Andrew Nikiforuk believes that Donald Trump is a symptom, not a cause. Drawing on the work of Nafeez Ahmed, he writes:
The world faces not a “clash of civilizations” with radical Islam (although the dust-up remains a significant challenge), but a crisis of civilization that includes riotous climates, poisoned oceans, failing forests and collapsing economies.
Ahmed is a British investigative journalist who has been connecting the dots on energy, climate change and globalization for years. The title of his latest book sums up our current predicament: Failing States, Collapsing Systems: Biophysical Triggers of Political Violence.
The challenges we face today are all interconnected; and the whole mess begins with energy declines:
As the world runs out of cheap fossil fuels, industry has switched to earthquake-making shale gas fracking, messy bitumen oil sands projects and deep offshore oil.
But these extreme fuels, which require complex technologies to extract, are poor substitutes for cheap oil. They not only return less energy but also require more capital, water and energy to extract.
Our economy, largely shaped by the high-energy returns of cheap fossil fuels, doesn’t know how to metabolize costly fuels that deliver minimal returns.
Meanwhile hydrocarbon emissions are also destabilizing the climate, melting ice, fostering extreme weather and acidifying oceans.
Cheap energy used to be the Golden Goose. But things have changed:
As Ahmed notes, global oil and gas production once offered God-like energy returns of 100 to one. For every barrel spent finding and extracting oil, society secured a hefty surplus or what the ecologist Charles Hall famously described as “EROI”: energy return on investment. Unprecedented net returns fuelled the unnatural scale of economic growth for 100 years.
But those bountiful energy returns are now falling off a cliff. Today, net energy returns average around 15 to one. Once returns drops below 10 per barrel of energy expended, fossil fuels can’t generate enough surpluses to pay for the arts, government and society as we know it, let alone a transition to renewable energy.
As the quality of fuels decline, the global economy, a highly engineered tree fertilized by cheap oil, has registered the change as “economic stagnation” and stopped growing.
In financial papers, the words stagnation and inequality have become the economy’s dominant vocabulary.
Donald Trump promises to return to the good old days. That's why his Secretary of State is the former CEO of Exxon. But Trump and Rex Tillerson can't go home again. And -- slowly -- it's beginning to dawn on ordinary folks that they can't go home again, either.