Today I had a lunch interview with a friend. He is both a recruiter for a creative employment agency and a peak oil believer, so we had lots to talk about. I went into this lunch with positive feelings. I hoped my friend could understand my untapped skills and get me into a dreamy creative job. Instead, I got a harsh slice of reality: Every creative job has 100 applicants who are fully qualified. Don’t try to do something new in this economy.
After that unpleasant piece of advice, we went on to discuss our own experiences with coming to grips with peak oil. My friend mentioned his “peak moment,” when he fully realized what peak oil could mean for the future, and the overwhelming feeling of fear and helplessness that accompanied that realization. I wondered if we could ever expect the average American to have a peak moment before they were actually living through the transition from oil. Americans aren’t ones for accepting big scary change on the horizon. We’re far more likely to think of reasons why everything will be ok than we are to prepare for the worst. This has its up and down sides. Members of cultures that are fully in touch with the finiteness of security and happiness are more likely to live life to the fullest and put less priority on keeping up with the Joneses than Americans. On the other hand, being positive about the future keeps us getting up in the morning and going through the necessary motions of life. If more of us were having peak moments, there might be a run on Xanax, and more fatalistic thinking than the country really needs in this recession.
It then occurred to me that I have not yet had my own peak moment. It’s not that I’m fooling myself that the energy descent will immediately turn the country into a localvore utopia. I realize that now matter how well planned our transition, there will probably be some degree of lifestyle downgrades, food shortages, infrastructure collapse, and military violence over oil. If not me, my daughter will probably experience some of this fallout. But, at this point, it all seems so foggy and far away. I tend to focus on the interesting communications problem that peak oil presents, and the possibilities for a cleaner, more equitable world that could emerge from the transition. Is this typical sunshiney American thinking – the same kind of “why worry” thinking I’m trying to get people to challenge? It may well be, but I’m ok with that. My recruiter friend has just about given up on peak oil as a cause. He doesn’t see the point in trying to build awareness when we’re running full speed ahead into the energy descent with few signs of slowing. I feel like building awareness is the only way we can get people to prioritize a more sustainable energy plan for the future. Peak oil is an easy cause to burn out on and turn away from. We’ll never get anywhere if a few of us aren’t wearing rose-colored glassed.
To me, the most interesting thing about peak oil is the puzzle of communicating it to Americans. It’s an incredibly complex issue that involves economics, geology, global trade, agriculture, politics, and cultural patterns. Much of the peak oil story is speculation. Other than the gradual rise of gas prices, the repercussions of peak oil are not yet being felt by most people. The biggest challenge of all is American optimism toward the future. Most Americans, even many progressives, just don’t want to believe that the future isn’t going to be better than the present. Our quality of life has generally improved with the advancement of time and technology. Why should that change now? And how can Americans expend energy worrying about it when they currently have to worry about keeping their jobs in a recession and getting their kids to soccer on time.
For those who are new to peak oil, here are a few primers:
• Peak Oil Visually Explained on You Tube – A little old (2008) but easy to understand
• Peak Oil Graphically Explained by Transition Voice – More up to date and in depth
• Peak Oil Primer by The Oil Drum – Everything you want to know about peak oil
These are some great sources of facts – or what peak oil experts speculate is probable – but facts are often not the best way to build awareness. There are a lot of unpleasant possibilities in this story, and hitting people with them all at once is no way to get them to pay attention.
This dilemma got me thinking about sprinkling in a little peak oil into existing communication systems like it’s something everyone already knows about. My communication system of choice: pub trivia. This is my capstone project for my communications grad program: collaborate with trivia night hosts at several bars in Seattle, and use peak oil as a trivia category. My partner and I give a very brief, humorous presentation on peak oil before the competition. We get people to pay attention by telling them that the presentation will contain answers to some of the peak oil questions. These questions include topics like OPEC, Saudi Arabia, the oil industry, as well as specifics about peak oil. At the end of the competition, we pass out surveys asking participants if their awareness or interest in peak oil has been raised.
Here’s what I love about this idea. Pub trivia fans are a fresh audience – some may have heard of peak oil, but many have not. Also, they are coming to the event with their brains engaged. They are listening to the questions, discussing them with their team, listening to the answers, filling out a survey about the subject, and associating the whole experience with spending time with friends in a fun environment. I’m hoping this context will make peak oil stick in the participants minds more effectively than a Facebook post or a Mother Jones headline might. If we can get a handful of people to go home and Google peak oil, we’ve succeeded.
We’ve just launched this project, and I’ll be posting more about it in the next month here and on Facebook. This isn’t my only idea on combining peak oil with existing communication systems, but it’s the first I’ve put into practice. Wish me luck, and tell me what you think about the idea.
