Note: see the blog post for Monday, October 3, 2016, for an explanation of how and why this manuscript came about. If it seems dated in places, especially chapter 3, it’s because most of it was written about 10 years ago. You are welcome to copy this material, use it for any non-commercial purpose, and distribute it as widely as you want, so long as you give me author’s credit and indicate the copyright date. The chapters will be posted periodically, I hope once every week or two, but a couple of them might take a little bit longer. Thanks for reading this material; it’s my personal response to the political craziness that seems to have swept our great nation. JJJr
Explanation for IF I WERE A TERRORIST – See blog post for October 3, 2016
Foreword – See blog post for October 10, 2016
Chapter 1. Why I Wrote This Book – See blog post for October 10, 2016
Chapter 2. Evolution: The Most Effective Weapon – See blog post for October 11, 2016
Chapter 3. Women: The Most Feared of All Natural Disasters – See blog post for October 17, 2016
IF I WERE A TERRORIST
John Janovy, Jr. © 2016
1. Why I Wrote This Book
2. Evolution: The Most Effective Weapon
3. Women: The Most Feared of All Natural Disasters
4. Energy: The Achilles Heel
5. The Human Factor: The Individual vs. The Mob
6. Hero Worship: Stupidity in High Places
7. Fear: The Mother of Fundamentalism
9. American Vulnerability
10. The Ultimate Fate of the United States of America
11. Solutions and Options
I. Evolutionary Principles Summarized
II. How to study evolution
III. Sources and Resources
4. Energy: the Achilles heel
Like a strutting player, whose conceit lies in his hamstring . . .
—William Shakespeare (Troilus and Cressida)
Only a complete fool would ever deny that the United States of America is highly vulnerable to defeat and destruction, or at best rapid decline, for one reason above all: our consumption of energy, especially as that consumption is integral to our national image, our sense of American identity. We talk about energy economy, and as individuals we may try to reduce our energy costs, but we don’t do anything, as Americans, as a nation, to promote energy economy. Our very rights, our freedoms, that seem to be the hallmarks of Americanism, are tightly linked to energy consumption, especially by that ubiquitous and pervasive symbol of freedom and choice—the automobile, ideally one driven on the quintessential Western landscape, itself a traditional symbol of American grandeur.
Back in small town Iowa, however, corn farmers pool their life savings to build an ethyl alcohol plant. The product is also known as ethanol, the basic gasoline additive and intoxicating component of booze. These hyper-practical ultra-conservative Republicans clearly understand that we talk about ethanol made from corn as a “renewable energy resource.” But they also know, to a person, that without government subsidies, they’d all go broke trying to make alcohol from hybrid corn because ethanol is not necessarily a replacement for oil; in the United States, hybrid corn and the resulting ethanol are, in large part, made from oil.
Hybrid corn must be planted by tractor (using diesel fuel), sprayed with pesticides and herbicides (made from petroleum delivered by tractors or airplanes using petroleum-based fuel), dried (either with electricity made from coal or with heat from methane fires), harvested by combines running on diesel, and driven to market in trucks, also using gasoline or diesel. Thus ethanol is made by consuming fossil fuel, like human beings who consume food resulting from “Green Revolution” technology and production methods, in the sense that nowadays, a large supply of it does not exist unless one also expends a very large amount of petroleum to make the supply. If you had to make trees out of grass, for example, trees would not be a replacement for grass except where you absolutely needed trees instead of grass, specifically, and nothing else but trees would suffice. In this case we’re not talking about the fact of energy so much as about the form of energy. And that is the basic science lesson that should inform not only our elected representatives, but also, and even more importantly, the voting public. The energy wars today are not about the fact of energy but about forms of energy.
