22 Nov 2007
Why I Won’t Be Buying Vernon Coleman’s ‘Oil Apocalypse’.
The other day in the Independent, a full page ad drew my attention to the latest book by Vernon Coleman, ‘Oil Apocalypse’ (note this is not a link). Vernon Coleman has previously produced countless books, mostly based on fear-mongering and reactionary politics, and now he has hopped onto the peak oil bandwagon. The way Coleman’s books work is simple; here is a problem, it is far bigger and worse than you thought, be afraid, this is whose fault it is. I once read (rather I once *started* to read) his book ‘England, Our England’, an appalling load of rubbish which tried to argue that everything bad that ever happened to anyone can be traced back to the European Union, and that poor, noble England has been enslaved by this evil monster. Another book, which I picked up mistaking it for William Blum’s rather good ‘Rogue State’, was Vernon’s ‘Rogue Nation’, which described itself thus, “America is responsible for worldwide economic and political chaos. This book contains everything you need to know – and must know – about America”. It was possibly the worst written book I have ever read.
1. Rather than a flowing narrative it was arranged in numbered points, with no connection to each other (I will write the rest of this post in that style so you can see how truly irritating it is). They ranged from the sensible and insightful to the absurd. For example you might have number 35 (I don’t have the book to refer to, I threw it into my compost heap on completion) being the fact that the US has deposed x number of democratically elected governments (fair point), and then fact 36 being that Americans are fat.
2. The childish level of many of the points in the book was stunning. It didn’t build a case, make an argument, rather it was just a list of why America is rubbish, much of it puerile tongue-poking “nyah nyah” stuff. This is how Vernon’s books work. He identifies an issue that concerns people, and whips up fear around it and then picks his facts to back up his argument, presenting himself as the voice of reason and common sense. Everything is America’s fault, the EU’s fault, Gordon Brown’s fault (Vernon recently wrote a book called ‘Gordon is a Moron’), the New World Order’s fault. Now, apparently, it is all peak oil’s fault.
3. The advert for ‘Oil Apocalypse’ is classic fearmongering nonsense. “Within a generation, five out of six people on the planet will be dead. I’ll repeat that. Within a generation, five out of six people on the planet will be dead”, the ad screams.
4. Vernon Coleman wears a bow tie and used to be a doctor.
5. Vernon nails his true Daily-Mail-on-steroids colours to the mast when he writes “it is a sad fact but true – we cannot and should not rely on others to help us in the future… we really have to rely on ourselves in order to survive in the future”. Regular readers of Transition Culture will recognise the absurdity of this statement, but Vernon has the answers.
6. The final two sections of the book describes “precisely how Vernon Coleman is planning to survive the coming years of crisis – including the investment programme he has devised for himself”. You can bet your right arm that Vernon’s investment programme does not include local community supported agriculture projects, perhaps a community owned ESCO, or a local Credit Union.
7. He cranks up the fear levels unashamedly. Now, we know that peak oil and climate change are huge problems, the gravest ones humanity faces at this point. However, their outcome is not inevitable, nor is it cast in stone. However, Coleman’s book includes the following illuminating sections;
“Which towns will survive in the future – Page 92”
“Why Britain is going to be one of the countries that will suffer the most – Page 103”
“How your car number-plate could soon affect your freedom to travel – Page 122”
and my favourite “What thieves will be stealing in the future – Page 96”.
8. Coleman has written over 100 books. Imagine, somewhere there must be someone who has all 100 titles lined up neatly on their bookshelves. And you thought peak oil was scary.
9. Presumably the bit about number plates relates to some kind of scheme, as has been used in other countries in times of energy scarcity, to ration road space. This is not about “affect[ing] your freedom to travel”. Coleman seems not to have grasped that the idea of “freedom to travel”, in a post peak world, is really rather outdated. You can’t lurch into a lower energy world, clinging to your carefully constructed, Coleman-endorsed investment portfolio, and believing it is your right to drive wherever you like, but that ‘they’ are trying to stop you. And how does Coleman know what people will be stealing in the future? Presumably this part of the book is based on extensive quantitative questionnaire-based research with 300 randomly sampled burglars.
10. Not content with having spent years peddling the idea that everything that affects your life is someone else’s fault, and that you should be scared of the EU, the Government, the US, any organisation Coleman decides are the new antichrist, now, with peak oil looming, it turns out you can trust no-one at all! Not your neighbours. Certainly not your community. You should probably also doubt the motives of family members, after all “it is a sad fact but true – we cannot and should not rely on others to help us in the future…”. You’re on your own kids, just you, Vernon and your investment portfolios.
11. It is inevitable that as the peak looms we will find more and more such books emerging. Of course peak oil is scary and its potential impacts are severe. But whether we choose to see it as a crisis or an opportunity is key. I see it as the potential for the greatest economic, social and cultural renaissance the world has ever seen, not for retreating into our bunkers, trusting no-one, safe with our baked beans and our investment portfolios. Our way through it will rely on our ability to rebuild connections with those around us. Coleman does us all a huge disservice by peddling such nonsense. As with most of his books, he has taken about 30% reasonable argument and weaved 70% fear-based, reactionary, ill-researched, self-above-others nonsense around it. It was inevitable that he would eventually turn his beady eye to peak oil, yet if the publicity achieves such levels of hysteria and fear-mongering, you can be rest assured, like the rest of Coleman’s titles, that the book itself is just more of the same.
13. The end.
14. Presumably England being knocked out of Euro 2008 last night was due to Gordon Brown, the EU or the New World Order, not that they were just rubbish.
15. And finally, apparently on page 74, we can learn “the shocking truth what the Government might do to our currency”. Aside from being a grammatical nightmare, this sentence, like much of Coleman’s writing, is about giving away our power. For someone who claims to be about giving power back to the people, Coleman’s writings sow such seeds of powerlessness, everything always being someone else’s fault, that what we will actually need to get through peak oil, i.e. dynamic, empowered communities coming together and building resilience as well as cutting carbon emissions, has no hope. As such, ‘Oil Apocalypse’ is, at least as far as one can tell from this appalling advert, a deeply irresponsible publication.