zaterdag, juni 10, 2006

Closing Thoughts

Throughout this six-week course we have discussed, predicted, read and wrote on Hubbert’s theory of when the planet’s supply of oil will peak. We researched the skeptics, alternative energy sources for when oil will peak, predictions for post peak and have seen a glimpse of a post peak world when looking at Cuba’s Special Period. I feel comfortable and prepared in describing the theory and defending it. Oil is not an infinite resource, knowing that, we can plainly see that the oil constantly being gulped down will ultimately lead to it running out. What happens when our fundamental energy source for the industrial world starts to come in less and less barrels?

This country is addicted to oil; we have even gone to war to satisfy our addiction. But like addictions, it is difficult to change habits. Countries like Sweden have already made plans to cut back on nuclear power and other oil dependencies by the year 2020. Some countries, even oil companies have admitted the possibility that the planet’s supply of oil will peak in the near future. In a response, they have invested in alternative sources of energy such as wind, solar, biofuels and ethanol, although Heinberg said ethanol is an unrealistic semi-substitute for petroleum.

When I went to the peak oil meeting at Wai Café, I understood that “shit, peak oil is real. There are people really preparing for it.” Because as much as I believed that a peak would lead a severely changed lifestyle, I still did not really grasp the truth that I’m going to know how grow carrots and corn if I’m going to want to survive. Knowing and understanding this makes me want to tell and warn everyone I know: my family, my friends, my neighbors and strangers (but there is a reason I listed them last). Since I'm going to hopefully visit a permaculture site this summer, I will understand more of the key concepts to surviving post peak. Ideally, I would want a designate place for all of my loved ones to go when peak happens, and because everyone in Social Science knows something about the peak oil theory, I would most likely want all of them with me.

All in all, I really enjoyed the class. I thought it was the perfect amount of time to be spending this much attention on one subject. I signed up for this class because I knew something about the peak oil theory and I was aware that Yellow Springs, Ohio, where Antioch College is located, was okay after peak and is on record to be the only place in the country to be prepared. I had a little background knowledge, but I wanted to really understand peak (which would probably deepen after I have had a few economics classes). I think I achieved that. I feel that Andy brought a lot of resources to the class as well as conducted the class in a direction of not just Hubbert’s theory, but stuff around that, and I think most importantly, our predictions for what will happen post peak. Also, I think that posting our work on blogs really helped spread the knowledge around as well as helping me with my own analyses.

vrijdag, juni 09, 2006

A Smash & Grab Culture

I went to Amsterdam during this year’s spring break with my mom and my brother, the first for any of us, especially my brother who has until then never left the country. I loved it there, the people were welcoming, the city was beautiful and 50 tulips for six Euro was the best deal I ever got. Now, obviously going to any country outside the United States can be a culture shock. The architecture is different, the food is different and of course the people are different, but what shocked me about going to Amsterdam particularly was the abundant admiration and respect the citizens had for their history. Luckily, our hotel was right off of Dam Square, the center of Amsterdam, and in Dam Square there is what is called the “New Church”. When my mom told me that, I said “How new can it be? It looks old.” The church is huge and detailed with carved in statues and iron workmanship. “New” to me meant modern, and kind of obscure and weird; hard, angular shaped and bright red or beige. This was anything but. My mom replied “I suppose it should look old, it was first built in 1350.”

Now in my neighborhood there is a small yellow church on Avenue B which is being threatened to be torn down. It should be registered as a historical landmark, not only because of its occupation in that location but what it has brought to the neighborhood. Plays, shelter, music bands, food given out, and since it is a church, the uplifting aspect I guess. Why is New York City, which is so rich in culture, so ready to dismantle what is left of its history? Is this really a Smash&Grab culture?

Relating back to when I was in Amsterdam: I was buying bread from a bakery and the storeowner asked where in the United States I was from. He obviously noted my accent, but I hope that’s all he noticed about me being American. Hopefully I did no disrespect, or performed no obnoxious or inconsiderate behavior that maybe he, even I associate with Americans. When I told him I was from New York City, he seemed more appeased, and frankly so did I. I am more ready to call myself a New Yorker than an American. Where did this stereotypically American behavior come from? Why is it so often associated with the United States? Are we alone in this smash and grab mindset? Or is it simply “human nature”?

In class, we brainstormed the origins of what we call “the smash a grab culture”. Which is a phrase that is pretty descriptive in describing the beginning of this certain mind set. If you pull a tree out of the ground, you plant another one. You do not leave a big gaping hole in the middle of the ground. What you take, you give back, basic kindergarten rules. Treat others how you want to be treated, do not diss anyone’s mom. Yet we continue to play into this idea that we are above all. The only way to understand this is to delve into how it got started.

In class, Eugenia mentioned that religion has a lot to do with this sense of entitlement we seem to have. It is God’s will that everything (and everyone in a lot of cases) this planet offers us is ours to take. The ocean is ours, we can pollute it if we want, and this idea that we are the all-being, we are separate from four-legged creatures and sometimes above God. It’s funny when on the news or in the paper we see “a new discovery, the black whiskered octopus.” Because that black whiskered octopus has been there, now that it is discovered and categorized into chart does not make this creature above those not discovered. What they in the papers an on the news forget to say is “a new discovery by humans.” And now that once we have this animal documented we can take them out of its home, observe it and make more classifications.

Maybe a reason for this constant documenting and classifying of everything, including humans, is our need to understand the world. Maybe we are so frustrated with human life and the meaning of it; we try to find meaning elsewhere, or try to solve the meaning of life for a black whiskered octopus by writing a page on its natural habitat, life cycle, its niche and role. What we spend lifetimes trying to figure out for ourselves.

How can we solve this sense of entitlement and the smash and grab mindset? I claim that there is no cure, only a complete upside-down-turn-around of everything we know about capitalism, profit, salary, millionaires. Maybe by chance, a huge widespread depression could shake and break capitalism; money would not be as dependable and crucial as it seems to be right now and capitalist and poor worker would be leveled to happy worker and happy worker.

