Sunday, August 11, 2013

Ingenious lies and little white truths

Everything is ridiculous.


No, seriously, like have you ever just sat back and looked at our stupidity? We're not 'technologically stupid', no, what we are is possibly something much worse; a stupidity that derives purely from our ego. Like Boris in Goldeneye, every time we do something kind of cool we start thinking 'we're invincible' and when we discover we're not we feel cheated and manipulated and it hurts more than it has to generally because our over-confidence leads to a lack of preparation.

I come across this perspective of a magical "human ingenuity" which will solve all our problems, as soon as those problems get bad or expensive enough. This train of thought is derived from need leading to innovation which is prominently displayed on the front pages of history beside our war victories. Scientific innovation and scientific discovery I find in this context are often confused; the discovery of oil and it's properties and the subsequent cheap innovation and motorization of an entire continent in short order being an example.

The other aspect of human ingenuity that's often overlooked is that we are very good at innovating false, easy non-solutions to our problems. The current crisis in Fukushima right now is perhaps the most glaring example. TEPCO for two years covered up the true state of the disaster, now that's human ingenuity if I've ever seen it! Maybe corporations are people after all; they sure have the sense of self-preservation that people do, that governments do.

Pump and pray: Tepco might have to pour water on Fukushima wreckage forever

This is the dirty little secret of human ingenuity, always overlooked as we're so fucking busy patting ourselves on the back for how ingenious we are. Truth is without preceding discovery and availability of the needed resources our innovation stops dead in it's tracks and we instantly turn to whatever measures are needed for self-preservation even if it's destructive to others and even if it's highly unlikely it will succeed. Here is what the Japanese government is considering as an "ingenious solution".
Ripped from the pages of Marvel Comics, Japanese Anime, or Game of Thrones; the latest cunning solution to what the Japanese admit is an ongoing emergency in Fukushima is, well, creative... Now that TEPCO has been shown to be inept, Abe and his government have sanctioned the funding of a 1.4km wall of ice to surround the building that holds Reactors 1 to 4. No this is not Pacific Rim; as Kyodo reports, chemical refrigerants will keep the underground wall frozen to stop the 400 tons of ground water being pumped into the reactors to cool them from leaking further into the sea water surrounding the catastrophe. This must be a positive for GDP, if 'broken windows' can help the Keynesians (and digging and refilling holes) then why not build a giant ice wall that will require unending energy to refrigerate what is a constantly melting-down core of nuclear awfulness. We wish them luck.
Let that sink in.

A similar ingenious situation which should be watched closely right here in Alberta is taking fold though of course no where as globally threatening as Fukushima the general properties are the same. It should be watched because what's occurring now may have long lasting repercussions for the technology that Alberta has bet it's entire future on: In-Situ mining. It is not just Alberta's automatic response to anyone pointing to the tailings ponds it's also required to even reach 80% of the bitumen buried underground.

CNRL has declared that the in-situ method is not responsible and rather that some "poorly capped well heads" have caused this leak. Notice that? Their reasoning is also blame on the oil industry, ultimately. "It's not our well, it's someone else's well heads". The situation must be pretty bad if they are willing to lay the blame on the industry to save their own face. Pretty ingenious solution to a problem they can't fix.

I'm sure the Albertan government is perfectly fine with this excuse though (they certainly are not doing anything to draw attention to this disaster are they?). Of course should this in-situ method prove to be at fault this could put Alberta's industry at risk. The cleanup efforts are already projected to be $40 million and they don't know when it will stop. Fun times. Should CNRL actually be held liable for the full cleanup cost (unlikely but one can hope!) this might send an interesting message to investors funding in-situ projects.

We are quickly discovering that our lust for growth is resulting in mega-disasters many times beyond what we can afford and naturally as what's left of real growth continues to die and the fiat production-less economy takes over this will only get worse and worse. MM&A declared bankruptcy because all of their assets combined can not pay for the results and lawsuits of Lac-M├ęgantic. TEPCO can't pay for Fukushima. BP can't pay for the Gulf. It goes on and on.

Human ingenuity is on display for all to see. We are coming up with ever more ingenious rationalizations for increasingly destructive behaviour. We are trapped in the concept of countries, in the schedule and illusion of politics, held back by the scarcity of currency, and trapped in a prison of constant fear fed to us through the television set. The discussion of solutions is facilitated by experts who definitely are not you as they analyze bullshit data and growth projections into the dying age.

