The spice must flow

Watching Grumpy Grandpa McCain this morning making the rounds, trying to explain how we won the war in Iraq, but somehow failed in Iraq at the same time and now have to go back in and, what, re-win it? Well, it was interesting to watch him try and navigate through that tortured reasoning, even a little bit comical in a dark, cynical way, sort of a crazy neo-con blast from the bloody past. But here’s what sets civil war in Iraq apart from Syria or Libya:

Five of the six major fields, together representing several million barrels per day of potential output, went to European, Russian and Asian oil companies. It looked as though not much was going to companies from the United States, the country that took the leading role in the war. But read the fine print of those contracts, and companies more familiar to Americans are now poised to benefit handsomely as the oil business picks up in Iraq.

The oil services companies Halliburton, Baker Hughes, Weatherford International and Schlumberger already won lucrative drilling subcontracts and are likely to bid on many more in one of the world’s richest markets for companies that drill oil wells.

I think most members of FTB are plenty well informed enough to appreciate every source of energy has its advantages and disadvantages. Maybe not the occasional fundamentalist voyeur who comes by to see the real live atheist exhibit, but most of us regs get it. Most of us are willing to listen and compare and contrast all those features. The sad thing is we don’t see much discussion like that, at least not from people who can actually come together and change policy. No. We get “climate change is a hoax,” toxins piling up, flaming water from taps, nasty metal compounds from mining and coal slurry that should be going down injection wells showing up in residential water tables, and the truly crazy shit like magic abiotic oil that renews itself so fast that we can use it forever with nary a worry and just happens to be consistent with Young Earth Creationism.

In that hypothetical discussion at the highest bipartisan levels, when comparing the cost of alternative energy produced from renewable, green sources to traditional fossil fuels, isn’t it fair, at some point, to start including the zillions we’ve spent keeping oil flowing from places like Iraq, or zillions more in environmental damage, or the other zillion that neo-con dead-enders would have us spend going forward getting mired in yet another petro-war dress up and pawned off as a war of total necessity? Would it be reasonable to speculate that if we committed that kind of money, trillions of dollars, to almost anything, direct subsidies for US energy users or nexgen nukes or promising renewable technologies, anything, it would improve that option tremendously?

Being atheists we tend to be reasonable, pragmatic people. We understand our species has to have energy, that all modern civilizations run on energy, that there is no future without energy and lots of it. But this is unsustainable insanity. We’re trying to power a 21st century world on a half-assed, obsolete and often ultra-violent energy policy developed decades ago based on factors, assumptions, and concerns that no longer exist.

I picked the somewhat obscure title of this post because, if done well, the track above by Eon, The Spice Must Flow, set to raw flickering images and/or realist art portraying the endless, tragic consequences of unending energy/resource-warfare, could work.


  1. says

    I don’t know, Steven. Aside from the fact that Spice didn’t cause global climate change (or would it have been universe climate change?), it’s a great analogy. There is an evil to oil beyond the environmental. How many people have died for black gold? How many wars, including those the US has sat out?

    I sometimes wonder if, physics aside, we would be so willing to just shove the body parts of the innocent into our gas tanks. Maybe instead of showing the rising dollars as you pump your gas, it shows a live feed of some Arabian village, a gun to a family, “Another gallon? Please touch the screen over the person who should die.”

    Arakis is a great analogy. Screw the Fremen. Let the Spice flow.

  2. John Morales says

    “Being atheists we tend to be reasonable, pragmatic people.”


    Good one!

  3. Al Dente says

    I picked the somewhat obscure title of this post

    As soon as I read the title I thought it referred to Dune. The blue-eyed cat in the second video confirmed my thought.

  4. Robert B. says

    Interestingly, if you don’t know about the song, the title is a lot less obscure. It’s not as though the allegory for oil in Dune was subtle or anything.

  5. lorn says

    Just for general reference McCaine’s formal title is Grandpa Wall-Nuts. Typical of men his age and experience, usually tied up in the archaic logic of past wars where winning meant you held ground and had partial title to the place, he has difficulties differentiating short term, long term, and permanent solutions.

