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Hooked! The Unyielding Grip of Fossil Fuels on Global Life


Hooked! The Unyielding Grip of Fossil Fuels on Global Life

Michael Klare

Here’s the good news: wind power, solar power, and other renewable forms of energy are expanding far more quickly than anyone expected, ensuring that these systems will provide an ever-increasing share of our future energy supply. According to the most recent projections from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) of the U.S. Department of Energy, global consumption of wind, solar, hydropower, and other renewables will double between now and 2040, jumping from 64 to 131 quadrillion British thermal units (BTUs).


Hooked? Yep and then some for sure but then who is doing the hooking and who exactly are the hookees? This election has crossed a barrier that has always existed but was one that nobody paid much attention to. For example, the rigged game crossed the barrier whereby the public believed that they were participating in a free and fair election. That line has been crossed without question.

But similarly there are long held assumptions which are like barriers which prevent free thought from crossing. In this case the Unyielding Grip of Fossil Fuels has on our thinking. Talk about a rigged game election? How about a rigged game economy which traps us all. It isn't that people demand fossil fuel energy. People in India do not demand more coal be used and so forth.

The fact becomes that purely economic forces are insufficient to dislodge fossil fuel vested interests. Even if money can be saved by building a solar or wind plant instead of coal, the current coal operators may not be the beneficiaries of that change. To them any alternative presents a risk to their profits.

Therefore only concerted action by governments will effect a change to alternatives. The corporations may talk green but they remain focused on the bottom line unless forced to seek a better choice. The iron hand has a powerful grip even if it sometimes wears a green velvet glove.


Just a quick (spontaneous) thought:

I know what scared people look like -

I look around at my fellow citizens -

I don't see any fear -

Ergo - they do not understand.

Much has been written about why we aren't getting anywhere - I'm not buying any of the fancy Freudian theories.

People do not understand how serious the problem is - period.

Therefore - we need to convey the calamitous nature of the Anthropocene to one and all.

That would be a mission, I suppose.


Fossil fuel energy abundance turbocharged industry in any system which made use of it, capitalist or otherwise.

"So, all capitalists have an interest in maintaining the fossil economy."

More accurately, all turbocharged economies have a vested interest in continued energy abundance.

"We cannot have a sustainable economy under capitalism."

That would be the logical implication of your premises, but I think your premises are needlessly restricted. Fossil fuel energy abundance is not sustainable, but energy abundance itself could be indefinitely sustainable.


Well said. I've tried desperately for years, but there may not be any way to get through to people that basic premises undergirding our way of life (such as cheap energy and boundless growth) are central to task of preserving Life on Earth. Our choice of alternative energy sources is a marginal question, appropriate in the context of severe energy austerity.

Absent a commitment to cutting way back on energy use, it's inevitable that alternative energy development will only provide additional capacity, alongside continued growth in fossil fuel consumption. But nobody wants to hear bad news or question how we struggle on from day to day - so you can hardly blame environmental leaders for avoiding the bad news in favor of another study purporting to show we could all be carbon free in 25 or 50 years.

Logistically, it would be possible. Psychologically, not so much.


Nobody wants to hear bad news, you say? I think addressing such questions to people as if they can effect direct change is ridiculous. People already want a better alternative energy way of life. People aren't the problem. What we must all face is that the public does not have power simply because they vote or are consumers. We vote for whomever is selected for us as a candidate. We buy what is available in our price
range. We do not choose what form of electricity generation we use. We use what is provided.

Would you rather not have more coal plants built? Of course you wouldn't if there were better savings to be had using wind or solar... But they don't ask you or me. They ask the coal operators and mine owners.

We all learned that we the people do not have direct control in anything not even our democracy. The powers that be... Really are just what they seem to be... Anybody but us!


I have doubts that "fossil fuels will continue to dominate the global landscape for decades to come" for the simple reason that either "runaway" is now occurring, or soon will be, meaning that the situation will get worse and worse, until our species joins the dinosaurs. James Hansen wrote last year that "the planet is heating up . . .with no end in sight, unless we alter our present path." Given that the likelihood that we will "alter our present path" significantly is near zero, it follows that warming is likely to continue. In fact, "runaway" means that warming will accelerate, and there's nothing that can be done about it.


If people can't effect change, then the point of all this discussion can only be to absolve ourselves of any responsibility for the mess, isn't it? Maybe it makes you feel better to think it's all someone else's fault, but it's a starkly disempowering philosophy.

