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Sufficiency Theory



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Recently all the complaining from the expat community here in Thailand has left me a little embarrassed. In the West, we are brought up with a sense of entitlement. We think the world owes us something. The harsh reality is it doesn't, and everything we get is just a matter of luck. I consider everyday I can spend in this marvellous land a gift, and I would never leave except by the direct force of those in power. I am embarrassed to see all the worst qualities in farangs being brought to the surface, without the slightest hint of gratitude for what they have been given, or understanding of what Thailand offers.

Let's go through some of the obvious tripe that has been uttered recently.

Most often heard statement (paraphrased of course) "I've given xxx amount of (dollars / euros / baht) to the Thai economy and I deserve to be treated better." My question to you is, why do you think you deserve this? Those tokens you have been given, and in turn given to the Thai economy aren't really representative of anything. You're mistaken if you think that real Thais (hint: not those corrupted by Western values) really want or need them. Your (dollars / euros / baht) are a virus to the Thai culture. The best thing you could do for Thailand (as opposed to for yourself) is to *NOT* spend your money, and not pollute the country with Western thinking. If the only value you brought to Thailand was money, then you should be ashamed and leave all by yourself. The Thais shouldn't even have to ask you.

Second most often heard statement (again paraphrased) "The backwards thinking Thais need us farangs in order to progress." Again, western values have caused us all to think that what we have now is progress. Instead, what we have now is an unstable situation created directly by those market mechanisms and cultural imperatives which we value so highly. I'm not talking about nuclear destruction or climate change…those are relatively simple problems that could eventually be solved within the boundaries of Western ideals. The true issue is much more insidious and is the reason why we must start to act humbly and appreciative of everything that Thais are willing to give us.

I could go on, but I won't. I want to share with you why Thailand is right and we are all wrong.

His Majesty The King of Thailand knows exactly what I am talking about. He is probably the wisest and most enlightened person I have ever seen. To hear him talk (even with my horribly incapable Thai) is always a blessing. The sufficiency economy he is advancing is the only way forward. Globalization and current Western trends lead to only 1 place, and, unlike Visa, it is nowhere anybody wants to be.

I am, of course, referring to peak oil, the most important event that will happen in our lifetimes, or possibly even the whole of human history. If you haven't heard of peak oil, I urge you to start Googling now, and be prepared to spend several months or even years before you truly come to terms with what it is. Many people think we can find a way out of this…these people are mostly incorrect, if you assume that "a way out" implies a continuation of the world and economies as they exist today.

The most often heard argument is "solar". People love solar. It is clean and abundant. If we just installed several square km of solar panels peak oil wouldn't matter. The problem here is that we don't understand enough about energy efficiency to do this. We are actually very stupid when it comes to understanding complex systems. Nature is infinitely more intelligent than we are about these things. You can discount this statement at your own peril, and I will listen to alternate views about this statement when someone can show me an "automobile manufacturing seed" that can self organize itself into a complete automated production facility using only nutrients from the ground, sunlight and elements from the atmosphere. Face it…nature is millions of times smarter than we are.

Nature has decided photosynthesis is the best way. We stupid humans seem to think PV panels are so much more efficient. Stupid nature. Believe me, after millions of years of evolution, if more net energy could be made from PV, you'd see hundreds of plants (or animals) with tiny PV cells to give them an energy advantage. You don't. It's not because nature lacks silicon. What is the reason then? An honest analysis has to lead you back to "because in the complete system you simply can't beat photosynthesis for efficiency." Photosynthesis is at best, 6% efficient. That then, is the natural limit you should expect to be able to get from sunlight as a net energy source.

So, forget all these crazy pipe dreams of super efficient PV cells or plastic cells that will provide us with a high quality energy source at 30 – 40% efficiency. When you show me an automobile manufacturing seed, I'll believe you. If you can't do that, you sure as hell can't build a PV cell than gives you 30% efficiency after factoring in the total lifecycle cost of the fabrication plant and all the people to run it. 6%. That's it. And that will only happen when were infinitely smarter than we are now. The PV cell itself may be 30%, but the energy contained in manufacturing the cell means that over it's entire life you'll only get a very small net payback, if it is even positive. I've seen grossly inadequate EROEI (energy returned on energy invested) analysis that claim 20:1 for PV cells. I don't believe it for an instant. The data doesn't exist to do a true analysis, and if nature can't do it, you sure as hell can't.

