We are caught between the Scylla and Charybdis of climate change and peak oil. Once we pass the planetary oil production spike (when oil begins rapidly to deplete and demand outstrips supply), there will be less and less net energy available to humankind. Petroleum geologists reckon we will pass the world oil spike sometime between 2006 and 2010. It will take, argues peak-oil expert Richard Heinberg, a second world war effort if many of us are to come through this epoch. Not least because modern agribusiness puts hundreds of calories of fossil-fuel energy into the fields for each calorie of food energy produced.
Catch-22, of course, is that the very worst fate that could befall our species is the discovery of huge new reserves of oil, or even the burning into the sky of all the oil that's already known about, because the climate chaos that would unleash would make the mere collapse of industrial society a sideshow bagatelle. Therefore, since we've got to make the switch from oil anyway, why not do it now?
After talking in broad terms about some possible approaches to dealing with the crisis, he concludes:
To get from here to there we must talk about climate chaos in terms of what needs to be done for the survival of the species rather than where the debate is at now or what people are likely to countenance tomorrow morning.
If we are all still in denial about the radical changes coming - and all of us still are - there are sound geological reasons for our denial. We have lived in an era of cheap, abundant energy. There never has and never will again be consumption like we have known. The petroleum interval, this one-off historical blip, this freakish bonanza, has led us to believe that the impossible is possible, that people in northern industrial cities can have suntans in winter and eat apples in summer. But much as the petroleum bubble has got us out of the habit of accepting the existence of zero-sum physical realities, it's wise to remember that they never went away. You can either have capitalism or a habitable planet. One or the other, not both.
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