The foundation of serious anarchism is that real power, the only power, is in our hands.* No matter what, we have always had the option to disobey, to go another way. But then again, serious change is much harder work than pseudo-revolutionary posturing and denouncing elites. You take the easy way out.


In my state, which has a deregulated market for electric suppliers, electricity consumers can "shop" around for their supplier. So, while it does cost about 30-50% more than the cheapest plans, you can choose a 100% renewable-source, including 100% Pennsylvania sourced renewable electricity. This is what I do. It is one of the few instances where deregulation has ended up having some benefits.

Intermittency continues to be a problem with wind and solar. Monday and Tuesday were hot days with high electric demand, but it was virtually dead-windless and none of the turbines were turning in my area.


We are doomed by the capitalist's economic decisions in the past - notably those of Henry Ford and J. D. Rockefeller - but absent them, it would have been someone else. The worst of these was the incredibly lucrative decision to force the automobile on the great majority of USAns who lived in cities and had no use for a car until they were forced to own one through the replacement of compact communities with suburbia, the dismantling of public transit, and the dismantling of passenger rail.

Most people nowadays are incapable of even conceiving of the seamless, convenient, cheap and clean mobility that was provided by electric trolley public transit, electric interurban trams, and passenger trains running frequently between cities and even small towns in the late 19th and early 20th century. Unfortunately, such transportation systems were far, far too efficient for the capitalist system to tolerate.

Coming up next - driverless cars - which the likes of Elon Musk and the other tech geeks openly declare will be forced on all of us and replace what's left of public transportation. Lets hope they get done in by their law-of-physics defying tech-geek hubris.


This is childish dorm room debate. My point is diametrically the opposite of your conclusion. The point being is that we cannot excuse ourselves by saying people can or can't choose and that the way things are are because that is what the powers that be want them to be and not because we choose an SUV over a hybrid or make other incidental choices.

We do not have a direct say (you did read that word when I wrote it right?) in the way things work though we have all grown accustomed to framing things as if we do. So we will 'elect' either Hillary or Trump or so we will frame it that way. In actuality we had no choice in picking the candidates ...that was my point. the same with fossil fuels. It is not our fault.. it is our government's fault and the corporations fault and what apparently most people do not want to face is that when push comes to shove that we have very little actual say in the way things are. Contrast the continued subsidies of fossil fuel use with the relatively minor pseudo-subsidies (personal tax breaks and the like as opposed to industry wide subsidies) and the anti-net metering initiatives now being legislated by state governments.

Disempowering? Lol...you must be shocked to think that you don't have any real power huh. Personal choices are not power. Call that the right to follow fashion and trends but don't call it power. Power is to have the government use tax payer monies to subsidize an industry which faces competition from better alternatives yet will continue to make profits despite the incredible damage to the planet.

That is power. So spare me the classroom quotes from a work written five centuries ago if you please.


Yup, multiple forms of intertwined and synergistic delusion at play here.

Dis-integration of major ecological systems is well underway, and accelerating, driving an ever-more potent disruption of social and economic systems. Disruptions in these dependent systems throw a fat wrench in "future energy use" prognostications.

Planners, politicians, corporations, "consumers," apparently no-one can bring themselves to actually look at how the obvious ecological trends completely blow up all their economic and social scenarios.

Even now! Even now! As runaway warming kicks in. As scientific field reports in a hundred fields all say "Key system indicators are changing faster than our most extreme scenarios had predicted..." As everyone can see that the climate is newly chaotic.

"The show must go on!" Until it doesn't anymore.

"Keep on drivin', baby... Until we just can't drive no more..."


Interesting article, interesting assemblage of information. The familiar addiction metaphor does not express the problem, though. And, while of course there are irrational things at play (we call them people), it is all too easy to dismiss other people's (mis)understandings. We ought to look more closely at the motives of the rich, not because that's fair, but because they cause problems.

It is a good bet that these people think that they are good, responsible people only doing what they have to do. That's delusional, of course, but not therefore less likely.

Of late, I have wondered what sort of ideas and assumptions would be consistent with the sorts of lethal monkeyshines that go by policy. I have found one set, and it is not even terribly unfamiliar.

