I was never particularly good at or interested in the science subjects, but even during my early teens in the 1980s I pondered about resource depletion and population growth and how we might keep the lights on and the aeroplanes flying when the oil started to run out.
To me then, as now, is was not so much a matter of great scientific or technical insight – it was a matter of common sense. My limited experience had taught me that everything in the known world was finite. Oil in the ground, or under the sea, just like the coins in my piggy bank or the jelly beans in the jar, was subject to depletion.
Whenever I voiced concerns to my elders about what would happen when it started to run out, they would reassure me, like the Pollyanna baby-boomers they were, that it wouldn’t run out in our (read their lifetime) , and anyway, the scientists would soon come up with exciting new energy sources like solar power, which would enable us all to have free electricity. We’d all live in self-sufficient houses and only need to work a few days a week.
Some of the adults I spoke to opined about the benefits of nuclear power, especially nuclear fusion power (which was just around the corner) and which would mean we weren’t dependent on those Arabs.
I recall being unconvinced. Chernobyl had just happened and I couldn’t believe how a previous generation had committed such a crime against the earth and future generations. The idea that once you built a nuclear power station and got it up and running, it was effectively a dangerous “no go” area that had to be carefully managed for as many years into the future as Stonehenge and the pyramids are into the past struck me, as it still does, as criminally insane.
To be honest, during my late teens and early 20s I didn’t give much thought to the world’s impending energy crisis (I had such things as puberty, acquiring a worthless university education and a succession of lowly-paid jobs to attend to). And then, as now, the mainstream media was hardly drawing the subject to my attention.
But during my 30s the combination of more leisure time and access to that wondrous truth machine called the internet, I discovered people who had made it their business to think through what might happen to a post-oil world. And it made for scary reading, even worse than I had ever been able to imagine for myself. I had stumbled across the peak oil movement.
Far from being treated as a no-brainer, a self-evident fact borne out by common sense, the peak oil theory of resource depletion and its consequences was either ignored by the mainsteam or treated as the fringe viewpoint of a few “cranks”.
I became a “doomer”, increasingly aware that Western civilisation (for want of a better term) was on the threshold of a “convergence of catastrophes” (to borrow a phrase from Guillame Faye).
For a while, I considered “prepping”, but given that I live in a city-centre apartment I soon came to the view that this was not only impractical, but pointless, should the shit ever hit the fan.
I am still a doomer. Peak oil theory has proved to be the rosetta stone that allows me to translate the environmental, political and economic happenings around me. I owe a great deal to those thinkers.
But I have noticed a resignation and even a levity creep into my attitude. I no longer believe that there is much personally or even collectively that can be done to avoid what’s coming at least in the lifetime of some Generation X’ers, certainly those younger.
In a way, this resignation is a relief.
It is said that a worst case scenario of the ongoing Fukushima crisis is the pollution of the entire Northern hemisphere. This certainly narrows down the options for an “escape into the country”.
I no longer torment myself for not having enough money to head off to the Azores or somewhere in order to try to construct some kind of “ark”. These days, when I think about collapse, I am more likely to crack open another bottle of wine.
I’ve noticed that many of my mentors in doom also seem to be “getting over it” in some kind of way. Their critics will say that this invalidates their prophecies, that they themselves have given up believing in peak oil, but I don’t think this is the case.
You see, perhaps even despair is finite. These people, who have spent so much time and energy trying to warn people about their dire insights may simply have “peaked”. The final part of Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’ often quoted stages of grief is “acceptance”. Maybe they are just getting on with the rest of their lives as best they can.
When Matt Savinar, who ran the peak oil website Life after the oil crash announced that he was shutting it down and beginning a new career as an astrologer, you can be sure that peak oil debunkers had a laugh. There were probably those too within the movement who were dismayed, or suspected that he was some kind of plant to discredit the theory.
I don’t think so. My interpretation is that he simply came to the perfectly logical conclusion that if the game is up, you might as well focus your energies on something that gives you pleasure, which in his case was doing horoscopes for people.
If you believe that:
- Things have got too bad and humanity is too far down the road to do anything meaningful to stop it
- Collapse is inevitable
- People won’t listen anyway
then it is not illogical to change tack and go off and do something else. You might as well lighten up and spend your life doing something that gives your life meaning.
I recently read that Guy McPherson, doomer emeritus of the peak oil movement, said that he now considered the world to be more or less a “hospice“.
This metaphor has stuck in my mind and rather than depress me, it seems rather beautiful and even consoling.
To see the world as a sinking ship inevitably entails some idea of struggle – the jockeying for position on the deck, the competition for the lifeboats which at best hold out the prospect of drifting perhaps for ever on an inhospitable sea.
But to see the world as a hospice means we are all already patients. The mission statement of a neighbourhood hospice – “we add life to days”.
I like that.