by Luis de Sousa
Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 04:42:37 AM EST
We're standing on the edge
The edge of time
And it is dark, so dark on the edge of time
These lines open a poem by Michael Moorcock entitled “Standing on the Edge”. Although written in a completely different context, they somehow summarize my feelings of what the beginning of XXI century looks like.
This is my first log entry and collects a few thoughts on how I see Europe and the World today.
Without looking hard for it you haven't seen it the news, or in any political/scientific agenda, but it will be the defining event of this century, scarring my generation like no other - The Hubbert Peak. Before I reach retirement age, the production of Oil, Coal and Natural Gas will all peak in succession and go into terminal decline.
The Hubbert Peak represents an interruption on a long period of economic growth in the West, notably since the terminus of the II World War, but that can be traced back to the midst of the XIX century. Modern Man is at the edge of the Oil Age and will for the first time come to terms with the finitude of its habitat.
The latest mid-term assessment of the Hubbert Peak for Oil at TheOilDrum.
Some people see the Hubbert Peak as the end of progress and technological civilization, unfolding the ultimate Malthusian catastrophe. My personal view is different, I think that given the will to, we can in fact surpass the problems ahead, or at least ameliorate their effects; energy is not going to end, we know what the alternatives are. Unfortunately Oil is not solely an energy source; it is today the most important primary commodity for the Industry and Agriculture. So if the outcome is bright, right now there's no way to avoid the hard road ahead.
What makes the Hubbert Peak perilous is the way that stakeholders have left it completely unattended for the past 30 years, since it became a clear reality. We were left in the dark, and it's the uncertainty of what's to come, of how a growth interruption of this nature will look like, that can make the Hubbert Peak scary.
On the political ground these last decades of plenty produced a political vein that dominates the present spectrum: Liberalism. It is a simply realization where the individual and its rights are always above the state or the community. Liberalism was made possible by the fountain of wealth unleashed by the fossil fuels (especially Oil). The individual became ever more self-sufficient, relying less and less in its surrounding community for the things he needs - all he has to do now is order.
Liberalism represented a departure away from the traditional values of Solidarity and Equality that marked the political discourse (especially in Europe) up to the first half of the XX century. The Liberal sentiment penetrated deeply in the core of the traditional political parties, veering their politics towards an Individual centric agenda. This is quite visible in Europe where Christian Democrat and Socialist parties succeed in government without changing the core executive course.
Parallel to Liberalism another political movement took shape, partly as a response to Liberalism, partly as the acknowledgment of the Earth's finitude. It is the revival of Agrarian-Anarchism, excelling for a society materially disposed, intertwined with nature and down-scaled to the rural level. Today it has become a highly influential movement calling for the protection of the Environment and for the reversing of Globalization.
Agrarian-Anarchism became so powerful that in recent years managed to penetrate the Liberal movement, integrating the environmental doctrine in liberal politics (creating such things as Carbon Trading). It had (and still has) profound social impacts, creating a new moral concerning the Environment - carelessness for the protection of the Earth became one of the most socially condemnable acts.
I don't review myself neither in Liberalism nor in Agrarian-Anarchism for none of these movements managed to acknowledge the Hubbert Peak; to some extent, they even worsened the situation by veering way from possible answers. Given the broad reach these two movements have today, voting rightfully has become an increasingly hard task to me.
In all likelihood both Liberalism and Agrarian-Anarchism will succumb to the Hubbert Peak (or so I hope).
And what about Europe? Unfortunately Europe faces the difficulties imposed by the Hubbert Peak in a very uncomfortable situation. After the monetary union took shape the European Construction reached a standstill.
After 50 years of integration, the European Union is still functioning like a Confederation, where progress is achieved strictly by Unanimity. Instead of breaking the deadlock of Unanimity, the Union put the progress on hold and continued its expansion, going from 15 to 27 members in less than 10 years. Confederations are not known for lasting, much less in the face of events like the Hubbert Peak.
I am a Federalist. There simply is no other known lasting administrative setting for a bundle of states that chose to take on the future together.
Federalism is a forbidden word where I live, and claming for it is the ultimate political heresy. Such is the consequence of the relentless Liberal sentiment reigning in, that can't possibly take the idea of institutions above the sacro-saint Individual.
Some people think that Federalists advocate the mimicking of the US Federation in Europe. That's not the case; the US Federation was formed more than two centuries ago, much of its fabric is quite old for today's standards, and become more and more centralized as the North/South disputes demanded and as the Oil progress allowed. Still it is interesting to observe that it broadly continues to function.
An European Federation will look very different from that. Possibly more decentralized, possibly with lighter institutions and more citizen-centered. It'll have to be a dynamic project in constant development.
Can Europe be saved from the Deadlock before the Hubbert Peak sets in? I hope so, but this is the greatest challenge the Union has faced to date.
And so this is how today, June the 18th of 2007, I see politics and Europe.