If our rulers are fairly unreflecting Hobbesians, then their actions, destructive of themselves as well as everybody else, are fairly consistent and reflective of their beliefs. Of course, belief in this sense is something cobbled together of information, misinformation, self-flattering denial, and so forth, but that should hardly be surprising. And I am talking about a group of individuals who are not necessarily in communication, so they way they put these things together will vary. Nonetheless, I think we can identify something like the following assumptions and conclusions:

  • They think it natural and intrinsic to humans that life usually be "nasty, brutish, and short."
  • They think that any exceptions to the above come by odd means or coincidence contra naturum, like wealth or civilization
  • They think people intrinsically greedy, unreasonable, and foolish
  • They think that anything pleasant must come against human nature, and therefore by force, including discipline or some cultivation involving such things

Given such conclusions, top-down control appears necessary, war and state violence and general oppression against individuals an operating cost to be used with discretion, and monstrous deceit an obvious necessity to such relative tranquility as may be possible.

Now, let's see how this theology comes up against global warming. Some non-Hobbesian like Bill McKibbon says something like "We must cooperate to end global warming for the good of all," and someone Hobbesian like Hillary Clinton says, roughly, "Ha!" She would as soon assume that people would turn and live under water.

However, that does not mean that Clinton (or Trump, or Exxon, btw) has any impression that global warming is not real, not human-caused, not increasing, not damaging. It means that because an emergency is coming, she (or he, or it) will have to crack down. This follows because she sees the problems as deriving from immutable and intrinsic human nature, not from a human response in ignorance to systemic oppression.

Of course, if one is to crack down, one must maintain power. So one spends for arms and uses them, arranges laws to keep people in debt and so that debtors may be threatened and punished. One operates in secret to damage and disrupt rivals and chosen victims, One uses the resources and burns the carbon to threaten and kill who might oppose this. And all the hell that one causes may be written off as business as usual, business, human nature, or circumstance, depending on the context.

We might remember Kissinger, Brzezinski, and the various New American Century dingbats to this effect. We may note scraps of this sort of thinking in the neolibertarian claptrap of markets in general and so-called "free" markets in particular.

In case any of this is convincing, let's look at a couple conclusions. Our rulers folly comes little from missing factoids, and much from a crippled, pathological set of assumptions associated with psychopathy and misanthropy. They might avoid nuclear catastrophe, but they will skirt it dangerously. They will embrace ecological catastrophe with both arms until they are taken from power. They will treat any but the most petty talk of civil liberties as being of the utmost danger. And they will imagine that they are the good guys because they believe that we need to be ruled viciously, and that some other ruler that they might name would be worse--the demoplicans or the republicrats or the reverse Chinese or whatever.

Looking at this, I would say that the problem is very fundamental. We have to build another structure of human livelihood, quit feeding these dinosaurs, and organize against their last throes of violence as the system weakens. .


Just a suggestion: Get rid of the coal while use natural gas to produce electricity to power your cars and trucks. In the mean time, work on Thorium as the all out power systems for everything. Then in 500 years, go to what ever new generation starts up.


Thanks for the links. RobertScribbler is my favorite source of climate news - that guy works his butt off.

Nearly universal obliviousness, among friends and relatives, among otherwise enlightened commentators and public figures - how it weighs on me. By now the Earth is almost certainly committed to eventual loss of the icecaps - a fact which many acknowledge offhandedly, but of which few grasp the grave implications for all complex lifeforms.

We're out of time to forestall unprecedented disaster, for sure. At this point, we can only hope that a modicum of honesty, courage, and love can help us get through it together, and inspire us to stop making it worse.


Incidental choices like how you live, like whether you choose to work for or patronize the very predators you pretend to denounce. You're totally off the hook, and incidentally completely insulated from productive thinking. I'm done with you.


Okay you can blame me and wax eloquent about spiritual renewal and a new consciousness and all that but I blame the corrupt politicians and the corporate government which continue subsidies for fossil fuel use and development/infrastructure as being the root cause of our dilemma. If people were given alternative energy production they would use it. If they are given a new coal fired plant they have little choice but to use it in the main. Lighting a home is not powering a city or industry. Remove gasoline cars and trucks and people will use electrics. Keep making gas vehicles and people will keep using them. Stop blaming ordinary people for corporate and governmental sized problems. Choosing paper bags and recycling all helps a little but they will not solve global warming. The responsibility lies with governments and people need to focus on making government fix the problem not making it seem like incidental choices will make much difference because they won't.


Greed and power are the most insidious addictions, from which all others flow


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Although we've had our disagreements, primarily about one particular topic, but on this subject, I've always appreciated your contribution.

Where the hell have you been?