Peak Oil Meeting

Wednesday night I attended a peak oil meeting at a café on 6th Avenue. I saw Henry there, and later Andy came (I’m almost sure it was Andy, not Prof. Schneider). I wanted to come to see people outside the Social Science class discussing peak oil in a more efficient and “taking-action” setting. Also, it would give me more insight in how to prepare for post peak, and hopefully the people I would want to be around because of their preparations.

Unfortunately it wasn’t as an efficient and “taking-action” setting as I had hoped. It seemed that those who were talking a lot were really only talking and not addressing the crucial points in discussing peak oil; and those that were saying very little, seemed to have a more confident hold on the theory, as well as self and community preparations. It is a shame that situation did not switch.

With the exception of the near end of the meeting, it appeared that those active in the meeting were merely throwing out ideas, either to get feedback from the group, or just to remind themselves they had something important to say. I was under the impression that these meetings have been going on for awhile, but the content of what the group was discussing seemed a less meaningful and less fact oriented than discussions I have in class or outside class with my mom or with Nina and Eugenia. Which is unfortunate since most of these people are fairly involved in the organization and they themselves have made big strides in lessening their dependence on oil.

When Henry and I were asked to introduce ourselves, they applauded when we told them we just finished a six week course on the peak oil theory in our high school. Which was odd because who is applauded for being young and in school? I guess it was because we took an interest in not only a widely unknown theory about our greatest and most used energy source, but that we took the initiative to come to this meeting, which was only roughly eight blocks away from SOF. But honestly, it was just to see what other people and organizations were planning post peak, some tips, and advice. I suppose I got that advice near the end of the meeting when some would say that they often (or not as often as they would like) go to Kevin and Sarah’s farm in Westchester. There they would spend a day or a weekend or a week growing fruits and vegetables, and churning butter, someone by which was very proud of that accomplishment. I hope to visit Kevin and Sarah’s farm and learn something more about gardening, polish my somewhat skills.

However, despite the farm option at the end of the meeting, mostly throughout the meeting I felt like if most of these people think they are getting some information out of this conference, maybe they should talk to some more people in Social Science, read a few blogs, listen in on a conversation. When I realized that the topic of alternative energy sources were answered with “Ohh, that’s an interesting idea.” What? What do you think is going to happen when the present energy source…I don’t know…peaks? I was kind of shocked they were responding to that with that. And this one guy brought up the Hirsch Report, not to say anything about it, just to say he has read part of it. And I realized that although we are not experts on peak oil, I think as a class we are fairly knowledgeable on the subject, and most of us have educated predictions on a post peak world (probably mostly post peak USA, which I think most of us have focused on).

I tried to suggest that the organization should target schools and have workshops describing the peak oil theory, a post peak scenario and as an extended part, a trip to the farm or ideally a permaculture site. But I was cut off, not intentionally, and it was a lot of people trying to get their point and ideas across I was not able to try to suggest again, but hopefully another time, maybe with a different group of people.

maandag, juni 05, 2006


From what you have showed about your sister and her seemingly oblivious mindset towards the peak oil theory, maybe you should take a different approach. Although pointing the shower head at her when she turns on the water is funny for you and those who you tell, it may not be as effective in informing your sister about the peak. From what you have already explained, it seems that even talking to your sister, she listens to you for a short amount of time and then stares at your shirt (I do not know why either, you should ask her), but maybe you should directly relate her present situation to a post peak situation. Make it really personally. Maybe discuss how buying the latest pair of Nikes may not be on her priority list when she has to learn how to grow her own food. But maybe your sister is one of those people that will listen to the problem, but not their sibling. From what you have written, it seems your mom is the most interested person in the peak oil theory. I suggest that the brimstone technique might not be the best way, maybe more the hammer technique. Continuing to remind them to not have every light in the house, "get used to it because in five years it's going to be compromised."

It is interesting that you discussed what our reactions are based on those around us, where in your post you write "their reaction and implementations I see is more like, 'wow this is really going to happen, but everything is going so smoothly.'" It's that question that we so often heard "Well, if Jose jumped off a cliff would you do it?" and we semi-reluctantly reply "well, no." But if Jose, Barry, Nina, Chris, Solomon, Poon and Eugenia all jumped off a cliff, could we honestly say no? We look around us for comfort, and comfort often relates to what everyone else is doing. I was on a plane flying to New York from Ohio when the plane started to bounce heavily on the air. I looked around, and so others looking around, but the atmosphere of the plane continued to be "calm and collective". The pilot came on speaker and said there was going to be minor turbulence, but everything is okay. It was more than minor turbulence. The plane could have been diving head first and everyone would continue to be in their seats, all in good faith that the pilot said everything would be okay, and that everyone around me believed him. But when peak does happen, will everyone continue to look around to see who is going to grab that last can of chicken noodle soup, or will people drive forward with the mindset "every man for themselves"?

zondag, juni 04, 2006

After Peak

During this course, I’ve tried to better understand not only the peak oil theory, but its aftermath. What could happen after the planet’s oil capacity (from our understanding) peaked? When at which point the oil that is derived from the earth will exceed its halfway point, and the constant use of oil will lessen, thereby dramatically taking a toll on our daily lives. Will there be a seamless transition from oil to alternative energy sources? From Cuba’s example and the government’s preparation for when oil peaks, a seamless transition is not likely.

Below is a list of what will occur in order after oil has peaked (which I predict to be in the next ten years):

1. Inflation will occur: When the world’s supply of oil peaks, price per barrel will skyrocket. This makes sense because of the obvious importance oil has in industrial countries, and the importance industrial countries have for the world (but probably not so much for the planet’s well-being). Everything will increase in price. Not drastically at first, but little by little, this will continue, as not to raise attention to the 39 cent stamps rising to 84 cents. There has already been evidence of inflation because interestingly enough, the price of stamps has risen dramatically in the past ten years compared to its history. This makes sense because of the need for oil to transport mail from state to state, let alone country to country. Also, the dollar continues to grow weaker compared to the Euro.

