Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Peak Oil and System Failure.

Recently I have worked in the property management business. I have become very familiar with how termites work. They are a great example of multiple system points failures.

When a termite eats a single two by four your house doesn't fall down. This is obvious. It has to eat a significant percentage of the wood in one section of the house. There has to be a water supply for them like a roof leak or a plumbing leak. There has to be an access point from the soil to the wood in the foundation or by means of debris piled next to the house. One failure is simply not good enough to let the termites run free. They need years to do their work.

Termites eat the wood hollow and leave a shell exposed to light and air. I've seen 4x6 beams that you can push a finger through. The house infested with termites can look exactly like the sound house next door to it. Even the day before it slumps and collapses. Other parts of our world have looked just fine until the moment of collapse; bridges, levees, housing tracts, power grids.

In our culture we are far more worried about explosive dangers to our (metaphorical) houses than the termites. Airports check everyones shoes for bombs yet we allow deathtrap SUV's to roam the roads. Auto accidents killed more Americans in September of 2001 than terrorism did. On average more than 3K people were killed in auto accidents every month since then. We're still checking shoes and selling SUV's.

The issue of Peak Oil is that the extra cost of energy is simply not absorbed by the economy. Other things, some of them necessary, get put off to pay for more expensive gas and heating oil. In my town that amounts to crumbling roads. Something important is crumbling in your town too.

In San Diego they couldn't find the money for fuels clearance. All over the US public safety officials are falling sick with staph infections. The bridges in the Northeast are in horrible condition. Farmers are pushing their land harder in order to meet fuels costs; depleting the soil. Termites.

Explosives attached to pipelines in Nigeria, Iraq, Mexico and Burma raise your gas prices at home. The oil companies take another bite out of your monthly budget. People everywhere put off installing new roofs and clearing the brush behind the house. The termites keep eating at your house. Rust chews on the rebar. A sewer leak creates a sinkhole under the intersection. A little crack joins another crack.

Then it falls down or burns down or the bridge goes out, the power goes out, the levee collapses, the wings come off the plane.......

The system fails.

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