    In both Afghanistan and Iraq the logic was really simple:

    1) Are we staying there, more or less, forever? Y/N

    Y: We declare the country US territory and establish the the 51st and/or 52nd state. Note: the locals and neighbors may or may not like it but at least we made a decision.

    N: Is this a good time to leave? Y/N

    Y: Leave.

    N: Is there likely to be a better time to leave in the foreseeable future? Y/N

    Y: Wait until that time and then leave.

    N: Leave now.

    As I understand it we are getting pretty near energy self-sufficiency. On present slope we could be there in ten to twenty years. If we did what Germany did, massively incentivise solar and other renewables, perhaps build a few nukes to help level the loads, and upgrade the grid we could be there in five to ten. Little known fact: we get more energy from Mexico and Canada than the Middle East.

    A lot of this comes down to coordination. When you burn natural gas or oil you preclude its other uses. Solar power is pretty useless as a feed stock for a chemical plant. Gas is probably best used to produce fertilizer and polyethylene. Oil is probably best used for lubricants, plastics, and pharmaceuticals. Only after each is used to what it does best can we think about other uses.

    We really could do without Middle East oil. The spice must flow but it isn’t because we need the spice. The spice must flow because a relatively few people and organization make their money shipping, handling, brokering, that particular spice. Failure of the spice to flow would cut into their wealth and source of power. Which is another reason for Grandpa Wall-nuts to demand action.

    Don’t we all know, feel it in our souls, that the business of business is to keep the elites in the lifestyle they have grown accustom to? And no, I’m not talking about the Obamas. To get an idea of who might be driving things, although I doubt the real elites would be so crass as to attend such a function. There are good odds their functionaries were there. :

    $30T (That’s right 10^12) of assets under management by 250 people, average of $120B each.

    Kind of sweet to know they are concerned with their own behaviors gutting the middle class. Of course this concerned was triggered by falling profits cause by the liquidation of the middle class so it all comes down to self-interest. Still … it is nice to know they can at least think about change … somewhat before the peasants, with pitchforks, torches, and tumbrel in tow, come knocking on their doors. Foresight is something of a historic novelty for this class.

    Their historic default is to defend prior practices.

  6. says

    Kind of sweet to know they are concerned with their own behaviors gutting the middle class

    It is entirely appropriate that we are concerned when a gun-wielding sociopath attacks and kills people at random, but for some reason society shrugs when wealth-wielding sociopaths do vastly worse damage to society at large (I read something the other day about the economic collapse being arguably responsible for 10,000 suicides or so…) I guess it’s OK to be a Savile Row Sociopath, but not a Strip Mall Sociopath, huh.

  7. Johnny Vector says

    Lorn: One question. What kind of nuke plant can be modulated fast enough to be useful for load-leveling? I know existing ones are very slow to respond, and thus useful only for base load.

    Oh heck, let me check my own self…

    Well, nothing about fourth gen nukes on Wikipedia mentions time constants, and a simple Google search finds me nothing about load leveling and nuclear other than using other load leveling methods to make up for the constant output of nukes.

    So, is there a nuclear type that has quick response? Thanks.

  8. lorn says

    In and of itself nuclear generally, outside some exotic designs, can’t respond directly to load variability. But if you combine it with energy storage, typically water pumped high and high temperature salt, inclusion of about 10% of total capacity in nuclear makes sense. Particularly if you go for the more advance reactor design like thorium-air.

    If/when we ever got our act together with strong commitment to renewables and a grid that can shift significant amounts of power efficiently across the nation the nuclear could be eliminated. Nuclear is the equivalent of training wheels. It has advantages in that it diversifies energy sources without falling back on carbon heavy sources.

  9. elpayaso says

    the arrogance of pretending that we can solve a civil war that’s been simmering for centuries more than the USA has existed is staggering. the idea that we can do it by blowing up still more of Iraq is even worse.

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