In my first few posts, I have tried to paint a simple, straightforward portrait of what I believe to be Peak Oil’s fundamental aspects.
The framework I have set forth to date will serve as the underpinnings for my future discussions.
I stated at the outset two primary considerations:
- If we don’t understand the challenges, we cannot possibly expect to meet them successfully; and
- This is all up to us—not “industry,” not our “leaders,” not the media, not government, not just undefined “others.” All of us have a stake in the future we create, and all of us share the responsibility of creating that future by the choices we make now
I understand there are those who deny Peak Oil’s inevitability if not its actual existence, just as there are those who deny global warming (setting aside an astonishing amount of supporting factual data in the process). The reasons for denying the obvious fascinate me. So too does it trouble me because of the consequences of ignorance and neglect.
The unwillingness or inability of some to look at the facts—and then seemingly proclaim existence in an alternative universe where those facts don’t matter—is a curious psychological exercise. There’s also no question that some deny facts because their motivations are purely selfish and short-term: they can inflict damage on others who think differently, regardless of consequences to us all. In and of itself that seems to be a victory they find worth pursuing. “Success” takes on a different hue when considered in this light. The lack of integrity in this approach speaks for itself, but we’re all going to pay a price … deniers, too.
There’s also little doubt that those suspicious of Peak Oil are simply confused by the conflicting and at times complex information submitted. It’s hard to blame those struggling just to get by every day with a failure to devote attention to some nebulous concept that doesn’t directly impact their lives today. And how do the uninformed ascertain on their own what’s valid and what is not? The loudest voices oft-times seem the logical source in which to place trust, and there’s precious little time to consider the motivations of those loudest voices.
I understand that in the midst of this ongoing economic calamity we remain mired in, any change that is not considered an immediate return to business-as-usual and life-as-we-once-knew-it is a path easily avoided. I also understand that just enduring the economic stresses we’re now confronted with is itself a monumental undertaking, and to suggest that we have more to do is a message not easily or well-received. This is an issue I’ve touched upon in an earlier post (see http://peakoilmatters.com/2009/12/15/some-considerations-in-anticipation-of-peak-oil/), but it bears repeating and expansion.
I am just as “guilty” as the next for wanting life to return to its abundant, prosperous, and promising ways … yesterday. I don’t want to hear about hardship or sacrifices or changes or transitions or lack or anything of the kind. Like just about everyone else, I want to wake up tomorrow and have this economic crisis behind me and nothing but clear sky and smooth sailing ahead for years to come.
This is America. We’re supposed to be a great nation; we’re supposed to grow endlessly and expansively; we’re supposed to succeed. But by what rule are we to define success and growth and prosperity by the measurements of the recent past, particularly where those yardsticks have turned out to be illusory and misguided to begin with?
Why can’t we summon our individual and collective will to return this country to the sense of greatness we feel is our birthright, but in ways different and better than ever? Is that not an admirable objective? Are we so beaten down now that the false and fleeting successes of the past, sure to last but for a brief moment in the days to come, are the best (or only) courses we can summon forth? Are we just simply going to take a few small steps forward, suffer more indignities of all kind, endure them, and then repeat this vicious and deflating cycle over and over. Have we lost all hope?
We’ve suffered through an incredibly difficult period in these past few years, and there is no clear indication that we are out of the woods yet. The challenging work of gathering the right information we need, considering the impact of those facts, deciding on what the alternatives might be, and then implementing our best choices over the course of the many years it will take to transition from our oil-based industry is, on its best days, unpleasant to consider right now!
It’s safe to say that we all feel as though we’ve had enough! We’re tired and we just simply want someone else—be it the President or frankly, anyone else, to just fix it and fix it now. We just don’t have the capabilities or the wherewithal (so we think) to contemplate what must be done over a lengthy period of time in dealing with a potential problem years in the making and years away from fully manifesting itself. That’s why we have other people! “Keep me out of it, don’t burden me with details and consequences and to-do lists … just tell me when it’s all over, and tell me soon.” Hard to argue with that!
But the reality is that we have no plans for how to deal with Peak Oil. It’s distressing to write that, it’s distressing to read it I’m sure, and it’s most disheartening to realize it’s the truth.
We take comfort, if that’s the right word, in our realization that Peak Oil, like global warming, is not a problem that’s going to land fully formed on our doorsteps next Tuesday; so we think we can set it aside until some undetermined date in the future after we’ve dealt with all of today’s problems. Perfectly understandable. Perfectly inappropriate.
We are forced to carry on living in an illusion that we have so much time to adapt to post-oil that we don’t even need to be talking or thinking much about what a world without plentiful oil would look like. Reality has become too dangerous 
How do we manage our fears and concerns? If mismanaged, we cannot possibly hope to take all of the steps we’ll need to take, and somewhere down the road we’re going to be staring into the face of an enormous, life-altering challenge we’re hopelessly unprepared for. We can’t let that be one of the options.
If we don’t start taking little steps now, we’ll be left with the need to take giant leaps a few short years from now. Hoping that the government will run a World War II-Apollo Moon Program-type crash course in recharging America is a nice idea to salve our fears, but if that’s the sole strategy, then Houston, we have a problem.
I do not believe that Washington’s failure to even acknowledge Peak Oil is because our leaders are unaware. I think it’s a political calculation. Who wants to be the bearer of bad news? Who wants to be the bearer of really bad news atop all of the other bad news we’ve been dealing with for the past few years?
It’s understandable that giving voice to Peak Oil’s potential hardships will require that our government then actually do something about it now, and I daresay President Obama’s plate is full and then some. (It’s unfortunate that it will only be much later when we begin to fully appreciate the reasons for the changes he sought to bring to this nation, and the vision he’s trying to put forth.) Our less-than-courageous Congress and the stunning intractability of the Right are seemingly insurmountable hurdles … so “let’s just set this Peak Oil thing aside for the time being.”
Better yet, Can’t we just this one last time have someone else fix it? No.
We can no longer afford to comfort ourselves with the hope and belief that someone else is going to fix this problem or that magic technology cooked overnight is going to save the day. No technological solutions are imminent, and every change we’ll need to make is going to take time and money … lots of both. There will be no satisfaction in outcries later on of “Why didn’t someone do something back then?”
Back then is now, and the someone is us.
No one wants to have to change their behaviors in the face of Peak Oil! But that is the option. Nothing else happens without that first step.
We have an incredible opportunity before us: a chance to return to (and create) levels of prosperity and growth perhaps unprecedented yet again in the annals of our amazing history. But the truth is that whatever prosperity and success we fashion for ourselves is going to have to be of a different magnitude and quality than what we’ve ever achieved before. It won’t be the first time we’ve been called on to do so.
I readily acknowledge that for all the talk of great opportunities that I firmly believe in, we’re talking about a revolution: in education, in our culture, in industry, in business, in politics, in economics, in our expectations, in our definitions of success, and in our relative place in the world. Everything is going to have to change in one manner or another, but if we keep in mind that this is all for the good, then we stand a better chance at succeeding. We have to decide if change is a good thing or just automatically a bad thing.
What kind of a better world to we want to create, and then live in?
Next: A First Look At Oil Sands
Madeleine Bunting – guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 10 November 2009