Every petroleum geologist alive in the 1950s knew, simply knew, that our oil supplies would eventually run out. The issue was never whether, but when. As a nation we’ve squandered a half-century of time in which to prepare for the ultimate crunch; more on why we’ve behaved this way as a nation later. Over the past decade, virtually everyone associated with the oil industry could tell you that oil prices would climb as supplies became relatively scarce, or competition for them increased (first day’s lecture in Econ 101), and that eventually those prices would have major economic and political consequences. If any of us reviewed all the interactions, both direct and indirect ones, between crude oil and the American economy, we’d quickly discover that petroleum use so fully permeates our business, pleasure, politics, and military that disruptions in the supply, or significant increases in the cost, have significant potential—indeed rather obvious potential—for completely unraveling the fabric of American life and what we call “American culture.” It’s not only the truckers who suffer when fuel prices go up, it’s also the people who buy food, water, clothing, and shelter, i.e., 320,000,000 Americans.
A second reason for our vulnerability, however, and one that compounds the first is scientific naïveté in high places. Only recently have the highest elected officials ever admitted what every reasonably educated person knows about energy: we use too much and depend too much on others for what we use. But none of our so-called options for self-sufficiency are truly viable ones. For example, if all the corn—yes, all—produced in the United States were converted into ethanol without fuel expenditures for planting, harvesting, and processing, such a conversion would provide only 3% of our annual motor fuel “needs.” We could get another 3% by somehow turning all—yes, all—the standing crop of American forests into ethanol, again provided we had the biochemical means to do that cheaply. Drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), i.e. tapping into our strategic reserves, would buy us another 6 months of petroleum at current pump prices, although delivery would take about a decade. Politicians who claim, even by inference, that drilling in ANWR is a key to American energy self-sufficiency are simply telling lies. Alternatively, they are victims of pathological delusion.
These figures are not from secret documents; they are fairly easy for any American to obtain from the Internet and calculate. I am not bringing aid and comfort to the enemy by pointing out our vulnerability with respect to energy. The enemy already knows this fact, probably better than you do. Instead, I am being a responsible citizen, and furthermore, a responsible scientist, by reminding you of what you already know but would like to ignore, namely, that we are vulnerable to complete economic and social collapse because of our dependence on crude oil. Regardless of the [generally falling, or comfortably low] price of gasoline at the pump, in 2015 the United States imported about 9.4 million barrels of petroleum per day, nearly 80% of it in the form of crude oil. Yes, million and per day. The sources? Eighty-two different countries, including Venezuela, currently (2016) in a near state of political, social, and economic chaos and collapse, and Saudi Arabia, a nation probably second only to the terrorist group ISIS in terms of its constraints on human freedom.
As the author of a book entitled If I Were a Terrorist, written for all the reasons outlined in Chapter 1, my main challenge during the first decade or so of the Third Millennium is to get the book finished before the energy wars heat up to the point of ignition. A strong case could be made, of course, that such ignition has already occurred in Iraq. As of this writing, the global disruption is not so much in the energy supply as in the political, social, and cultural aftermath of that war. In general, the Muslim nations of the Middle East are so different culturally from the United States as to be easily misunderstood in every conceivable way. They might as well be from alien star systems. Any well-educated science fiction aficionado could probably have told George W. Bush what would happen if he invaded Iraq with the expectation that a year after the bombs stopped falling, Iraqi citizens would be thriving in a fully representative government and strolling through American-type shopping malls. Alternatively, somebody in the administration could have done a Google search on “Sunni-Shia conflict” and used the results to evaluate the long-term effects of this truly stupid military adventure.
The American love affair with petroleum shows little sign of souring, at least officially, although in recent years we’ve seen a surprising growth in solar and wind-generated electricity. Some industry experts predict at 119% growth in solar power during 2016, with 16 gigawatts of equipment installed, an amount essentially double that of 2015 (7.3 gigawatts). The wind power industry in the United States, fueled by production tax credits, is not far behind. Globally, wind generated a little over 50 gigawatts in 2014; industry estimates for 2015 are as high as 60 gigawatts. China alone installed 23 GW of wind power generators in 2014 and was expected to install another 25 GW worth in 2015. But there are certain things that wind and sun cannot accomplish, for example: flying a jet aircraft, powering tanks across a battlefield, and harvesting 94 million acres of corn or 50 million acres of wheat in the USA alone.
