Battlepanda: Peaked, but not pooped


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Peaked, but not pooped

My dear friend K. emailed me to ask me for my opinion on this Salon article about Peak Oil. This is the short answer:

1) Yes, peak oil is real.

2) No, society as we know it is not about to disintergrate. Don't start composting your own waste to grow vegetables and start raising goats. Unless that's what floats your boat.

For the long answer, I refer you to John of Dymaxion World, who coincidentally commented on the same article.

Between the panglossian peak-oil (and global warming) denialists of the right and the apocalyptic alarmists of the left, I really feel like I'm living in that Steeler Wheel song ("Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right..."). Sure, there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding peak oil, and we can save ourselves a lot of pain later by acting more than we are now, but going around screaming "the sky is falling" is not the answer. In fact, I would say that that approach is counter productive on three counts:

1) All the measures advocated to ameliorate the coming crisis by the peak-oil nuts invariably involve more disengagement with our system at large rather than improving it and helping it to evolve. Instead of agitating for plug-in hybrids, they are seeking to live off the land in a mad-max fashion that is in fact very unsustainable if everybody tried to do it.

2) They ooze disgust for the mainstream American lifestyle. They hate the package -- the suburbs, the permagreen lawns, the corporate job, the coffee break at starbucks -- all in a visceral fashion. If you're obviously full of contempt for mainstream Americans, they're not going to listen to you, let alone change their behavior. It's as simple as that.

3) The belief that we are going to hell in a handbasket is paralyzing to most people. Unless you want to make it your life's obsession, it is hard to act in the face of the enormity of thinking we're all doomed. All the concrete steps people have the power to take all of a sudden seems like rearranging deckchairs on the titanic. Which would be a shame because we are actually in a position to do an awful lot.

By the way, John is really the go-to guy on peak oil issues, and if you liked what you saw, he has another takedown of the alarmist view of peak oil here. And lest you think that his relatively sanguine view comes from lack of though on the matter, consider his awesome series on peak oil when he guest-blogged for me over the summer.