Friday, February 22, 2013

Energy and Empire

       I have spent the past several weeks preparing and boning up on natural gas issues in preparation to be a panelist at a meeting of our local Chamber of Commerce. It went well, was well moderated and we all got our licks in and I hope the audience derived some benefit. I fielded some interesting and penetrating questions both during and afterward. The basic assumptions of the economic community  in our isolated high mountain valley  remain intact despite my best efforts to sound the alarm, Paul Revere style.I have pointed out in numerous articles how tenuous our energy extravagant lifestyle here is in Wyoming and particularly in Jackson Hole. I have pointed out that Frac Gas is a bubble, that Wyoming has the highest per capita energy consumption of the 50 states,  and that our economy has legs because of 500 million years of concentrated sunlight. We have burned through 50% of all the oil that has been drilled here in the US just since the late 80's.That was the high grade ore , so to speak, conventional light sweet crude, most of which looks like Wesson Oil. Now we are into the dirty stuff from tar pits and sand mines and  4 miles under the Ocean. It's there for the taking at much greater cost in declining net energy and environmental degradation. Ominously, Wall Street  is in the act slicing and dicing and hyping and spinning the meme of energy independence  in its latest bubble. The political dominated energy propaganda arms of the DOE, IEA and EIA along with the oil majors are keeping the American Dream alive with deceptive, unrealistic and unlikely predictions of future abundance. The fact that these predictions are from the mouths of the least reliable subset of hominids: ...ECONOMISTS, seems to have escaped everyone's notice. There are a few independent analysts I have cited in previous blogs as well as some percipient bloggers.
       But in some ways, the oil and gas story is not the big story. It is a  part of the big story which of course is The Rise and Fall of the American Empire. This is a subject I have covered repeatedly coming at it from different angles:ecological, economic, fiscal, sociopolitical and primarily from the foundation of the empire:Energy. I have studied other empires, why they rose and fell as far back as the Harappan and Indus Valley Empires to our present American Empire.It is an engrossing tale of discovery, of chance, of ambition and greed and invention, determination and cooperation of all the players.It happened because all the pieces were in place, the right place. At the right time. It took the energy of people, of animals and of slaves to build the foundation for this empire. But it was the Exajoules of a vast store of fossil energy that provided the afterburner that blew the United States past its European and Asian rivals.
       Absent this unexpected energy bonus enjoyed by America, there is every reason to believe that establishment of Empire was in our DNA. There were abundant resources, willing hands, and capital all converging on a new world, free for the taking.We were probably foreordained to become an empire but no empires last. Empire rise. Empires grow, and empires fall. It is the wherefore and the how , the anatomy and physiology of empires that I find fascinating. It is the physician in me that drives the desire to understand this civilization but unfortunately the study of empires, both healthy and ailing, has not been the sort of study that has yielded results with the same degree of certitude present in fields such as physics or biology. That is until now. But we may just have a new tool to study and dissect empires. Are there universal laws operating which explain the trajectory of empires?. There are qualitative assessments of empires rise and falls. But might there be quantitative factors that might explain the same? That will be the subject of the next blog on Cliodynamics.

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