Ruralist Lament: COP Out 26

“The essential problem is not that we are tapping the wrong energy sources (though we are), or that we are wasteful and inefficient (though we are), but that we are overpowered and we are overpowering nature.”

– Richard Heinberg

“Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that  colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

– Percy Bysshe Shelley

“Some of them were angry
At the way the earth was abused
By the men who learned to forge her beauty into power
And they struggled to protect her from them
Only to be confused
By the magnitude of her fury in the final hour.”

– Jackson Browne

The Conference of the Parties (COP26) has recently concluded. It was only the most recent gathering of world delegations to wrangle over the matter of global heating and its predicted (grim) effects on the planet’s various life forms. Outside, the conference drew a crowd of the powerless urging policies that might quickly limit carbon emissions to possibly “Keep 1.5 Alive.”

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology sent a delegation. MIT News reported that the resulting Glascow Climate Pact “reaffirms the goal of the 2015 Paris Agreement ‘to pursue efforts’ to limit the global average temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels,  and recognizes that achieving this goal requires ‘reducing global carbon emissions by 45 percent by 2030 relative to the 2010 level and to net zero around mid-century.” “

But of course there’s what MIT News referred to as the usual “ambition gap” in the supposed quest to “move to zero emissions in energy and industry.” The AP reports that, freshly returned from the COP session, the Biden administration conducted a lease auction for drilling rights on federal land in the Gulf of Mexico: 308 tracts totaling almost 2,700 acres.

The AP report continued, “The administration last week proposed another round of oil and gas lease sales in 2022 in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and other western states. Interior Department officials proceeded despite concluding that burning the fuels could lead to billions of dollars in potential climate damages.”

Sarah Palin’s chant of “Drill, Baby, Drill” has long been bipartisan US policy. Obama demanded that climate goals be merely “aspirational.” In 2018 he gloated that his presidential “all of the above” energy policy had led to America’s becoming “the largest oil producer—— That was me people….. say thank you.”

One of the few honest things to ever pass George W. Bush’s smirking lips was his admission that America was “addicted to oil.” And the reasons are clear. Fossil fuels power our “energy slaves.” In 1957  Rear Admiral Hyman Rickover observed that, “With high energy consumption goes a high standard of living. Thus the enormous fossil fuel energy which we in this country control feeds machines that make us master of an army of mechanical slaves. Man’s muscle power is rated at about 35 watts continuously, or one-twentieth horsepower. Machines therefore furnish every American industrial worker with energy equivalent to that of 244 men, while at least 2,000 men push his automobile along the road…..”

While a rich noble in ancient times might bob along to the banquet in a sedan chair borne by human slaves, a humble  20th century worker could pop a couple buck’s worth into the tank and cover miles at high rates of speed while consuming a favorite beverage and tunes on the box. Thanks to our energy slaves most of us now aspire to a sweat-optional existence and apparently will kill to keep it—— even if the casualty is a livable planet.

The Biden presidency appears to be increasingly cratering in popularity despite his slavish devotion to bipartisanism. Among the counts against him are sluggish “supply chains” which are slow to deliver stuff from factories on the other side of the planet to the consumer temples of WalWorld. The big corporate move to so-called “just in time” supply management looks a bit ill-considered right now. Local production and warehouses were dismissed as “inefficient” and Big Biz announced a better/more profitable regime. Nobody seems to mention that today in corporate media’s hand-wringing over “supply chain” melt-down.

Another sore point is reputedly “inflation” and especially energy prices. But as Richard Heinberg has been noting for years, the “easy oil” that powered the 20th century is increasingly played-out. What’s left is more costly and environmentally damaging to pull up and refine. Writing recently about the role of “depletion” on oil prices he also noted that “Concern over climate change is leading major investors to reconsider long-standing practices of funding fossil fuel producers. Recently the highly influential International Energy Agency recommended that no new fossil fuel projects be approved after 2021——a suggestion inconceivable from that organization just a few years ago.”

Apparently Mr. Biden didn’t get the memo. Private oil companies already receive lavish public subsidies and given present political realities it seems likely that the public will be throwing more money at them in a desperate planet-killing addiction to energy slavery—— our own modern “peculiar institution.”

Richard Rhames is a dirt-farmer in Biddeford, Maine (just north of the Kennebunkport town line). He can be reached at: