Friday, January 28, 2011

Would that our Fed Chief Were So Forthright

Plain talk from the Bank of England's chief.

Hang on to your hats - it's gonna get bumpy.

I am taking a hiatus from here for a bit. You can follow my other not so-well-tended blog here.

May He Who rose from the dead, Christ our True God, through the prayers of His mother, the Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary, keep you.

I'm sure I'll be back here posting some times, unless they turn out the lights at blogger.



Thursday, January 13, 2011

In Honor of St. Hilary's Day - 13 January

"Keep this piety of my faith undefiled, I beseech you, and let this be the utterance of my convictions even to the last breath of my spirit: that I may always hold fast to that which I profess in the creed of my regeneration when I was baptized in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, namely, that I may adore you, our Father, and your Son together with you, and that I may gain the favor of your Holy Spirit who is from you through the only-begotten. He is a suitable witness for my faith who says: 'Father, all things that are mine are thine, and thine are mine,' my Lord Jesus Christ, who always abides as God in you, from you and with you who is blessed forever and ever. Amen."

-- St. Hilary of Poitiers

Cheap Oil and the Orthodox Churches in North America

Excuse this rather odd post, but I've been thinking about these things quite a bit - right use of "energy slaves" as some call them, and how that affects the distribution and growth/health of the Orthodox Churches in North America.

The closest Orthodox Christian parish of any kind to me is about 15 miles away. A full day's journey or more by horse drawn wagon (there's a rather sizeable river in between). It happens to be an Old Believer community. I'm not probably welcome.

The next closest parish to me is approximately 16-17 miles. For various reasons for now I do not attend this parish, although I may in the future. My parish is approximately 35 miles away - meaning a round trip for each service of about 70 miles.

My friend/correspondent John over at Notes From a Commonplace Book used to drive, I believe, as much as two hours one way to his parish once upon a time. He can correct me if I'm wrong.

This is not unusual, especially in the West where the numbers and spacing of Orthodox parishes is spotty at best.

All of this is possible through the miracle of cheap oil - the wonder substance of the age.

While many have scoffed over the years at the idea of "peak oil" and the effects of a declining supply of oil and gas in the face of growing demand, one must sit up and pay attention when (1) the US Department of Energy commissioned an analysis, which resulted in some grim findings in 2005 (the Hirsch Report); (2) The International Energy Agency (Paris), long resistant to ever mentioning the words "peak oil," now report in their 2010 World Energy Outlook that crud oil production probably peaked, in fact, in 2006, while global oil production of all sorts will peak and start to fall somewhere between 2020 and 2035!; and finally, the US Joint Forces Command, a functional unified command (as opposed to geographical, such as CENTCOM or PACOM), issued it Joint Operating Environment 2010 estimate addressing future trends and risks of concern to joint force military commanders which highlighted the concerns of peak oil and growing energy demand.

Notably in the JFCOM JOE are these chilling statements:

"[P]etroleum must continue to satisfy most of the demand for energy out to 2030. Assuming the most optimistic scenario for improved petroleum production through enhanced recovery means, the development of non-conventional oils (such as oil shales or tar sands) and new discoveries, petroleum production will be hard pressed to meet the expected future demand of 118 million barrels per day.

. . .

A severe energy crunch is inevitable without a massive expansion of production and refining capacity. While it is difficult to predict precisely what economic, political, and strategic effects such a shortfall might produce, it surely would reduce the prospects for growth in both the developing and developed worlds. Such an economic slowdown would exacerbate other unresolved tensions, push fragile and failing states further down the path toward collapse, and perhaps have serious economic impact on both China and India. At best, it would lead to periods of harsh economic adjustment. To what extent conservation measures, investments in alternative energy production, and efforts to expand petroleum production from tar sands and shale would mitigate such a period of adjustment is difficult to predict. One should not forget that the Great Depression spawned a number of totalitarian regimes that sought economic prosperity for their nations by ruthless conquest."

I will leave to the reader to consider other sources regarding these matters, and the various data that such sources provide. It is enough to say here that all that you and I take for granted - our lights, our grocery-bought food, our lovely cell phones, our drive to our parish to sing praises to our Lord, have come in the last 60-70 years, at least, from the glory of cheap oil, for which there are questionable replacements, and none of which portend that life will go on as "business as usual."

