There is a Greek proverb I wish every elected federal and state official would recite before starting any talks about our energy policies and challenges: ‘A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.’

In other words, the strength of our nation is dependent upon leaders who are able to see beyond the country’s immediate needs. [1]


This is a continuation of my discussion about the emotional and psychological consequences of a changed lifestyle necessitated when the full effects of Peak Oil are realized, discussed in a study published late last year and well worth reading (academic elements aside). As I noted in the first part of this series, the authors are to be commended for shedding light on an important aspect of Peak Oil’s impact which to date has been given virtually no consideration.

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

When we are all dealing with the day-to-day impact of Peak Oil in its many manifestations—personal, civic, and commercial—the inconveniences in their many manifestations (and in some instances those consequences will be much more severe than mere inconveniences) will prompt far more than irritation or frustration. Those reactions are best left to the one-time changes to our daily routines and expectations.

When every day from here on in is different because the decline in availability of ready supplies of affordable, high-quality fossil fuels cuts a swath through every element of living which relies in any way upon that availability, we’ll stop being irritated fairly quickly. Anxieties, doubts, worries (take your pick) will all come to the fore—much more so if we have failed to plan. Multiply those predictable emotional and psychological responses by every adult member of your community likewise being impacted, and soon enough we’ll be dealing with community-wide, region-wide, state-wide, and national anxieties and fears that life as we’ve known it has changed.

We won’t wake up one Monday morning and come to this realization, but if we have not entertained plans long, long before the changes come into play, the slide down that slope won’t be much fun, either. Almost every single commercial establishment or professional service you rely upon in any manner depends on the same availability of ready supplies of affordable, high-quality fossil fuels as you do. No one will be left untouched.

What happens to life-as-we-know-it and Business-As-Usual when only 95% of fossil fuels are available? 87%? 75%? 61%? Who gets what? When? How much? How expensive? How often?

Coupled with the impact on our economy, politics, and cultural/society, the no-turning-back changes we’ll all be obliged to deal with will surely impose stresses and strains on even the strongest-willed among us. Citing various professional studies and authorities, the authors point out that group reactions and needs will be vital elements in how we all deal with those consequences and impacts on just about every facet of our day-to-day lives.

The [essential] connections and relationships … are the distribution of power within the group, the establishment and maintenance of communication networks, the emotional bonds among members, and the communal goals of the group … act as the “glue” that bonds group members to one another….[A] group’s success at maintaining this ‘glue’ is mediated by the variables of duration and intensity of stress….[G]roups exposed to unabated stress will eventually experience fatigue, the breakdown of essential linkages and finally collapse. [p. 2141]

The risks to our continued well-being are fairly open-ended. More information, communication, and planning are vitally important; but even the best of intentions and strategies offer no guarantee when so much of what we’ve been accustomed to or expect has been jolted by the reality that we’ve depended on an energy source which is simply not as readily available to us any longer.

The studies and their professional assessments and expertise suggest some rather profound responses and behaviors, and many are not conducive to upbeat outcomes.

Under conditions of extremely structured and consolidated power, low status persons are more reluctant to express their thoughts and opinions for fear of being found in opposition to high status individuals. Inability to communicate true opinions frequently leads to miscalculations in policy decisions and often makes the difference between continued societal unity and societal disintegration [citation/footnote]. [p. 2146]

The impact on communication is clear: truncated communication not only separates leaders from their populace, it limits information flow. The result is poor decision-making at a time when quick, adequate analyses of new information and circumstances coupled with clear, concise, uniform communication among all group members is essential. [p. 2150]

A group’s collective unconscious desire for direction and individual lethargy when faced with the gravity of a crisis situation, colludes to produce a perfect scenario for a political ‘power grab’ and leadership structuring. Under these conditions, democratic processes tend to fail, liberties are eroded, and power is centralized under a central power figure or group. History has a way of repeating itself. Unless constructive changes to current energy policy are formalized and implemented, the United States may experience continued restructuring of leadership and progressive centralization of political power. [p. 2146]

