PSU Energy Strategy Update – January 29, 2015

1.29.15 PSU Energy Strategy Update

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John Michael Greer at the Archdruid Report – well worth a full read – excerpts below.

“…Meanwhile, the fracking bust continues unabated. The number of drilling rigs at work in American oilfields continues to drop vertically from week to week, layoffs in the nation’s various oil patches are picking up speed, and the price of oil remains down at levels that make further fracking a welcome mat for the local bankruptcy judge. Those media pundits who are still talking the fracking industry’s book keep insisting that the dropping price of oil proves that they were right and those dratted heretics who talk of peak oil must be wrong, but somehow those pundits never get around to explaining why iron ore, copper, and most other major commodities are dropping in price even faster than crude oil, nor why demand for petroleum products here in the US has been declining steadily as well.

The fact of the matter is that an industrial economy built to run on cheap conventional oil can’t run on expensive oil for long without running itself into the ground…

An astonishing number of people these days seem unable to imagine the possibility that such wholly impersonal factors as the laws of economics, geology, and thermodynamics could make things happen all by themselves.

The problem we face now is precisely that the unimaginable is now our reality. For just that little bit too long, too many people have insisted that we didn’t need to worry about the absurdity of pursuing limitless growth on a finite and fragile planet..

While we get ready for the first shocks to hit, though, it’s worth talking a little bit about what comes afterwards. No matter how long a train of financial dominoes the collapse of the fracking bubble sets toppling, the last one will fall eventually, and within a few years things will have found a “new normal,” however far down the slope of contraction that turns out to be…

The discussion I’d like to start at this point centers on what might be worth doing once the various masses of economic, political, and military rubble stops bouncing. It’s not too early to begin planning for that…

What do I have in mind? Intentional technological regression as a matter of public policy.

Imagine, for a moment, that an industrial nation were to downshift its technological infrastructure to roughly what it was in 1950. That would involve a drastic decrease in energy consumption per capita, both directly—people used a lot less energy of all kinds in 1950—and indirectly—goods and services took much less energy to produce then, too. It would involve equally sharp decreases in the per capita consumption of most resources. It would also involve a sharp increase in jobs for the working classes—a great many things currently done by robots were done by human beings in those days, and so there were a great many more paychecks going out of a Friday to pay for the goods and services that ordinary consumers buy…

If you’ve driven down a dead end alley and are sitting there with the front grille hard against a brick wall, it bears remembering, shouting “We can’t go back!” isn’t exactly a useful habit. In such a situation—and I’d like to suggest that that’s a fair metaphor for the situation we’re in right now—going back, retracing the route as far back as necessary, is the one way forward.


KW Commentary –

Like Greer, I’ve also realized that it’s too late for Penn State and State College to get ahead of the intensifying energy/finance crisis round in any meaningful way before the next series of severe impacts hit the region.

One of my goals since moving to the area in 2008 has been advocating for proactive changes that would have softened the blow, including, oddly enough, advocating for a planned, rather than chaotic, contraction of Penn State’s enrollment, campus size, program offerings, etc. (Greer’s “intentional technological regression as a matter of public policy.”)

For example, I’ve written previously (here, for example) about backcasting the 1980 student enrollment, staffing levels and per-capita University Park campus energy consumption and then setting those levels as the target for PSU circa 2030.

I’ve learned many things while doing that work. The deeply entrenched, head-in-sand, change-resistant, image-over-substance corporate culture of Penn State’s leadership structure has proved to be the most significant barrier.

Oh well. I daresay you all have far more experience butting heads within that structure than I do.

In any case, I agree with Greer that even if it’s too late to buffer our shared community for the imminent crisis, now is a good time to think about what could be put in place after the 2015 round of the crisis plays out and the Central PA community reaches a new, lower-energy stability on the other side.


See also:

Steady State College blog post, including updates on Spring Creek Homesteading Fund (local reskilling); Friends & Farmers Cooperative (local food system-building); CITY-GREEN (local energy system-building); the Harvard Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program Report, funded by the PSU Sustainability Institue (including the surprising claim that Penn State is a municpality); and an announcement that Jordan Crolly (Class of 2013) and I (Class of 1996) are running for the Board of Trustees alumni seats to push forward a combination of energy strategies including deep conservation, renewables, and campus/enrollment contraction with a goal of weaning PSU off fossil fuels by 2030. We welcome alumni support through the online voting process.


3 thoughts on “PSU Energy Strategy Update – January 29, 2015

  1. Greer suggests individuals, families and neighborhoods work to learn how to meet basic needs with “less energy, stuff and stimulation.”

    “An acronym I introduced a while back in these posts might well be worth revisiting here: LESS, which stands for “Less Energy, Stuff, and Stimulation.” That’s a convenient summary of the changes that have to be made to move from today’s unsustainable lifestyles to ways of living that will be viable when today’s habits of absurd extravagance are fading memories. It’s worth taking a moment to unpack the acronym a little further, and see what it implies.”

    Details at his blog post.

  2. Thought provoking post, thanks! Bikes & bike paths, mini-farms, tool libraries … It would be great to see a State College post-carbon community plan even without considering the recalcitrant University.

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