Fortunately, if you like company in potential misery, we are not alone in this predicament of an eventual shortage of petroleum. China is getting there in a hurry; Russia is likewise, although it is blessed with abundant petroleum reserves. France has forestalled its energy crisis by getting in bed with nuclear power, something the United States citizenry would do if we had any real sense of the relative socio-economic dangers of extreme dependence on foreign crude compared to fissionable materials, especially since we already possess—stored on American soil—most of the world’s supply of highly radioactive substances. But the French were paying $4.20 a gallon for gasoline in early 2004, at the same time Americans were paying about $1.50, and by May, 2006, when Americans were paying $3.13 a gallon, the French were at $6.27. So maybe there is an economic stimulus for the French to develop their supplies of enriched uranium. We already produce truly monumental amounts of the latter, except instead of putting it to work for us—heating our homes, running our subways (in those cities smart enough to build subway systems), and keeping our school lights burning—we turn it into weapons of mass destruction that in recent years have come to appear rather ineffective against a highly dispersed and fanatic enemy, namely, those multitudes of Islamic people who find us so offensive that they would kill us just because we are, among other things, either Christians or not their kind of Muslims.
As a scientist, I am always amazed at how fearful we can be of a nuclear power plant, how blasé—even proud—we can be about a thermonuclear arsenal in our own back yard, and how blind we can be to the power of human beings acting either as dedicated individuals or en mass. Fear, pride, and blindness simply do not make sense, except in evolutionary terms. For some reason known only to woolly mammoths and cave bears, we evolved this propensity for believing our leaders; if power corrupts, this corruption is, in my view, an intellectual one that equates position with wisdom. Thus today, perhaps driven by our genes doing what they’ve done for a million years, we obediently elect officials who in turn promise security by building truly dangerous weapons, all the while fearing common citizens who are well educated enough to understand the technology of nuclear power, and at least until very recently dismissing as irrelevant—or worse yet, as “wrong”—a religious movement that now encompasses nearly half the world and is growing rapidly.
Never could any anthropologist have envisioned a document more revealing of human nature than your daily newspaper. The United States has more military power than any nation in history, yet we cannot control and hearts and minds of those who are uncomfortable with the cultural artifacts so familiar to Americans. We are perceived as drinking too much, worshipping too little, and letting our women do a whole lot of things that seem to inspire fear in a large fraction of our species spread across much of the planet. If I were a terrorist, I would be out there promoting such typically American behaviors but at the same time finding some terrorist friends to viciously condemn those same habits. Then I’d sit back and watch while we fought amongst ourselves over indecency, sex, and Hollywood instead of truly putting our creative talents into reducing our consumption of energy while at the same time multiplying the sources and means of producing electricity.
If there is a resounding success of the capitalist system it is the power of the marketplace to drive innovation, revealed no more strongly than in the video game industry. But if there is a resounding failure of the capitalist system it is this power of the marketplace to drive strategic planning, too, which needs to be driven more by intelligence, insight, the lessons of history, and a secular sense that humans need to live within their biological means, than by dollars. If I were a terrorist, I’d be focusing on efforts to undermine American education, especially in such “unimportant” areas as history and social sciences. I’d be trashing evolution constantly because in doing so I’d be chopping away at the nation’s scientific enterprise, thus its scientific literacy in an age of heavy dependence on science and technology. And I’d be pushing video games big time, and indeed developing a bunch that pitted white American soldiers against all kinds of non-Christian, relatively dark-skinned, enemies. In other words, I’d be using my creativity to lead Americans according to their least flattering, and most irrational, tendencies.
Failure to recognize this distinction between the economics of innovation and economics of strategy is a characteristic of our political system, and it is a failure compounded by the evident lack of words to involve a well-educated public in a meaningful dialog about the American dream. So often, it seems, the narrow and highly ideological vision of men in high places of powerful nations seems to override the facts surrounding life as a highly evolved primate on the only planet known to support life of any kind. Energy is not a gift given to westerners by God because we are His chosen people. Energy is found today where it ended up after hundreds of millions of years of planetary history, including the folding of stone layers and the drifting of continents. The geographic regions where much of this fossil sunlight landed as a result of these geological forces are now occupied by tens of millions of people who consider my common day-to-day activities quite blasphemous, even blasphemous enough to warrant death in the eyes of God (as they currently define the term). I suspect that if you gave these people an impromptu polygraph test you’d discover that they are only marginally, if at all, more educated than the typical American on the finer points of petroleum geology and the trajectories of global change, including both biological and geophysical ones, that plopped them down on a desert somewhere southeast of Turkey.