The question of the day posed by the experts fed to you on your T.V. is not how do we save ourselves? but rather how do we save and protect growth? Our solutions to this problem are as ingenious as our solutions to environmental problems, lie about it. So we tell ourselves our houses "increase in value" as though they shit out oil or each comes with it's own money tree. "So long as our imaginary housing bubble doesn't come down, we'll be ok", we say. With real affordability out the window anything is game.

Telling you what you want to hear

You all of course are being told exactly what you want to hear about everything and that's why it's all so ridiculous and unbelievable both in the content of the day's events and the seemingly unending hope we have that it all just couldn't be true. That one day constantly begging governments and corporations to stop being douche bags is somehow going to work. I mean the idea that anyone would for a second believe Obama when he said that the "NSA programs are not being abused" is just pure lunacy when you look at all of the "abuse" that's going on in anything to do with "national security". Then he says he's going to launch a website so you all can learn more about it! You all know this has been the plan all along right? It's a really ingenious way to make something previously illegal, legal.

Lately there has been a huge propaganda campaign themed around "North America, oil sands, fracking and 'energy independence'". Exactly what everyone wants to hear. There's only one problem, the "boom" has just begun and already some major problems are being hit:
Beverly McGuire saw the warning signs before the town well went dry: sand in the toilet bowl, the sputter of air in the tap, a pump working overtime to no effect. But it still did not prepare her for the night last month when she turned on the tap and discovered the tiny town where she had made her home for 35 years was out of water.

"The day that we ran out of water I turned on my faucet and nothing was there and at that moment I knew the whole of Barnhart was down the tubes," she said, blinking back tears. "I went: 'dear God help us. That was the first thought that came to mind." 
Across the south-west, residents of small communities like Barnhart are confronting the reality that something as basic as running water, as unthinking as turning on a tap, can no longer be taken for granted.

Three years of
drought, decades of overuse and now the oil industry's outsize demands on water for fracking are running down reservoirs and underground aquifers. And climate change is making things worse.
 That's human ingenuity for you. Do you see any magical solutions cropping up to these problems? They're right here, right now, on the doorsteps of people everywhere and the best we have is ice walls and fracking. The bees are getting wiped out, ocean acidification is already beginning, and the discussion of the day? Growth. There is one, and pretty well only one problem we are interested in solving.

Oil majors trapped in cycle of spending more but finding less
The majors seem trapped in a downward cycle of spending more and more to find and produce less and less oil. Increasingly, investors are ditching them for smaller, more nimble rivals, especially those in the vanguard of North American shale.

“It’s a real challenge for them to grow volumes, despite the strong oil price,” says Dan Pickering, co-president of Tudor Pickering Holt & Co. “The independents are growing 30 per cent a year and the majors are struggling to stay flat.”
 Of course the independents also can't afford to fix the problem if something goes wrong, if the majors can't they certainly won't.

All of the powers of the world, those who stand on the backs of you and I and stand the most to lose should the status-quo fall are telling you exactly what you want to hear and that is their ingenious solution to their common problem, the control system known as economic growth is over and all that remains is in decline. I don't give a fuck if the data says it's not, the reality of current and future unfathomable cost says it is. Begging politicians isn't going to change any of this.

Times up folks. Don't you get it? Party's over, now survivalism is the name of the game.

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Richard Fantin is a self-taught software developer who has mostly throughout his career focused on financial applications and high frequency trading. He currently works for CenturyLink

Nazayh Zanidean is a Project Coordinator for a mid-sized construction contractor in Calgary, Alberta. He enjoys writing as a hobby on topics that include foreign policy, international human rights, security and systemic media bias.


  1. I agree that things are frightening, and we're in a massive denial just doing what we've always done and hoping it will all go away. I say more about our unwavering stupidity here. Hopefully enough people will be sufficiently distracted by media to neglect taking up arms against their neighbours. I'm mostly concerned, if we can't fix any of it, that we go out compassionately rather than violently. But I won't bet on it.

  2. Ah yes, I've seen your blog before (and read it whenever I see it pop up on progblog). Found it through Mound Of Sound. Glad some of us seem to be on the same page.