I AM A BIT SHOCKED (though I probably shouldn’t be) that the reality of Peak Oil is still up for debate. Seriously?
Color me perplexed. What do people think the phrase “non-renewable” means, then? We were taught this in grade school — I remember listing renewable and non-renewable resources on a test. Oil and gas were on the non-renewable side, if I recall correctly. Have we so divorced ourselves from our own intellectual capabilities that we are unable to apply reason to the obvious meaning of “non-renewable” and connect it to the natural and inevitable conclusion of peak oil production? How did this happen?
Kunstler discusses this in The Long Emergency, and sometimes I agree with him, and sometimes I wonder. He says “I do not believe that the general ignorance about the coming catastrophic end of the cheap-oil era is the product of a conspiracy, either on the part of business or government or news media. Mostly it is a matter of cultural inertia, aggravated by collective delusion, nursed in the growth medium of comfort and complacency.” (p. 26) I don’t think this tells the whole story. I also spend a bit of time with Noam Chomsky now and again, and he’s pretty persuasive that the elites are working it out without the rest of us. He argues that there are three rough classes of citizens in society — the elites, who wield the real power; the bureaucracy, who serve the interests of real power and must be properly indoctrinated to do so (usually in the best schools money can buy); and everyone else — the “bewildered herd” — who must be distracted lest we rampage out of control. (Media Control: The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda, pp. 18-19) Chomksy writes that propaganda can be used to “manufacture consent” in a democracy, in order to “bring about agreement on the part of the public for things that they didn’t want…” (p. 15) I see the logic of this side of the argument too, but I don’t want to believe it.
I don’t doubt that it’s easier for the powers-that-be to manage things if we’re all busy watching zombie apocalypse TV and not thinking much of anything. But I don’t see a lot of support from friends and family, either, when it comes to taking some kind of action. They’re pretty comfortable with the way things are. They don’t want to talk about things like climate change or peak oil. Just shut up, watch the show (who’re the zombies, again?) and eat your turkey. (We don’t go to a lot of family events these days. I don’t know why.) Anyhow, it seems pretty “consenting” from my perspective, manufactured or not. Or maybe it’s not consent, but simply content. There’s no pressing motivation to change. Everything’s been okay for thirty or forty or fiftyyears now. As above, so below. And if anything bad happens, well, technology will save us. What, me worry?
Should we be preparing for Peak Oil? Of course we should. It takes the work of five minutes to turn off the TV, get off the couch and take a look in the cupboard. Where’d all that food come from? China? Mexico? Iowa? Anyplace walk-able? Nope. A couple more minutes of reflection would net most people the realization that starvation is only a couple of freight truck breakdowns away. It does not matter if you can walk to the grocery store if there are no groceries in it when you get there. “That’s okay,” the contented, confused couch-creature will say, “I’ll just plant a garden. Now, where do you get seeds? I know! I will put them on my Christmas list. It’s already December.”
We have built all of our systems (economic, social, political, technological, cultural) on a very oily house of cards, based on the somewhat erroneous assumption that we will just shrug, and go back to the old ways when the poker party’s finally over. We might have done it, too. Unfortunately, climate change is about to trump that card. Extreme, unpredictable weather events are not conducive to agriculture, whether it’s backyard food production or wholesale full-on mono-cropping. I’ll see that climate change, and I’ll bet you some rhubarb and a package of tomato seeds that most people don’t know how or when to plant either of them, or how to fertilize, or when to harvest. I’d raise that with something, but I think I’d just rather call peak oil, if you don’t mind. I’m maxed.
I just wish I knew who’s got the aces.