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Running on Empty

U.S. Congressman speaks at Albany seminar about the end of the world as we know it

by Laurie Lynn Fischer on March 23, 2011 · 1 comment

Paul Tonko received a standing ovation Monday when he spoke at the sixth of seven meetings on the subject of peak oil at the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Albany.
“I understand the concern over our dwindling oil supply and appreciate the sense of urgency that it demands,” the U.S. congressman, from New York’s 21st district, said afterward. “Therefore, I have advocated for a comprehensive energy policy that makes efficiency our fuel of choice. I also support the president’s plan for an innovation economy, which aims to curb our gluttonous dependence on foreign oil. As a nation that already consumes 25 percent of the world’s oil reserves, it should be very clear to all of us that we cannot drill our way out of this problem.”
Monday’s seminar began with a video presentation about our predicament called “Future Shock.” Here’s the premise: Oil has passed its peak. We depend on it, but it costs more and more to extract. Our economy is predicated upon growth, but without cheap energy, it will keep shrinking. Debt, population, pollution and extinctions are accelerating at an exponential pace that most humans, by nature, can’t grasp. Inertia will lead to wide-spread privation and force us into a culture similar to that of our great-grandparents.
After the presentation, Tonko addressed the crowd, saying it is important to discuss the economy, the environment and peak oil simultaneously because they’re interrelated. A Saratoga County farmer who is a national peak-oil expert interviewed Tonko about agriculture and technology.
Sandy Steubing, the initiator and host of the series of meetings, asked the congressman to approach Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the mayors of Albany, Schenectady, Troy and Amsterdam about their willingness to “receive a task force to educate them on emergency preparedness for our oil descent.” He agreed to do so.
A longtime proponent of progressive energy policy, Tonko has introduced two bills promoting research and development and investment into wind turbines and natural gas. They passed the U.S. House of Representatives, though the Senate has yet to act on them.
“The price of oil is now about $100 a barrel—the point at which most analysts say alternatives are economically viable, said Steve Wickham of Guilderland,” one of some 100 citizens who attended Monday’s event. He recommended the film The Crude Awakening: the Oil Crash, warning, “We need to wean ourselves. We need to act and we need to act quickly.”
Asked in an interview on Tuesday whether people think she’s an alarmist, Steubing laughed about the irony of her namesake, Cassandra. In Greek mythology, Cassandra prophesized the fall of Troy, but nobody believed her.
“This one resource that we use for absolutely everything is in decline,” she said. “We’ve got an economy that must grow, coupled with resources that are in decline. There’s no way that we’re going to be able to continue. There’s no Planet B. Eventually, we will not have enough oil to have a global food system.”
Steubing said she got depressed when she first realized the gravity of the situation. Whether it takes several years or whether it takes 20, our economy will topple and we will switch from lives of comfort and ease to a harsher existence, she said.
“Over the last 100 years, we’ve been having a huge party, and the party’s over,” she said. “It’s already started. It’s going to get ugly. Psychologically, Americans are going to be flattened. We have no preparation for this whatsoever. We’re not going to do it until it’s too late, because we humans don’t work that way. I’m hoping that it’s going to be a hard landing and not a crash and collapse, but if I had to bet money, I’d bet on the crash and collapse.”
Citing a Saudi proverb, Steubing said, “My father rode a camel; I drive a Maserati; my son flies a jet plane; his son will ride a camel.”
Anyone wanting to learn more is welcome to attend Capital District Transition Network meetings on the third Tuesday of each month at the Albany Public Library in Conference Room 1 from 7 to 8:45 PM. A reskilling festival is planned on April 9 at the Sanctuary for Independent Media, said Steubing. For more information, contact: ssteub@yahoo.com.