2. The Real Estate market will have extreme fluctuations: Because of the absence of oil to essentially power homes, those that own homes will try to sell, and while everyone is selling, the buyers will have the opportunity to buy cheap, and so will go everything in a rapid circle. This would most likely translate to a rapid buying and selling of stocks. This continuous circle could end in an acceleration in capitalism could ultimately crash leaving many without jobs.

3. Vast Unemployment: Because of the constant buying and selling of stocks, which would lead to capitalism accelerating, which then would lead to a crash, would ultimately lead to a dramatic rise in unemployment, as mentioned previously in #2. From this point, two different scenarios could follow:
3a. Vast unemployment could lead to people putting more time and energy into creating urban gardens where we could supply the community with fruits and vegetables and lessen our dependence on oil.
3b. The job market becomes extremely competitive and a widespread depression emerges. People resort to crime and violence, and the more land people have, the more land people want. This could be avoided by implementing community land, so everyone has to work for it and it belongs to the state rather than one person.

4. Relocation: In order to use land to grow a large amount of food, those that live in the desert will have to be relocated. This could lead in maximizing the carrying capacity for a certain region, or if land is equally distributed, there might not be a problem resulting in over population. But what happens when a certain region produces more food than another region? Is it given to that region in need of it, or do they keep it as a surplus? Maybe we can compromise.

5. Alternative Travel: Railroads will be used for long distance travel, whereas bicycles and other human powered machinery will be used for short distance travel. This will be hopefully avoided, as short distance travel will not be needed because of everything in walking vicinity. Schools, gardens, etc will be within walking distance. And long distance travel will not carry people, but materials, metal, wood, some types of plastic (hopefully).

6. Socialist/Communist way of life.

Peak Oil & Other’s Response

When I try to explain the peak oil theory to my mom, she understands the theory, as she herself has read up on it and is more knowledgeable on the subject that I might give her credit for. I explain what I know about the possible alternative energy sources for when oil peaks, the question “will oil even peak?” (a skeptic’s point of view), and how our present lifestyle will change dramatically when it does. From what I infer, she believes that oil will peak in the immediate future (being in the next one to five to twenty years), and immediately after peak, inflation will occur. But the reasoning behind the inflation, given by the government (the United States and others), will not be: “the world’s supply of oil has come to a peak, but our consumption of this energy source continues to grow.” Instead there will be a cover up, it will be blamed on an embargo, the war, Iraqi rebels, or simply “we didn’t produce it yet.” That is what my mom thinks will most likely happen. Oil will peak soon, if it has not already, but as she puts it, “the message will not match the result.”

My mom said she does not constantly doubt everything she is told, nor does she support a random conspiracy theory, because if you do, no one will take you seriously, plus you are not really thinking based on an analysis of the situation, but rather doing the opposite. But by analyzing past events and the world’s response to different resource shortages (land, oxygen, oil), we, as a population, can better predict the outcome and our response. So, by understanding the United States’ stance on oil, alternative energy sources, and a disregard to international relations (the withdrawal from the Kyoto Pact, the International Criminal Court, and lack of obvious morals and ethics involving foreign affairs), we can better predict this country’s response to the situation and the response to the people.

I see this as a very possible outcome. Why face the actuality when you can blame it on someone else? So, when oil peaks, how will we know? So far, less than ½ of the United States has invaded Iraq, as well as Afghanistan, and will Iran, if they have not already. How can you be sure the reason for the outcome?

I spoke to my grandma who lives in Virginia on the phone and she asked me what I’m currently studying. I tried to explain the peak oil theory, which she has never heard of. My grandma is what I call old smart. Not relating to the fact that she is older, but rather that she knows all about European history, well read, can carry on a meaningful conversation, and is an expert in her former profession, pharmaceuticals. She absorbs everything she hears and sees and sits on it for awhile, while I take it in and spit it out without always thinking about it. So, on the phone I tried to explain peak oil to her. She was listening, asking me to clarify, really digging deep for details about the theory. When I tried to explain what would happen after the peak, she exclaimed that “oh Emily, it will not be that extreme.” As much as an activist I think my grandma is, I think she still has faith in the government and the corporations. That somehow, they will not let the reality of the peak get to us. I tried to relate the depression in the 1930s to her, but not only was she really young, but her family was financially secure and was seemingly not affected by the economy crash. I made a wrong move and fired the brimstone technique at her. After that she asked to talk to my mom again. She is coming up in later June; maybe I can better communicate to her in person.

By discussing peak oil with my close friend, Elizabeth, for a long time, she has been motivated to do some research on her own concerning the post peak world. She’s researched alternative energy sources by looking at the Social Science blogs and I gave her Powerdown. I think she is really enthused for preparing, I mentioned I want grow food in a garden, but my backyard is being used by the restaurant below my apartment, so because Elizabeth lives across the street from me and has a backyard that she shares with her neighbors, we are trying to use that. She has a small three by four feet plot of placed earth that we have decided will start our pre-post peak garden. From the farmers market we bought peas, mint and basil, although those three plants may not be as nutritious in a post peak world, we have to take baby steps. I have dreams of growing okra and pumpkins, even though I do not like either very much; I just think they look pretty.

Those are the people I have mostly talked about peak oil with. I realize I had the opportunity with different people right after I finished talking to them. Lately I have been discussing Uganda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda with people who know something about it, and peak oil has unfortunately become secondary. But I will continue to try to integrate it into the conversation as I think it is something that directly effects us, and arguably if it does not, it is still something to be reckoned with and discussed. A resource shortage is clearly detrimental to a society, and oil, the greatest energy source known to mankind, a shortage of that is detrimental to the world. It is more than awareness and topic for discussion, but a how-to-survive necessity.

zondag, mei 21, 2006

Cuba’s Special Period

A modern post peak society would most likely shadow Cuba’s fuel crisis. In ‘Cuba’s Special Period’, Cuba had a temporary shortage of oil. It appears from the video that at first, Cubans thought that the fuel shortage is only temporary and will return again soon. The biggest change would be no electricity. But it soon proved that Cuba’s oil crisis was not short term. After realizing that candles and cold food did not fix the problem of no oil, new strategies were implemented.

