Future perfect: the future is Mayberry, not Mad Max by Brian Kaller

PEAK OIL HAS ARRIVED — not just the geological phenomenon but the movement of the same name.

The geological part is straightforward: peak oil is the top of an oil field’s bell curve of production, after which demand can rise all it wants, but supply inevitably falls. Throwing more technology at the problem, as the United States has done, just runs the field dry sooner.

To understand the global movement, look around for a moment. Your computer keyboard, pen, food wrappers, nylon clothes, cold capsules, and a thousand other common items are made of plastic, which is made from oil. The machines that produced these items ran on oil. They were transported from factories, often across the world, in ships and planes that run on oil. Many of the ingredients in your last meal were grown thousands of miles away, sprayed with fossil-fuel fertilizers, harvested with oil-powered tractors, and transported in oil-powered trucks, ships, and planes to the supermarket, where you drove your oil-powered car to buy them.

Our lives would be far less petroleum dependent if we had listened to geologist M. King Hubbert in 1956, when he unveiled his peak-oil theory to a Texas convention of oilmen. He laid out the basic curve of oilfield production and, based on the sum of its fields, predicted the U.S. would hit peak around 1970.

Hubbert was mocked for the rest of his life, but the U.S. did peak around 1970, the Middle East became the world’s energy lifeline, and American foreign policy would never be the same.

…The simpler truth is that peak-oil converts are often young people reviving the personal habits and self-sufficient skills of their grandparents’ generation, thinking seriously about their tap water, transportation, income, food, heat, and electricity, and realizing how little would survive the end of fossil fuels. They anticipate that population trends, climate change, and other problems will compound the crisis, creating what Kunstler has called the Long Emergency. While others are preoccupied with the hot-button lifestyle issues of the moment, they are planting gardens, buying foreclosed farms, learning traditional crafts, taking crash courses in survival skills, and soberly preparing while silently counting down.

…We need a common vision that avoids post-apocalypse yarns as well as Star Trek fantasies in favor of something both realistic and hopeful. Handled right, peak oil could bring a revival of small-town America, local farming, small businesses, and an economy that centers around Main Street rather than Wall Street. It wouldn’t require us suddenly to turn Amish. With solar, wind, and nuclear power to maintain the Internet, commuter rail, and other technologies, we could continue the global exchange of ideas.


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