How Peak Oil Changed My Life
By Aaron Wissner
Peak oil changed my life by altering my expectations and hopes for the future.
I was once a techno-science lover. I looked to the future, and saw technology changing the world, and solving all of its problems: outposts on the moon and Mars, a cure for all diseases and maybe even a cure for death, certainly much longer life spans, and the end to war and poverty. Yes, it was a fantastic vision, supported by the incredible progress of recent years, of men on the moon, the development of the internet, and all those technological marvels and scientific discoveries that seemed to be increasing at an unstoppable rate. I dreamed of journeying into space, traveling to every country, living well past my hundredth birthday, driving a 100 mile per gallon car, and having a better and happier life thanks to incredible new advancements of science and technology.
Then, I found out about peak oil, and my life was divided into the time before, and the time after. This epiphany was more lasting and dramatic than the ones that I thought I'd experienced only a few years earlier. One shock was my discovery of the cruelty and harms of industrialized agriculture and factory farms, and my complicity in these industries. The other, as I survived what I fully expected to be a fatal car crash. After each shocking realization, I thought to myself, "Now I truly understand. My eyes are open. My life is changed forever."
And indeed, these first two events did change me. To respond to the cruelties our civilization inflicts upon animals, I became vegan swore off eating any animal products, and embarked on a voracious campaign to educate myself to the scope of the problem. After my near-fatal car accident, I began looking at my future differently, decided that I would start getting involved, and making my life count: lest I find myself dying without really having done anything of lasting value or note.
Peak oil set me straight. Those prior epiphanies were simply preparing me for the big one: that civilization as I knew it might very well end, not only in my lifetime, but within the decade. What I saw looming ahead was the very real possibility of the collapse of the global economy. This vision included the loss of all value of money, the loss of all jobs, the loss of all fuels and the transportation system they support, the loss of electricity, and the loss of the entire food distribution system. To me, societal collapse was a previously unthinkable scenario; that we may have painted ourselves in the corner, and that the paint was about to catch on fire.
Everywhere around me, I began to see our petroleum dependence: my morning shower, my imported clothes, my breakfast cereal, the fuel in my car, the maintenance of the roads, the lights at home and at work, etc... It all depends on oil.
Soon after my peak oil awakening, while driving to visit family, we drove through the nearest mega-city. The consumption of energy blinded me; the lights of cars, and buildings, and billboards... the airplanes coming and going... the trains carrying people… the trucks carrying food and goods... Everything depends on fuel, and that fuel is oil.
As with the earlier discovery of animal cruelty, I knew I had to find the solution. With factory farms, I could simply become vegan and my soul was absolved of my past evil deeds. No, I couldn't stop animal cruelty, but at least I could wash my hands of my direct complicity. For peak oil, a solution I sought, and what I found was not pleasant: civilization may not have a chance.
This concept was hard to swallow: no matter how desperately we wanted to switch to renewable fuels, there simply was not enough time, money, energy, or raw materials to do it. Yes, we could transition a portion of our electricity supply to renewables, with some new generation from the sun and the wind. Yes, we could build some electric vehicles, but not enough… not nearly enough… to prevent the collapse of the entire economic system.
Upon that realization, I recognized that I was going to have to change myself. I needed to prepare, not only for the possibility of a rapid collapse of the system, but also for the possibility that this descent would take place gradually, over many years, or even decades. To prepare for a rapid collapse, I started doing things and buying things that would help me live apart from the global system, at least for a time: a new pantry stocked with food, containers for water, extra gasoline, extra heating fuel, insulating the windows and door, preparing a large garden, etc. To get ready for a slow decline, I started planning a zero-energy home, to be built on an ample piece of fertile land, near a stream or lake, away from the huge populations of the cities.
Peak oil now informs everything I do. It tells the story of a future of great challenge and difficulty, for which I must be prepared.
Peak oil shortens my time horizon. No longer do I worry about my son's college or my own retirement. Now I worry about being able to provide him with the bare necessities. And I wonder, will money be worth anything at all by the time I reach retirement age?
Peak oil informs all of my purchases. I always ask myself, would this be useful during a rapid collapse? How about during a slow decline? If neither, why buy it?
Peak oil alters the way I think about the future. It makes me scoff at the rosy prognostications of our many societal sages; well-paid, kind of heart, but tragically uninformed.
Peak oil drives me to share what I know, and to go further, to illuminate the fundamental failure of our global culture to plan and prepare for its own future. The bleak reality is this: peak oil is not really about the decline of our most precious energy resource. Peak oil is one symptom of our civilization’s inability to find and follow a cultural vision of sustainability.
Aaron Wissner has taught public school students for sixteen years. He is the founder of the international Local Future Network, a non-profit educational organization dedicated to saving Earth through cultural change. In his spare time, he writes articles organizes education events, and gives presentations. Aaron lives in Michigan with his wife Kimberly and his newborn son Michael.