Shall I still go? Bolivia is pretty much out of reach by ground transportation. Recognizing the heightened risk of air travel, I deliberated for several days, until two things became clear. One, I am living near Silicon Valley, which must be on the short list of likely targets of terrorism, making my vulnerability in Bolivia seem less serious than just staying put, and two, if I care about the future -- "Porvenir" -- then it makes sense to proceed with my mission, addressing the root cause of the violence, the structural inequality between those who yield up their natural resources such as oil and natural gas while living in poverty (in developing countries, i.e., Bolivia) to those who are living in luxury, consuming those resources profligately (i.e., Americans). If a few more Bolivians become literate, and especially if solar-powered telecommunication technology catches on in a big way, I figure in the long run there will be fewer terrorists trying to settle a score.
Sometime during this decade, the amount of oil being consumed will decline from one year to the next, never to reach the same level again. It may even happen this year; figures from the Oil and Gas Journal indicate measurable declines since May, and, for example, extraction in the UK is down about 10%, not because of deliberate holding back, but because of limits to Mother Nature's endowment. (Our British friends and relatives are in for a big shock as their North Sea extraction rates drop inexhorably like a stone.)
Of course it can be argued that OPEC countries have deliberately reduced "production" -- and that may be true. But regardless of market manipulations of the moment, sometime soon the permanent decline -- the "Big Rollover" -- will be upon us.
And what then? Will our politicians take advantage of current events to blame the Moslem world for holding back? Will we go to war only to discover the futility of our costly campaign, as we discover that pumping more only gets less?
In this context, each of us can make a difference. We can make an individual decision to switch to solar electricity or ride a bicycle more, and thereby start a serious movement to reduce our collective dependency on fossil fuels. Such personal choices do not require political mandates -- we can vote with our pocketbooks.
Allan Baer and I provided some video footage of our solar system under construction in Bolivia for a video about solar energy in schools. The narrator pointed out that the solar system in the USA provided a small fraction of their school's electricity while our solar system provided 100% of the electricity for the school in Porvenir. At 5 watts per capita, that system brought lighting, refrigeration (for medicines), computers, and the internet to 500 people for the first time. The prospect of secondary level education and access to information on any subject will do far more than machine guns ever could to improve the quality of life for these people. More geeks, fewer brutes!
So whatever challenges I may face personally on my mission to the Amazon, I know that the global transformation to sustainability is in motion, and as more people discover the sufficiency of renewable energy, the Big Fight and all the little skirmishes over oil will lose momentum.
Sail on, Spaceship Earth!
Ron Swenson, webmaster at Ecotopia.com