Peak Oil

Peak Oil and Apocalyptic Thinking

By Ryan McGreal
Published March 24, 2006

I just came across an intriguing blog entitled "Peak Oil Debunked".

The author, JD, argues that peak oil is a non-event and that the transition from oil to whatever follows it will be no more tumultuous than previous transitions (this is where I pipe up: previous transitions were actually quite tumultuous, thank you very much).

In a recent post, the author draws a correlation between the popularity of so-called peak oil apocalypticos and the deeply-embedded Christian notion of the End Times, something he noticed once he lived in a coherent non-Christian culture (Japan) for awhile:

Due to their resourcefulness, the Japanese were one of the few peoples on the earth to resist the onslaught of Christian missionaries, and preserve these old rites [the world famous penis festival at Tagata Jinja in Aichi]. But in ancient times, they were practiced by all peoples. ...

Now, the U.S. is ostensibly a country of religious freedom, but what would happen if (say) some neo-paganists marched a giant pink penis down the streets of Chicago as part of their religious observations?

He ends with a reference to Horyuji, a 1,300 year old wooden building and the observation that in such a context, "the idea that 'everything must eventually collapse' doesn't seem so convincing."

Setting aside the fact that everything really does eventually collapse (it's called the second law of thermodynamics), I think his ideas have merit. The peak oil hypothesis is certainly in danger of being overrun by apocalyptic passivity.

Michael Ruppert of From the Wilderness, for example, fairly wrings his hands with delight at the prospect that everything will collapse soon. Similarly, Jim Kunstler warns, "we Americans are these days a wicked people who deserve to be punished" - and this from an atheist who takes a fundamentally tragic view of life.

It also explains the slowly growing attraction of the right wing to the peak oil camp, starting with Republican Congressman Roscoe Bartlett. Unfortunately, an approach to peak oil that assumes it will herald the end of the world is an approach that can easily slide into passive acceptance and even encouragement.

I have in mind conservative evangelicals who drive full-size SUVs because they believe it will actually hasten the end-times. This kind of out-with-a-bang approach is horribly counter-productive, not only because it denies the possibility that humans can respond to challenges, make conscious choices, and take responsibility for our decisions, but also because it produces a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If we simply accept that peak oil is the end of the world rather than a complex socioeconomic transition that will involve shocks and discontinuities to ride out, then we will help to ensure that we fail to prepare for it, address it constructively, or survive it with our civilization (in all that the word implies) intact.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By David (anonymous) | Posted April 03, 2006 at 05:33:14

This is a very interesting subject not UN-covered well in other Peak Oil commentary. The comment about Ruppert being delighted at the prospects is likely not an unusual thought - and the "why" might be even more interesting to explore than the subject itself.

1) It might be as simple as bordom. Kennedy delivered a very rare "national goal" of reaching the moon. Think about it - what goals exist now? People don't seem to be collectively working on anything - just their own personal survival - and it's borng.

2) People are much more eager to meet challenges than given credit for - and they might just want it to be a big one.

3) Just as "flying saucers" intrigue people because it would decidedly break the "routine" of the day to see one land, I think major calamities intrigue for the same reason.

4) People know we operate with very sick political and economically unsustainable systems. The idea that money became worthless would surely level the playing field - allowing the world to start over with everyone in the same class.

I think generally the best answer is regarding that bordom. We would like something major to happen that shifts power back to individuals, challenges us, and breaks the dreaded routine that seems to go nowhere except maintain status quo. Any sight of a major freeway leading to resort areas on a Friday evening indicates people are trying to escape structure and rules and routines. The lucky now are the ones who can climb to the top economically thus be able to afford to escape such structure, but people know that should be the rule for everyone, not the few - they want to break out of the endless structure, and some kind of total economic collapse might seem to some to be the only way such changes can ever happen.

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