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The End Of Cheap Oil: An Opportunity to Create A Better World

2011/07/04

As a species with the creativity, adaptability and opposable thumbs that enabled us to create an Oil Age in the first place, we can be pretty certain that there will be life beyond it. Similarly, we may be able to prevent the worst excesses of climate change, and indeed the measures needed would almost certainly make the world a far better place. However, the point is that the world and our lifestyles will look very different from the present. It is worth remembering that it takes a lot of cheap energy to maintain the levels of social inequality we see today, the levels of obesity, the record levels of indebtedness, the high levels of car use and alienating urban landscapes. Only a culture awash with cheap oil could become de-skilled on the monumental scale that we have, to the extent that some young people I have met are lucky to emerge from cutting a slice of bread with all their fingers intact. It is no exaggeration to say that we in the West are the single most useless generation (in terms of practical skills) to which this planet has ever played host. However, the first step to the creation of a localized, low-energy-abundant future is actually visioning its possibility.”

So writes Rob Hopkins, the founder of the Transition movement and author of “The Transition Handbook: from oil dependency to local resilience.” I’m halfway through this inspiring and practical book about how to embrace climate change and peak oil as the impetus to creating a better, healthier, more community-oriented way of being on this planet. The changes that Hopkins is talking about are not simple changes, like deciding to recycle; they are significant changes in thinking and in “business as usual”. But as he (and many others) point out, inevitable and profound changes are ahead, whether we are prepared for them or not. What Hopkins, and the Transition Movement, do is to provide a roadmap for navigating those changes. As Hopkins writes:

I do not have a crystal ball. I don’t know how the twin crises of peak oil and climate change will unfold – nobody does. I don’t know the exact date of peak oil, and again, nobody does. Similarly, I don’t know if and when we will exceed the 2 degree climate threshold, and what will happen if we do.

What I am certain of is that we are going to see extraordinary levels of change in every aspect of our lives. Indeed we have to see extraordinary levels of change if we are to navigate our societies away from dependence on cheap oil in such a way that they will be able to retain their social and ecological coherence and stabillity, and also live in a world with a relatively stable climate. In terms of looking forward, many people have set out different scenarios for what the future might hold. I have trawled through a lots of these for insights as to how life beyond the peak might be.

What Hopkins emphasizes is the importance of not just being against something but to be for something positive. While standing against the destruction of the tar sands, fracking, drilling in the Arctic, etc, Hopkins reminds us to offer a vision of a better future where we are more connected to each other, and the earth, with cleaner air, cleaner water, and more equitable sharing of the earth’s bounty. Mike Nickerson, in “Living On Earth As If We Want to Stay” puts it this way:

It may be hard to imagine a civilization where the needs of all are met without depreciating the environment, where speculative capital serves real needs, and where nations and regions have the ability to make decisions in the interests of their people and the environment that supports them. However, such a system is possible.

Remember, we are a tremendously gifted species. Our challenge is not whether or not it is possible to live secure healthy lives for countless generations, our challenge is to identify the direction in which we need to move to accomplish that end, and to exercise our democratic power so that we can proceed to do so.

May you be inspired today to take a step towards establishing your vision of what a better future for your children, and mine, will look like.

Happy Birthday, U.S.A. – may you as a country live up to your promise of providing a better future for all your citizens, not just those with the biggest bank accounts!

More links:

Transition Network.org

Shifting Society’s Goals: Sustainability, A Choice to Consider

Establish Your Vision With Confidence

What’s Your Consumption Factor?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Keith Elliott permalink
    2011/07/04 10:36 am

    Anyone who has been on this planet for a few decades has seen the unconscionable rise in oil prices.

    When I was a kid, gasoline was 39 cents an imperial gallon, just over 8 1/2 cents a liter. Currently out west it’s $1.26 (always fluctuating…usually upwards). While this may sound high, by the time inflation is factored in, the price has remained remarkably stable. That, however, is all about to change.

    We have all witnessed the excuses that the oil companies use to crank up the prices. Events like hurricane Katrina, troubles in Libya and so on.

    What most of us are unaware of is the backdoor gouging by the oil speculators themselves. That is very likely going to get far worse in the near future. Even the oil execs admit that $70 a barrel provides them with adequate profit.

    Which means the time is overdue for a wholesale change in our thinking about the way we go about our day to day lives. Are we really ready to do that?

    I’m betting that far less than 1% of north Americans are either willing to alter anything significantly in their lifestyle, or indeed are even willing to give it an honest try. “I don’t want to go without my (fill in the blank of your choice here)”.

    As much as it pains me to say it, most citizens don’t have the ability to add solar power to their daily lives. Just this one act would make a huge dent in oil consumption, be it solar electricity, solar hot water or even a solar power charged car or power assisted bicycle.

    There is a long list of “do-ables” that we can all engage in to varying degrees, every one of which can help towards depleting the dwindling oil supply and helping to reduce our carbon footprint.

  2. Christine permalink*
    2011/07/04 12:26 pm

    You’re right, Keith, very few of us willing embrace change. What Hopkins and Nickerson (and many others) are suggesting is that, like it or not, change is coming – the question is, do/will we have a resilient community that can adjust to the end of the oil age, or not?

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  1. The End of Cheap Oil: An Opportunity to Create a Better World : Chelsea Green

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