Friday, March 02, 2012

A Little Thought Experiment

I woke up this morning, and as on every morning, began to reconstruct the world. 

Unless yesterday or the day before included an event of significant disruption (i.e. any one of the Ten Plagues, or some other 'Act of God'), it's a good bet ($10,000?) that today will be (looking at the basic conditions of Life), pretty much like yesterday.

In other words, we are conditioned to generally not see long-term change, in the absence of obvious short-term change.  The frogs-slowly-boiled-alive thing.

Supposing that, instead of waking up every day, you wake up once a year.  Let's take a short walk thru the history of the past 10 calendar years (again, assuming 1 year per day - a 30-day month corresponding to 30 actual years):

10 Years Ago (~1550 BC):  Mycenaean civilization starts in Ancient Greece.

9 Years Ago  (~1200 BC):  Start of Iron Age in Middle East

8 Years Ago  (~800 BC):   Pre-Etruscan period in Italy. 

7 Years Ago  (~500 BC):   Beginning of Roman Republic

6 Years Ago  (~120 BC):   Maccabees victorious over the Syrians (and they've hardly troubled us since)

~5 1/2 years ago:    Jesus
5 Years Ago  (~250 AD):   Roman Emperor institutes persecution of Christians in attempt to restore the religion of Rome.

4 Years Ago  (~600 AD):   Human population of the Earth: about 200 million.

3 Years Ago  (~900 AD):   Human population of the Earth: about 240 million (not much change). 

2 Years Ago  (~1300 AD):  Population of Imperial China: 60 million

1 Year Ago  (~1680 AD):   La Salle explores the length of the Mississippi River. Finds no barge traffic.

Got it?  Now here's where it gets really interesting:

8 Months ago (~1770):   Human population - 750 million 

6 Months ago (~1830):   Human population - 1 billion (1000 million).  Not much of a change.

5 Months ago (~1860):    Edwin Drake drills first oil well (you knew I'd be getting around to this, right?)

4 Months ago (~1892):    Gottlieb Daimler uses internal combustion engine to build a four-wheel vehicle, considered the first modern automobile.

3 1/2 Months ago (~1900): 4,200 passenger cars built in the US

3 Months ago (~1922):   First year where Ford builds over 1 million cars

Catch your breath.  Here we go...

2 Months ago (~1952):    Human population - 2.5 billion   World oil consumption: 8 million barrels/day

1 Month ago (~1982):    Human population - 4.5 billion.  World oil consumption: 60 million barrels/day.  375 million cars in the world.

2 Weeks ago (1998):    Human population - 6 billion; 600 million cars in the world.

1 Week ago (2005):    World oil consumption: 85 million barrels/day.

yesterday (2011):       Human population - 7 billion; World oil consumption: 89 million barrels/day.

The point of all this is to visualize how recently, in human history, we've been living with a *massive* burning of fossil fuel, and an  explosive growth in the number of people and cars. The world was a VERY different place in 1950 (not to mention 1980 when we elected the first Republican President after US Peak Oil was reached).

Aside from the energy required to run our cars, don't forget the energy required to make them: mining/refining/transporting/shaping the metals, making plastics (from oil), making tires (7 gallons of oil per tire), etc.

We have made a deal with the fossil-fuel companies, that has brought us astonishing comforts and conveniences (within the past 2 months, accordingly to the above vision). In exchange for enabling our modern life, we allow them to make exorbitant annual profits, feed the system that burns that oil/gas/coal (releasing ever-increasing amounts of CO2), and even continue to pay them extra subsidies (bribes?) from the public Treasury (although Obama is beginning to force the issue about that).

What am I getting at?

Picture yourself as Faust, happily enjoying your selection of TV channels, the abundance of groceries in your local supermarket, lots of roads and bridges, and the endless 'entertainment' of the current US political process. If you're REALLY hungry, it's probably just a short drive to your local fast-food place, where you can get a double cheeseburger off the 'value' menu.

Now imagine Mephistopheles walking up to your front door, about to ring the bell.

Just sayin'.

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