Urban gardens in Havana provided Havana with 50% of the city’s population with fruits and vegetables, considerably lowering the amount of imported food. These urban gardens were literally within the city, and grown by civilians. Because city dwellers were not experts in growing food to feed themselves and other people, learning to garden became fundamental. A woman fixing a meal in the video stated that all the ingredients, except one, she herself grew: the vegetables, fruits, all but the rice which she bought. This, as one could imagine, significantly decreased the amount of imported and bought food, decreasing the oil consumption.

Even the way food was grown had to be changed. Oil was used to fuel tractors, and used for pesticides, and because of the shortage, an alternative had to be found. Farmers resorted to oxen as an alternative to tractors. This proved to turn the ground better than tractors because tractors compact the earth while their uplifting it. But oxen uplift the ground, and even with their hooves turn it. A downside to using oxen is oxen are animals, and are not constantly working. As one person in the video pointed out, oxen will stop and lay down and you can’t get them up. When they want to rest, they rest. Also, pesticides were rid of oil and used and made organically. This no doubt had a healthy effect on the food grown and the people who ate them.

Cubans primarily used the power of the automobile to travel from place to place. But when the fuel became no longer accessible, the power of the automobile was no longer an option. The Cuban government imported bicycles to deal with locomotion. Although traveling long distances became difficult and buses were used to solve that problem. However many people had to use buses to get from place to place because many people were traveling long distances. And according to the video, Cubans getting to and from work had to wait on average four hours for a bus to arrive to take them near home, and even when a bus did arrive, often it would be full and would have to wait for another one.

Although these alterations in daily life were sometimes inconvenient, it was an almost oil free economy. Cuba became almost equal to the United States in literacy and life expectancy rates. I read up on Cuba’s Special Period and I found an online journal called Ecotecture, which discusses problems and hopeful solutions to environmental problems, such as peak oil. The article, written by Philip S. Wenz on July 1, 2003, discusses Cuba’s situation after the “Special Period”, and that it has healed and prospered Cuba. According to the article, Cuba is a “successful socialist experiment”.

The article also discusses the relationship between the United States and Cuba, or more specifically, Americans and Cuba. Because Cuba is considered a socialist country—in some lenses, a communist country—and is doing quite well by any standard, Cuba is considered a threat to the United States because “there can be–there is–a society that takes care of its people. It doesn’t oppress them, it meets their needs–and in a fairly non-intrusive way.” And despite the U.S. embargo (which may be another ploy to prevent the majority of the American population from knowing Cuba’s well being of her population), “Cuba is doing well”. In the article, it is said that Cuba has a saying: “…tonight 20 million children on this planet will miss their dinner and sleep in the streets–and not one of them is Cuban.”

So how can we lead oil-free lives? Cuba gave us a glimpse of a post oil society. For this situation, humor me and say we all live in Manhattan. If we implement urban gardens, we will need to remove the cement from the sidewalks and streets, but the soil underneath the cement is not good enough to be used as fertilizer. For some of us who live in tenement houses, we could use our backyards, and although it is not much land, we could grow something. There are also community gardens which grow plants and some fruits and vegetables already, and if we continue to grow food there, with different varieties, we could minimize our dependence on purchasing fruits and vegetables from outside the city which is transported by oil, therefore minimizing our dependence on oil.

However, community and backyard gardens will not supply us with the amount of food we need to feed 50% of the city’s population, as in the case with Havana. As a city with a concrete cover, growing food to feed any amount of people would be difficult. We could use parks, Prospect, Central, Union, Tompkins, Madison, Morningside, and Battery. They would be large, citywide gardens, which everyone who lived around could participate in keeping up and the entire city would be farmers. We would continue running the trains, and as in the case of Cuba, a large amount of bicycles would be imported. Streets that are usually crowded by SUVs would be replaced by bicycles. Daily transportation from borough to borough could be a problem, but with gardens in every borough (Staten Island has a lot of park space, I got lost in it last year), and bicycles traveling over bridges, that could make transportation doable, although, daily transportation could be a problem.

A most certainly potential problem could be a source of heat. Unlike Cuba, we don’t live in a Caribbean country, and winters could be potentially brutal. But with the fast burning of fossil fuels and the carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere, global warming could take care of the harsh winters. Although low rise land, like Manhattan, would most likely be flooded as well. But if global warming was not a problem, providing heat to warm a population would be extremely difficult.

Other alternative energy sources will be found and used. A combination of solar and wind power will be used to replace the large consumption of oil. In Cuba, many houses use solar panels as a source of energy to fuel electricity. In the summer, when fans and air conditioners are not an option, roof gardens could serve as a cooling agent, since black tar raises the temperature of the building. Roof gardens will be used as a cooling agent as well as a place to grow food.

Cubans seem to have a very different vibe compared to Americans. This is not surprising, as we have a history of industrialized imperialism and capitalism, and Cuba not so much. The usually perceived tone of Americans is “let me get as much as I can hold and be the best.” While Cubans, as seen in the video, do not carry that tone at all, but rather the tone “what can I get out of this? How do we get beyond this together?” Is this a purely socialist attitude that the union is more important than the person? Or maybe it is the lifestyle of Cubans, the only Latin American country to defend itself successfully against American forces? Whatever the reason, I believe that the American reaction to the new lifestyle of a post peak world will be drastically different from that of Cubans. Unless the video focused on the huge successes of Cuba’s special period, and not so much on the fallbacks.

In order to grow and manufacture all of these necessities to have a successful post peak society, we need to learn how to grow and manufacture all of these necessities. We need to know how to build a greenhouse, as well as know how it works, how to grow food, how to sew clothing, how to repair our bikes. As in the case with Cuba, education plays a key role in deciding if our society will continue (altered as it may be) or crumble.

But I feel as much as we prepare for this oil peak, which we have not, even how close oil is to peaking, that we will be in Cuba’s situation when there was first a shortage, except longer. We will make small changes, but still consuming a large amount of oil, until it runs out. Like Cuba in the beginning of the fuel shortage, the population will lose on average a large amount of weight (which may not be a bad thing, considering that 1 out of 3 Americans are clinically over weight). Many will starve and ultimately die, and those that survive will base it on past experience in growing food and a space to grow food. But as (hopefully) new alternative energy sources are found, New York City will prosper because of its perfect location within harbors, as was the original reason why New York City prospered.

