Sunday, June 26, 2005

The Politics of Survival

It is a sign of the times that a former energy analyst turned radical advocate for depaving the world would be quoted on the floor of the U. S. House of Representatives by a self-described "very conservative Republican" congressman while the congressman lectured the country about the dangers of world peak oil production. Just so you don't think this was a fluke, I give you exhibit number two: An investment banker who specializes in energy--a Bush supporter and former campaign advisor on energy--recently wrote a piece about the impending Saudi oil shock for Counterpunch, a left-wing, muckraking newsletter that is proud of its "radical attitude" and its freedom from corporate influence.

What we are witnessing is the collapse of the politics of left and right and the replacement of those politics with what I call the politics of survival. Those who come to understand the gravity of our energy situation quickly abandon their previous political views and instead focus pragmatically on how we can make a successful energy transition. They do so because they know the cost of failure is too high a price to pay for ideology. In the politics of survival ideology counts for almost nothing. Pragmatic plans count for everything.

I was recently contacted by a local elected official who asked me to set up a customized version of my "Oil Famine" short-course for a group of government officials from my county. I knew going in that the two of us were on opposite ends of the political spectrum. As I spoke to him, I realized that all he wanted to ascertain was whether I could effectively bring the message of peak oil and its possible consequences to the officeholders he had in mind. My political leanings didn't matter.

Such is the power of understanding an obvious and basic, but infrequently discerned truth, namely, that there are limits to resources and that those limits are approaching. This understanding can create instant focus and solidarity in a way I have never before seen. It is what allows me to remain hopeful. If enough people understand what we are really facing--not only in the area of energy, but also in the areas of global warming and water and soil depletion--we have a chance of embracing the politics of survival in enough places in the world to make a difference. I admit that this kind of change remains a long shot. But, so far as I can tell, it's the only shot we've got.

(Comments are open to all. See the list of environmental blogs on my sidebar.)


Liz Logan said...

This is good news. And I suppose that we can help this process along by writing our representatives. Keep us posted on this trend. ~Liz

Anonymous said...

You continue to make me feel you are picking my brain. As a staunch right winger I find the peak oil issue to be the few arenas i have bridged the gap between myself and my leftist friends. The politics of survival, I like the term, is stronger than either. We still may run out of time before the numbers get high enough, but it is promising that people who tend to argue about everything else can seem to coalesce on this issue.

Roy Smith said...

This is perhaps the most promising piece of news related to Peak Oil that I have seen in weeks.

Anonymous said...

The question is how to move The Politics of Survival to a tipping point? Paul Revere succeeded in getting his warnings heard, how should pragmatic Peakniks help make this optimistic trend better than a long shot?

In terms of pragmatic Economics to help frame everything in, has anyone seen better than 'Not by Money Alone. Economics as Nature Intended' the book ASPO's Colin Campbell has been so impressed by?

Prof. Goose said...

This is a really great post...and it gave me a twinkle of hope as well...

...but as an observer of our political system, it seems to me that the only way that we can get to the politics of survival is to have political involvement, activism, and efficacy enough that people get involved in this issue and STAY involved.

this will take grass roots movements in red states, blue states...and the only way one creates grass roots movements is with information and working to put together local networks/talking to people about the problem.

Anonymous said...

When I read the "politics of Survival" I spontaniously thought of the word "dictatorship".

What if, the resource fall makes people starve, not in tiny controlable numbers but in hoards?

Who can control a mass of starving people without resources?

My guess is that when we have no room (resources) for making left or right politics, we basically have a dictatorship. This might even become reality even before people are starting to starve.

A dictatorship that decides who dies and who get the resources to survive.

Hopefully Im terribly wrong, but the history doesnt make me beleive in sudden change for "solidarity".

Instead I see strong leaders rising fighting each other both in words and weapons.

As someone said to me, "your are good to people as long you can afford it.. "

Perhaps, in the future, in order for humanity to survive millions even billions must die. I dont think nature itself will do this "in orderly fashion".. I guess we will have much to do with it.

When the dust has settled the "tiny" fraction of civilization ((probably 1 billion people or more) ) that is left found itself on a dying planet trapped forever beneath its sky.

We will get what we deserve. ;)

Anonymous said...

The really good news would be a consensus that not only is oil going to get expensive but that the end of cheap energy would be a really bad thing.

Kunstler, for instance, has a very idealized view of a way of life that really has a lot of ugly downsides. People flock to the big box stores for a reason. They leave their "local economy" towns as soon as they're of legal age for a reason. They deliberately avoid those "closer ties" and embrace more individuality and anonymity for a reason.

If you take a look at all the good things that cheap energy made possible, and the things that cheap energy could have made possible except for overregulation, you will see that (a) cheap energy is extremely valuable in our goal to have a decent life for ourselves and (b) known, proven sources of cheap energy such as nuclear and coal are well worth any risks and downsides that may be associated with them - I'll gladly take a tiny risk of meltdown or a worsening of the weather in exchange for never, ever having to live in one of Kunstler's "local economies" or put up with "closer ties" with neighbors and employers that I can't escape from.

And cheap energy is the only way off-planet, and off planet there's more energy than we could use in a thousand years even if we bred like rabbits.

Anonymous said...

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