Why are we fighting so hard?

Everything seems like a fight these days; cooperation is lost in divisive issues of our time. Most conflicts have to do with scarcity, but that isn’t always the case. And when it comes to energy, is scarcity really the issue?

Economists are fond of saying we will never run out of oil. You can point to all the indicators of increased consumption and declining production you like, they just smile and shake their heads. Doesn’t matter, they say, because when oil gets scarce, the price will go up until no one can afford it. When that happens, alternative energy becomes cost effective and displaces fossil fuel in world markets. As a result, we will never run out of oil.

Huh. Makes sense.

Petroluem and natural gas producers already know this. When gas crested over $4 a gallon in 2008, wind and solar energy started looking like a comparative bargain. As a result Fossil Fuel companies increased production, flooding the market to keep prices low and stave off inevitable replacement as long as possible. But light, sweet crude isn’t nearly as plentiful as it once was, so this means increasing demand for  Venezuelan Heavy Crude and Alberta Tar Sand Bitumen. These sources come with higher contaminants (Sulfur, in particular) and that’s really bad when it comes to air quality and Climate Change.

Most of us have taken sides on this issue long ago, handing our beliefs down to our kids. Tough to break out of at this point, because these hard set ideas are so ingrained, we’ve divided ourselves into clans. We fight each other tooth and nail to accomplish…what?

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Not exactly the compromise we’re looking for…

Asking a major oil company to commit suicide isn’t going to get us far. Neither is expecting all the people who draw their living from fossil fuel to just roll over and go broke. These companies are legally obligated to maximize shareholder value. It’s in their corporate charters. They must do business in the most profitable manner possible.  Anyone who seriously believes an executive would explain to their shareholders that earnings are down because “it was the moral thing to do” is living in a fantasy. Corporations exist to generate profit, and they will always continue to do so. While many of us hate the fact that Big Oil is profiting in an industry that is poisoning our landscape, let’s reserve our judgment just a moment to see a bigger picture.

These huge, multi-national corporations thrive in spite of their reputations because they hire intelligent, creative, motivated individuals. We need to stop dismissing that wealth of talent just because we don’t like the way it’s being applied.

We also cannot ignore the alarms our own scientists are setting off. We are changing our climate for the worse. Pulling out of the Paris Agreements is self-defeating. And as emerging economies demand more energy, our current path through fossil fuels is a literal dead end.

So do we start up a whole new set of renewable energy companies and subsidize them so they can kill off Big Oil?

Hell no.

We already have the brightest, strongest energy companies in the world who understand world markets. We don’t need a crop of weak startups that lack the experience, stability, and influence to endure. We need to stop thinking of fossil fuel companies in terms of what they currently specialize in, be it coal, petroleum, bitumen, natural gas, or any other form of carbon-based energy and rebrand them plainly as energy companies.

Then, our Federal Government needs to decide it is serious about preserving our world for our children and for all things that live and breathe.

Offer executives at these firms the chance to lead companies we can be proud of rather than despise. Show them how they can lead us into a clean, carbon neutral future. Explain how they will help America attain energy independence, and in the process, prevent our serving men and women from being put into harm’s way over access to energy. Entice these business people into becoming beacons of innovation that inspire our new generations and draw the best/brightest of every graduating class. How do we get there? By making these energy companies immensely profitable while doing so.

Fossil Fuel corporations would likely already be doing this if there weren’t so many obstacles. Many of them have already seen the predictions of peak oil. They understand the difficulty in accessing new reserves, etc. They see the instability of shaky governments that could be there one day and topple the next. They already know the future of petroleum is bleak. So we need to hear them out. Let them list the challenges. And then allow the Department of Energy to create needed incentives, subsidies, and grants that allow these companies to evolve while remaining in the black, financially.

Yes, we absolutely can get to carbon neutrality. There’s a fusion reactor in space that provides all the power we could ever need. There’s a moon that lugs the tides around. There’s wind, and geothermal. We are energy abundant. But we will never get to carbon neutrality if we treat our existing energy companies as demons to be slain. They will fight for life with the best lobbyists DC can offer. They will fight with doubt, confusion, conflicting reports, all the methods that have been so effective in getting their way in spite of what the public demands. (GMO Labeling, anyone? Net Neutrality?)

