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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The fallacy of her last sentence is that she thinks; if our society is educated in a “multi-disciplinary approach” then all will understand that infinite growth cannot be sustained. Seems to me, anyone with a brain stem already knows that. If you want to bag on Californians for their disproportion use of fossil fuel, go look at the explosion of 3rd world use. Oh by the way, our U.N. agreed upon plan for reducing emissions won’t have China even starting to curb their emissions growth until year 2030. Our complex thinkers and leaders of California can’t even get our educational system to be worth s__t. Look at the largest in the state (LAUSD) and tell me how great a district that is where their teachers are some of the highest paid in this country. Until our dumb leaders and voters allow school vouchers, our K-12 system will be stuck at the bottom of the list.


Education is an investment by society that pays multiple dividends for the future. Every citizen is therefore a stakeholder.

It should never be a scheme for ‘the private sector’ to maximize profits with a super-elite of self appointed executives sucking the lifeblood with perks and excess compensation.

Tell that to the kids $100,000 on school debt with no hopes of a job in the Obama economy….fools thinking. Big Education is just as bad as Big Oil..maybe worse…

One may, as difficult as it might be, opt out of big oil. Big education is the law, no opting out.

Or, we could tell our kids to not take out an outrageous loan, in order to get a degree in a worthless study.

Women in History degree, and a PHD in volleyball, ain’t gonna pay back that loan…ever.

The very last sentence of the opinion piece: “Infinite growth in an finite world is an impossibility.”

Question for everyone here who tried to slam this author for her opinion; do you not see the truth in her last sentence? If you do, step back from the condemnation of her expressing her opinion and try to put forth some sort of suggestions for solutions. If you completely disagree with her on that last sentence, please try to explain why you think she is wrong.

I was pretty amazed that she went very out of her way to not “blame” the oil companies; they are only trying to provide what we addicts crave, and if you don’t think you are addicted to oil, park your car now and see how that goes.

My largest takeaway from her piece though is the notion that we not only need to change our education system so that far too many don’t end up with a very narrow, specific education that only serves a tiny segment of the population, but that we need to change our very economic system. Think about that; what would that look like? Can you imagine a society that doesn’t have oil barons and war profiteers as billionaires?

I can imagine a few of the more conservative of you out there thinking I am pushing for some sort of Communism; never. A system that values and rewards those who have abilities and the drive to execute them would be a great foundation; how many of those in the 1/10 of the top one percent actually did something spectacular to enrich themselves, and how many of them made their money the old fashioned way, inherited it?

Funny Bob, you agree with her (which I do on some points) and challenge others in your second paragraph and yet take the chickenshit way out and don’t offer any viable solution yourself.

So I accept your challenge. First off are you ready to stop all procreation from here on out? Are you ready to find a way to enforce it? Do you want to imagine a world with no more kids? Yea sounds kinda stupid when you see it in writing huh?

One possible solution will take years but is being explored and talked about. Colonization of other planets. Yes hard to do but no harder than what you propose.

As far as food and shortages of land to support our ever growing world? What has become of hydroponics we have seen of growing food in warehouses, using no soil but a tiered nutrient enriched watering system?

Your point of park the car? No that won’t stop it (oil) You and your type of political thinking brethren always harp on cars. How about the nylon (oil) in your carpets? How about the fertilizer to grow your food? How about your meds? Should I go on Bob???

Solutions to all of this is going to take time and money plain and simple. We can’t stop population growth. You can slow it like they have in China but it is still growing isn’t it?

To your point of calling out the rich, yes they are despicable at times. Look at the Rockfeller’s, Vanderbilts, Morgan’s etc. of the industrial revolution. BUT what did that bring us to today? Yes it has brought problems but also has enriched your life hasn’t it? You are sitting and expressing your opinion on a device that uses oil (plastics) is driven by power (oil, coal, natural gas, sorry hydro small portion). So to move forward sometimes we have to accept the bad with the good. Yes it would be nice if all good and no bad but common Bob where in the History of man has that EVER happened??

Last I am attaching a list for all of you oil haters (If you always spout about cars and nothing else, you are an oil hater) Notice to all haters thinking it is the evil conservative types and probably their list, LOOK at the URL.

