Peak Oil: Fear, Floundering, Solutions

I’ve known about the concept of peak oil for several years now. I’ve known that it’s likely we’ve already passed the peak of oil discovery and production for this planet.  It’s one of the reasons I began exploring sustainability and making lifestyle changes.

Peak oil’s possible effects may be even scarier than those of global warming.  Well, it’s kind of a toss-up now, and the combination of the two can’t be good.  If oil is scarce, it affects everything — food production, transportation, plastics production (and just think about how many things are plastic now), medical care, energy for heating, cooling and lighting homes, etc.  If we have too much carbon in the atmosphere, it warms the planet, melts glaciers and ice caps, affects plant, animal and insect species, kills the oceans, etc.

So are we in for a collapse? That’s the title of a movie recently reviewed by Roger Ebert. Collapse (which I haven’t seen) is an interview documentary, featuring Michael Ruppert, a writer and former LAPD officer, who describes what peak oil is and what he thinks will happen to the world because of it.

Ruppert is admittedly a controversial figure (he’s also a 9-11 conspiracy theorist) with a checkered past. However, Ebert says

I can only tell you I have a pretty good built-in B.S. detector, and its needle never bounced off zero while I watched this film.

Ebert agrees that we’re facing a global oil crisis, and that it’s potentially terrifying. The review is well worth reading.

We can’t really know what will happen without a time machine or crystal ball. Some people think we can change our lifestyles and learn to manage (although most people still don’t see the need and/or aren’t interested). Others, like Ruppert, see a worst-case scenario: a huge population die-off because of peak oil, global warming, and/or some other cause.

And I don’t know what to think about the future. I know some of the things we should be doing, and we’re doing some of them (and how lame does that sound?). Should I be telling my children that things may be very different by the time they grow up? Should we be stockpiling food and learning to hunt? Or do we just continue on and hope for the best?

The Tyee, a Canadian online magazine, has outlined steps that Canada or other countries could take if they were really serious about peak oil and global warming in “Let’s Make It a Hypergreen World.”

Others are focusing at a more local level. The Transition Towns movement aims to help communities “respond to the challenges, and opportunities, of Peak Oil and Climate Change.”  Communities can develop and put into practice an Energy Descent Action Plan, so that they will be prepared to live in a world where oil is scarce.  Many in the Transition movement visualize a more gradual change, rather than catastrophic collapse.

Portland, Oregon, where I live, has a burgeoning Transition Town organization. I’ve only been to one informational meeting so far, and am still rather unclear on what’s happening and how I might be able to get involved, but I’m glad it’s there.  There are currently 265 official Transition Towns around the world, mostly in English-speaking countries.

That’s the sort of thing that brings me back to hope. There are people in the world who are willing to work for change, and for community.