Last week we watched an unusual early spring outbreak of tornados from Kansas through Virginia. Some 39 people lost their lives in these violent storms. Having viewed the destruction on nightly TV news programs, it is amazing the fatalities weren’t even higher. During that outbreak, one community, Harveyville, Kansas, was hit without warning, with the loss of a resident. What made this particular incident so unnerving was the fact that the community was close to a powerful weather radar facility and experienced weather bureau staff. The storm had produced a tornado in an adjacent county prompting a warning for that county. But the radar seemed to show the storm falling apart quickly, and the weather bureau staff chose not to extend the warning to the next county, and the sirens didn’t sound.
It was not the fault of the radar or the radar operator in the interpretation of all those green, red and yellow displays. It was simply the fact that technology can do only so much in the detection and analysis of impending natural weather events. After many decades as a trained storm spotter, I have come to accept the limitations of technology in “Tornado Alley”, where there is no substitute for eyes on the ground. It may come as a shock to some that radar does not see a large percentage of tornados on the ground or funnel clouds aloft. We have become complacent in expecting that the colorful displays we see on TV are the final word on the threats before us. We have trusted that technology has reached a point where we no longer have to worry about a surprise attack from Mother Nature. Nothing could be further from the truth.
What surprised the weather bureau after the 2011 tornado outbreaks in Alabama and the Joplin tornado was the loss of life, some 500 plus individuals, the greatest loss since 1936, long before radar had been invented. Clearly, from the devastation observed, early warnings kept that loss from being many times greater. It demonstrated that technology was a significant contributor to preserving lives, but it was not a total solution to their living safely with Mother Nature on the rampage.
So what does all this rambling have to do with Peak Oil Blues? Over the past several days I have received several e-mails from friends about “new” technology in the oil and gas fields making us energy independent in a few short years. First of all, the “new” technology is some 60+ years old; it is only since oil and gas have reached higher prices allowing newer technologies to be employed.
Secondly, we have collectively come to expect that technology will triumph over any obstacle, even if it is the total lack of an available resource. As a nation we have allowed ourselves to become lulled into complacency, assuming that the wizards of technology will somehow allow us to extract the proverbial blood from a turnip, and therefore, we as a population have to do nothing but sit back, and continue our customary driving and consuming, while waiting. We much prefer to accept hype over facts, which can be uncomfortable.
But what happens when the population runs directly into the limits of technology? I think that like the storms of weather, we will face the storms of economics and energy. There will be many consequences where people and these storms collide. The consequences will be physical, economic, emotional, mental, and intellectual. Many will ask “Why didn’t the sirens sound?” so that we could take precautions and make preparations. The result will be very troubling times. There are no guidelines to follow. As a population we will have to write the “book” on how to deal with the decline of the energy age from Chapter 1 forward, since this has not occurred before. Many authors and websites have written the Preface; we will have to build upon their work.
Technology is a wonderful thing, but we must understand its limits in supplying solutions for our daily needs. Some of that supply will have to come from the work of our own hands and those immediately around us (community).
From all appearances, the economics and energy storm in reality is not diminishing, but the technology is not really detecting that, either from an omission or commission in reading its displays. Our technology is nearing its limits, but public awareness is almost “nil” that a storm indeed is approaching.
The sirens should be wailing now for you to take precautions, but they remain silent.
This is the time for you to have eyes to the sky.