Thus there is plenty of scientific naïveté to go around. Evidently, early in our evolutionary history there was little demand for scientific reasoning and plenty of need for the kind of transcendence, belief, and blind obedience characteristic of powerful religions. Only in the last century, i.e., the most recent 0.01% of our species’ time on Earth, has public scientific literacy acquired significance as a potential strategic weapon. Yet we Americans are quickly moving into a belief-driven society even as we become increasingly entangled in a world where technology and innovation are engaged in a spiraling pas de deux and a knowledge economy is sweeping over regions once bombed into near oblivion during the time since some of us were born.
But in the Third Millennium C.E., given what our species has learned and built in the past two millennia, blind belief is a dangerous luxury and war fueled by such belief cannot be stopped or controlled by means familiar to historians. Fat Man and Little Boy dropped on Tehran and Pyongyang respectively will not suddenly usher in capitulation, pacifism throughout the Islamic world, 1950s American television script life styles in Saudi Arabia, and a golf-obsessed President. The real question from such a hypothetical event is not how rapidly the oil could start flowing again into Western refineries—we already know, from the experience in Iraq, that war shuts down flow, not speeds it—but how rapidly the web sites and Internet connections could be re-established. In the opening years of the Third Millennium, we are engaged in a war of ideas that only looks like a war of explosive weapons. And guess what: Britney Spears, Janet Jackson, Paris Hilton, Lady Gaga, and American Idol are losing.
If there is one factor overriding many of our traditional economic engines—manufacturing, mining, transportation, food production—it is the production and use of information technology to generate money and consequently all that money provides. This phenomenon is described eloquently in Thomas Friedman’s book The World is Flat, mentioned earlier (see also the cover story on India in TIME Magazine for June 26, 2006). What Friedman waits until the last chapters to remind you, however, is that just like a petroleum-based consumer economy, an information-based economy widens the gap between haves and have-nots. In this case, however, the haves have technological skills coupled with a strong dose of what Americans increasingly disdain, namely a good liberal education. This gap also shows up in unexpected places, like Bangalore. And nowhere is the knowledge and information technology gap more evident than in those vast reaches of the Middle East and in the immigrant communities of Europe, where populations of young men are—or at least believe they are—plagued by unemployment, deeply entrenched sexism, fundamentalist religion, and oppressive governments.
This incongruence between the distribution of fossil sunlight and modern information technology—the former a product of geological processes, the latter a product of primate evolution—is a global problem that has all the potential for completely redefining what we mean by the phrase “human being.” Today, while scientists re-write that definition with their molecular discoveries, American fundamentalist preachers are also re-writing it in Biblical inerrancy terms, agronomists are spelling “human” using the letters “petroleum,” “fertilizer,” and “pesticide,” and artists are re-writing it in images that constitute a language that can be translated a myriad of ways. But my daily cable news shows also have images, in this case, of young men across the sea, staring at me, cursing me for the culture I encounter minute-by-minute, and wishing me death because they believe, just because of where I live and what I look like, that I am a “Christian” (which I am not). And if I were a refugee in an overloaded inflatable somewhere in the Mediterranean, that assumption, based on my blond hair, light skin, and lack of facial hair, would likely get me thrown overboard.
But even though the people sitting beside their Al-Qaeda friends feel this way about me, they are still human beings. Every thousand of their new-born children will include some genetically capable of being, or determined to become, artists, musicians, mathematicians, scientific wizards, geniuses, as well as the mentally retarded, beautiful and ugly, poets, techno-nerds, loving parents, and hetero- and homosexual and every sexuality in between including trans. This mixture of at least partly if not mostly genetically-endowed traits would be distributed among the thousand babies regardless of gender, skin color, or national origin. In other words, although from a statistical perspective they’re not much different, if at all, from us, they now own what we need and want in large quantities, and their human traits provide them with the power and inclination to react just like humans everywhere—including Americans—react when they believe they’ve been affronted and exploited, namely, negatively instead of cooperatively.
