[Third in a series]

[NOTE]: Back in November, Naomi Klein offered a fascinating and thought-provoking essay in Nation magazine entitled “Capitalism vs. the Climate” in which she discussed the transformative changes needed if we are to successfully (not a guarantee) and thoroughly address the challenges of our warming planet. Her insights and observations can easily be adapted to the similar considerations and challenges Peak Oil will extend to us as well. Taken together, the confluence of these looming impositions on our once-cozy ways of life mandate responses far more expansive than a policy here or a tweak there. Ms. Klein offers us all a well-reasoned approach for both how and why.

Every Monday (and for four more weeks), I’ll take advantage of her arguably controversial yet well-reasoned assessments to elaborate and extend the thought process as it applies to Peak Oil. [Part one here; part two here]

[* Any quotes following are taken from Ms. Klein’s essay in Nation unless noted otherwise.]


Our difficulties and our dangers will not be removed by closing our eyes to them   — Winston Churchill

Our civilization is driven by an economic system that expects continued and limitless growth. However, during the summer of 2008 when the price of a barrel of oil reached $147, we reached a tipping point for our global economy. The impact on the transportation system and on micro economies and the collapse of global financial systems created a worldwide wakeup call.
We, as a civilization, are totally dependent on oil and fossil fuels. During the summer of 2008, I personally heard the wakeup call and asked my top leaders to gather in our executive conference room. I had a simple question for them. What would happen to our business when the price of a barrel of oil reaches $250? What do we look like in terms of raw materials costs, supply and profitability? Our analysis and relevant contingency planning showed that the business would collapse and most likely disappear if we adopted a wait-and-see strategy. [1]

What if … what if the already-overwhelming and still-growing body of evidence about our warming planet and the peak in crude oil production actually might be the truth? What if the tinfoil hat crowd’s paranoid fears about this Agenda-21-guided, liberal-conspiracy-to-control-the-world sort of nonsense they rant about is in fact nothing but nonsense after all?

What if the countless tens of thousands of scientists and energy experts across countless industries aren’t actually scheming to lie to the citizens of planet Earth in order to … ah, you know … do nefarious conspiratorial liberal things that are “bad”, but are instead merely telling the truth to inform and assist the countless billions who simply do not have access to the information and thus don’t know what faces them? Imagine that!

What a concept: provide sound information to help people plan! Who knew humans could do such things? Some of them Liberals, no less!

Two choices, it seems.

First: continue to deny and delude yourself into thinking that there simply is no conceivable way any—all 100%—of that great body of evidence/facts and the only rational conclusions to be drawn are entirely wrong (and nefarious, etc., etc.). Business as usual, the magic and wonder of just-in-the-nick-of-time Technology rides to the rescue, and “what, me worry?” attitudes can thus continue their paths to limitless growth and prosperity.

Second: there’s more than a bit of truth contained in that great body of evidence/facts and the only rational conclusions to be drawn. It might not be an iron-clad guarantee (what is?). It might not be an 80% or even 65% certainty. But in a rational, practical world where risks are weighed and addressed based on examinations of not-always-100%-guaranteed-facts at hand, the accumulated body of knowledge, evidence, facts, and truths (take your pick) about climate change and Peak Oil are now well past the point where they can be ignored in totality for any sane person or business owner expecting some future measure of continuing well-being and prosperity.

And by “future”, I mean some period of time extending beyond the next-week/next-month-only “long term” calendar some of our leaders seem to utilize in making decisions. We’re talking not just this decade or the next … we’re talking about all of the future—everything after today! “Good right now” is not how we address potential problems of such magnitude unless you simply do not care about what happens to you, your friends, your family, your colleagues, your company, your community, your nation. Hell of life that must be….

In addition to reversing the thirty-year privatization trend, a serious response to the climate threat involves recovering an art that has been relentlessly vilified during these decades of market fundamentalism: planning. Lots and lots of planning. And not just at the national and international levels. Every community in the world needs a plan for how it is going to transition away from fossil fuels, what the Transition Town movement calls an ‘energy descent action plan.’

