[NOTE: This is the latest installment in a new PeakOilMatters series (which started here). It’s about finding a new and better vision to get to, through, and beyond Peak Oil and its widespread impact on what we produce, how we produce, and how we live. We won’t be falling off a cliff tomorrow, and the full brunt of Peak Oil’s effects won’t be experienced all at once, either. Gas and oil do not have to disappear entirely, nor do gas prices have to rise into the stratosphere before Peak Oil’s impact is felt.

Gradually, but inexorably, changes will be in the offing, however. We need to come to a better understanding of this, and start preparing ourselves now for the lengthy transition and just as lengthy ongoing impact of Peak Oil on all of us. Many issues must of necessity be considered, and I hope to make a contribution to the public dialogue we need to have. I hope you’ll find these objectives enjoyable as well as beneficial. We have more of a voice than we think we do. Finding that voice just might be our best hope.]

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Are we even a bit content with what is happening to us? Most polls clearly suggest we are not. Extracting ourselves from the Great Recession has proven to be an undertaking of beyond-monumental proportions. No one should be thinking that we’re home-free just yet, although I’d love to be the messenger for that bit of news!

It’s safe to assume that no one is looking for more problems to add into the mix. Certainly challenges that show no signs of affecting any of us in our immediate future are ones we can safely ignore for now. At least that’s the theory and/or thought and/or hope. If only….

“Preparing our communities for peak oil is no easy task. From local zoning codes to national highway bills, just about every policy and infrastructure decision made since World War II has prioritized driving over walking, bicycling and taking public transportation. As a result, today most Americans and Canadians are powerless to meet even their most basic daily needs — whether going to work or buying food– without using a petroleum-powered car or truck.” [1]

If only the problems associated with Peak Oil were “limited” to transportation issues (although surely that will be among the biggest hurdles to overcome, given transportation’s level of dependency on fossil fuels). As the parallel series of posts I’m running will be demonstrating (see this recent post and this earlier one, for example), there are a lot of additional considerations and difficulties to surmount when we begin to more directly experience the effects of an ever-declining supply of fossil fuels.

“… we need to do more than come up with new technology to solve the problems we now face. We also need to rethink and remake our entire infrastructure, our economics, and even our culture. This isn’t just a project for a crack team of scientists. This one is going to need the help of every one of us.”[2]

Not exactly the kind of message any of us are eager to hear right now, or next month, or probably even next year.

The point, however, is that adapting to a world of constantly-declining oil supply and production calls for precisely that kind of massive, mind-bogglingly complex endeavor. No matter how much magic technology one is pinning their hopes on to save the day, changing everything that now depends in some way, shape, or from on a ready and inexpensive supply of petroleum and petroleum-based products is going to take a good long while. Measuring those efforts and tasks must be done in the language of decades.

How much longer should we be waiting before we begin?

“If we do work on a new, sustainable system, how can we get our minds to even think in terms of what life might be like, essentially without fossil fuels?” [3]

It’s a safe bet that the first ten responses anyone can conjure up to that question involve … ignoring it. Wrapping our minds around the concept of “life as know it” becoming “life about which we have no clue” is way, way too much for just about anyone to contemplate now or anytime in the foreseeable future. I’m with all of you on that one.

Confident that I speak for just about everyone reading this, I want nothing more than for life to return to the way it used to be not so long ago, with the same kinds of chances and opportunities as we had back then, and I’m not really looking for anything to rock that boat, thank you very much. That is far and away the easier and more preferable approach! If only…

The vast industrial, political, economic, and cultural changes we’ve witnessed in just the past handful of years has been breathtaking in scope! The intricate facets of globalization and related financial and energy resource complexities are too much for most of us to handle or even think about. The fact that a good portion of those changes have been met with great resistance or (in the case of the Great Recession), have caused considerable anguish and suffering, makes it easy to long for the heady days when life was good. Back then at least, all that was undermining the good life was hidden from view. Not knowing was a good thing!

Having that option again is certainly an appealing one right about now! If only….

We’re too far down the path of great change to do anything about it, unless wishful thinking is one’s idea of constructive and productive effort. Resistance to change changes nothing. It does serve to make life more challenging when it comes time to “pay the piper”, but that’s an outcome we need to stop desiring. We’ve kicked the cans about as far down the road as is possible. It’s time to do battle with the facts, and it is surely requires an all-hands-on-deck approach, as I’ve laying out for all us as carefully as I can.

What kind of a nation do we want to be? Not just in 2011 or 2013, but how will our next generation fare as a result of the choices we make and policies and plans we implement now? Peak oil (and I’m intentionally ignoring climate change issues—at least for purposes of writing this post) is not a problem that we’re going to “resolve” and then move on. Oil production and supply are about to (if they’re not already doing so) tip and start a long slide down a slope that has very few remaining inclines. It will not get better.

I would like nothing more than the promises of unconventional (on the simple little condition that they not make the environment worse, cost much, nor deplete other essential resources) and alternative energy resources to reach full fruition last week. But facts remaining damned annoying when we deal with energy, and the simplest fact is that there is nothing on the horizon that will work as an adequate substitute for the efficiencies and low cost and ease of accessibility that oil has provided us since the Civil War era. That ship has now sailed, and all of the Plan B’s combined can’t cut it yet.

We’re many, many years and considerable, painstaking research efforts away from easing our way out of fossil fuel dependence. And when supply is on the wrong side of plentiful, and demand will continue to charge far ahead of what’s going to be available, we’ve got some issues. Change is coming. We don’t have to like it, because the truth is that at least in the immediate aftermaths of the more serious consequences that will soon enough make their appearance, not much will be spark joy in our hearts about the state of our energy supplies and resources.

What we do have a choice over is how soon we commit ourselves to not just accepting the many changes, but proactively addressing them head-on by an intelligent mix of truth, courage, insight, wisdom, planning, and implementation—all to unfold over a good many years. Piece o’ cake! Well, maybe not … but far from an insurmountable task. (I’ll have more to say about “change” in an upcoming post.)

We can also decide here and now that these changes will forever be awful and burdensome and unfair and all the rest. No disputing that. But, the opportunity also exists for us to find our better angels, put the still-awe-inspiring capabilities and talents and resources and visions of this proud nation and lead the way. Not easy; not soon; not inexpensive. But most assuredly doable.

Good to have choices….

Sources:

[1] http://postcarboncities.net/node/3593; Showing leadership on peak oil – Posted 8 October 2008
[2] Profit from the Peak: The End of Oil and the Greatest Investment Event of the Century; Brian Hicks and Chris Nelder; Wiley Publisher, 2008 – p. 188
[3] http://oilprice.com/Energy/Crude-Oil/What-Can-we-do-Now-About-Peak-Oil.html; What Can we do Now About Peak Oil? by Gail Tverberg