How do we create a post-fossil fuel society?

May 23, 2015
Fielding Graduate University President Katrina Rogers

Fielding Graduate University President Katrina Rogers

Opinion by Fielding Graduate University President Katrina Rogers, PhD

The oil spill the occurred off 20 miles north of Santa Barbara on May 19 raises once again the specter of an increasingly polluted world. With all of us so dependent on fossil fuels, there is no-one to blame. Our economy is predicated on infinite growth:  growth requires energy. Indeed, the history of modern society is the history of oil.

The more we take from the planet, the more consequences there are. Sadly, these consequences are felt not just by human beings, but are borne by other species as well.

While we in Santa Barbara may bemoan our beautiful coastline sullied by oil once more, we need to remember that the Environmental Protection Agency records such spills every day all year long—from pipelines, trains, oil derricks, off-shore platforms, and other industrial activities.  It may be easy to shake our heads at the “oil companies” yet that is too simple. The real issue is that we are having a failure of imagination to create the conditions for a post-fossil fuel society.

How can we intentionally restore our own imagination? One might look to the early days of American history, where a group of people decided to write down the essential principles for a new democracy.

Over the centuries, the definition of democracy has changed and for the most part, expanded. The women’s movement, civil rights movement, and the most recent extension of liberties to our LGBTQ brethren are good examples of this expansion. Our country’s founders were broadly educated.  Many of them were educated in the sciences, history, economics, engineering, and philosophy. They were adept at politics and knew how to use the written word to persuade others. As such, they had the ability to make connections across knowledge domains to solve the big, vexing questions of their day. They became good leaders.

In today’s world, we are educated in specialties. In fact, we sometimes brag about how specialized our knowledge has become. While this is a model that has served us well to get us where we are today, it will not serve us well in the future.

The oil spill is a good example of where knowledge intersects: the ocean environment, the new technologies for mitigation, the way we communicate, the political and social frames we use. All of these elements swirl around events such as these –and the leaders of the future will need to be prepared to be complex thinkers, quick analysts of information, adroit at communication, and able to move swiftly in the face of uncertainty.

In thinking about what we leave our descendants, the single most important thing we can do is build an educational system that provides them a multi-disciplinary approach to the world. Only then will they have the flexible minds that can make connections across different areas of knowledge, and to give them the abilities and skills to do so. Only then can we address the fundamental weakness of our global economic system, which is ultimately unsustainable. Infinite growth in an finite world is an impossibility.

 


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48 Comments

  1. Rambunctious says:

    How do we create a post-fossil fuel society?

    When we run out we find something else. If we stumble upon something better before we run out we go with it. Key word (better) I hate the term clean energy…there is no such thing right now and frankly I don’t see a reliable “clean” form of energy on the horizon.

    There are forms of energy that are cleaner than others but at best we are talking a trade off. Trade this pollutant for another pollutant. Solar panel manufacturing for example creates a tremendous amount of disturbing pollutants that have to be carted off by hazardous removal teams.

    The truth is right now we still need fossil fuels; to force an instant change on the world that is not going to help and could make things worse is not the way to proceed.

    First find the solution. And then find a way to make it work. Then release the industrial engines of capitalism to make it a reality. If a person can get rich from it; it will be found. If Government is your answer you can forget it. It will never be discovered.

    Place your faith in the American entrepreneur. He/She has never failed us. We can do amazing things for the benefit of people all over the planet if Government gets out of the way. American capitalism and it’s free wealth seeking people are the answer. No solutions come from government only tyranny and scandals exist there.

    No answer will come from socialist nations. There is no motivation to really change anything in those country’s unless it will reward the powerful. And what rewards the powerful in government is people needing them.

    Our government is no different; No answer will come from a former Vice President. We have to stop depending on them and reduce the size and scope of the federal government in order to solve the tough problems that we face.

    (6) 10 Total Votes - 8 up - 2 down
  2. snooky156 says:

    Thoughtful and accurate… Thank you, Dr. Rogers.

    (-9) 25 Total Votes - 8 up - 17 down
  3. SLO_Johnny says:

    Nuclear power is the only power source that could provide enough energy to replace hydrocarbons. The US would have to build several hundred reactors to supply that much power; which is something that people would never support. Oil and natural gas will continue to be the main fuel source for our industrial society for hundreds of years.

    (11) 23 Total Votes - 17 up - 6 down
  4. jonhartz says:

    Nonsense.
    The good doctor only needs to go to the beach at Carpinteria or Seal Beach in L.A. county to see where poor benighted nature is constantly pushing oil out of Mother Earth without any help from the pesky ole humans. And why should we attempt to leave oil behind? It is the original solar fuel, and the earth continues to make it and will until Sol burns out in a few billion years. Like the unproven anthropomorphic climate change (18 years in remission!), attempting to live without petroleum is scientifically foolish, realistically impractical, financially ruinous and totally unnecessary. Only those who had the luxury of going through the university system in full can afford to have such ideas live rent-free in their heads.