It has been a consistent theme of mine, and of many others much more credentialed than me, that we are going to have to implement expansive and in some cases quite drastic plans in how we conduct our day-to-day affairs if we are to give ourselves the best chances of success as we adapt to the changes global warming and Peak Oil will impose. We can just wait until the last minute and then scramble around like hell to see what we can come up on the fly—only then realizing the scope of the problem—or we might consider something in advance. The Hirsch Report (here, and see related links in the Category sidebar) offers sound guidance on that score.

Last May, I offered this:

We need a better vision to guide us. And for those looking for reasons why a smaller role for government is what’s called for, I’ll save you the time and tell you this is not the place to be. As the main theme of this series expands in the months to come, I’ll discuss in greater detail why the libertarian/conservative-inspired vision of small government is completely inappropriate a strategy to pursue in light of the challenges we face. (How a bigger role for a better government with honest leadership takes shape will determine whether this ideology is valuable and a necessary pursuit.) Let’s begin with all that needs to be done, and then decide what role the various players will be required to fulfill….
The policies and guidelines supporting those objectives will require a focus on such policies and principles as smart growth, more transportation options, and more research and implementation of alternative energy strategies—while educating ourselves and others of the great changes that will and must take place across all levels of industry, production, commerce, and lifestyles. To that end, there will be a great deal of discussion on greater citizen involvement, energy and industrial policies, the political/partisan elements which too often hinder and harm much more than they assist, and a more detailed role for local governments.

There’s also this from the not-particularly-liberal NewGeography website:

[P]ublic policy can play a useful role in bolstering the long-term resilience of society in the face of the resource challenge, including taking measures to raise awareness about resource-related risks and opportunities, creating appropriate safety nets to mitigate the impact of these risks on the poorest members of society, educating consumers and businesses to adapt their behavior to the realities of today’s resource-constrained world, and increasing access to modern energy, so improving the economic capacity of the most vulnerable communities. [2]

Ms. Klein observed:

It is true that responding to the climate threat requires strong government action at all levels. But real climate solutions are ones that steer these interventions to systematically disperse and devolve power and control to the community level, whether through community-controlled renewable energy, local organic agriculture or transit systems genuinely accountable to their users.

And in a terrific essay I’ve cited previously, James Quinn offered these related observations:

We need to prepare our society to become more local….If our society acted in a far sighted manner, we would be creating communities that could sustain themselves with local produce, local merchants, bike paths, walkable destinations, local light rail commuting, and local energy sources.

It’s not rocket science. We can either start taking into consideration essential advice from varied sources such as these and develop new ways of producing and transporting and all kinds of other “ing’s” we now do courtesy of decades upon decades of once-plentiful sources of affordable and highly-efficient energy on a planet once not so burdened with climate change; or we can just wait, hope, cross fingers and toes, and believe in the Magic Right-On-Time Technology Fairy.

Do we (and that includes—especially and significantly—those whom we currently identify as “leaders”) have a say in how this all unfolds? Or is the whole wait, hope … strategy the wiser course? Everyone will be affected; everyone should have a say in how plans develop. A more localized Everything will in due course become the dominant paradigm, and so the more who volunteer their insights, expertise, assistance, or whatever else might help make a difference, the better our chances.

Will we want these same leaders to assume those roles in whatever changed economic and cultural systems are ultimately fashioned? If they are unable or unwilling to assume responsibility now by first acknowledging some harsh realities and then contribute their considerable knowledge and expertise to the demands climate change and Peak Oil impose, why would want them to fill those roles later on?

Step up to the plate or sit on the bench.

More discussion on this topic is on the way….


[1] http://www.sbnonline.com/2012/01/stephan-liozu-oil-dependence/?full=1; Oil dependence by Stephan Liozu [“President and CEO of Ardex America Inc. (www.ardex.com), an innovative and high-performance building materials company located in Pittsburgh”] – 01.03.12
[2] http://www.newgeography.com/content/002605-the-us-needs-look-inwards-solve-its-economy; The U.S. Needs to Look Inwards to Solve Its Economy by Adam Mayer – 01.03.12