1.) Stop all procreation: Of course, humans are always going to have sex, nothing will change that. My suggestion would be to make all forms of contraception available to every person in the world that is of an age where they could either cause or become pregnant at no cost, whatsoever. Can you imagine the reductions in abortions if this were done?

2.)Hydroponics: Great idea; still requires land, and added costs of the buildings to house the components, and manpower to tend and harvest, but still a good suggestion.

3.)Park the car: If everyone could drive a Nissan Leaf, or Telsa, or any other purely battery driven vehicle right now, the reduction in our oil consumption would drop dramatically. There are currently vehicle makers that are researching all sorts of battery powered trucks, like garbage trucks that never travel more than 30 or so miles away from their home base in a day’s work, or delivery trucks like UPS and FEDEX. These are solutions that are very close to being implemented and will make a huge difference in our oil based economy and our dealings with continued producing of greenhouse gases.

Another potential solution is the growing of hemp; hemp fibers can be converted to oil type products relatively easy, offering all sorts of uses, like lubricants, bio fuels and even the making plastic products, as well as paper goods too. The stuff is very hardy, doesn’t require a high degree of irrigation or good soil, and has a very high yield rate per acre. But it is currently illegal to grow in the US due to our antiquated drug laws.

All of these solutions require a real effort; my suggestion would be for a determined leader to follow the lead of John F. Kennedy and start up an Apollo-like project to get us off of fossil fuels as soon as possible. We (our government) still supports Big Oil with huge tax breaks while those companies enjoy record profits quarter after quarter, all the while alternative energy gets very little in the way of research grants, investment and tax breaks, when you compare them with big oil. It can be done.

I like this better than just throwing it out to others. On number one, it would be nice but we have done this (distribution of birth control) and it hasn’t changed much if it doesn’t get used.

On Hydro, yes buildings but you can go up, instead of out and limit land usage.

On Garbage and delivery, that sounds like a good idea. What REALLY has to change (and Tesla is working on it) is the distance on batteries. Right now we have an average of 100-150 mile range and an eight hour recharge time. Cars now with gas have an average range of 300-400 miles on a tank. If you could get battery power to that range, I think you may get people to start to notice but right now for example, if you live in the north county and travel to the south county, drive around a bit and then head home, you could have almost 70-80 miles usage. That cuts you close to end of charge. This has to change I think to the longer range to get people to look at.

On Apollo type project, sounds fine. But again REMEMBER you aren’t just finding ways for cars to run on alternate fuels, you have the WHOLE list of items oil based that we rely on. Not saying it can’t be done but it will require TIME.

There in lies the problem. Many are running around saying we need to do this or that and it has to be done now or else. Well if it is an all or nothing approach, then nothing will get done.

Ms. Rogers, you’re hardly an energy expert; you’re the president of a teeny-weeny college. Founded all the way back in ’74–that’s 1974–your mostly online school boasts an enrollment of a whopping 1,190 students where 72% are women and 55% are white.

Not sure what you have a doctorate degree in, Ms. Rogers, but I’m pretty sure it’s in psychology, women’s studies or some other field that’s completely unrelated to the subjects at hand–energy, fossil fuels, oil, etc.

BTW, I assume you ride a bike or walk to your job everyday, right? God forbid you actually use a CAR and have to *gasp* fill up at a GAS station!

Also I hope you never fly to conferences or vacation destinations on fuel-guzzling airplanes!

Wave, wind, solar …all sustainable and available for convertability …for people that are inventive, courageous, bold, and imaginative.

We have all three sources here on the Central Coast. We only need the will to proceed.

Let me be the first to suggest all that believe in your environmental creed, to tithe 10% of their income to green energy science. Slow man, you can be the first donor and lead the way!

This writing is careening around points so much, I don’t know which 10 to pick, so I’ll pick two:

1): Our descendants will never develop what writer hopes for in her last paragraph, in the face of overwhelmingly staunchly unidirectional liberal academia,

2):Post fossil will develop when Rich MB says it will; when another PRACTICAL source is available. Not there yet. I run the ranch on panels but need juice at night, dependable low carbon juice like the two 24 hour a day GIGAwatts Edison just washed out in San Onofre because the new radiator leaked ! That crazy decommissioning move set back the non-carbon 24 hour practicality of photovoltaic arrays in this state by YEARS. Just today permits are out for a giant carbon gas turbine replacement at Carlsbad. Sheesh, get a replacement nuke radiator (OK, heat exchanger) and collect for your trouble from H.E. contractor Mitsubishi’s deep pockets. Would any of us scrap out the Duesenberg (the one I dream of) because of a failed tire change or radiator change out!