Rwanda. (This does not count towards my 2000 words, but it is an example of how a resource shortage paralyzes a society.)

Rwanda, a small central African country, carved out of colonial territories, became a country defined by genocide. During the span of 100 days in the spring of April 1994, 800,000 Rwandans were murdered, and became the third largest body count since 1950. The genocide was not just massive, it was bloody. From April to July of 1994, mainly Hutu massacred Tutsi, mostly killed by being hacked by machete or burned alive, or both. Tutsi sought refuge in schools, churches, government offices, only to be surrounded and slaughtered. Supposed safe havens turned into targets. There was no refuge in Rwanda. It is argued to be “the most unambiguous case of genocide since Hitler’s war against the Jews.” But before we identify the good and the evil, we must first identify: What caused the killers to kill? Was it only ethnic hatred? What was Rwanda’s status before the genocide? Like many societies, agriculture plays a huge role in ensuring economic prosperity. The land’s resources and/or imperialist based capitalist imports determine if a society will fail or succeed. In Rwanda’s case, there was a massive resource shortage, both land and money, that continued through the years leading up to the 1994 genocide. This comes to the conclusion that resource shortages were the primary factor to the genocide in Rwanda.

The country’s steady growth of human population combined with limited land caused a massive decrease of land per person. This provided Rwandans with less farmland, which meant less food and less money. With the country on the brink of starvation, farmers resorted to over farming, which led to drought and soil erosion. This resulted in an even less amount of food per farm. Combine that with a money loss from foreign exchange of Rwanda’s main exports (coffee, which made up 75% of exports). With too many people on too little land and no money to buy food, it became clear to poor farmers, and those without farms to take more land from those that did. For the most part, those who were poor were Hutu (roughly 85% of the country’s population), and those that had more land were Tutsi (roughly 15% of the population), and so the genocide began.

Growing Population
Overpopulation is defined by when the land and resources do not need meet the needs of the population of a living species. What led to this rapid population growth in Africa? According to Jared Diamond in his book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, he states

“…the adoption of crops native to the New World (especially corn, beans, sweet potatoes and manioc, alias cassava), broadening the agricultural base and increasing food production beyond that previously possible with the native African crops alone; improved hygiene, preventive medicine, vaccinations of mothers and children, antibiotics and some control of malaria and other epidemic African diseases…” (Diamond 312)

With the introduction of vaccinations and easily cultivated crops, food production and the overall quality of health increased. This resulted in the human population growing exponentially. However, food production did not keep up with the rapidly growing human population. This situation is referred to as “Malthusian”, based on an English economist named Thomas Malthus who published a book discussing the theory that human population will exceed food production. Malthus argued that “population growth proceeds exponentially, while food production increases arithmetically.”

Rwanda is the most densely populated country in all of Africa, Burundi being the second. Rwanda’s average population density is triple that of Nigeria, Africa’s third most densely populated country, and ten times that of Tanzania. But the question remains, why Rwanda?
Roman Catholics make up 56.5% of Rwanda’s population ( World Fact Book), and it is commonly known that by Catholic belief, contraception is wrong in the eyes of God. This explains the absent use of contraception as a means of population control. Contraception has been a method used to drastically reduce population in countries such as Japan (voluntarily) and China (government-ordered). Rwanda’s population was rapidly increasing, and according to the Malthusian prediction, would outrun food production.

Limited Land
Rwanda constitutes 26,338 square kilometers of earth, roughly the size of Maryland, and holds 8,648,248 people ( World Fact Book). That averages to 328.4 people per square kilometer (528.4 people per square mile). However, by 1990, before the 1994 genocide, Rwanda’s average population density was 760 people per square mile, higher than the United Kingdom (610) and approaching that of Holland (950) (Diamond 319). Although both of these European countries have high human population densities, they do not rely on food that they themselves have produced, but rather imported food from countries they colonized, and therefore capitalized the goods and services. Rwanda is a small country in central Africa, with no colonial territories and almost no history of world-dominating capitalism, thus largely producing their own food.

Rwanda’s geography and volcanic soil made the land ideal for farming, providing 90% of Rwandan’s with livelihoods as subsistence farmers (Voluntary Service Overseas Organization). But because of the large population, Rwandan farmers had limited farmland. The U.S. Homestead Act of 1862 states that a 40-acre farm is considered necessary to support a family (although now 40 acres is considered presently inadequate); compare that to in Rwanda during 1988 and 1993, the years leading up to the genocide, a “large” farm was on average 2.5 acres (Diamond 321) In Kanama, in northwestern Rwanda, the population increased from 1,740 people per square mile in 1988 to 2,040 people per square mile in 1993; a staggering amount of people in 1988, with a staggering increase in five years. This left land extremely limited in this region, resulting in people per farm household increasing from 4.9 people in 1988 to 5.3 people in 1993. The Malthusian theory was already in play. As the population was growing, the amount of land stayed the same. This led to more people per square mile and less farmland per family.

Over Farming
After Rwanda’s independence from Belgium in 1962, the population rose and in turn, forests were cleared and marshes were drain to make room for more farms to feed a growing population. According to Diamond:

“As Rwanda's population rose after independence, the country carried on with its traditional agricultural methods and failed to modernize, to introduce more productive crop varieties, to expand its agricultural exports, or to institute effective family planning. Instead, the growing population was accommodated just by clearing forests and draining marshes to gain new farmland, shortening fallow periods, and trying to extract two or three consecutive crops from a field within one year.” (319)

This resulted in over farming. By shortening fallow periods (which would traditionally take ten to fifteen years), soil erosion and drought occurred. According to a New York Times article, published on March 31, 2006, “…as they try to feed a rapidly growing population, the farmers instead grow crop after crop, sapping the soil's fertility” (Dugger). The country was under pressure and over farming became an act of desperation. Top-soils were washed away in a night, drought occurred, streams were drying up, and then in the 1980s, starvation was apparent (Diamond 320).
Exports Losing Value