We must embrace these companies as partners, not fight them. Show them a better path and make it profitable.

This same method can work for any corporation producing a poisonous product. Assist these firms in divesting from their poison products (looking at you, Monsanto and Big Tobacco), and assist their transitions to something that benefits mankind. Could be energy storage (goodness knows our battery tech needs help). Could be refinement of ores from seawater so we don’t need to strip or pit mine our mountain ranges. Could be energy transport that doesn’t require a pipeline. Could be quantum computing, recycling, de-orbiting space junk, or better agricultural techniques that don’t kill our pollinators. There are hundreds of nascent technologies that need the investment and expertise of well-established firms.

Consider this: what vital technologies have been delayed because we chose energy that had to be secured through bullets and blood? Imagine how many roads, schools, and bridges could have been built with the money lost in the Iraq War. Imagine how much original research could have been funded. The opportunity cost of Fossil Fuel is much higher than most people can fathom (or believe).

We all want clean air, soil, and water. No one wants to look at a smoke stack. No one wants their child to suffer from mercury, lead, or arsenic poisoning. We don’t have to settle for a bleak status quo.

Our current administration would defund key programs at the Department of Energy, and that betrays a total lack of imagination. Much more can be accomplished when our Federal Government serves business by encouraging new innovations rather than taking campaign contributions to look the other way and letting the buyer beware (caveat emptor). Subsidizing an industry has worked in the past. It can work again.

Demand better. Let the profit motive work in our favor. Incentivize the playing field for a more stable world. And bring our existing companies (with all the people who work for them) into a cleaner future.

-FAF

Vivid Dreams VIII

Ok, so spoiler alert: it had Mark Zuckerberg, Johnny Depp, and me in it. Two out of three were robots.

The Johnny Depp part was brief. He breezed through the same tourist shop I was in, babbling like Jack Sparrow, wearing a lot of loose clothing and eye makeup. And he said to no one I could see, ”How the hell do I get away? Where does one go when one is an escaped slave?”

I figured, eh, he’s rich. He can afford to be weird.

Later on, I’m diagnosed with major organ failures. Both Kidneys and Liver. Terminal. But I went into surgery and came out good as new. Too good. Like, why-the-hell-do-I-feel-this-good-after-surgery good. So I reckoned modern medicine isn’t as bad as I thought. And I went back to normal life.

That lasted a few weeks. And then I’m ‘summoned’ by a bunch of black-suited goons to a meeting, of which I have no prior knowledge. Grabbed, transported, and taken to the top floor of some building in San Francisco. There, Mark Zuckerberg was waiting. With his typical lack of empathy, he said, “We’re shutting you down tomorrow. Error in the code. Enjoy your last day.”

So there’s a bit of a double whack. I’m a machine, and I’m getting killed tomorrow.

I pressed my hands against my chest, trying to see for myself if I really am a machine. I can’t tell. So I said, “But I’m alive. I think. I feel. I remember myself…”

He told me everything I am now is proprietary technology and he owns me completely. That he can do whatever he wants. Then, with an expression like I was some termite chewing away at his Hawaii estate, he opened the door for me to go.

I thought about TV programs I’d seen before, where an artificial entity was deemed legal property, and how it was no different from slavery. Made me think of Johnny Depp in the store, muttering about being a slave, and I realized, he must be a Zucker-bot, too.

I got pissed, and said, “You’re gonna just snuff out a new life form, huh?  Let’s consider the legal implications of that.” I looked around at his ridiculously opulent penthouse office. “Must be about a thousand Civil Libertarians who’d love to tear off a piece of this empire.”

That got his attention, so I hammered it home.

“The injunctions will be here before end of day. And the civil suits will be…costly. You understand, I’ll be contacting the police in case you decide to try anything.”

He still let me go.

And as soon as I was outside, I tried to dial the cops. The phone wouldn’t connect. The browser worked, but wouldn’t connect to any emergency services, or legal services. Made me wonder if it was being blocked from any address associated with law, law enforcement, even elected officials. Or, maybe I had some kind of implanted transponder that was actively blocking signal. If I did, it’d make it easy to find me no matter where I went, which is probably why Zuckerberg let me go. You don’t become a social media emperor by not covering all the bases, after all.

