Monday, September 19, 2011

There be Monsters

One of the truly great sites on the net, The Oil Drum talks about Peak Oil with articulate and vetted information coming forth from pros who have in-depth knowledge of how the industry operates at the highest level. It is a resource I rely on, in part, when discussing the aspects of energy from the tech perspective. In this light, the OD post titled Peak Oil, Peak Debt, and the Concentration of Power piqued my interest as Clarles Eisenstein understands how emerging technologies threaten the entrenched power base(s) who have ruled the world for hundreds of years.

"When theorists approach the peak oil problem from the perspective of finding a substitute that will allow us to maintain our present energy infrastructure, their conclusion is one of despair. There may be many substitutes for oil as a concentrated form of storable energy, but none of them are nearly as good as oil itself. Those invested in the status quo would, quite understandably, like to maintain it, but it is becoming apparent even to the most highly invested that the status quo is doomed; that it can be maintained only temporarily, and at a rapidly accelerating environmental cost. The transition before us is not merely a transition in fuel types. It is also a transition in the whole energy infrastructure, both physical and psychological; a transition away from big power plants, distribution lines, and metered consumers; away from capital-intensive drilling, refining, distribution, and consumer fueling stations. More broadly, it is a transition away from centralization, concentration, and all the social institutions that go along with it.

Both the energy system and the money system are based on accumulation and the concentration of power. Not only our energy infrastructure, but our dominant yet invisible way of thinking about energy, presupposes a centralized system of distribution based on a highly concentrated energy source. Many alternative energy technologies have made little headway, not because they are technologically unfeasible, but because they don't fit into our present physical, financial, and psychological infrastructure."

In reading the article, one finds the power elite in many industries trying to maintain control while tech and the web make this increasingly difficult to do so, i.e.
  • Hollywood: Realize the fact you make money primarily on releasing the product, after that, price points of same goes down with the eventual move of said product to public domain in shorter time frames. It's just a matter of time but this will happen. To whit, Netflix, Apple and Google are making plays to distribute flicks at low cost. It's up to Hollywood to get with the program.
  • Music: The same rules apply. Apple has changed the playing field here and will, along with significant others, do the same for video. Interesting enough, many artists are moving away from this hostile, restrictive model of copy-write by fiat by becoming web savvy and pushing their content out there for all to download without the DMCA or other such niceties as it makes good business to do so.
  • Medicine: PLOS is changing the game on researchers releasing state-of-art info medical data to all of us without cost or restriction, thus changing the relationship of informed patient to doctor forever. Watson will play a huge role on medical as well as digital diagnosis of illness is coming to a computer near you.
  • Patents: The rules of granting patents is changing, thanks to the web. With openness and intelligence, you can eliminate Patent Trolls, the bane of all things relating to tech.
  • Power: Cheap, reliable solar is coming and when it does, the ability for people to generate enough energy to power a home or business without the need for the electric company becomes doable.
  • Portable Power: Graphene ultra capacitors for cheap, efficient energy storage is coming, thus lessening dependence on Lithium ion, an expensive way to store power.
  • Fabbing: The distributed way to build stuff is taking off and yes, much of it is open source.
  • Power II: Wind, wave and geothermal is ramping up as well thanks to the increasing cost of oil.
  • Hollywood II: Cheap, high end tech from 3D imaging to video production is enabling amateurs to produce really good content. The question to ask is, do we need Hollywood to be "properly" entertained. Increasingly, Vimeo and YouTube are showing that we don't.
  • Books/Newpapers: Tablets, Google and the web is transiting this invaluable resource from paper to bits. The courts not withstanding, publishers and authors will be digital whether they like it or not.
  • Going Local: The world is moving toward this as the old, centralized way of doing things is dying. Neighbors must help each other as government begins to decay. Efficient, local food production is the biggie here as it will become unaffordable to send tomatoes to New England via truck as the train system in the US has died, thanks to the advent of the car and the lack of vision of government to sustain it. 
  • And the list goes on and on and on...
Of course, the transition from a centralized to a distributed system is going to be hard as there is no free lunch, particularly when seen in the context of a corrupt and bankrupt financial/political system seeking to hold onto power by whatever means possible but move we must if we are to survive as a viable species while moving further into an uncertain future of climate change, dwindling natural resources and innate distrust of one another thanks to religion, nationalism and gross public ignorance.

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