossilized oil for its chemistry and the plastics and other materials that can be derived from it. And this is fairly new. I have a few toys from my childhood. They have no plastic in them. Most were made of metal, wood, rubber, glass and fiber.

By simply burning oil we are wasting it and denying ourselves it's much more valuable uses. And afterwards there will be some metal, wood, rubber, glass and fiber.

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Embrace the Change 7/24/12
Ea O Ka Aina: Power from the People 4/3/12
Ea O Ka Aina: We're still aboard the Titanic 2/9/12
Ea O Ka Aina: Bring it on! 7/17/11
Ea O Ka Aina: Last Trip to the Moon 5/10/11
Ea O Ka Aina: All Aboard! 12/9/09
Ea O Ka Aina: Here's the Deal 7/5/09


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