So what? So what has this to do with Orthodox North America? Well, frankly, we go to church and have parishes based on this very model of the assumption of the availability of cheap oil, enabling us to afford the cars (each new tire takes about 22 gallons of oil to produce, a retread takes about 7 - not to mind the oil-based energy to build your car, to make the plastics in it, and the shipping energy costs to get it to the lot, maintenance it and run it) which allow us to whisk over and back to the parish.

So what happens if (some will say - when) in the not very distant future (some will say quite a bit sooner - perhaps this decade) the price to obtain the fuels and parts to provide these wonderful transportation options becomes so unrealistic that one cannot make these sorts of travels? While I don't believe cars will go away - they may become a decided luxury.

How should we order the establishment and growth of parishes to reflect these sorts of energy estimates. Or to put it another way, should we really start thinking about parishes serving a much smaller area and focusing on their local neighborhoods? What do we do for parishioners that are quite distant from their parishes - not uncommon in rural America. What resources can we start providing now to support them, and possibly help grow small Orthodox communities that may not be able to support a priest full time. Should priests start becoming circuit riders rather than parishioners converging in their cars on a central parish location?

On a personal level, I've though a lot about right use of resources in going to parish. While "conservation concerns" should not be used as an excuse for not attending church at this time, as fuels are still cheap - there is something to be said for the idea that whether or not we have abundant oil - we are quite wasteful in our culture as it relates to energy use and this does not seem to be the way in which we should be stewards of our resources. I have thought that perhaps, at minimum, I should be going to a closer parish for now and cutting half the miles traveled off, not to mention time. The other option, of course, is to move close to the parish simply to be close to the parish. This is not an option for a lot of people in some rural communities in America since, even to be "close" entails considerable distance.

Much like the local food movement and such, I think we need to really think about local parishes in future - or proto parishes. The density of Orthodox parishes, especially in the West, is so low that perhaps we need to address local small gatherings (readers services) that are supplemented perhaps by trips to the nearest parish for feast days and other opportunities. Looking to the history of the Church in Alaska may provide good instruction in how this has been done where there is low density and distant populations. Beyond that, however, is the need to have the Orthodox Church be "where you are at now" - two or more gathered and all that.

The Age of Cheap Oil is coming to an end. Whether, in decades to come, we have the sufficient investment that advances in fusion or other alternative electricity production comes along sufficient to divert fossil fuels more fully to transportation fuels and "hang on" for a while happens is unclear. But nevertheless, whatever that future, we need to sow seeds now for looking at our little local communities around us, not gathering parishioners by crossing "sea and land" for a single proselyte. The fields are close by.

There is a movement out and about, getting some air time with local governments, called the Transition Movement. I find their model interesting, but troubling and perhaps unrealistic in some respects. However, it does provide interesting food for thought insofar as we think about how we "do church" (sorry for the cliche!), especially in the Western US, and how we might do things differently.

In all things, I do not wish here to suggest that the reason for doing these things is primarily to conserve energy. Rather, I suggest that we may find ourselves, perforce, cut off from regularly getting to those rather distant parishes for spiritual food and forced to reconsider how we are evangelizing. Perhaps we should think now how we take care of our fellows and prepare them. Perhaps in doing so, we can build a more "resilient" church and "resilient" parishioners (to borrow a Transition Movement term that's bandied about) that ensures that our brethren have the tools and resources to address such situations. In the process, perhaps also we can be better stewards of our resources, and divert saved resources of time and money to our local community, spreading the seed of the Gospel locally.

To me such as task is challenging and frightening. But perhaps it will be thrust upon us nonetheless.


Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The use of land

I have read estimates along this order:

1. The average American requires about 24 acres worth of land productivity to produce all the food, textile, wood, and similar land products, produce energy, and manage the garbage that he or she consumes in life.

By comparison, the average available land on the planet per person is something less than 5.

