Fossil fuels are, by our definition, not renewable. While we won’t technically run out for a long time, economically we will. The last veins simply won’t be profitable to tap. This leaves us with a choice. Use our last fossil fuels to transition, or fight over them. Given that the ruling White Empire is historically greedy and genocidal, they are of course choosing violence. Welcome to the Energy Trap. It’s already clanging shut.
Choosing Violence: The Thucydides Trap
Imperial scholars use the term ‘Thucydides Trap’ to describe violent jealousy and make it look fancy. Like an ancient Greek tweet simply ‘traps’ them into attacking China. This is the tweet in question:
“The real cause, however, I consider to be the one which was formally most kept out of sight. The growth of the power of Athens, and the alarm which this inspired in Sparta, made war inevitable.” (via The Landmark Thucydides)
This sentence is taken completely out of the voluminous context of Thucydides and dropped over the Taiwan Strait like it’s some inevitability of history, but it’s not. America could always just not threaten and attack people but as the war criminal Madeline Albright said, “What’s the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?”
The fact is that Thucydides, like all ancient thinkers, is nuanced and this nuance is completely lost in its looting by modern imperial scholars like Graham Allison. The fact is that there is no Thucydides Trap, certainly not as some immutable product of history. It is not inevitable that the US has to encircle and threaten China, or whoever the enemy du jour is and Thucydides himself would be confused at the selective retweeting. As Alan Misenheimer writes, quoting more than one line of the Greek:
Hewing closely to what the historian of the Peloponnesian War actually says about the causes and inevitability of war, it argues that, while Thucydides’ text does not support Allison’s normative assertion about the “inevitable” result of an encounter between “rising” and “ruling” powers, the History of the Peloponnesian War (hereafter, History) does identify elements of leadership and political dynamic that bear directly on whether a clash of interests between two states is resolved through peaceful means or escalates to war. It is precisely because war typically begins with a considered decision by a national command authority to reject other options and mobilize for conflict (and thus always entails an element of choice) that insight from Thucydides’ History remains relevant and beneficial for the contemporary strategist, or citizen, concerned in such decisions.
Thus America (the current capital of White Empire) is not trapped into attacking other people, it makes a political choice to do so. Ideas like the ‘Thucydides Trap’ and ‘They Have WMD’ or ‘They’re Going To Kill You’ are just propaganda terms for different levels of education. They are not the actual, physical trap we’re in, and which we cannot avoid. Americans are fighting over lines on a map while the atmosphere catches fire. That’s the real problem.
Choosing Renewables: The Energy Trap
The United States military (inheritor of Empire from the conquered British) is the single largest polluter in the world, nay, in human history. It’s an absolute climate monster and the last thing anyone should be funding right now, and yet its financing is only accelerating. It is as if we got invaded by aliens and America decided that was a good time to start a land war in Asia, against fellow humans. At a time calling for cooperation, they’re choosing conflict, which is the real trap we’re in.
Fossil fuels are not only killing us with their emissions, they’re also running out. Fossil fuels are by definition non-renewable and the last bits are getting more and more expensive to extract. We should use the roughly 50% we have left to build renewable infrastructure rather than shoveling bombs into Ukraine and encircling China with military bases. Unfortunately, the White Empire is, as always, choosing violence. This leads us to a much worse trap than the mythical Thucydides.
As the physicist Tom Murphy writes:
Adding to the hardship is the fact that many of the alternative energy technologies — solar, wind, nuclear power, hydroelectric, and so on — require substantial up-front energy investment to build and deploy. If society waits until energy scarcity forces large-scale deployment of such alternatives, it risks falling into an “energy trap” in which aggressive use of energy needed to develop a new energy infrastructure leaves less available to society in general — a political non-starter. If there is to be a transition to a sustainable energy regime, it is best to begin it now.
This is the Energy Trap, the evolutionary pincer movement we find ourselves in. We need fossil fuel energy to produce all renewable energy right now, which is basically all we should be using it for. Instead, Empire is using it for partying and fighting as usual, making the problem (and the fighting) only more acute in the future. As Murphy continues:
Now it is perhaps more apparent why this is called an energy trap: short-term political and economic interests forestall a proactive major investment in new energy, and by the time energy shortages make the crisis apparent, the necessary energy is even harder to attain. Short-term focus is what makes it a trap.
Like Thucydides, this is not a historical inevitability but a psychological one. It’s not inevitable that Empire should devote its last hours to fighting other humans but—knowing this centuries-old White Empire—that’s all it knows how to do. And so all humanity ends up in an energy trap because the White Empire is going to funnel the last of its fossil fuels into fighting China rather than cooperating with them, the world’s largest producer of renewables.
And so we meet our fate not on the road we took to avoid it, but on the road clearly marked with ‘YOUR FATE HERE’ and ‘IT’S NOT GOOD’. Like Thucydides, this is not a trap per se, but per pysche. It is a polito-psychological quirk of White Empire that it would rather go down in a violent murder-suicide than give up a little power to coexist with other people. And so we end up in the tragic consequence of the Energy Trap. The Energy Wars.