restricted access Chapter 7. Wealth
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98 CHAPTER 7 WEALTH Alfred Lord Tennyson had some thoughts on buying and selling in outer space. As he saw it, when “the heavens fill with commerce, argosies of magic sails / Pilots of the purple twilight dropping down with costly bales,” universal peace would shower down as well. Today the future looks to some of us more like walking into a propeller, but not everyone agrees. Some have caught the opiate perfume of phrases like “Persian Gulf of the 21st century,” “Saudi Arabia of platinum ,” and “greatest wealth-creation opportunity in modern history.” They believe that new energy sources from the moon, non-polluting and inexhaustible, could transform and heal our planet. Equally excellent, they see themselves profiting unimaginably from these sources without interference or restraint. Capitalism this pure, it’s almost too good, it’s like uncut heroin, it stops the breath. Look at the target market! Every- Pope Brock ✴ 99 body! Experts at MIT say the 10 billion people on Earth in 2050 will require seven to eight times the largely poisonous energy we’re generating now, or would if they were still alive. The inexorable message: we’ve got to escape fossil fuels whatever it takes. Truth to tell, there’s so much talk about fossil fuels nowadays that the word oil makes me a little bit sleepy. So just a word or two on the subject and then we’ll move along. A couple of years ago I took a trip to a lower portion of the Arctic. Before I left, I was already planning my return—I would say to various women, “I’m just back from the Arctic,” and they would say, “The Arctic! Wow!”—but as I trudged over iron ground through a wind causing me an almost religious form of suffering it seemed like a tough way to get laid. The locals weren’t unhappy however. Quite the reverse: there in Churchill, Manitoba (pop. 923) on the edge of Hudson Bay, the creaking and cracking of harbor ice was coming earlier each year. Weary, stale, flat and unprofitable for centuries, Churchill seemed poised to make the leap from municipal amoeba to world hub. I stood on the wharf and imagined climate change arriving on the first oil tanker, coming down the gangplank waving and pointing at friends in the crowd. That’s the unimpeded future: we plunder the Arctic in the teeth of reason till the sun is a blot of ink and the world’s remaining animals scurrying northward splash and sink in the chilly seas, all because of our relentless “addiction to oil.” 100 ✴ WEALTH Actually that’s a lazy and inaccurate phrase. If it powered my car while getting me high, then I’d be addicted to oil. It’s more like being trapped in the world’s most abusive marriage. Counseling hasn’t helped. We keep saying we want to break away, yet we remain economic and psychological hostages. Absent intervention I can see myself with absolute clarity standing with streaming eyes, blistered lungs and sea water up to my shins still filling the tank. But I might not get the chance. Some think oil will abandon us. I had a taste once of what that might be like. My family spent an oil-free winter when I was four. We were in Speedsville , New York, a town as small as me, living in a house the parish had donated to the new minister and his family. From the living room you could actually see little strips of the road through cracks in the wallboards, and the wind through the house was ridiculous, so I spent several months tottering about in my snowsuit indoors with the pee bucket frozen in the upstairs hall. Sometimes we’d sit in the car with the motor running. But even then there was gas in the car. In the future that “peak oilers” see coming there won’t be. There’ll be no oil, period: when we’ve sucked up all we can feasibly reach, the power grids will implode. As the spirited Dimitry Orlov, a leading “doomer” puts it, world governments in league with “highly compensated senior lunch eaters” and “marionettes Pope Brock ✴ 101 controlled by giant bags of money” will produce a “superpower collapse soup . . . Make no mistake about it: this soup will be served, and it will not be tasty!” After that, doomers say, life will go on after a fashion: technology paralyzed, temperatures up, marauders on horseback and...


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