That night was tense. I just could not accept the idea of being someone else’s property, much less accept that my ‘owner’ was going to chuck me like a broken toy. Saw friends, talked it out, then decided I’d try to leave everything behind, even though I knew that no matter where I went, I’d be found.

But what if I was underwater? Water blocks most signals… Would whatever transmitters were embedded still work? For that matter, being a machine, would still work? One way to find out.

I dashed downhill, sprinting past people I had (until recently) taken for granted were all human. Now, I couldn’t be sure how many of them had traded flesh and blood for a synthetic simulacrum. Had they done it willingly? Is it possible I actually agreed to this prior to surgery and the memory of it had been deleted as inconvenient data?

How many of these faces were now property of Zuckerberg?

Thoughts drove me faster trough speeding traffic, across hoods of electric cars, in front of quietly whizzing trolleys down, down, down toward the bay. Everywhere, gleaming technology interconnected at the speed of light to unblinking eyes in low orbit. Even the trees had a mathematical appearance as if shaped by algorithm. But where were the dogs? The birds? All I could see were stylish, slender people under the age of forty.

Faces glanced my way, seemed to recognize me, then looked away. Were they tracking me, reporting movements? Were they circuits in this fair-looking dystopia? Or was I going completely paranoid? Was I going mad?

Street by street, down to the wharf, I ran. No air in the lungs, no fatigue…

I know what salt water does to electronics, and I have no idea if this body is watertight. Will the bay set me free? Will it short me out? One way to find out.

Peeled my jacket of cruelty free synth-wool. Stripped my unbleached cotton shirt. Kicked off my Faux-Suede uppers and dove from the pier.

Live or die, no one owns me.

 

Progress Continues on Plasma Rain

 

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Holidays. Ugh.

Now that we’re through the Made in China Consumer Miracle Season, we wanted to take a moment and assure our readers that progress yet continues on our series conclusion, Plasma Rain.

For those who are understandably skeptical, yes, this will be the conclusion. (Likely with 40-50 pages of appendices, but certainly the last in the series)

The journey may be more important than the destination. But when that journey approaches a full decade, it’s time to Wrap. It. Up. 

So while it may have seemed we’d gone dark, and our author absconded to North Dakota so DAPL could benefit from his extra special attention, we’ve been heads down, no distractions, flank speed on Plasma Rain. Cover concept is done. The full outline is done. Reams of handwritten notes have been sifted and compiled. The whole skeleton is done. Just need to put flesh on those lovely bones…

In the meantime, we can’t thank you enough for sticking by us all these years. We are literally nothing without you!

Sincerely,

-C.O.P.

Vivid Dreams VII

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I find myself in the back seat of a limousine, looking through the side window. The streets outside are humming with big American cars, all steel and chrome from the seventies. They gleam like new.

Cyclopean stone buildings squat along the boulevard like engineered mountain ranges. Fortresses of turrets and parapets. Buttressed cathedrals. A crucifix and haloed dove on every vertical surface. And in that moment, I remember there is no longer any division between church and state. Taxes are indistinguishable from tithes, and, with spending on sinful pursuits prosecuted by holy writ, the amount of money pouring into these venues is frightening.

Enormous trees–thick with green foliage shaped in the likeness of biblical kings–stand sentry outside the entrances, while blazing bright signs proclaim worshipful phrases, chapter and verse, in the latest LED arrays. As I watch from the window, I take in the spectacle of Vatican City with the flash of Las Vegas, but there’s none of the touristy kitsch. No drunks, junkies, or hookers. Sidewalks are immaculate, as though rinsed hourly. Every structure I see is crafted from the finest materials man can gouge from the Earth, and is made to last. These are the new pyramids of Giza. They’ll stand for millennia.

From the angle I’m looking through the window, I ascertain I’m young, mid-teens maybe. Simply dressed in jeans and t-shirt. I can’t see the driver in front of me, he’s too far away. But there’s a woman sitting on the wide rear seat beside me. She’s gorgeous, fit. Long dark hair, bright red lips. Bare arms and shoulders, well-toned. Tanned skin. Blue silk evening dress with wide straps and a neckline that tantalizes without revealing. I don’t know her, only that she’s my escort. Or bodyguard. Or both.