A group’s capacity to survive is dependent upon its skills in organizing its efforts. As a result, disorganized groups show signs of disintegration more readily than organized groups. The ability of a group to coalesce and maintain clarity of purpose is dependent upon its capacity to perform quick, adequate analyses of novel situations, provide clear and concise uniform communication among all group members and maintain the group goal of survival [citation/footnote]. Random trial-and-error behavior, resulting from a lack of clarity of purpose and insufficient information, is detrimental to the attainment of group goals. [p. 2147]

Among the more troubling conclusions drawn is the one which suggests that where no solution appears likely to a “crisis situation”, group effort to achieve a common end diminishes.

As each progressive solution fails, frustration mounts, and individual attempts at survival occur. Groups disintegrate when faced with a threatening situation and the solution involves individual competition. This pattern of evoked responses appears to be based in a simple rational model: if the likely solution to a crisis requires cooperative action, group integration increases. Group disintegration results when the crisis     situation appears to either have no solution or the optimum solution requires individual action….Society will remain intact only while there is a unified purpose that benefits the society as a whole. If the U.S. continues to dissipate its remaining energy on futile efforts to maintain a ‘business as usual’ mentality, then the American public will squander its remaining opportunities to work together with unified purpose; to prepare for the energy crisis at hand. [p. 2148]

What then?

Given the potential consequences across the entire landscape of our culture and industry, are we really willing to just leave this all to chance and/or hope? What possible assurances can we reasonably, rationally, realistically rely upon that unconventional resources, expected technologies, or alternative energies will allow any of us to seamlessly continue on with life as we know it? No one wants to give that any thought of course, but is ignoring the inevitable really our best approach?

Our continuing greatness as a nation has been tested before and it will surely be tested by the realities of Peak Oil. Our individual and collective contributions to confront and overcome the challenges imposed upon us will be invaluable assets, but the process must begin.

A society with a unified vision for resolving its “real” energy issues has the capacity to alter its projected energy path [citation/footnote]. Concentrated focus on a crisis situation retards social growth and can exacerbate existing calamities [citation/footnote]. A clear vision of a desired outcome leads to clarity of purpose among group members, a unified collective objective, and more coordinated pooled resources to achieve the desired outcome. Only through the application of unified purpose will the U.S., as a collective, be able to mediate its voracious use of energy and effectively utilize its remaining resources to wean itself from dependency on oil. [p. 2148]

The steps we need to take are fairly straightforward, summed up nicely by the authors:

The current challenge for the U.S. and other energy intensive, oil driven Western cultures is to develop a shared vision for an energy independent future that:
(1)  Acknowledges the biophysical constraints of reality,
(2)  Effectively envisions the true collective objective,
(3)  Clearly states goals, and
(4)  Establishes flexible and evolving methods of implementation [citation/footnote]….

In practical terms, a unified purpose would provide the U.S. with a social process to determine how to best use existing natural resources, employ sustainable practices, and plan for an ‘energy independent’ future. The actions we take today have the potential to exponentially affect the world of tomorrow. If steps are taken to avert the coming energy crisis and develop a low energy intensive society, we may still be able to avert many, and possibly all, of the above outcomes. [p. 2148-2149]

Optimist that I am, and firm believer in our collective abilities to rise to any challenge—even one of the magnitude of Peak Oil—I agree wholeheartedly with the authors’ concluding comments. But the objectives they set forth won’t happen by wishful thinking, denial, or delusions about the abundance of “massive” reserves just waiting to be drawn out from below our feet.

The capacity for the United States to alter its current and projected economic and energy course is dependent upon its leaders’ abilities to formulate and effectively communicate a clear vision and unified purpose in the energy field, establish clear renewable energy goals, commit to a rigorous energy-use reduction plan, prioritize energy research, and implement an energy policy that creates a viable energy future. The American populace will need to acknowledge the reality of biophysical constraints, and embrace a renewable, energy efficient ‘American way of life’. [p. 2150]



[Citation to referenced study:]; 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.

[1]; America, get real about the high cost of cheap gas by LZ Granderson – 05.17.11