Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Peak Oil and Peaks of Inspiration

Brace yourself. We’re in for a huge shock within a decade or two. The world’s production of will drop precipitously and prices will skyrocket, making the oil crisis of 1972 look trivial in retrospect. Transportation, , and manufacturing will become prohibitively expensive — especially for people in poorer countries. In rich countries, suburban people will start moving back to the cities and consuming local instead of imported products. Nobody can really predict the specific economic effects, but shortly after oil production peaks, watch out! Whereas there are possible alternatives to fossil fuels, they aren’t being developed fast enough. The is going to be traumatic.

This is not news. For a generation humankind has been exhausting, not only the planet’s fossil fuels but also its minerals, animals, plants, arable land, fisheries, and fresh water. In so doing we’ve air, land, and sea irreversibly.

As Jared has reminded us, several previous have become extinct from ignoring the limitations of their environment’s carrying capacity. The question is, will modern society be next?

Wonderful changes are within our grasp — innovations that can solve several problems at the same time. For example, if research and development focuses urgently on producing effective, substitutes for oil, we will simultaneously slow down global warming, enable Third World countries to meet their own economic needs, and remove the conditions that bring to power in oil-producing countries. By spreading democracy this will reduce terrorism and warfare. But such technological changes require urgent, intelligent action — which is not happening.

Were the Easter Islanders also in denial until the end? Were they as unperturbed as we are, watching their forests being cut down until every sapling was gone? Or did they hug trees, lobby their rulers, and stage Live 8 concerts to warn of the impending and to urge others to act?

If we intend to preserve our own civilization, we must take concerted collective action. There is a role for everyone — including people who feel that they are too small to make a difference. No normal grown-up human being is too small to contribute something.

Two human qualities are essential: and motivation. Neither, by itself, will suffice. First, we need the advice of genuine experts. Their information must be disseminated everywhere through the , the Internet, and in public discussions. We must spread that information, even to people who resist hearing it.

Second, we must care enough get up and do what needs to be done. Knowledge without an initiative to respond accomplishes nothing. Many smart, well-read individuals know the facts without becoming in any way whatever. But by itself, motivation is not enough either. Enthusiastic, committed, active, purposeful individuals may accomplish exactly the wrong things because they are misinformed or convinced of a faulty theory. Motivation and knowledge are both essential.

is a component of emotional maturation. It’s a sense of responsibility that most often comes from empathically observing other people who are dedicated to solving the world’s problems. Strong affection and admiration for others is a wellspring of motivation. Notice your own deep admiration of someone. It will be for a person who knows he makes a difference. Admiring him may inspire and challenge you to do something more difficult than you have attempted before.

Fortunately, even fictive friends can inspire and inform us. and writers are important in motivating us — whether we’re young or old, smart or average, popular or reclusive — to step forward boldly and do our part. So choose your stories thoughtfully.