There are, of course, myriad other solutions you will hear. Nuclear fission, nuclear fusion, coal, ethanol, biodiesel, biomass gasification, etc. All of these are possible sources of power, and all are less desirable than oil as an energy source. That's not to say we won't use them. We will. Just as we will use solar, even given its small net energy efficiency. But no matter what we do, it will not be possible to replace oil. Peak oil means energy depletion, and an end to the economy as you know it today.

Everything in western life depends on oil. Most importantly, economic growth depends on the increasing use of oil. Yes you understand correctly. Peak oil means the end of economic growth. A little understood fact of this world is that there isn't enough money created to pay back interest on all the loans. We require economic growth to do that. Peak oil means no more money loaned at interest, because there will be no more possibility of economic growth.

You see, over the next 100 years, the entire western world is about to come crashing down, and there is very little we can do about it. We will use alternate energy sources for sure to mitigate the effects, but we can't prevent the end result. And the end of the crash will mean an entirely new system of economics. One where growth is bad, sustainability is good. (BTW, by definition, sustainability means 0 net growth. Sustainable growth is an oxymoron, unless exactly balanced by sustained death.)

The sufficiency economy is the very basis for what will work, in complete opposition to the Western growth ideals that will lead only to misery and suffering. The more we push the Western cultural norms, the more we condemn ourselves and our children to death. If we have any sense of self preservation as a species, we should immediately abandon the current economic system, and embrace the Thai ideals.

I hear my fellow farangs criticizing the current government for establishing economic and protectionist policies that are stupid. I prefer to think of my fellow farangs as medieval. I'm sure the doctors during the Middle Ages honestly believed that leaching a person was the correct thing to do. Unfortunately, with a little bit more enlightened perspective, it is quite obvious that it is counter productive.

You and I, as farangs, have 2 choices. We can either continue on in our delirious, ignorant state, and continue lambasting Thailand for everything we perceive to be out of the norm, or we can stop and really look at what they are doing. For sure, many of them have been corrupted by Western ideals and are just out to enrich themselves, but I prefer to think those at the top, and in particular the King of Thailand who I think is probably the best example of what a person can be, know a little bit more than we do. They are subtly directing Thailand to where it needs to be to survive the future hell which necessarily follows from peak oil.

You can complain about it and leave. Go back to Blair / Bush Farangland and wait for the inevitable that comes along with energy depletion, or you can stay in a country with a truly enlightened monarch who has his country's best wishes at heart. Every country has its share of greedy politicians and deranged officials. You can't escape that. All you can do is make your life slightly more pleasant now, at the expense of your future.

No, my friends. Thailand is not going down the wrong road. It is us who simply can't see the wisdom in the guidance we are being given from the Thai leadership. I, for one, will be staying in Thailand until I'm either dead or forced to leave. I trust in the King's judgement. And all the while I will be extremely grateful for this opportunity. Because I don't see any other country on the planet preparing for peak oil the way Thailand is. It's not just about finding alternate forms of energy (AKA Sweden). It's about changing the way economics works. Only the sufficiency economy can do that, and only Thailand is actively pursuing this

Wait about 50 years and then tell me I was wrong. I don't think you will. Peak oil is very real. I am an accomplished engineer, and like to think of myself as logical and open to ideas. I am not religious because it doesn't make sense. I need facts to convince me. My initial reaction when I first started studying energy depletion 5 years ago was incredulity and disbelief. It simply doesn't seem possible for all that we have to go away. That all our knowledge won't somehow save us. But the earth is littered with failed civilizations, some of whom were brilliant for their time. Our civilization is no different, just bigger because of what oil has given us. 5 years of research has convinced me the problem is simply too complex, and our society is founded on incorrect principles. Growth is a dead end. Stay in Thailand and help to advance the sufficiency economy, and fight against globalization and economic growth, or go elsewhere and wind up wishing you had stayed.

The choice, as always is yours. But don't criticize the Thais too much to your fellow farangs. You never know which one's will just look at you as if you suggested leaching as a viable cure for cancer.

Stickman's thoughts:

If ever there was a submission that people will almost certainly comment on, this is it.

I don't know much about peak oil, but the world is changing, and Thailand as we know it today may not exist in 10 or 20 years time. That throws up all sorts of scenarios. I often think of the crowd working hard in Farangland, saving every penny and looking forward to retirement in Pattaya. Yep, many have plans to settle in Pattaya. How Pattaya will be in the future I have no idea, but like the rest of Thailand, it is going to change.

Now we can see why the Thais live for today!