Today, I am, like many of you, pondering the life of Steve Jobs. We all knew his death was coming, but I didn’t expect the heartfelt loss I’m seeing in the news and on Facebook. It’s made me realize what an incredibly unique human being he was. He came up with his own vision of what technology should look like and how it should work, instead of catering to consumers demands. Amazingly, his vision was almost always better than ours, and we embraced it whole heartedly. Here’s a quote from Pierre Omidyar, founder of eBay, that I found on The Huffington Post today:
“Steve challenged the world to ‘think different,’ and he didn’t limit that to his company’s products. In a very real sense, thinking differently has the effect of expanding our world and our reach — our view of what we can accomplish. Steve expanded our world with technology, but he also showed us that thinking differently is indeed how we can change the world.”
So, here’s my question: can we make people think differently about the energy descent and our future the way Apple made people think differently about technology? New technology is related to our hopes and dreams for the future – they can both bring excitement and joy in the midst of our daily grinds. The difference is the novelty of technology wears off quickly, so we’re always ready for the next revolutionary thing. Our hopes for the future are much more precious. If we can’t hold hope that our daily grind will eventually bring us to a better future, what’s our motivation for getting up in the morning? In my opinion, this need for hopefulness is the biggest obstacle to people understanding and accepting peak oil.
If Steve Jobs was trying to tell America about peak oil, I think his first step would be redefining what a “better future” looks like. Again, this is a risky, tough sell. As Steve himself has proven, people love their material goods, not to mention their suburbs, their jet travel, and their produce from other hemispheres. But I think Steve would point out that there are plenty of things that our oil-driven culture has created that are making many of us miserable: social isolation, obesity, pollution, long commute times, weakened communities, and the offshoring of jobs, to name a few. Steve would say that the people who are the most affected by these problems will be the early adopters of a different version of “a better future.”
Early adopters are the trend setters – the people who stood in line for hours for the very first iPhone. These are the people who talk up new ideas to their social circles, and get the word out to the early majority. They get the ball rolling towards the tipping point of public acceptance. And they are the ones who must be compelled to change their way of thinking about the future first.
So, the next question is how do we reach the early adopters? Steve Jobs had an award-winning marketing team and an enormous budget. Peak oil has bloggers, book writers, and a handful of non-profits and think tanks. Can the peak oil innovators break through the noise of YouTube and Twitter with a low budget, mind-changing vision of the future? This is the communications puzzle that peak oil presents, and it’s one of my favorite things to think about and discuss. I’ll be posting my ideas on how to get the attention of potential early adopters of peak oil in future posts, and I hope you’ll post your thoughts as well. In the meantime, I’m still thinking about my appreciation for Steve Jobs. He showed us that it’s possible to get people to open their minds.
Somehow, it’s October already. I should know this, because I’ve got my first cold of the year. Bleah.
During a recent afternoon of convalescing on the couch, I came across an article in Time Magazine about how Jarden Corporation –producer of sporting goods, canning jars, sponges, matches, and lots of other stuff – is bringing back some of its manufacturing jobs from China. Reasons cited include rising wages in China and the high cost of marine fuel.
Interesting. I did a little web research and found this article on the CNNMoney site: Made (again) in the USA: The return of American manufacturing. Both Caterpillar and furniture producer Saunder are moving jobs back to the U.S., also because of rising wages and fuel costs. And then there’s this: “According to the report by Accenture, some 61% of manufacturing executives surveyed by the consultancy said they were considering more closely matching supply location with demand location by re-shoring manufacturing and supply.”
Wow. To me, this sounds like captains of industry making large-scale business decisions based, at least partially, on the energy descent. They might not have used that term, or peak oil, but the changes they made are not temporary, “let’s wait until oil goes back down” kind of changes. These executives realize that the rising cost of oil is an ongoing trend, and their practical actions towards localization speak louder than all the peak oil bloggers in the world. Economy-changing decisions are being made, based on peak oil.
Will these guys ever go on the record as people who believe in the energy descent? I doubt it, although I think it’s a missed opportunity for their companies to get a little feel-good PR. Whatever their reasons for re-shoring these jobs, it’s a decision that brings hope in the midst of the Great Recession. Outsourced jobs are coming back to America, less oil is being burned in the shipping process, and the localization of manufacturing plants makes the U.S. more resilient to soaring oil prices and global supply chain breakdowns like the Japanese earthquake in March. Why not publicize an eye towards a post-oil future? This is actually one of the good news stories.
It occurs to me that the title of this blog might make me sound like a bit of a peak oil fanatic. Let me dispel that right now. Being a fanatic usually means you’re not able to adjust your rationale when presented with new facts. From my view, no one holds an undisputable truth about how much oil is left in the world, when the actual peak is, or what our transition to alternative energies will look like. I’m open to new facts and theories. When I hear about new found oil and natural gas sources, I have mixed feelings. Yay! This buys us more time to transition! But also, boo! for the environmental damage caused by tar sands extraction and fracking.
Here’s my opinion on the timeline. We may start feeling the oil descent in five years, or it might be 20 years. Either way, the sooner we start talking about it, start truly accepting transition as part of our future, the less disruptive the transition will be for us and our kids. Saying that peak oil is debunked because we found some more oil (see last post) doesn’t make sense. New oil sources mean more time to transition, not that oil is suddenly going to last forever.