Rwanda’s two main exports, coffee and tea, began to lose value on the world market. This was a huge detriment to Rwanda, as up to 75% of Rwanda’s foreign exchange earnings came from coffee (Voluntary Service Overseas Organization ). The world price for coffee was stable due to the United Nations International Coffee Agreement in 1950, an agreement between rich and poor countries, which each member “…[recognizes] the importance of the coffee sector to the livelihoods of millions of people, particularly in developing countries, and bearing in mind that in many of these countries production is on small-scale family farms…” (United Nations International Coffee Agreement). An important agreement between countries, but in 1989, the United States withdrew from the Agreement (Voluntary Service Overseas Organization). Without the U.S.’ support, the International Coffee Agreement terminated, which increased the amount of coffee on the world market, which lowered the world price of coffee. This did not change the price of an average cup of coffee in the United States, where did the extra money go? The companies selling the coffee, companies such as Nestlé, Proctor and Gamble, and Sara Lee, were raking in profit, thusly directing effecting Rwandan farmers. Rwanda’s economy collapsed within months.

With the population growing at a remarkable rate of 3% per year, land and food became even more limited. Rwanda’s main exports lost a huge amount of value on the world market, directly effecting coffee growers. With the population continuing to rise, the number of people in a household skyrocketed. In the decade leading up to the genocide, people per farm household increased from 4.9 people in 1988 to 5.3 people in 1993, as mentioned earlier. Normally, after a Rwandan turned a certain age, they would venture out, marry and then soon after start a new farm, but with limited land, that became extremely difficult.

While people per household increased, food per household decreased. “An average household got only 77% of its calorie needs from its farm. The rest of its food had to be bought with income earned off the farm…” (Diamond 321). This required farmers to find additional work elsewhere, which was extremely challenging; over 60% of farmers were trying to find jobs other than their farm, it was a competitive market, and the unemployment rate was growing.

Resource shortage led to genocide
According to the Voluntary Service Overseas Organization, “In January 1994, the World Food Programme warned that 800,000 people were at risk of starvation in Rwanda.” The country was poor, over populated and starving. Rwanda was in the midst of a depression. Those that had land were primarily Tutsi, and were envied by those that did not, primarily Hutu. In Kanama, in northwestern Rwanda, the first to be massacred were land owners (Diamond 325).

Two Belgian economists, Catherine André and Jean-Philippe Platteau, who analyzed Rwanda’s economy crash, and then the 1994 genocide, thoroughly researched the connection between large land owners and those murdered. “…It is not rare, even today, to hear Rwandans argue that a war is necessary to wipe out an excess of population and to bring numbers into line with the available land resources” (Diamond 325-6). A massacre would benefit the survivors. This, again, proves Malthusian, “population and environmental problems created by non-sustainable resource use will ultimately get solved…if not by pleasant means… then by unpleasant [ones].”

By July of 1994, the same predicted number of people at risk of starvation in January 1994, three months before the genocide started, was the same number of people murdered in those three months. If too many people are on too little land and you cannot get more land, than you get rid of people. This was the mindset to many Hutu, enforced by the Rwandan government. In order to control and feed the population, a mass murder seemed to be the only option.

Genocide does not just come out of nowhere. Past events and current situations lead to a mass slaughter. For Rwanda, a combination of overpopulation, limited land and lost money from foreign exchange pushed Rwanda into a depression. The country was poor and hungry, and those that had land to feed their family were envied by those who did not. On average, those that had a large amount of a land (“large land” was less than 10% of what is considered to be necessary to support a family), were Tutsi. After July 1994, 800,000 people were murdered, the exact estimation of people on the brink of starvation in Rwanda just three months before the genocide started. For the livelihoods of the majority of the country (which is roughly 85% Hutu), more land was the solution. Those that owned more land were killed, which were mostly Tutsi.

Currently, the International Coffee Agreement was renewed in 1994, right after the genocide, and then again in 2001. This agreement was more important than most knew, as Rwanda’s economy collapsed within months after its termination. Now, Rwanda is getting the contracted percentage for coffee that is grown (although still extremely little, only 0.05%). Rwanda is also taking dramatic steps towards modernizing their agricultural methods to prevent over farming, including NEPAD (New Partnership for Africa’s Development). Resources are the base of every society, unless a country does not profit from other countries, a society cannot survive without their resources; that is what happened to Rwanda.

Alternative Point of View
Rwanda’s genocide was the result of ethnic conflict, caused by Belgium’s colonization throughout the beginning to mid 20th century. In the 1930s, Belgian governing officials implemented identification cards (Diamond 314). These identification cards defined you as either Hutu or Tutsi, mostly basing the separation on appearance. They enforced a lasting division by favoring Tutsi and hindering Hutu.

When Rwanda became independent in 1962, Hutu struggled to replace Tutsi domination with Hutu domination (Gourevitch 314). There was clear hatred between each ethnic group, often related to the famous story of Cain and Abel. “…Cain was a cultivator, and Abel, the younger, was a herdsman. They made their offerings to God—Cain from his crops, Abel from his herds. Abel’s portion won God’s regard; Cain’s did not. So Cain killed Abel.” (Gourevitch 47) Tutsi won Belgian’s regard because of a more gringo-like appearance compared to Hutu. This resulted in Tutsi reaping more of Rwanda’s offerings: land, food, wealth.

On April 6, 1994, Hutu general Habyarimana’s plane was shot down by an unknown. This sparked the genocide; after, Hutu extremists sent radio announcements to exterminate Tutsi, “kill the cockroaches!” Throughout and after Belgian’s occupation in Rwanda, there was a mighty animosity between both Hutu and Tutsi. Hutu envied Tutsi’s place in Rwanda’s hierarchy, appointed by Belgian colonial governments (Gourevitch 65).

