Book review of “Spiral: Trapped in the forever war”

[ I understand why anyone who might be believed about the energy crisis keeps their mouth shut about peak oil, it would be like shouting “fire” in a crowded theater and could bring down stock markets world-wide.  Why?  Because there are no businesses that don’t depend on energy to exist and grow. Only in a growing economy can debts be repaid.  In a shrinking, post-fossil economy, creditors will no longer be willing to lend money (i.e. peak oil study done for the German military.)

Still, I am annoyed when experts like Mark Danner get a lot of media attention and don’t even mention the word oil. We wouldn’t be torturing people if we didn’t need oil so badly! And now that we are at peak fossil fuels, we won’t be torturing people for long. 

Perhaps I wouldn’t have bothered with this book review if I hadn’t sat through an excruciatingly long interview with Danner at U.C. Berkeley on “weapons of mass destruction” and whether these weapons existed or not.  I kept thinking he would use this opportunity to explain that we didn’t go to war over weapons of mass destruction, but because we depend so much on oil.  But no, the word “oil” didn’t even get mentioned.  Nor is oil mentioned in this book.

If experts don’t dare mention peak oil, there are other things they can do.  Especially bring up population and talk about the need for population control and women’s right to control their own bodies and lives with birth control and abortion to stop the 6th extinction. And also because getting population down via one child per woman is one of the only ways left at this very late date to soften energy and resource decline.  Why doesn’t Danner use his public platform to get gun control laws so that when times get hard, we don’t all become terrorists of each other in a chaotic civil war of all against all? I’ve read a lot of world history, and it appears to me that only the most brutal and the most cooperative survive in hard times, war, and collapse. With over half of Americans owning a gun, surely our destiny is brutal and not cooperative, dictatorship rather not democracy, local terrorists, not foreign.

Alice Friedemann   www.energyskeptic.com  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts:  KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report ]

Mark Danner. 2016. Spiral: Trapped in the Forever War.

The opening quote in this book is “We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us.” Obama 2013

Danner has defined the nature and scope of this struggle as a war on terror.  He says that our presence in Iraq and Afghanistan is a Republican attempt to replace “being tough on communism as a defining cause in their political identity” with a war on terrorism.

To make the case for a “war on terror” as our reason for being there, Danner needs to state why we are NOT there for the 1980 Carter doctrine, which states “the overwhelming dependence of the Western democracies on oil supplies from the Middle East…[any] attempt by an outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.”

Or the the Reagan Corollary to the Carter Doctrine, in which the U.S. guarantees both the territorial integrity and internal stability of Saudi Arabia.

Since then we’ve invaded, occupied, or bombed Iran (1980, 1987–1988); Libya (1981, 1986, 1989, 2011); Lebanon (1983); Kuwait (1991); Iraq (1991–2011, 2014–present); Somalia (1992–1993, 2007-present); Saudi Arabia (1991, 1996); Afghanistan (1998, 2001–present); Sudan (1998); Yemen (2000; 2002-present); Pakistan (2004-present); and now Syria.

The reason Carter said this is because many Americans, Europeans, and Chinese would die if the oil stopped flowing, but especially Americans since no other nation on earth is as dependent on oil as we are (why we have to be the world’s unpaid policeman is another topic).  Just consider a few of the things that what would happen if trucks stopped running:  by day 6 grocery stores would be out of food, restaurants, pharmacies, and factories closed, ATMS out of cash, sewage treatment sludge and slime storage tanks full, gas stations closed, 685,000 tons of trash piling up every day, livestock suffering from lack of feed deliveries. Within 2 weeks clean water would be gone since purification chemicals couldn’t be delivered. Within 1 to 2 months coal power plants would shut down due to lack of coal, and much natural gas is pumped through pipelines electrically, so natural gas power plants would shut down too.  And there goes the financial system – our energy, electricity, and other 16 vital infrastructures are inter-dependent, which makes us incredibly vulnerable, since many of them can pull each other down (see [[ASIN:3319263730 When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation (SpringerBriefs in Energy)]] for details)

Michal Breen, of the Truman National Security Project, explained at the 2012 U.S. House of Representatives hearing “The American energy initiative part 23: A focus on Alternative Fuels and vehicles” why we’re doomed to continue to fight wars in the Middle East.  He said:  “Our dependence on oil as a single source of transportation fuel poses a clear national security threat to the nation. As things now stand, our modern military cannot operate without access to vast quantities of oil. A lack of alternatives means that oil has ceased to be a mere commodity. Oil is a vital strategic commodity, a substance without which our national security and prosperity cannot be sustained. The United States has no choice but to do whatever it takes in order to obtain a sufficient supply of oil. We share that sad and dangerous predicament with virtually every other nation on earth”

The word “oil” appears just once in the book as an adjective for Iraq (secular, middle-class, urbanized, rich with oil), and the words petroleum, gasoline, and diesel don’t appear at all.  But the words torture, terror, terrorist, and terrorism each appear about 90 times.