    (9) 27 Total Votes - 18 up - 9 down
    • Slowerfaster says:

      Continuing to inefficiently burn hydrocarbons and pumping more and more CO2 into the atmosphere is biological suicide.
      Just because petrochemicals have been easy for the last 200 years does not mean they should remain so, especially that we now have the technological means and expertise to make the changes toward clean, renewable, and sustainable energy.

      Perhaps man should have continued to use whale oil for our main fuel. Where would we be today if that were the case ?

      (1) 19 Total Votes - 10 up - 9 down
      • Ted Slanders says:

        Slowerfaster,

        As we both know, this wrangling about Climate Change is for naught because Jesus is coming real soon.

        (-1) 5 Total Votes - 2 up - 3 down
      • Maxfusion says:

        Rubbish, CO2 is not a pollutant. In fact, 1500 ppm is optimal for plant growth, and we’re now at 400 ppm. The issue isn’t the amount of CO2, it’s feedback from CO2. Despite the additional CO2, temperatures have been flat for the last 19 years. Now lets talk about Mr. Sun and sunspots. Notice that during the Medieval Warming Period there was intense sun spotting, and during the Little Ice Age there were none. The question isn’t is the climate changing, the question is when wasn’t it? Intriguing that they changed the narrative from global warming to an inevitable event. In gambling they call that hedging your bet.

        (3) 3 Total Votes - 3 up - 0 down
  5. r0y says:

    Wow, I am always a bit disappointed when an “educated” person refers to our founding as a democracy. Yikes. The founding fathers unanimously placed democracy dead last in types of government they may form. Democracy is not synonymous with Republic! In fact, the word “democracy” never appears in the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution, or the Bill of Rights. Ma’am, please read Federalist 10. Thank you.

    As far as the rest of this progressive, quasi-intellectualistic pablum, I am reminded of this:
    All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?
    (one could add modern conveniences, increased longevity, communications, etc. and replace Romans with Big “)

    (13) 25 Total Votes - 19 up - 6 down
    • r0y says:

      …replace Romans with Big “whatever”)

      (1) 9 Total Votes - 5 up - 4 down
    • zaphod says:

      we do encourage voting for a reason in our democratic republic the government is a republic of federalized states using various democratic process and the whole thing is full of people participating or not. “A republic and a democracy are identical in every aspect except one. In a republic the sovereignty is in each individual person. In a democracy the sovereignty is in the group.” no man is an island just sayin

      (8) 14 Total Votes - 11 up - 3 down
  6. shelworth says:

    “Green” energy sources, (solar, wind, etc.), will never advance until the legislature figures out how to tax them like they tax gasoline. Education will never advance until we teach each individual child at their own speed, instead of a whole class moving at the speed of the slowest learner. Don’t just spew out what you memorized, look at the world and think for yourself.

    (21) 21 Total Votes - 21 up - 0 down
    • Messkit says:

      They also won’t advance, because their output is a pittance in comparison with hydro or nuclear.

      Thousands of acres of land…fragile environment or not…must be set aside for solar. Thousands of acres of land…fragile environment or not…must be set aside for wind. Thousands of acre feet of coastal waters…fragile environment or not…must be set aside for wave generation. Any of which can only support a few thousand homes or businesses.

      A few hundred acres of land….fragile environment or not…must be set aside for nuclear. Any of which, can support hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses.

      A few thousand acres…fragile environment or not… must be set aside for hydro. Any of which not only can support hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses, but also creates a new environment, that supplies clean water for homes, businesses, and agriculture. It also supplies vast waters for recreation, fish farms, and river/stream sustainment.

      Oh…nuclear and hydro work in any weather, night and day.

      (7) 17 Total Votes - 12 up - 5 down
      • jonhartz says:

        “Wind power” is another name for “raptor blender”.

        (7) 23 Total Votes - 15 up - 8 down
        • LameCommenter says:

          FINALLY somebody notices! Thank you, Hartz. Thank You. It’s a big downside to wind generation. Wind turbines are going up, raptor populations are at risk.

          -Lame Commenter
          real life Past Secretary, California Hawking Club
          (statewide falconry organization)

          (0) 8 Total Votes - 4 up - 4 down
          • zaphod says:

            Horntoads snakes squirrels mice lizzards and crepuscular creatures of the plain now have a refuge in the shadow of the mighty blades! talk about a revolution.

            (-3) 5 Total Votes - 1 up - 4 down

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