You can run a "footprint" that meets some international ecological footprint standards on ""

*The model obviously has some biases, at least for North America - for example I suspect the presumption if I eat meat is that it's coming from some sort of factory/industrial-based production (with the resultant energy inputs) when, in fact, we each much of our own meat grown right on our little acreage. But, even so, the real consumption is in petro-based or supported things like cars, airplanes, and electricity (we have a lot of hyro-power here, but still the support, transmission, distribution, and access and parts to maintain those points is supported by fleets of trucks moving goods and services hither and thither).

2. Another estimate is that it takes about 9-10 acres of land to support the average New Yorker - even though they don't have the land and it's "out of sight" to them, it's still necessary. That's some "food for thought."

Time's a-comin' when this unsustainable life of luxury will finally bite us in the @ss. Some suggest the next 10 - 20 years.


Saturday, January 01, 2011

Misc. Ramblings - cont'd

originally started before Christmas, A.D. 2010

I haven't posted much in a while. I have been spiritually dry and frustrated by the reality of all our frail institutions, religious and otherwise. While knowing to put no trust in princes, one still remains disappointed, even if not surprised.

I had to make a trip to California recently. I picked up a book: World Made By Hand from the used book bin. In a sort of post-apocalyptic vein, the book recites the tale of a man and his community in Upstate New York after society has collapsed in the U.S. following several economic catastrophes, terrorist bombings, and loss of access to oil byproducts for most of the population.

It was a good enough tale for the flight - and while perhaps unrealistic insofar as people are probably better able to generate electricity than the book will admit (also it simply gets a bit odd in places), and to figure out radio/telegraph, and similar transmissions to keep in touch, it nevertheless was a good vehicle to think about how different life could be in short order in this country - on the whole more like Iraq or Yemen or Afghanistan or other places in the world. How would we do if stripped of our technologies and wealth that allow us to hop flights hither and yon?

The world is quite unsettled right now - North Korea, economic catastrophe still looming in the EU, terrorist threats - low level, but sensational - and the as-yet unintended and unknowable social consequences arising from the Wikileaks battles between governments, hackers, multinationals and their various proxies. In a striking reversal of business as usual, the International Energy Agency (Paris) now says peak oil probably occurred in 2006. The Executive Summary of the IEA's World Energy Outlook for 2010 is sober reading. In the meantime, most tune out and watch episodes of Palin's Alaska, or the Sing Off, or It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, or some such. We fiddle away madly.

For the Orthodox, we trouble ourselves with the shenanigans of ecclesiatical politics while not attending to the real troubles pressing the most unfortunate of the world: sickness, starvation, and spiritual malaise. I am guilty of this.

I am not sure what to make of it all. My thoughts on "agrarianism" are posted here. In the end I do not put my trust in human ingenuity, government bailouts. Our help comes from one Holy Source, in Trinity - Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one in Essence and Undivided.

With that said, doubts trouble me - how shall an Orthodox Christian live in our times to come. I drive at least an hour each way to my parish now, at speeds which would astound our ancestors. What if energy costs "prohibit" that travel? Is it even good stewardship to make such trips now?

In the absence of making such trips to a parish, what does one do? Reader's services they say. But Orthodoxy is no Book of Common Prayer practice. In some ways I like the old BCP for it's ability have a great deal in one volume you can plunk in a satchel with a bible and off you go. But this does not reach to the level of Orthodox wisdom contained in the Church's services. Frankly one might need several such books in order to appropriately cover what richness a reader's service could give over times and seasons. Any suggestions from readers out there? What really is the basic library for a year's worth of reader's services?

I leave you with a couple of links for you to consider. I do not prophecy. But I think, whether our oil is going to run out or not, it's simply wise to think about what happens to us in the next 15 to 30 years if our Lord should tarry. What is our proper lifestyle, as Christians. We, in North America, live the life cheap oil has given us much like the next man. I know the irony of saying anything about this whilst typing on a machine built by the oil economy, hooked to an energy grid supported by the same. Nevertheless . . . for your consideration:

16 minutes of your time

60 minutes of your time

These are 'secular' concerns, indeed. But with food price riots in Algiers this week, one does have to what changes we should make as a matter of recognizing we are expending wealth constantly in this oil economy, to the detriment often of others in the world.