Monday, April 4, 2011

Map baby! Map! (Americans need more land to develop)

America long ago ran out of land to chase the natives off of and settle, and right now our economy needs a kick in the pants, what to do?  I for one am ready to poo-poo the people who are "peak new world" advocates... seriously, we sent Christopher Columbus to sail West at some point in the past, and he found more land!  (Europe had pretty much been dived up amongst the nobles at that point, and land was needed, as well as gold. and timber).

Now the North American Continent has been dived up and settled, and frankly some of our states are entering a time when having enough water to support our life style is a problem.  What to do?  Well, putting some scallywags in a boat and sailing it off to the unknown worked before.... maybe it will work again and we'll find some undiscovered 8th continent with simple people that we can barter land for smallpox infested blankets... then we can start with the East Coast of our new world, and work our way west.... we'll have cowboys, and pioneers... it'll be real neat-o!

Oh, but there is a problem with my solution you say?  Horse patooties!  Sailing West is a proven method for finding new continents, no reason to think it won't work now!  Map baby, map!

You still don't believe me?  Why?  I don't understand... when I read the comments you leave on any article about oil on the Huffington Post, you say you can't wait for America to be "energy independent" and that peak oil is a lie from the big oil companies to jack up the price of gas.  You have no problem latching on to Micheal Steele bibbles famous chant "Drill baby, drill!".... following your logic, "Map baby, map" isn't a very far leap.

The European empires went through an era of land discovery, that if you were to plot out on a curve would look very much like Dr. M. King Hubbard's twin bell curves.  First there is exploration, slow at first, then more and more "discoveries", then there is a peak, and eventual decline.... and there is nothing "new" find anymore.  Following that curve is an annexation curve... one that starts out slow, has a peak, and a decline.... the cycle of empire.

"Drill baby, Drill" sounds like a great solution to the problem of energy independence... until you look at just exactly how much oil is actually left out there.  My personal favorite is the "Fluffington Post" commenter who pointed out that there are 2 billion barrels in North Dakota... that's nice, at the rate of use of 83 million barrels per day that two billion barrel supply ought to last until Christmas... of THIS year.

"There is PLEANTY of oil out there." is the classic cornucopian argument... that is true, but you won't be able to develop all of it, not by a long shot.   Back when America was 13 colonies there was plenty of land out West... and there still is; but most of it cannot be developed... most of it will not become sub-divisions.   Why... there is land there, why not use it?  Well, access to water and avoidance of floodplains of the same is one good reason, the other is geology; while the suburbs will creep up the valleys right to the base of the mountains, most people will not be building their dream house above timberline, or halfway down a vertical face of a cliff.   Other factors such as bad weather, and seasonal biting insect infestations will keep the people at bay other places.  We also can develop land without building suburbs on it, there are pipelines, power-lines, mines, and access roads to all the above all over the West, even where the people aren't.

Right now, we are at the "bumpy plateau" of  the world's oil peak; the peak of production... and in that peak comes price inflation when demand starts to outstrip supply... then the price of oil crashes as the demand for oil is reduced by the pressures of economic hardship caused by high oil prices....which are no longer high, so the economy starts to recover... then demand rises, then prices rise, then demand falls, then prices fall... it could go on for quite awhile like this, times that are never quite as good as they were, but not the apocalypse that some are predicting.  Not yet anyway.

Political instability may cause temporary price fluctuations, but here's the thing about oil..... it is underground, and no matter what the natives are doing above, the oil will sit there and wait.   However, countries with oil that descend into political instability don't usually recover pre-instability output levels even when the turmoil has passed.

So how about it you "glass is half full" types?  Do you see a shortage of land around Cleveland and Dallas for the ever expanding rings of suburbia?  Then let's put Richard Branson in a sail boat to look for a shortcut to India and hope that he runs into a large "undiscovered" land mass for us to "settle".  It is a theory that gives as much credit to mapmakers, and geographers as "drill baby, drill" gives to geologists and oil executives of the recent past; that is to say, none.