[I am neither a psychologist nor owner of a degree in that field. I do not play one on television, and so my layman’s interpretations which follow should be read with that understanding….]

The human mind is a fascinating piece of machinery….

One issue about which I have come across almost no discussion is neatly summed up by a fascinating study I found late in 2011. The authors are to be commended for shedding light on a very real, very important aspect of Peak Oil’s impact which to date has been given virtually no consideration. [That paper was part of a special series on EROI—Energy Return on Investment—by MPDI, a publisher of peer-reviewed, open access journals. Link to the twenty-one EROI articles is here.]

[* Any quotes following are taken from this above-referenced study unless noted otherwise.]

The authors begin with several important observations:

No one knows for sure what the psychological or sociological ramifications of declining oil availability will be, but it is important to begin evaluating and preparing for the social aspects of what might be a very different future. [p. 2131]

It appears clear that the impending energy crisis will create technological issues and political problems. What is far less clear is the impact on societal processes and more generally on the psychological well being of citizens. [p. 2130]

My only comment to those statements is to suggest we’d be foolish to ignore the possibility of and potential for emotional and/or psychological consequences when the impact of Peak Oil is being felt by all of us—personally, culturally, and commercially. As I and many others in the Peak Oil community have urged, almost no aspect of our individual or community lives (local, regional, and national) will escape the effects of declining oil production and what that means for all of us who rely on a ready supply of fossil fuels every single day. That world will be a very different place….

A consistent theme of this blog has been to try and impress upon readers the absolutely mandatory requirement that planning at all levels of government and in all aspects of daily living at home and in commerce must begin. The breadth of fossil fuel’s importance to all we do and have may unfortunately only be fully appreciated when restrictions of one sort or another come into play. If that’s when most of us first start paying attention, we’re in a world of trouble … literally!

Americans will need to acknowledge the reality of biophysical constraints if they are to adapt to the coming energy crisis. [p. 2129]

No one can accurately predict how depletion of the crude oil fields we’ve all relied upon for decades and/or declining exports—each poorly substituted for by inferior energy quality unconventional sources (tar sands, shale oil) or far more expensive and not-so-readily available supplies from deep waters or other inhospitable locales—will play out as industries attempt to cope with less supply trying to keep up with increasing worldwide demand. How will our own lives will be impacted when filling up our vehicles with gas from our friendly neighborhood gas station is no longer the unthinking, automatic option we’ve all come to expect?

And when that is happening—perhaps in only some locations at first, or perhaps instead to all of us on some as yet unknown schedule—the trips to work (assuming declining supplies haven’t shuttered those doors), or to visit friends across town, or family in the next state, or your children’s pediatrician two towns over, or grocery shopping at the supermarket a bit more than two miles away, etc., etc., etc.—how calmly and rationally might we expect our fellow citizens to just accept all of this and adapt overnight?

If you rely on fossil fuels in any manner (and unless you are one of the castaways on Gilligan’s Island, that would be … everyone!), the ever-dwindling supplies of quality, affordable, always-available fossil fuels over the course of a decade or two in the not-so-distant future are going to whack you and me and everyone else upside the head. No one will be immune from the consequences. Whatever satisfactions denial has afforded some to that point will prove to be a monumental regret if nothing has been done between now and then.

… [T]he most likely scenario is that Americans (and others) will not be happy about any reduction in their lifestyle as measured by traditional economic criteria. Many researchers believe that Western societies will probably experience significant social-psychological disruption and even societal disintegration. [p. 2130]

Ever the optimist that I am, I’m inclined to believe/hope that not being happy is a more likely outcome than societal disintegration (although “not being happy” will be by far the best outcome, and that’s a very polite spin on an experience likely to provoke far more than a wee bit of disappointment). But no planning at all invites some fairly horrendous consequences when several billion people, stunned leaders, and impotent businesses find out that our late 20th and early 21st century civilization has been turned upside down and inside out, with no viable last-minute solutions to return us all back to”normal.” Normal will have left the building long before.

If energy is as important for civilization and our economy as we believe, and if and as traditional liquid fossil fuel energy supplies decrease in quality and quantity while the human population continues to grow, we are forced to ask: ‘How will individuals and small groups within a population accustomed to an increasing and seemingly unending supply of cheap and abundant oil react when faced with a future of declining oil availability?’ [p. 2131]

Denial is deemed pathological if there is an unwavering rejection of a highly undesirable fact about a present situation in the face of evidence that is clearly perceived and generally regarded by others as “unquestionable” [citation]. The resulting impaired judgment appears to be the handiwork of conscious suppression coupled with unconscious repression colluding to create and maintain a ‘pseudo-optimistic’ attitude….We ask, ‘What will happen when reality sets in, when the world’s oil production peak is finally conclusively verified and we start the slide back down the energy curve? Will we futilely attempt to hold fast to our comforting delusions’? [p. 2133]

Good question! I’m not optimistic—at this moment—that there are any answers worth mentioning. That’s not a good start.

… [F]or groups to survive, they must have, at a minimum, a unified sense of direction or path that, if followed, will assure survival and stable patterns of interdependencies and ‘linkages’. [p. 2141]

How does that work if our political leaders aren’t being honest with us and industry is doing its damnedest to paper over the truth with its odd assortment of half-truths, disingenuous, cherry-picked misrepresentations, and outright denial and nonsense?

More to come….

Citation to referenced study:
http://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/3/11/2129/; Lambert, Jessica G.; Lambert, Gail P. 2011. “Predicting the Psychological Response of the American People to Oil Depletion and Declining Energy Return on Investment (EROI).” Sustainability 3, no. 11: 2129-2156.