I nowadays feel as if I'm a passenger on the Titanic who knows about the fatal iceberg dead ahead, but who is too polite to bring up the dreadful subject at dinner. The usual questions arise each time a new venue for disseminating the word about peak oil presents itself: Who will believe it? Will I be considered a kook? If I get beyond the disbelief, what will I offer as solutions--for people will surely want ready-made solutions? How can I steer a course between creating hopelessness and soft-pedaling the problem in a way that fails to arouse concern? Worst of all, will I be considered a killjoy who has ruined a perfectly good evening out with friends?
Over the weekend I attended a surprise 50th anniversary party for relatives. The final leg of the drive there was deep into a rural landscape which is quickly being transformed into subdivision after subdivision. I couldn't help thinking about whether 10 or 20 years from now the grand new brick, mansion-like homes would be abandoned because they are only accessible by automobile--a mode of transport without a future in the post-peak-oil age. All I could see was the tremendous amount energy needed to maintain this sprawled out way of life--the gasoline for the cars (usually two or three of them in each driveway), the air-conditioning and heat for the capacious homes, the electricity for pumping the water and running the automatic sprinklers, the energy needed for the endless gadgets inside each house, and the fuel for the mail trucks, the service vehicles, and especially, for the heavy machinery that is needed to clear and maintain the roads leading up to these subdivisions. I said nothing at all about this at the party. It would have ruined the mood, and it's just one man's view anyway.
A couple days later I felt quite comfortable in my downtown neighborhood as I met with neighbors to discuss possible zoning restrictions for our historic district. Perhaps this city life is not sustainable in the very long run, but it seems more likely to survive the coming oil crunch. To defend my neighborhood and improve it does not pull me into two halves.
There are times when I feel myself floating above the absurdities of our oil drenched civilization--the Hummers, the pounding car stereos, the endless traffic, the hypercaffeinated, 24-hour, ad-filled world that seems to say that this consumer paradise can only get bigger and better. I am secretly comforted by my not-so-certain belief that it will all be swept away. The day-to-day blather of politicians and pundits bothers me almost not at all; it seems largely irrelevant. I judge the public's unease to be genuine. If only they knew what they really ought to be uneasy about.
Then, out comes a forecast from the world's foremost oil forecasting firm assuring us we have nothing to worry about. The marketplace will take care of oil supplies and bring us substitutes just when we need them like an attentive waiter in an expensive restaurant.
Am I crazy? Am I missing something? Everyone around me seems to be living in a different reality. I'm the one who's out of step with the world's smartest oil experts. But, wait a minute! Should we really play at this prediction game as if it were only a contest about who's right?
No, I say. There is too much at stake. There are many things we can and should do that are good ideas no matter what our energy future holds. The two realities I've been juggling meld into one again, and I return to my work.
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