Here we go again

April 11, 2006

I first learned of Toby Hemmenway’s new essay during a visit to the Anthropik site. After reading their review of his work and the associated reader comments I was in full agreement with the idea that Toby had pushed things a bit far this time. However when I actually read ‘Apocalypse Not’ I discovered that there were whole sections that had not been referred to in the review. They’re sections that I think are incredibly important because they apply some critical analysis to Peak Oil dogma. They’re also sections that are liable to get a guy branded a heretic.

Something that has bothered me about the peak oil movement for a long time is the almost religious dogma that goes with it. It’s a dogma that a guy might challenge at great risk to his reputation within the movement. It’s no surprise that Toby Hemmenway is the one to make the challenge. As a permaculturist his reputation has been made (and can only be broken) in areas other than peak oil. Since I have no reputation to defend I too will come out in support of his ideas – despite still feeling the subtle pressure to fall in line (just don’t mention abiotic oil OK?).

To be fair there are bits of the new essay that don’t handle the scrutiny but I’m fine with that because there are whole other sections that raise important challenges to the peak oil mythology and that’s more important to me.

Ultimately what’s up for debate here is how fast we crash. I think a lot of the time people haven’t agreed on the definition of ‘crash’, or of ‘fast’ either. What Toby has shown in his essay is that the down slope from Hubbert’s peak will possibly be shallower than we might have thought. This is an important consideration because the gentler the slope the more time we have to adjust and the less chance there is of total chaos resulting. Will there, for instance be enough time for mass conversions of farm land to organic production – or even batter staggered conversions to organic agriculture.

Once again, I remind readers that I don’t think that organic agriculture is going to deliver us into paradise – only that it will provide a useful step on the descent back to the stone age – a useful step that will help prevent a lot of carnage.

The whole issue of time is important too. I’ve often come away from peak oil discussions thinking that disaster is imminent and that panic was the only option available to me. According to what I had read in the past I had thought the crash would be a lot more advanced by now. It could be that the crash is preceding at a fast pace considering the history of human affairs but that in comparison to the time scale of my life it is quite slow. For this reason I recommend Steven Lagavulin’s Timeline for Unfolding Crisis of Mankind since it’s written by someone who understands well the operation of our current economic system.

Of course there is the whole issue of environmental collapse which has the potential to make peak oil irrelevant or at least of compartively minor importance. I’ve seen a little of the article* I mentioned in the last posting and although I knew my country was in denial about it’s clean green image I have to admit surprise at just how bad things are here. Once again I reiterate, if this stuff is making it into the mainstream (without the usual ‘balancing’ with industry funded viewpoints) then it really must be too late.

Sleep well everyone.


* Only shows the first two paragraphs


One comment

  1. Much of what I have read at both your site and the Hemmenway site, are immensely Americo-Centric. It is as if you have no idea of wha happens in the rest of the world. For example the Peak Oil problem is just part of te “perfect economic storm” that is on the way — the other is the Debt crisis, with the USA being kept afloat by China. And don’t believe that the Chinese, themselves don’t know about Peak Oil. Why did tey try to buy Unical? Why is China the biggest producer of wind farm technology nowadays?

    You mention Africa as if it is the basket case. It is true that the number of “failed states” in this region will increase, and the flux of ecological and economic refugees seeking to enter Western Europe will drastically escalate, but don’t forget Africa was the cradle of human kind. The “selection pressures” on Africa are going to be higher in the immediate future on Africa than anywhere else – and necessity is always te mother of invention.

    We are goind to see similar features in Latin America. The number of Latinos living in the USA is going to escalate. The paradoxical nature of “free market” economics preventing the free movement of the third factor of production (i.e. labour) is likely to be highlighted by these people.

    The USA is already the biggest slave nation on Earth. With 1% of your populaion already in prison, you have presided over the reintroduction of black slavery as privatised prisons offer manufacturers the chance to reduce wages to a minimim. Slavery is also reapearing in West Africa, where the trade in children leads to children being drowned when the slavers are “cornered”.

    And then you are already seeing the extension of te Sahara northwards into the Mediterranean, affecting Sicily and southern Spain first, Greece and te rest of Italy second. The collapse of global fishing is going to see countries like Japan and Taiwan having enormous difficultes feeding themselves.

    The collapse of the last of the colonial Empires – in Indonesia, and possibly India and China will see the rse of separatist movements there. Currently it is estimated that 1/3rd of nations have incpinet separatist movements.

    And for the USA, Johan Galtung has just identified 23 “systemic contradictions” in the US which cannot be resolved within the existing system. A systemic contradiction is one which can only be resolved by changing the system. Galtung was one of the few who successfully predicted the breakup of the Soviet Union within the decade of the 1980s. He won his wager. He has predicted the breakup of the USA by 2015.

    For the Earth

    Posted by: John Croft | 10/26/2006

    John did you post this to the right blog?

    I’m well aware of most of those issues you mention and they have nothing at all to do with this article. To be clear I was talking about a kind of myopia that the peak oil movement suffers from and in case it’s not clear from the article I don’t consider myself to be part of that movement.

    If you did mean to post this here then can I suggest that you are putting your own issues onto what I have to say. No where do I mention that I am from the USA and in fact if you followed the link where I talk about ‘my country’ you will see it goes to a New Zealand site

    Posted by: Aaron | 10/26/2006

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