Transition Culture

An Evolving Exploration into the Head, Heart and Hands of Energy Descent

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I no longer blog on this site. You can now find me, my general blogs, and the work I am doing researching my forthcoming book on imagination, on my new blog.

8 Feb 2006

Peak Oil Denial Comes in Many Forms…

click here to see full size...lDenial about oil peak takes many forms. One of my favourites was the elderly man I had a conversation with about peak oil, me being under the impression that we were having a mutually understood intelligent two way conversation about the impacts of a diminishing fuel supplies on the UK economy. At the end he said, in all seriousness, “yes, Peak Oil, I used some of that on a table once, it came up lovely”.

My friend Graham tells a story of a woman with whom he had been discussing the impacts that peak oil will have on the food supply system. They discussed how oil dependent food is, and how vulnerable the system is. Then, to Graham’s amazement she said, “well it doesn’t worry me, my husband didn’t eat for a year once”. Didn’t eat for a year? Apparently he had done some kind of retreat or something and she was convinced he hadn’t eaten for a year … of course the fact that it is a fairly well established scientific fact at this point that if you take the food away from a population they tend to start keeling over after a few weeks didn’t do too much to change her position… .

I once met a man at a party who told me he didn’t worry about peak oil because we would all be off to Mars soon, and those left behind would be whizzing around in nuclear powered cars. I didn’t press the matter, although on my way home afterwards I did wonder what would happen in the event of a car crash, they’d have to evactuate the whole county.

monkeysOf course we all do it. Peak oil is very scary, especially if you immerse yourself in the writings of the Savinars and Kunstlers of this world, and regularly chew the fat with Mike Ruppert. We all tend to have our denial mechanisms, Kunstler is fond of talking about how some people use irony as their shield from all of this.

Some peoples’ responses to hearing about peak oil are to turn the telly up a bit or spend a bit more money at the sales, some drink more, some immerse themselves in free energy websites and convince themselves that some guy in Glasgow’s invention which sends clothes hangers whizzing around really fast with just a candle to heat it has the answer to running the world’s 500 million cars, never mind heating the homes and powering the industry. Some deny the whole thing, and some, such as Peter Huber, in an article called “The Energy Spiral”, which has to be read just for its awesome unlikeliness, argues that “the more (energy) we capture and burn, the better we get at capturing still more”, in essence, the more we use the more we have. Hmmm.

apesWhat triggered this piece was reading an article by a woman called Betsy Hart, who previously wrote a book called *”It Takes a Parent: How the Culture of Pushover Parenting is Hurting Our Kids and What to Do About It”*, which gives some kind of an idea where she is coming from. Betsy occupies a strange Twilight Zone world that exists to the right of George Bush. There isn’t much of it, but Betsy fills it with great gusto. Her article, In Praise of Oil, argues that George Bush has somehow ‘gone soft’ by admitting, about 40 years after the rest of the world twigged it, that the US is ‘addicted to oil’. Here is a woman who admits to being so in love with her minivan that she would probably drive to the bathroom if she could. She writes;

>It’s all about time for me. Yes, I can walk to Starbucks in 10 to12 minutes, but I can drive there in one minute. The library is about a 45-second drive, and the school 30. I’m not opposed to walking; I’m opposed to wasting time. I know, I know, exercise isn’t a “waste of time,” blah, blah. But if I’m going to exercise, I want it in a gym with a trainer bearing down on me. I’m not going to waste time just walking.

>I also like a warm house in the winter and, for the record, an air conditioner set to “stun” in the summer, and lots of lights on in my home all the time. Apparently Bush now has a problem with such living.

3monkeysWhat is scary is that people like this will be so desperate to cling onto their minivans and air conditioning that they will look for anyone to blame, rather than face the fact that, to coin Richard Heinberg’s phrase, The Party’s Over. In designing Energy Descent Action Plans, we need to really consider how to winkle these people out of their shells. The worst thing we can do is generate a ‘them-and-us’ feeling that confirms all their worst suspicions about greenies and all that is associated with them. We have to get as many people on board our lifeboats as possible. We need to be professional, and in the same way that Bernard Lietaer argues that when designing a complementary currency we need to think first how we can design it so that businesses will use it, I feel that when designing energy descent strategies we should begin by thinking how we can make this process as attractive as possible to the people we would normally think were beyond hope. If we can get them on board, everyone else will be easy.

It is also true to observe that none of us are beyond denial. It pops up in all kinds of unexpected guises, and it is a natural reaction, we can’t go around thinking about this stuff ALL the time after all! It only becomes a problem when it closes us to the realities of the issue, and inhibits our ability to respond. How we help to ease people from collective denial in order to emerge blinking into the possibility of creating a world so wonderful that they don’ t need to hide from it, this is as much our big challenge as learning to live without oil.

Comments are now closed on this site, please visit Rob Hopkins' blog at Transition Network to read new posts and take part in discussions.


8 Feb 12:33pm

That last paragraph is the key- We’re all in some form of denial, given that no one knows exactly when and how peakoil will play out, and given financial limitations, at least in my life, it’s very difficult to invest in what’s needed to transition. Living lightly on the land is and always has been the closest thing to preparing for peakoil, but when it hits, no matter what it’s going to be ugly.