The trick is changing attitudes about our future. No easy task, especially for us stubborn Americans. We love our cars and planes and suburbs! Almost fanatically! The transition from fossil fuels will most certainly call for serious energy conservation measures, which means less freedom to commute 50 miles a day, fly to Cabo on a whim, or even (gasp) maintain the two-cars-per-family standard. The future’s supposed to bring us flying cars and a cure for cancer, not more time spent taking the bus!
So, how do we get people to tune in to this brave new world of transition? It’s got to start with small stories shared on a local, even personal level. One story that comes to mind is the Salish Sea Trading Cooperative. Their mission is to transport locally produced goods between the Olympic Peninsula and the Seattle area on sail boats. From their website: “Our goals are to conserve precious energy resources and re-introduce the idea of sail as everyday transport while building resiliency into our local foodshed.” While this service is not yet a necessity, it’s an appealing story because it shows that “old technology” can still be used for practical purposes. It’s a hopeful story of a small group of people taking some initiative and some small first steps towards community sustainability without waiting for the government or public sentiment to catch up.
Peak oil and transition plans are not about fanaticism. They are about building resiliency in the face of an unpredictable energy descent. Everyone should do their own research – google peak oil and you’ll be set for hours. But don’t just read the doom and gloomers (i.e. James Howard Kunstler and Michael Ruppert). Check out the Transition Towns movement too. There are non-fanatics out there who are creating their own stories that are worth your attention.
I read this in the Huffington Post today:
Yup, looks likes there’s still oil in them thar oceans. Mr. Learsy gets to do a little victory gig, since he’s known for years that peak oil is a farce. What bothers me is not so much that we’re finding new oil to drill. Yes, it’s more blowing off of our climate change issues, and with no mention of the far lower ratio of energy return on energy invested than we get with offshore drilling compared to oil fields.
What bothers me is this kind of article perpetuates our “why worry?” attitude. Yes, Raymond, there is still oil out there. It’s far more expensive to extract than the easily extractable Saudi stuff, which is almost gone, and demand in China and India is still soaring, but there is more oil out there. Here’s the thing: it’s still a finite resource. These new sources may buy us some time, but the transition will come eventually, no matter how much you mock the peak oilers.
Of course telling Americans that we should be smart and conservative with our new-found oil and use it to prepare for the transition is like telling the financially irresponsible not to buy a house in 2006. They’re not listening. Especially when the NY Times and the Wall Street Journal and even Huff Po are telling us everything’s going to be fine. Telling people that peak oil is bogus is incredibly irresponsible, because it’s a lie that everybody, even most liberals, want to believe.
Hi. I’m Sunny. Or, more recently, Peak Oil Girl. Maybe “girl” is a stretch. I’m actually a 30-something single mom, but I’m going for hip. Hip is not usually what you’ll find in a peak oil blog. Not that I’m dissing on my fellow peak oil bloggers. Their varying degrees of reality check are an important part of the conversation. But this blog will set a somewhat different tone.
Here’s the thing about oil: it’s a finite resource. Eventually, it will start to run out, and everything directly or indirectly depends on oil (pretty much everything) will be harder to produce and transport to all of us who currently take easily accessible food, pharmaceuticals, and consumer goods for granted. While this seems like an obvious problem that should be addressed sooner rather than later, most people and media sources are not talking about it, because we’re not yet feeling the pain. Rising gas prices can be explained away by the Arab Spring or fluctuations in the market.
The other peak oil blogs out there are great for providing post-oil predictions for our future and touting the need to prepare for the transition. They offer excellent content for veteran peak oilers, but for those new to the cause, I suspect the message is a bit overwhelming. Being told that our future and our children’s future is more likely to be about growing our own food than driving flying cars can come as quite a shock. It’s easy to turn our mental filters on high when presented with troubling news like that.
The purpose of this blog is to make peak oil a more tangible and approachable issue. It’s about how peak oil affects me, Sunny Monroe of Seattle, grad student of communications at Antioch University, mom to 7-year-old Sofie. Why does peak oil affect me more than all of you? It’s on my mind a lot. My capstone project is a study into new ways to spread awareness of peak oil. The dilemma of communicating this difficult, complex issue fascinates me. My dream job would be thinking up creative ways to get people talking about peak oil. I am also fascinated with the idea of transitioning to a non-oil dependent way of life. It is definitely a scary prospect, but it’s also science fiction come true. How many sci fi stories have I read about a society recreating itself after a crash? Think of all the things we could get right this time around.
And then, I think about Sofie. It’s quite likely that her generation will bear much of the burden of transition. The more my generation does to prepare for a future without oil, the easier the transition will be for hers. That’s an enormous motivator.
In these ways, peak oil is a part of my life. This blog will be about my perspectives and ideas on peak oil awareness, and how they affect me academically, professionally and personally. It’s also about my hopes for the future, my efforts to live a more sustainable life, and my attempts to create a little financial stability (i.e. get a job with my over-priced master’s degree so I can start paying off my financial aid debt.)
While I’ll be doing most of the talking in this space, I am also an adept listener. Please comment with (appropriate) abandon. My goal is to start a conversation.