Maybe this wordy Ph D writer sits on the Edison BOD and voted the S.O.N.G.S. plant into the dustpan ?

“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.”

got an issue? what does do for the immediate issue? soapbox?

the above commentary is b.s. i don’t even know how this fits in “and the most recent extension of liberties to our LGBTQ brethren are good examples of this expansion”

hey, get an outhouse and re-use the methane.or quite whining about everything.

Your comment is literally whining about everything, no solutions, no facts, just methane and hot air.

If the solar industry had 1/4 of the tax breaks that big oil has we could save our oil for recyclable plastics and not stupidly burn it for power/mileage.

Typed from my recyclable plastic keyboard.

Uh, kettle, solar gets whopping tax “breaks” at the install and the manufacturing level. Just off the top of my head, solar small installs receive a one third 1040 tax credit (four grand on a twelve grand photovoltaic system), more than oil incentives I’m aware of. Then most states have a come and go additional 2-15% direct tax credit for solar. The companies MAKING panels, like Obama’s failed Solyndra multi-million dollar debacle, have gotten fortunes of your tax dollars. The NREL pours millions into research and development which it then distributes free. The solar (and especially wind) industries have grown and installed lots of megawatts due to tax breaks.

There is also a lot of capacity installed by miscreants like myself who put my own system and didn’t bother to jump through the hoops for little rebates and credits, leaving those tax breaks to others. Try it, if I can manage it most anybody can, it’s not much tougher than stringing together Christmas light strings (panels), and cementing pipe stanchions similar to a chain link fence (racking).

I say we go back to sticks and fire. Sticks and fire, baby – that’s where it’s at!

Timmmmberrrrr … cough cough.

Or in the contemporary Republican construct it will be rocks and clubs.

Yeah …great new world.

Please do so, sticks and fire, just like a very large part of the planet’s population does right now.

A post-oil economy will develops when another practical source of energy is available….fact is…it ain’t here yet. As someone who lives completely off the grid with wind and solar power, I can tell you most Americans won’t give up their lifestyle to downsize to an oil free way of life. So the choices are: government mandates or let technogy continue to develop and stop the end if the world crying when a little oil spills, yet typing from your oil based plastic keyboard.

what is nuclear power

Nuclear power may be a lesser evil but it is not without its’ own drawbacks. The biggest ones are the lead time needed to authorize and construct new plants and finding an acceptable location to dump the spent fuel.

Maintaining current nuke plants is probably an essential stop-gap measure, but they can’t meet our expanding needs (i.e. electric cars). Alternative energy sources will take even longer to develop in adequate quantities to meet future needs unless some true breakthrough occurs in energy-generation technology (i.e. fusion reactors). Rich in MB is right about the need for Americans to downsize to an oil-free way of life. I hope he is wrong about our ability to adapt enough to do so.

Rich in MB says:”So the choices are: government mandates or let technogy continue to develop and stop the end if the world crying when a little oil spills”

“You presented two alternative states as the only possibilities, when in fact more possibilities exist.

Also known as the false dilemma, this insidious tactic has the appearance of forming a logical argument, but under closer scrutiny it becomes evident that there are more possibilities than the either/or choice that is presented. Binary, black-or-white thinking doesn’t allow for the many different variables, conditions, and contexts in which there would exist more than just the two possibilities put forth. It frames the argument misleadingly and obscures rational, honest debate.”

Also your information on Americans lifestyle and an oil free way of life is 10 years out of date.

Bad information all around.

I agree that it isn’t an “either-or” situation — yet. But ultimately, it is for practical purposes. I do hope we can phase in a change in attitude about energy use quickly as developing new sources of energy won’t (and probably can’t) happen as quickly as we need.

Really…ma’s someone living completely off the grid on solar….you have no clue my friend of what it really takes. But typical of liberals….talk about things they don’t have first hand experience of and make fools of themselves.

Rich in MB says:”.talk about things they don’t have first hand experience of ”


Also it is obvious, you are obsessed with “liberals liberals liberals”