In the course of conducting research for a book I’m now working on, (and as a follow-up to last Thursday’s post) I came across this—the unofficial genesis for the dozens of Peak Oil-denial posts I’ve featured here.
In writing of the oil industry’s/right-wing’s efforts to cloud the issue of what impact the gradual decline of conventional fossil fuel supplies will have on all of us, I’ve frequently asked How does this help? Aside from failing to provide the general public with important information they should possess, and ensuring that business-as-usual for the oil industry and its shills continues unabated, what happens when the inevitability of declining resources begins to affect us all? How will this failure to inform—and the unnecessary and damaging delays that result—help anyone?
After editing it to focus on just a few key issues, along with a tweak or two for clarity, I thought that re-posting the main themes might spark some discussion.
Peak Oil matters.
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Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said (or is famously reputed to have said) that we may each be entitled to our own set of opinions, but we are not entitled to our own set of facts. In a time when mainstream news organizations have already ceded a substantial chunk of their opinion-shaping influence to Web-based partisans on the left and right, does each side now feel entitled to its own facts as well? And thanks to the emergence of social media as the increasingly dominant mode of information dissemination, are we nearing a time when truth itself will become just another commodity to be bought and sold on the social-media markets?… More far-reachingly, how does society function (as it has since the Enlightenment gave primacy to the link between reason and provable fact) when there is no commonly accepted set of facts and assumptions to drive discourse? 
Why not go after those for whom facts are mere inconveniences to be disregarded when they conflict with a narrow-minded and clearly self-serving agenda? At the risk of starting a cat fight where truth may too quickly become a casualty, why don’t we more forcefully challenge those who deny Peak Oil (and global warming) and who do so for reasons that generally ignore reality in favor of narrowly-defined interests? Those motivations will ultimately do nothing but promote more eventual harm by denying the truths to those who clearly need them the most.
What causes me more despair than perhaps anything is not the stupidity exhibited by politicians who clearly have forsaken integrity (remember when that mattered?) and truth in order to pander to the least enlightened among us. That groveling for short-term gratification in November is endemic in our political system. The dysfunctions exhibited regularly as indicative of the political norm are certainly discouraging enough.
The shamelessness of politicians is now sadly all-too-routine, but the fact that there are so many among us who manage not much more than a shrug is perhaps even more disheartening.
Of course, we run the risk of getting bogged down in he said/she-said arguments that quickly devolve into the lowest forms of “debate”, but why let those types of offerings go unchallenged? They feed on themselves, and it is tiresome and time-consuming to have to rebut all the nonsense. But if we don’t, uninformed readers and listeners have no reason to at least consider the possibility that there may indeed be other facts out there that should at least be examined in order to make informed assessments, rather than accepting the words of the few. More information is rarely a bad thing, and giving everyone the opportunity to examine the facts and engage in rational discourse as a means of seeking common ground makes for a healthier and more productive society.
Seems like a decent enough concept….
The strategy of “just utter it and hope no one asks” has been very effective, but it’s hard to find legitimate defenses for that approach if one genuinely cares about the well-being of our fellow travelers.
The fears of many who feel woefully out of touch and helpless in the face of the current economic crisis (and certainly not without good reason) make it easy to latch onto the “facts” offered by deniers without once taking a deep breath to consider the validity or logic behind the utterances—especially when they’re extended by those in seeming positions of authority or knowledge (and who coincidentally share—and play to—their same intense dislike for government and liberals and assorted other popular bogeymen). To what end?
What is this nonsense designed to accomplish? How does this help us in any way? It would be so helpful if integrity still counted for something when dealing with issues that require a broad consensus (and understanding) for resolution. How can we effectively help enlighten and prepare others who do not have the means or opportunities to learn the truth, especially when one side seems so intent on obliterating it? Where’s the honor in that? So I’ll ask again: How does this help?
How can we as a society hope to properly address the challenges we’ll face when the lack of knowledge in a sizable portion of our society is so rampant and is so consistently encouraged by a not-insignificant segment of public officials and their sycophant media counterparts?
How do we reach those who clearly need a greater understanding? Peak Oil is not a progressive or liberal agenda. It’s about the facts on and in the ground—facts that affect (and benefit) all of us now, even Tea Partiers and the right-wing machine that works so hard and effectively to cloud the truth. Peak Oil’s impact will also just as surely and adversely affect ardent deniers when the consequences of declining oil production and a warming Earth begin to make their inevitable appearance. By then it will be much too late….
