[tcrp-news] New York Times discovers peak oil
Tompkins County Relocalization Project
tcrp-news at lists.ibiblio.org
Sat Jun 5 22:19:44 EDT 2010
June 5, 2010
Imagining Life Without Oil, and Being Ready
By JOHN LELAND
As oil continued to pour into the Gulf of Mexico on a recent
Saturday, Jennifer Wilkerson spent three hours on the phone
talking about life after petroleum.
For Mrs. Wilkerson, 33, a moderate Democrat from Oakton, Va., who
designs computer interfaces, the spill reinforced what she had
been obsessing over for more than a year -- that oil use was
outstripping the world’s supply. She worried about what would come
after: maybe food shortages, a collapse of the economy, a
breakdown of civil order. Her call was part of a telephone course
about how to live through it all.
In bleak times, there is a boom in doom.
Americans have long been fascinated by disaster scenarios, from
the population explosion to the cold war to global warming. These
days the doomers, as Mrs. Wilkerson jokingly calls herself and
likeminded others, have a new focus: peak oil. They argue that oil
supplies peaked as early as 2008 and will decline rapidly, taking
the economy with them.
Located somewhere between the environmental movement and the
bunkered survivalists, the peak oil crowd is small but growing,
reaching from health food stores to Congress, where a Democrat and
a Republican formed a Congressional Peak Oil Caucus.
And they have been resourceful, sharing the concerns of other
"collapsitarians," including global debt and climate change --
both caused by overuse of diminishing oil supplies, they maintain.
Many people dispute the peak oil hypothesis, including Daniel
Yergin, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "The Prize: The Epic
Quest for Oil, Money and Power" and chairman of IHS Cambridge
Energy Research Associates, a company that advises governments and
industry. Mr. Yergin has argued that new technology continues to
bring more oil.
Andre Angelantoni is not taking that chance. In his home in San
Rafael, Calif., he has stocked food reserves in case an oil
squeeze prevents food from reaching market and has converted his
investments into gold and silver.
The effects of peak oil, including high energy prices, will not be
gentle, said Mr. Angelantoni, a Web designer whose company, Post
Peak Living, offers the telephone class and a handful of online
courses for life after a collapse.
"Our whole economy depends on greater and greater energy supplies,
and that just isn’t possible," he said. "I wish I could say we’ll
quietly accept having many millions of people unemployed, their
homes foreclosed. But it’s hard to see the whole country
transitioning to a low-energy future without people becoming
angry. There’s going to be quite a bit of social turmoil on the
Transition US, a British transplant that seeks to help towns brace
for life after oil, including a "population die-off" from
shortages of oil, food and medicine, now has 68 official chapters
around the country, since starting with just two in 2008. Group
projects range from community vegetable gardens to creating local
currency in case the national one crashes.
Bleak books like James Howard Kunstler’s "The Long Emergency:
Surviving the End of Oil, Climate Change, and Other Converging
Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century" and Richard Heinberg’s
"The Party’s Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies"
have sold 100,000 and 50,000 copies, respectively, according to
In Congress in 2005, Representative Roscoe G. Bartlett, Republican
of Maryland, and Senator Tom Udall, a New Mexico Democrat who was
a representative at the time, created the Congressional Peak Oil
Caucus. Web sites, online videos and numerous social networks
connect adherents in ways that would once have been impossible.
Mr. Angelantoni, 40, came to his concern about peak oil from an
interest in climate change, because he felt its impact would be
more precipitous. "The peak oil conversation is where the climate
change conversation was 20 years ago," he said. He distinguished
the peak oil crowd from the environmental movement. "The Sierra
Club tells people that if we use less energy, the underlying model
is sound," he said. "I don’t think that’s the case."
Like several people in the telephone class, he said his concern
with peak oil had strained his relationship with his spouse,
creating an "unbridgeable" distance between them.
"It’s very difficult for people to hear that this form of the
economy is breaking down," he said. "They think that because it
hasn’t happened yet that it won’t ever happen."
Mrs. Wilkerson has now read two dozen books about peak oil and
related topics. For a while, she became depressed at work and had
trouble discussing her feelings with her husband because the
conversations were so dire, she said. At work, her colleagues told
her directly "that they were tired of hearing about it," she
said. "They felt I was going to an extreme, thinking collapse was
going to happen."
She added, "I was ready to move out to the country and be an
organic farmer, but I learned that’s not the way to do it. You
need a community."
Despite the rapid growth of Transition US, the movement was much
easier to sell in England, said Raven Gray, who came to this
country to found a branch here. While Americans embrace doomsday
scenarios, they are less likely to work together on how to live
afterward, she said.
"There’s lot of apocalyptic people in environmental circles," she
said. "A lot of those people were outraged that we presented an
optimistic view of the future. There’s a dark vision driving us,
but we’re about moving toward a positive picture of what can be
For Mrs. Wilkerson, who is now growing vegetables in her kitchen,
the course, which cost $175, gave her encouragement to move in
"Whether or not collapse happens, being able to teach other people
to grow food so they can weather any adversity is a good
investment of my time," she said.
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