Peak Oil, the Loch Ness Monster and Energy Descent
By Rob Hopkins
OK, its a tenuous link but stick with me. Last week President Bush announced that the US is ‘addicted to oil’. He unveiled his version of what is going to be done about it, which doesn’t really come close to what actually needs to be done, and seems to amount to letting his friends build lots more nuclear power stations to produce hydrogen to keep the cars on the road, but I suppose we should see it as some kind of a start. It did however raise for me the question as to what we ‘peakniks’ are supposed to do once everyone cops on as to the reality of peak oil. If George Bush feels compelled to ‘fess up’, then we must be pretty close.
PowerdownIn Richard Heinberg’s book ‘Powerdown’, he identifies 4 options we can choose in the face of peak oil. they are Last Man Standing, which is the fight to the end for the last remaining resources (Dick Cheney’s “war that won’t end in our lifetimes”), Waiting for the Magic Elixir, that is the belief that ‘they’ will invent a new power source as versatile as oil and capable of being scaled up and rolled out to the world in a few years), Powerdown, a national government-led process of reorienting the economy for contraction and self-reliance, and Building Lifeboats, which is a ground-up process of communities building their own self reliance.
Bush’s speech comes closer to Waiting for the Magic Elixir than Powerdown. The thing that struck me about it, was that, as I have discussed in previous posts, peak oil is one of those things that people will ignore and deny until it has already happened, and then, once it has happened, all talk about as if they had always known about it. The other morning on Radio 5 Live a Liberal politician was talking and just dropping in the term peak oil as if he had been saying it since primary school.
The point I want to make here is that if the Peak Oil movement (is it a movement, a community or a concept?) sees its main role as being to enlighten people about peak oil, then one day it will wake up and find that all of a sudden everybody knows about it and it is taken as read. Overnight we will become redundant, superceded by events. It is a bit like having an organisation dedicated to enlightening people to the existence of the Loch Ness Monster. Eminent scientists and passionate lay people actively trying to raise awareness as to the existence of these creatures, running conferences, publishing papers, appearing in the media. Well meaning, hard working and committed to proving that their argument is correct. Then one day a Nessie washes up on the shore of Loch Ness for all to see, and overnight they become completely reundant.
What excites me about peak oil is that the peak oil bit of it is just the beginning, the springboard into starting to ask all the big questions. The thing is not to get hung up on the oil peak itself, rather to focus on solutions that we can offer when people do get the message (in the very near future). It is not an end in itself to get people aware about peak oil, unless we can also empower them to do something about it and see it as a great opportunity.
Jenna Orkin put it quite nicely at the end of a so-so article on CultureChange, called Say You Survive Die-Off: Then What?. She writes, “That’s not such a bad vision to live with: Sustainable living, at last. So what are we waiting for? Bring it on! It’s just getting from here to there that looks like it could be a rocky ride”. In the same way that we are working to ‘future-proof’ our lives and communities, we should also be looking to ‘future-proof’ the peak oil argument beyond purely the nuts and bolts of the Hubbert Peak, and present the peak oil argument as the most dynamic, insightful, exciting and relevant response to oil peak and the wider sustainability challenge. Otherwise we may find ourselves going the way of our fictional Loch Ness Monster Society (a trail that Y2K organisations have already blazed for us…).