Peak Oil News: Peak oil: Mayberry, not Mad Max - Crunchy Con

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Peak oil: Mayberry, not Mad Max - Crunchy Con

Crunchy Con

By Rod Dreher

Everybody go over to The American Conservative's site and read their new issue, all of which is available for free in PDF form. I want to draw attention to two articles of special note, neither of which is linkable, but both of which can be read on the PDF version of the magazine.

The first is an optimistic, hopeful take on peak oil and the Long Emergency. The author is Brian Kaller and his view is that peak oil need not be an apocalypse, but could easily turn out to be a return to an older, and in some ways better, way of life. Here's Kaller criticizing people who portray peak-oilers as wild-eyed lunatics:

The simpler truth is that peak-oil converts are often young people reviving the personal habits and self-sufficient skills of their grandparents' generation, thinking seriously about their tap water, transportation, income, food, heat, and electricity, and realizing how little would survive the end of fossil fuels. They anticipate that population trends, climate change, and other problems will compound the crisis, creating what Kunstler has called the Long Emergency. While others are preoccupied with the hot-button lifestyle issues of the moment, they are planting gardens, buying foreclosed farms, learning traditional crafts, taking crash courses in survival skills, and soberly preparing while silently counting down.

But Kaller also criticizes peak-oil proponents who prophesy a Mad Max world of anarchy and hardship, saying that their maximalist projections are unrealistic, and actually may make it harder for us to transition to a lifestyle more sustainable in The Long Emergency. Excerpt:

A critical mass of Americans who believe in an imminent zombie apocalypse runs the risk of making the future more difficult than it need be. Just as a Depression-era panic could crash a bank that would not otherwise have failed, so a widespread belief in a violent
and hopeless end could actually make Americans less likely to work together during the next outage or shortage.

In fact, Kaller said, peak oil is not going to be a sudden event, but a series of events slowly unfolding -- which gives people time to adapt, as we likely will. What this means is not a return to the 18th century, but a much shorter jump back in time:

Take one of the more pessimistic projections of the future, from the Association for the Study of Peak Oil, and assume that by 2030 the world will have only two-thirds as much energy per person. Little breakdowns can feed on each other, so crudely double that estimate. Say that, for some reason, solar power, wind turbines, nuclear plants, tidal power, hydroelectric dams, biofuels, and new technologies never take off. Say that Americans make only a third as much money, cut driving by two-thirds. Assume that extended families have to move in together to conserve resources and that we must cut our flying by 98 percent.

Many would consider that a fairly clear picture of collapse. But we have been there before, and recently. Those are the statistics of the 1950s--not remembered as a big time for cannibalism [as peak oiler Dmitri Orlov predicts as a possibility -- RD]. The world in 1950 used 10 million barrels of oil a day instead of our 85 million, and only a third of that increase is due to population growth. The rest is just us-- and it is mostly us in the West--driving, flying, buying, consuming, and discarding more in a month than our grandparents did in a year. The popular image of the '50s as an age of conspicuous consumption, suburban sprawl, and TV dinners misses the point. Those things were newsworthy then because they were new and unusual.

Go download the PDF at The American Conservative and read the whole thing. Also, Kaller blogs here, but unfortunately doesn't blog much.


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