“Cooperatively,” in this case, as the Third Millennium begins, turns out to mean “you sell me what I want so I can maintain a way of life that you believe to be an insult to the Creator.” In my opinion, every American needs to peruse both the United States Geological Survey web site on energy production (http://energy.cr.usgs.gov/energy/stats_ctry/Stat1.html) and the Energy Information Administration web site (http://www.eia.doe.gov/). Such perusal tells you that according to 1998 statistics, our consumption outstripped our production by about 30%, and that we imported three times as much oil as we produced. That number—30%—is now well over ten years old but it has not changed; if anything, it has grown. Remember, also, that nobody really “produces” oil; instead, they find oil. What oil “producers” produce is oil that is changed into a form that you can use in your car or furnace. Thus what most people think of as “produced” oil is actually “discovered” oil, and that “discovered” oil is fossil sunlight that was originally laid down as biomass mostly during the Mesozoic, 150 million years ago, then transformed into what we call “crude oil” by natural processes.
In addition to what we call “oil,” those geological processes of time, temperature, and pressure also converted some of that vegetation into natural gas—mostly methane, CH4—itself an important fossil fuel, and some of the rest of it into coal. Like oil, methane and coal deposits also are distributed unevenly across continents, providing another component of the highly complex energy problems faced by post-industrial age humans. Finally, fossil fuels are not easily, if at all, inter-convertible, although strategic planning allows nations to shift uses to maximize the life of mineral assets. For example, if a nation has plenty of coal, it can use that coal to heat houses instead of using fuel oil. But coal eventually runs out, just like oil, and you can’t make gasoline out of coal, at least not economically.
Every petroleum geologist on Earth knows these facts; indeed, they make their livings not only by knowing the facts about energy conversion and planetary history, but also by using that information to find and develop fossil fuel resources. For that reason alone, we should jerk the drivers’ licenses of all those Biblical literalists who believe the Earth is only 6,000 years old. I don’t have a recommendation for those Catholics who still believe Earth is the center of the universe (Lincoln, Nebraska, Journal-Star, July 16, 2011 and http://www.latimes.com/news); those folks are so willfully ignorant it’s difficult, if not downright impossible, to describe that level of ignorance. Somebody just needs to ask how they can really be so stupid, on purpose.
We humans have also been quite successful at converting oil into people, mainly through our use of fossil fuels in agriculture. The so-called “green revolution” is actually a combination of technological innovations and policy initiatives that together multiplied global agricultural production. In this case, Wikipedia has an excellent summary of the history of this human activity (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_Revolution). To quote from the web site: “The world population has grown by about four billion since the beginning of the Green Revolution and many believe that, without the Revolution, there would have been greater famine and malnutrition.” Although food production associated with green revolution agricultural practices has increased significantly, energy use has also increased, and at an even faster rate. See http://www.mindfully.org/Farm/Green-Revolution.htm for the negative effects of intensified agriculture. We’re making people out of oil and trying very hard to make more people out of oil.
In summary, regarding our American energy vulnerability, the bottom line is this: agricultural production, military needs (especially war), civilian employment and transportation, infrastructure maintenance, heating and cooling, most manufacturing, etc., all consume vast quantities of energy, much of which is currently supplied by fossil sunlight—a limited resource. Yet the typical solution to this problem of increasing use of a limited fossil resource is to seek more of the resource, knowing that whatever is found is also limited. This behavior is so typical of our species as to constitute—almost—a defining human character. If I were a terrorist I would do everything in my power to promote energy consumption in the United States, especially tying that consumption to an “American way of life” as promoted by the Republicans, and at the same time working to reduce my dependence on fossil fuel at home. In other words, if I were really a terrorist, I’d forget the bombs, encourage Americans to do more of what we’re already doing very effectively to ourselves, especially if in so doing we increase consumption, then stand back and watch, or go play soccer with the kids.