There must have been something bigger than ethnic hatred that led to genocide, since it was not a constant issue among Rwandans. If it was purely ethnic hatred, than it would not explain the countless intermarriages, that both groups speak the same language; both groups go to the same schools, churches, both worked together in offices, and live in the same in villages. With the population growing, food and land were limited. Those that had bigger farms and could support themselves were primarily Tutsi. And by analyzing who were first murdered in the genocide, it could explain a motive. The first to be killed were large land owners, Tutsi mostly. When 800,000 people are predicted to be close to starvation, a genocide killing 800,000 people will solve the issue, temporarily.

Rwanda’s genocide ended with a more than 800,000 body count. When one out of ten people are murdered in a population, it is more than a crime against the nation; it is a crime against humanity. Genocides have taken place throughout human history, and the only way to understand them, is to analyze them. Why did it happen? Who, if anyone, is at fault? Can this happen to us?

Currently, the United States is at war with a country for reasons that seem inexcusable. And now, the United States is predicted to go to war with a country neighboring the one we are already at war with. Is it weapons of mass destruction? Or is the land the country occupies conveniently holding a large amount of the greatest energy source of mankind? When analyzing past events, we can better predict the future and our actions. A resource shortage can collapse a society, as in the case of Rwanda. If we understand that we are presently in front of the end of the age of oil—our source of energy for the industrial world—than we can prepare for a lasting society. But if we continue to use our resources as if they are infinite, then we will be shaken to our core and society will fail.

Rwanda, a small central African country, carved out of colonial territories, became a country defined by genocide. It was not only the sheer number of deaths within three months, but the world’s response. We did nothing to stop this genocide. The United States turned a blind eye, excusing it as “a tribal conflict”. As if genocide is accepted in Africa, a part of daily life. But it was more than ethnic hatred, it was a depression. Exports lost value because of the termination of an agreement, caused by the United States withdrawing. Rwandans were starving and were desperate for land and money. Killing for land seemed excusable, and in Hutu eyes, maybe it was. Many claimed they were taking back Rwanda from Tutsi. But really, it was extermination.

zondag, mei 14, 2006

Daily Use of Oil.

We use oil daily, something which is inarguable. Apart from the obvious, cars to work and school, heating in houses, manufacturing of products, there is more we use oil for. The plastic bag of peanuts you get at the corner store uses a large amount of oil. Starting at the peanut, which is cultivated using pesticides, farming equipment, and surprisingly, agricultural technology. In order to grow that peanut alone, we need oil to fuel the tractor, oil to provide the pesticides. Oil to transport the peanut to packaging factory, then oil to produce the plastic bag, oil to transport the packaged peanuts to location to location, then finally you’re neighborhood bodega. Without oil, you won’t be able to easily enjoy a bag of peanuts. Tragedy. How do you escape from an oil-based economy? No pun intended.

Currently, I’m studying Rwanda before and after the 1994 genocide, and mainly focusing on Rwanda’s agriculture. Despite the failure to adapt modern agricultural methods and introducing more crop varieties, Rwanda mainly was a self sufficient country. In a drastic, but quite possible outcome of the peak of oil, we will be forced to be almost completely self sufficient. We will have to grow our own food, make our own clothing (if we still think clothing is necessary) and build and create our own tools. Will some places in the modern world be able to more easily adapt to a world without oil?

Rwanda, a central African, rural country would be effected. However because of their recent history and present state of being almost completely reliable on their own land to provide food, they may be less affected than the U.S., who uses hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil to commute to work, let alone anything else. So, when oil peaks, we will be either finding an alternative energy source, or we won’t, and if we don’t, we will be merge to a self-sufficient lifestyle, either forced or voluntary. Rwanda may, and most possibly will have a better and easier time adjusting to the end of the age of oil.

Something Rwanda will have a hard time adjusting to is the absence of financial gain from their two main exports, coffee and tea. Because Rwanda is a landlocked country, exporting goods will be difficult. Which brings me to my next point, how will travel be compensated for? Planes, ships and cars all need large amounts of oil to function, so what is a good alternative? Trains are economically safe and would work in a post oil world. Which would solve the absence of travel, making it easier to transport materials and tools, food and clothing, and then of course, people.
(Continuing to edit)

Hirsh Report

The purpose of the Hirsh Report, an account of the peak oil theory sponsored by an agency of the U.S government, is to identify the when the oil will peak, and three different scenarios for after oil peaks. Those three scenarios are the following:

-Scenario I: Mitigation begins at the time of peaking.
-Scenario II: Mitigation starts 10 years before peaking.
-Scenario III: Mitigation starts 20 years before peaking.

According to the Hirsh Report, ‘mitigation’ is defined as “1) implementation of technologies that can substantially reduce the consumption of liquid fuels (improved fuel efficiency) while still delivering comparable service and 2) the construction and operation of facilities that yield large quantities of liquid fuels.”

While I believe undoubtedly that mitigation is important to predict when to start, actually considering Scenario I is difficult. In order to have an ideal transfer of energy source when oil peaks, meaning a seamless transition of energy sources, Scenario I is not possible. When oil peaks, we can not just begin to implement technologies that will enforce fuel efficiency. New and alternative fuel sources will take years to become adapted and used throughout the world. It will take time, lots of time, to bridge energy sources, let alone implement them. As well as construct facilities and industries that adapt to this fuel change. I see it as no less than 15 years before the peak mitigation should start.

Situation III seems highly plausible. If we have alternative energy sources fueling industries even before oil peaks, it will be a seamless transition. However, if the peak oil theory happens this year, next year, five years from now, or even ten, a seamless transition will not be possible. No matter what situation we put into action, the peak of the world’s supply of oil will shake us to primitive nature, and society as we know it will collapse.

(Continuing to edit)

zondag, mei 07, 2006

Research Plan

1. Research Plan
In order to verify the claims of new substitutions for oil, there must be detailed research plan in which sources are checked. Sources which the Economist used in the article “Steady as she goes” are CERA, the Royal Dutch/Shell Group, the Chevron Corporation and the International Energy Agency. Through those sources, alternatives to oil have been examined and analyzed to make a better transition when oil peaks. However, although these sources may be credible and are cited, examples of alternative fuels such as “ethanol-mad Brazil” are not cited. So, in order to research the credibility and possible outcomes of alternative fuels, we must research the situation in Brazil and what really makes it “ethanol-mad”, as well as further research CERA and IEA’s stance and the evidence they have of alternative fuel sources.

