How do we communicate the
message of peak oil to the curious, the uninformed, the skeptic?
Well, that depends upon the message. Is ours a message of fear? Is
it fantasy? Is it a message of hope? Is it a call to action?
Here's an option to consider: Lamentations begone!
Way back then
My seventh grade teacher would habitually give us her backhanded
praise, "Light dawns upon darkness," as we went through our lessons.
In Sunday School I had learned the difference between truth and lies
(not to be confused with fact and fiction).
I learned another important lesson in the Boy Scouts. We were taught
to leave the campground better than we found it. It meant a little
extra work to pick up after ourselves ... and the unconscious souls
who had been there before us, leaving a big mess in their wake.
Fast forward a half century. Without a doubt I now live in a world
that is a lot more complex than the campgrounds of my youth. Leaving
a better world for the next batch of campers isn't quite as easy as
it once seemed. My Scoutmaster would be arrested today if he were
driving to Yosemite with 30 kids in the back of that stake-side
truck. Nor had I noticed at the time that the truck's exhaust was
causing the climate to change, nor that the global fuel tank gauge
was dropping fast.
Where do we stand now?
So here I sit today, hanging out with a bunch of savvy folks,
imagining a world beyond oil. It's a little scary at times.
Some of the savvy folks are imagining a dystopia. It's hard to fault
them for that. All you have to do is look out your window at the
world, and you will readily see lots of things falling right apart.
Some places are flooding worse than ever; other places are burning,
with record highs. Low down depression lurks behind many a
paycheck... and it attacks mercilessly where once there was plenty.
More than a million people die in traffic accidents every year; ten
million and more are seriously injured. Turf wars (over oil and
minerals for cars) add to the numbers and the suffering. In simple
terms, the so-called autonomous vehicle ("automobile") has
degenerated into a very bad design. Clearly Karl Benz and Henry Ford
had the best of intentions, and their inventions served humanity
well for a century. But just as the car rolled the horse off the
streets a century ago, so must the car be driven out of town in this
new century... or pushed all the way to the junk yard when it runs
out of fuel. Keeping the same form (an artifact of the oil age)
while switching from fuel to electricity might be likened to
changing the horse's feed from hay to kerosene so it might run
faster. What's wrong with this picture?!
Transferring the American dream to China and Indian is about to turn
into a nightmare as both countries compete to see which can gobble
up, one-time-only, more natural resources than the other. And they
think it's only fair for us to sit on the sidelines to watch them go
at it. We have our troubles; these countries will be unfettered to
mimic us and chase after their own troubles.
Archeologists have uncovered enough of the past to realize that
humans evolved to form a primitive society known as the Stone Age.
That hasn't changed very much, realistically. Future archeologists
no doubt will call ours the Burn Stone Age
This race to the bottom is getting pretty insane. Is there any way
A Better World
At a recent talk
in San Francisco
, John Reed, Chairman of the MIT Corporation,
former Chair of CitiGroup and the New York Stock Exchange, was
asked, "There are a number of young alumni here ... [asking] ... how
can they be successful in their careers?"
John Reed replied, "I always could dream. I had a sense of where we
wanted to go. And I greatly believed that if you can
interpolate it is much better than extrapolating
"Most managers sorta say, 'Where are we today?' Then they sort of
extrapolate, and say, 'We could be a little more efficient; we could
gain a little market share; we could do a little this; we could do a
little that.' And they spend their life trying to extrapolate from
some core to, you know, being somewhat better.
"... I think you gotta have a vision of where you'd like to be and
then you've gotta say, 'I'm gonna use my efforts to get from here to
And I must say it served me well in my business career. I think it
served the institutions I was working with well and if I had any
recommendations for a younger person, it would be, "Dream enough, be
realistic, figure out what it is you would love to be, and then
figure out how you're gonna get there. Don't just try..."
To leave a brighter world for our descendants, we must begin
envisioning a better way to live. We can't dwell incessantly on what
a miserable mess we are leaving for them. That's self-indulgence, at
a time when we need all hands on deck. A persistent example is to
see so many wringing their hands about the intermittency of
renewables. This is a bit like complaining that there weren't enough
oars on the Titanic's lifeboats.
Since it will be a world without oil (coal, gas), we must envision
that: a world beyond oil (coal, gas). What might that world look
like? As John Reed said, let's create a vision of where we'd like to
be and then let's interpolate -- figure out how to get there.
Dwelling on the past and extending that model into the future
(extrapolating) isn't going to get us very far. We might consider
our accomplishments or lack thereof in light of our core message.
At the dawn of the World Wide Web in 1994, I staked a claim to my
vision of a better world -- www.Ecotopia.com
-- building upon Ernest
Callenbach's vision of an ecologically sound utopia. Once we abandon
the unwieldy and outmoded artifacts of the fossil fuel era, I
envision a world that is comfortably powered by solar energy. I
envision a world where expectations have changed such that we have
learned to do more with less in order to meet the needs of all
people, accepting the challenge to find ways to stretch natural
resources ten-fold, and to stop burning rocks like tenants burning
the landlord's picket fence to stay warm through the cold winter.
Let the sun shine in!!
If we as peak oil aware folks want to gain market share, we will envision a
[And I reiterate my challenge. I'm all ears to hear about any
alternative to my vision which is constructive, plausible and
durable. No "over unity" schemes in defiance of the Second Law. No
fair kicking the can down the road. Belly to the bar.]
A vision without a task is a dream; a
task without a vision is drudgery; a vision with a task is the
hope of the world.
(Inscribed on the wall of a
church in Sussex, England,
circa 1730, posted at