Peak Oil is You

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Page added on January 30, 2008

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Saying Goodbye To The Oil Age

The first practical oil drill was developed in Titusville, Pennsylvania, in 1859, by Edwin L. Drake. Now, only a short while later, the planet Earth is running out of oil, without which almost nothing in modern civilization can function. A number of scientists and engineers have pointed out that the world’s oil production will peak early in the twenty-first century; it has probably already done so. At the beginning of the century, the human race was using about 30 billion barrels of oil per year. By 2030, production will be down to about half of that level.
The litany of “bigger, faster, and more complex,” mega-this and mega-that, as a cure for the initial problem of “bigger, faster, and more complex” is self-evidently ludicrous, so ludicrous that we cannot see it. It is sheer bigness — overpopulation, resource-consumption, and environmental destruction — that has led us to the first days of systemic collapse. Dragging images out of science-fiction movies to create “bigger, faster, and more complex” machines will not do the trick. The paradigm is elusive but real: the worship of technology creates a chain reaction, a spiral, a thermostat set to zero tolerance. The technophile is a junkie with a need for an ever-larger fix, a millionaire with an ever-greater fear of poverty, a Uriah Heep who creates his own enemies.

“Yes, but what can we do?” is the usual response, although the speaker rarely waits for an answer, since the question is merely rhetorical. The non-rhetorical reply to that would be, “Well, what have you done so far?” (Answer: nothing.) A slightly lengthier — if still incomplete — reply would be: return to pre-modern technology. The resultant skipped heartbeat is unjustified: the technology of the past certainly got us into far less trouble. For that matter, modern technology is in many ways overrated; the twentieth century was essentially a blank. Several scholars have pointed out that the nineteenth century was far more inventive than the next. The twentieth century was an age of bigger and faster, but not an age of true innovation. It might be worth adding that the great thinkers who gave us our present knowledge of the universe and of human life were all born in the nineteenth century: Darwin, Marx, Freud, Einstein. The average person even now has barely assimilated their thought; we may “know” what they said, but we rarely bother to check.

What matters is not to wait unthinkingly for the onslaught of hunger and cold, but to form communities that can build houses and plant crops. Like the phoenix, we must rise from the ashes — the ashes of the Age of Excess. We must learn to step outside our plastic-and-metal cocoons and see what is happening with our neighbors, and with all the rest of dirty, sweaty humanity. North Americans in particular have an individualistic mentality that includes taking far more pride in having an opinion than in having an education. But that irascibility, that self-destructive clinging to one’s “rights,” must be put aside. Loners will have slim chances of survival. The mentality of the future will be closer to a sort of Asian collectivism: modesty rather than braggadocio, altruism rather than egotism, seeking harmony rather than confrontation.


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