2. Carry out research plan
CERA: CERA’s most widely published and known alternative energy source is ethanol. For now, CERA claims that the reason for the ethanol interest is because of the 2006 gasoline market and its temporary downfall. According to CERA’s website, “Ethanol supplies are tight. The ethanol industry is in the midst of a very rapid expansion, but production capacity at the beginning of the gasoline season is likely to be tightly balanced against demand.” Although ethanol is seen as one of the alternatives to oil, ethanol itself is not easy to extract nor is there an abundance of it.

Brazil: According to, “…ethanol fuel is produced from sugar cane which is a more efficient source of fermentable carbohydrates than corn as well as much easier to grow and process. Brazil has the largest sugarcane crop in the world, which, besides ethanol, also yields sugar, electricity, and industrial heating.” Ethanol is used to fuel cars and industrial heating, as already stated.

Chevron Corporation: There is one page assigned to “Energy Efficiency and Conservation” on the Chevron Corporation homepage. They do not state any alternative fuels for when (or if) the oil peaks. The first sentence of the page labeled “Energy Efficiency and Conservation” is “At Chevron, energy is our business. We find it, produce it, manufacture it and transport it.” On this page, they state that because of conserving energy, the corporation has made a point to reduce the energy they consume daily. “Every day, energy savings are achieved by taking actions ranging from repairing steam traps and installing more efficient heat exchangers to constructing new, more efficient power plants.” (Chevron Corporation Online.) There is no hint of finding alternative fuel sources when/if oil peaks. However, in “Steady as she goes” from the Economist, Chevron seems to put somewhat of an emphasis on finding alternative fuel sources. “As Peter Robertson, vice-chairman of Chevron, puts it, ‘Price is our friend here, because it has the encouraged investment in new hydrocarbons and also the alternatives.’” (The Economist) Despite Chevron’s vice-chairman’s statement that in order to continue profit and the prosperity of the corporation, decisions and actions need to be made concerning the planet’s next energy source, and nowhere on Chevron’s website does it say anything about that.

Royal Dutch/Shell Group: Shell released a statement in The Hague on February 2, 2006, concerning “Shell's commitment to alternative energy”. (

energy_challenge_0202.html). Within this press release, Shell provided their updated plans to continue research in alternative energy sources, such as hydrogen, biofuels, solar and wind. Biofuels are derived from “biomass”, straw and oil seed which are either made purely from biomass, or they are mixed with automotive fuels, both are predicted to considerably lower the carbon dioxide emissions. According to the press release, “Wind is currently one of the most promising sources of renewable energy.” This is a little surprising coming from an energy distributor, primarily oil. Shell seems to understand the reality of the peak oil theory and is preparing to continue distribute energy for the good of the corporation. “In the United States, Shell is already one of the largest wind energy developers, and is actively progressing projects in Texas, Wyoming, Idaho, West Virginia, California, and Hawaii.” Already in the United States, Shell is ready to profit from alternative energy sources.

Wind power is strong within Shell, but strides are being taken within solar power, says Shell. “In the area of Solar energy, Shell has been progressing the next generation of technologies, including CIS ‘thin-film’. Shell believes that non-silicon based technologies such as CIS are more likely to become competitive with retail electricity in the coming years.” (Shell’s Press Release) Both solar and wind, as well as biofuels and (the arguably weak and inefficient alternative energy source) hydrogen are Shell’s next profitable energy alternatives.

3. Identify what to believe beyond a reasonable doubt.
I believe that Brazil’s cars and industrial heating, among others is fueled by ethanol, because of the continuous sources I’ve searched, sources as USA Today Online,,, and the Yale University Online Newsletter, all seem to be credible sources, as well as discussions with those that have lived and visited Brazil. “Ethanol-mad Brazil” does not have a lot of doubt in my head. But then again, Brazil is “ethanol-mad” because their vast amounts of sugar cane farms in which ethanol is derived from. Not only does that pose a problem for Brazil and the strain these sugar cane plantations, but using ethanol as an alternative energy source, compared to oil? It would not work. Already the continuous consumption of ethanol, and by means the sugar cane farms, is putting a lasting strain on the land. It seems that any energy source that is pried from the earth will ultimately damage the earth, and then by extension, leave human civilization in collapse and disaster.

The Chevron Corporation is basing a lot of the alternative energy sources on ethanol mostly. On the Chevron website, they pride themselves on reducing energy consumption, and while that is terrific for a energy distributing corporation, the real question remains? What are we going to use when the oil runs out? From a combination of their website and sections of the article “As Steady As She Goes” from the Economist, Chevron’s stance seems to be “will put money into the most profitable oil source.” That may be hydrocarbons, but according to Heinberg, hydrocarbons are not a reasonable alternative.

The Royal Dutch/Shell Group seems to have put the most time, money and world coverage on alternatives to oil. According to the Shell website and a press release in February 2, 2006 “‘In Shell, we aim to develop at least one alternative energy such as wind, hydrogen or advanced solar technology, into a substantial business,” commented Shell CEO Jeroen van der Veer. “In addition, we continue our efforts to further expand our position as the largest marketer of biofuels. The actions announced today are consistent with this long-term vision.’” Unless their actions and statements are false or altered, Shell has the most diverse alternative energy sources.

CERA is difficult to understand their stance. They admit that ethanol is not the best alternative for our present energy source, yet nowhere on their website did they state any present or further plans to find another energy source other than oil.

4. What to believe likely. And 5. What to consider unlikely but possible.
Because of Brazil’s constant use of ethanol and how it is derived, this wouldn’t be the most efficient and in the long run, wisest choice as an alternative energy source. While I believe Shell’s plan to use wind and solar power, is more likely to succeed and hopefully be an equal substitute for oil. And while I believe biofuels is an idea as an alternative, the concept of using and reaping more of the planet’s resources we are only continuing the cycle. Shell’s plan to also use hydrocarbons I’ve dismissed because of earlier readings in Heinberg’s Powerdown.

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