How do we convince the currently un-/ill-informed to empower themselves, to learn that there is in fact other evidence about Peak Oil that is not (surprise!) about conspiracies, or liberal evil, or an alien, black, Muslim-loving, Socialist-leaning, apologist Martian President? That evidence is what it is: the disturbing truth about our fossil fuel resources and the declining production coupled with increasing demand which will in the years to come make our lives a lot more challenging than we’re prepared to acknowledge or deal with. That’s not pleasant for Peak Oil proponents either!
What can we do and say to help them understand that Peak Oil and the climate crisis are not figments of their imaginations easily scorned, but real-life conditions based on real-life facts in a real-life world that will have real-life consequences in their own real lives … much sooner than they’ll be prepared for? We’re all in this, and one’s political leanings or thoughts about government and all the rest will not matter. Peak Oil is not going to single out the fear-mongering, sky-is-falling, loony liberals and preserve the rest!
What help can these citizens expect then from their so-called leaders who so artfully disseminated their fact-free nonsense at a time when genuine leadership and integrity were most needed? Conducting themselves in this manner in crystal-clear reliance on their hope and belief that their followers simply lack the ability or inclination to ferret out the truths for themselves is beyond appalling! And we let it happen! What kind of a nation do we choose to be?
How do you look at a broad swath of an industrial or urban landscape in these times (knowing that there are literally tens of millions of identical scenes playing out across our planet) and honestly believe that the products and production spewing smoke and carbon and exhaust and pollutants into the air—all flowing from our genuinely magnificent innovations and creativity and skill and dedication—have no effect on our atmosphere—cumulatively or otherwise? What kind of delusions are needed to honestly believe that our astonishing levels of progress do not simultaneously carry with them the risks so obvious to so many others among us? What kind of denial mechanisms do these people have in place that allow them to just simply ignore the truth and facts and irrefutable evidence?
Why is the decline of oil production so hard to imagine when we’ve all been exposed to shortages of one kind or another along the way, especially when in this case we are dealing with a finite resource being used with greater demand than ever before? Take a look at those same urban/industrial vistas and ask yourself how can we possibly continue to supply ourselves with enough fossil fuels to keep it all going effortlessly and endlessly—especially when so many millions more seek to emulate our lifestyles in years to come?
How deep must one’s fears and sense of helplessness be that they allow themselves to be manipulated by those who prey on those same fears in order to exploit them for their own selfish gains? How can we help those so clearly in need of truths about our future find their better selves, in the process enabling them to offer their own needed contributions to the dialogue we must continue to engage in?
More worrisome still: How difficult will it be for these people to adjust to declining supplies of energy and the consequences of our warming planet when the people they rely on most have been at best disingenuous, but more truthfully complicit in the slow and steady damage to our society and civilization by exploiting the lack of understanding across the citizenry for their own economic or political gain? These are the people revered as patriots and leaders? How can we expect them to be of any help at all?
Now is the time when citizens need to understand what is at stake. Once we’re up to our eyeballs in declining production and its myriad impacts it’s way, way too late to only then start becoming aware and wonder what to do.
The “What’s The Matter With Kansas Syndrome” has to be among the most disturbingly fascinating themes of modern society. Tens of millions of followers routinely elect officials or hang on the words of those who so clearly do not have their best interests at heart! It’s almost comical in its brazenness now. And come November, we’re likely to see even more demonstrations of this phenomenon. That so many allow themselves to be persuaded of “facts” that are so clearly detrimental to their self-interests, and that they are so unwilling to take time to exercise their own independent gift of thought and reason as we all move closer to cliffs of our own making is amazing! I just wish it were happening in some other place at some other time in history, rather than on my dime!
So what do we do? What kind of nation do we honestly choose to be?
How do we get the message across to so many who are blindly heading for the cliffs?
NOTE: On vacation – this is my only post of the week
 http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/11/truth-lies-here/8246; Truth Lies Here: How can Americans talk to one another—let alone engage in political debate—when the Web allows every side to invent its own facts? By Michael Hirschorn – Nov 2010