If we want to get out of the middle east, and stop risking that our ghastly activities on citizens of the Middle East aren’t turned on our own citizens in the U.S. someday, then the President needs to educate the public about the need for energy conservation.  Right now, Americans rush out to buy gas guzzling cars every time the price of gasoline goes down.  In fact, the New York Times reported today (June 24, 2016) that people are turning in their electric vehicles for gas guzzlers (see “American Drivers Regain Appetite for Gas Guzzlers”).  CAFÉ standards were supposed to go up to 54 mpg, but they’ve dropped to 24 mpg since gasoline prices began dropping in 2014.

Former President Carter was invited to a 2009 Senate Hearing “Energy Security: Historical perspectives and modern challenges” to advise the Senate.  He said the president has a responsibility to educate the American public about energy, like he did over his four years in office. Memorably, one of his speeches in 1977 began: “Tonight I want to have an unpleasant talk with you about a problem unprecedented in our history. With the exception of preventing war, this is the greatest challenge our country will face during our lifetimes. The energy crisis has not yet overwhelmed us, but it will if we do not act quickly. It is a problem we will not solve in the next few years, and it is likely to get progressively worse through the rest of this century. We must not be selfish or timid if we hope to have a decent world for our children and grandchildren. We simply must balance our demand for energy with our rapidly shrinking resources. By acting now, we can control our future instead of letting the future control us”. This was unpleasant dinner conversation. President Carter was not invited back to serve a second term.

Energy and transportation policy, diesel engines, and the trucking companies need to focus on energy efficiency, not endless growth. Conventional oil peaked in 2005 and has been on a plateau since then. That’s why our economy isn’t growing either – try to think of a business that doesn’t use energy.  We need to reduce our consumption.  Alternatives to Just-in-time delivery where trucks arrive half empty with just what’s needed and return empty has to stop.

We’ve traded away energy to gain time. We’ve traded away energy security to get stuff ASAP. Do we really have to have everything RIGHT NOW?

To address some of the comments at amazon:

This book is not worth reading if the premise is incorrect.

The one good thing about peak oil, peak coal, and peak natural gas is that starting possibly this year, fossil fuel production of oil, and perhaps coal (we’re near or past peak coal), and natural gas as well are about to decline, since peak oil means peak everything since it’s master resource that makes all other resources possible, including wind, solar, nuclear and other “alternatives” possible, from mining to diesel-fueled supply chains and delivery.

The premise that climate change is the greatest worry is incorrect. We are on the cusp of an energy crisis, and few see it coming because everyone assumes that solar, wind, biofuels and so on can save us.  Oil, coal, and natural gas replaced our wood/biomass civilization and enabled the human population to grow from 1.5 to 7 billion.

That means possibly starting this year, or within the next decade, carbon dioxide will begin to decline, although 20% of it is likely to remain in the atmosphere for millennia. Still, at at worst this means only the lowest 4 or so of the IPCC projections will be reached.  At  energyskeptic I back this up with peer-reviewed science at: 3) Fast Crash, Extinction, But not from climate change: peak fossil fuels.  I am not a climate change denier, and I worry that we’ve already set in place some non-linear, irreversible changes.

Low oil prices have led to fracked oil and gas production declining 25%. Fracked oil comprised about half of the rise of oil production since the plateau began in 2005, and low oil prices have led to less oil found in 2015 than since over 60 years ago, and in 2016 we’re finding even less oil.  Only 3 billion new barrels were found in 2015 but globally we burned 30 billion.  It won’t help for the price to rise again either, that will drive us back into an even worse depression than the 2008 crash, and oil prices even lower.  All we have left is nasty, remote, hard to get expensive oil that takes far more energy (and money) to get than the cheap oil that has fueled us up to 7 billion people from 1.5 billion the past 100 years.

Clearly the biggest danger is that resource wars will lead to nuclear war and a consequent nuclear winter that will kill billions of people. Preventing nuclear war, and using the remaining fossil energy to bury nuclear and other industrial waste should clearly be our main priority.  And allowing carrying capacity globally to go 5.5 billion people beyond what a biomass (wood)-based civilization can support in the future means that our fellow citizens will be the new terrorists in the future as the middle east reverts back to a nearly uninhabited desert as it was before the brief age of oil.

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