I’m reading an article titled, The American Empire Meets Peak Oil, in the latest issue of Canadian Dimensions magazine and I’m getting depressed.
The article explains how the British Empire’s economic expansion, and I would imagine the Industrial Revolution, was fueled by coal. Much of the teeth of the British Empire was lost with the shift from coal to oil. Since the US had its own source of oil, after the Second World War, America really began to build its economic empire.
Today, just about everything in our economy depends on oil – manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, electricity, agriculture, transportation etc. Here’s a quote from the article: “Our vehicles, our roads, our cities, our power plants, our entire social organization has evolved on the promise of an endless supply of cheap oil.” Without oil, everything will eventually come to a grinding halt.
We’ve all heard that the world’s supply of oil is shrinking, but what most people don’t realize is that it is estimated that the world’s oil production will peak within the next ten years. If we intend to continue to live the standard of life we have been living, something’s gotta give.
Just today I was forwarded another article titled, 2006: The Year of Oil Collapse? which predicts the demise of the American economy. The writer explains that the reason for the recent housing boom is an attempt to strive for normality in an environment of increasing insecurity. He says despite these efforts, “fundamental comforts were what many Americans actually stand to lose in a reality-based future.” It is this, the inevitable loss of our fundamental comforts, which I find most distressing. Not just for myself, but for my children and their children.
I am reminded of a PBS program, Affluenza, which aired in 1998. The program describes Affluenza as:
1. The bloated, sluggish and unfulfilled feeling that results from efforts to keep up with the Jones. 2. An epidemic of stress, overwork, waste and indebtedness caused by dogged pursuit of the American Dream. 3. An unsustainable addiction to economic growth. 4. A television program that could change your life.
In essence, the show traces the history of consumerism in America and our obsession with having bigger, better and more. It cites the oil embrago of 1973-74 as a “wake-up call” for consumers and the genesis of the environmental movement. While we saw how the embargo of the 70s caused much economic turmoil, we tended to snicker at the environmentalists calling them “tree huggers” and branding them as anti-establishment throw backs to the days of incense and peppermint hippies.
For the past thirty years we have treated environmentalists with the same disdain as Chicken Little, dismissing their warnings as nothing more than, at best, hysteria and at worst an attempt to subvert the global economic agenda. Perhaps this explains why governments have not begun a vast endeavour to reduce consumer consumption, conserve oil and gas and develop viable and cost effective alternatives.
I don’t know about you, but I am scared. What will be our next “wake-up call” and what if we’ve already received it but have been hitting the “snooze” button for the last thirty years? As I see it, the sky IS falling.