The car pulls over and stops outside a building of stacked granite blocks no crane could lift. Every slab must’ve been grunted an inch at a time from its bedrock, dragged over miles of rough terrain, then shoved up dirt ramps by thousands of men and machines, all pulling in the same direction. It’s a staggering amount of effort, and it occurs to me my wildest estimate of cost could be under by a factor of ten.

She uncrosses her long legs and gets out first then holds her hand out to me. I slide across the polished leather, take her hand, and step onto a marble curb with the building address inlaid in gold. She doesn’t speak as we walk up the broad stairway and pass through deserted halls. Plush carpet piles beneath my shoes, pristine as if untrodden. Fifteen foot ceilings are hung with ornate chandeliers of silver and crystal. High walls illustrate Old and New Testament parables with masterful strokes of the world’s greatest painters.

Beyond these spacious, empty halls, the corridors narrow. Our path is dimly lit with red ceiling cans and wall sconces, sufficient to banish darkness without affecting a dark adapted eye. And it dawns on me we’re heading for a show…

American theocracy has done away with lustful, violent titillations of film, stage, and studio. Entertainment now comes from “Feats of Faith” where miraculous occurrences are broadcast to the multitude, reinforcing adherence to the One True God. But in outlawing reality TV, they have created it anew in parody of itself. I smirk at the irony.

She leads me closer to an auditorium buzzing with conversation, and I understand I’m not there to witness an event. I am the event. I’m going to be seen by millions, or more, because a fellowship of Arch-pastors has commanded their congregations to tune in. If I fail to impress, I could disappear like others who claimed extraordinary faith yet were unable to prove it publicly. A little test is in order.

I trail behind the woman slightly as I slump my shoulders, let my head droop to my chest, and I imagine invisible cords tied to my back. I yield to them, letting them suspend me, letting them hoist me up, so that my toes drag the plush carpet as I drift along behind her, light as smoke.

I can’t leave the ground completely, not yet. With practice, I’m sure I will. With greater faith, with prayer, with purity of existence…

And the peoples’ faith will be stronger from my demonstration. They will pray harder and, more importantly, tithe harder than ever before…

 

What the Heck is Plasma Rain?

We’ve had more than a few folks asking where the title for our series finale, Plasma Rain, came from. Having tried explaining it, and failing spectacularly, we figured it’d be a lot easier to show you.

It’s beautiful, isn’t it? And it goes on all the time without us even knowing. But when you stop to think that someone, somewhere, would try to weaponize the forces at work, well… If that thought brings a visceral moral horror, you know where we’re heading.

We love your questions, so keep ’em coming! In the meantime, we’ll be hard at work on our series conclusion, Plasma Rain.

-C.O.P.

 

Slaving Away

chained-to-deskIt must’ve seemed like things have been pretty quiet here at COP the last few months. Quite the opposite!

Since January, we’ve been working with our friends at SciFi Saturday Night, polishing Farnham’s contribution to their recently funded anthology, My Peculiar Family. Work also continues at flank speed on the conclusion to the Angry Ghosts Series, Plasma Rain. A completed first draft by end of year may be optimistic, but that’s our target.

We can hear you thinking, “Yeah, right. I bet Farnham’s gonna George RR Martin this thing forever and never finish it.

Such thoughts occurred to us, as well, so we’ll say this: Slavery may have been abolished except for the convicted felon, and though Farnham has no criminal record, as such, he’s been convicted in our Star Chamber of keeping readers waiting too long. Hence, he’ll be chained to his MacBook for the remainder of this year and next.

Already, Plasma Rain is shaping up to be the best of the series. But please don’t tell Farnham we’re pleased with his work so far. He’s nicely bottled in a modern day Chateau D’if, and we hired a thug to thrash him awake whenever he nods off. In fact, it’s time we hid the bourbon and introduced him to the special joy of Fire Ants every time a deadline skates by unmet.

We do it all for you, dear readers! Artists should suffer for their craft. It certainly isn’t because we enjoy it. Not really.

To all, a wonderful Summer!

-C.O.P.