Road Warrior
18 Feb 2:25pm

…or is it denile to think we can create Energy Decent Plans or Powerdown Scemes and still think they have a snowflake’s chance in hell of working? If you think you can create a sustainable community and not have your stupid hungry neighbours with nails on the end of a stick come and take it away from you, then that is the biggest denile of them all.

I’m preparing for the energy crisis, but the last thing I’d do is tell anyone how, where or what I’m doing. I think it’s time we all thought about the nasty things that will happen when the lights go out and 911 doesn’t work anymore.

And next time you post some juicey info on how to survive after PO, think about who’s going to be reading it and what they are likely to do when feeding their belly is the number one priority.

Arif Hasan Akhundzada
18 Feb 9:30pm

The apathy you talk about has been the attitude of humanity at all stages in its history, so why not now? It is a normal characteristic. And no “celebrity” – the type of people whose words make an impact – has taken up a 24/7 campaign for Peak Oil either. In these days of information overload and confusion, things get worse, although one would have thought the opposite to be true. Harry Potter and Britney Spears grab more attention than they are worth, and yet they are not “survival-concerned issues”. It is the same in any prosperous well-fed society. Perhaps a comet or asteroid just a few days’ time away from collision with Earth, getting prominent media coverage all round would be another matter, but Peak Oil is not so “urgent” or stimulating an issue for ordinary people used to easy living – not even the coming Iran war, with all its implications – as perhaps a major league football match would be.

Greg Krafchick
18 Feb 10:45pm

I agree that some of the Powerdown scenarios out there are hopelessly optimistic (I tried to read “Natural Capitalism” coauthored by Paul Hawken and couldn’t get past the first page – it was cartoonishly utopian) but at the same time to resign oneself to despair and chaos is something of a self-fulfilling prophesy. We have to try to preserve and save the best parts of ourselves as a society in the face of some very grim facts. To not try, to not aspire to some different sustainability paradigm is to embark upon a very hopeless existence until each of us shuffles off this mortal coil.

There’s denial, and then there’s complete fatalism. I would rather walk the line between the two.

adam f
20 Feb 6:11am

road warrior, even mad max was ended up helping the co-operative self sufficiency types. it’s not a very helpful mindset to consider anything less than the worst case scenario ‘denial’. It’s probably denial not to consider that as one of the many possibilites, but insisting on it is self fulling as greg said.

Robert Anton Wilson uses these examples of that dynamic:

“The outstanding example of the negative self-fulfilling prophecy in our century is Joseph Stalin, who always believed himself surrounded by enemies. His own party, he suspected, was permeated by deviationists who hated him. He steadily increased the size and powers of the secret police, and each chief of the secret police, in turn, was executed as one of the plotters against him. They all signed confessions before they died; Stalin insisted on that. He wanted it in black and white, proof that his suspicions were justified. Eventually, it appears, his closes associates conspired to poison him. In contrast, there is the case of R. Buckminster Fuller, who stood one day in 1928 on the shore of Lake Michigan contemplating suicide. He was despairing because of his daughter’s death by polio and his own lack of financial success as a construction engineer. But, in a internal linkmoment of internal linkSufi insight, Fuller decided to gamble that the universe had some use for him. Today, he is not only one of the most influential scientists in the world, the inventor of a new system of mathematics and a universally respected philosopher and poet, he is also a multimillionaire. He is one of the most radiantly optimistic men on this planet, as everybody who has ever heard him lecture will appreciate. Now, let’s not confuse self-fulfilling prophecy with the puerilities of positive thinking or other Pollyanna philosophies that ignore reality totally in favor of a cocoon of self-delusion. Bucky Fuller, for instance, has had his share of hard times since his act of faith in 1928. His dymaxion automobile cracked up on a trial run and was never mass-manufactured. His most important scientific ideas were ignored for nearly two decades during which he was dismissed as a brilliant crank. He has experienced the usual human bereavements. Nevertheless, he transcended all such setbacks by believing that he could do something good in this universe.”

If we do reach a critical point in some places where neighbours attack neighbours, there’s no point trying to grow your own food or doing anything especially productive, so the whole community is lost. The re-emerging importance of local conditions might make it even quite likely in some unfortunate places, but less likely in others. But it’s certainly not predetermined.

Which is all the more reason to push the kind of work Rob and others are doing, which is community oriented so is completely on track to avoiding – at the very least – that critical breaking point. Whatsmore it goes way beyond that defensive position, envisages the opportunity for strenghtened communities. Relocalised economies with friendly people on the street will reduce the incidents of theft and violence without policing. The good will you’re promoting, the vision of a better future, grounded in permaculture design, practical skills and a series of short term goals – I can’t think of a better way to deal with those darkest concerns. I think these are compelling and practical enough visions to make a real difference, to themselves become self fullfiling.

20 Mar 10:24pm

Adam if you think 2/3 of us will shuffle off into the night quietly think again. The society you describe will happen but not until humans climb out of the chaos that will herald the begining of the end of life as we know it.