The Monday Night Conversation

Every once in a while, it is good to sit back and review reader comments and emails...Monday evenings, we'll try to pick a couple of threads/ideas that are going through our comment/email boxes and expound on them.

(Also, if you want to contact us, or have a comment or a suggestion, please note the email address theoildrum{at}gmail{dot}com over in the sidebar.)

The sentiment I want to address tonight has come from a two or three emailers as well as a commenter a couple of posts back...and can best be summarized as:

"How about having some guest bloggers, one's that can talk about steps to move us forward from where we are now. There must be some very brilliant people out there that are involved in urban planning & renewable resources, and and other grass roots people out there that are pushing for more public transportation, sustainable development, etc.
You research is great, and your site deserves much more exposure. But somedays my glass is half full, and I'd like to hear some positive news. Or at least some positive ideas... Shit, I am thinking about bringing kids into this world soon."


Part of the long-term plan is to get some other bloggers on here to talk about energy alternatives and the many other issues involved with peak oil. We're working on that as we speak, actually.

However, I want you to remember that this is a tough and real topic that we must discuss and think through. Unfortunately, it's going to be a downer a lot of the time because of the facts. We try to add levity now and again, really...but it ain't all that easy.

The ideas are complex, the actors multiple and powerful, the ramifications so severe, that I have to be honest, some days, I just don't know if I can talk about this anymore. In fact, I remember the feeling you're experiencing quite well. Then I decided I had to try to tell people about it, and then I ran into HO, and hence this blog.

The other thing to remember is that public transportation, sustainable development, and all the things we very much advocate, are only going to be helpful if they are accomplished QUICKLY and enacted in a coordinated manner BEFORE our resources run out. If we wait too long to use what we have to build the bridge to non-petroleum based economy, then we're pretty fucking stupid.

(See, unfortunately, it's no fun realizing your future is likely fucked...or at least going to be very different.)

And that's exactly the case, unless we get all of the following (and rather quickly):

1. A few dozen technological breakthroughs,
2. Unprecedented political will and bipartisan cooperation,
3. Tremendous international collaboration,
4. Massive amounts of investment capital,
5. Fundamental reforms to the structure of the international banking
6. No interference from the oil-and-gas industries,
7. About 25-50 years of general peace and prosperity to retrofit the world's $45 trillion dollar per year economy, including transportation and telecommunications networks, manufacturing industries, agricultural systems, universities, hospitals, etc., to run on these new sources of energy,
8. A generation of engineers, scientists, and economists trained to run a global economy powered by new sources of energy.

(adopted and modified, but original from Matt Savinar)

Once you sit down and read through the references over in the toolbar and reflect on the state of things, your mind will likely be overwhelmed with the complexity, logic, and inevitability of this. (As I said above, mine is at times, I'll admit it.)

So, then, if you buy that peak oil is right around the corner (and the "when" is the big question, isn't it?), then in my opinion, the solutions must be viewed at two levels, one at the level of the individual, and second the level of government.

At the level of you, the individual, there are many things you can do to prepare for either a slow decline or a swift one. These include reducing debt and increasing you and your family's self-sufficency (in sustainable ways), including "getting yourself off the grid" energy-wise, but oh so many other things. Many of the alternatives are laid out by Matt Savinar here. Another great discussion forum that discusses this topic can be found here over at Yahoo Groups.

With regard to the government, and for that matter humanity, all you can do is inform others, including your lawmakers, that this is THE ONLY pressing issue of the day. This needed to be addressed ten years ago, not yesterday.

In my opinion, this issue precludes all other issues, because, in a petroleum-starved depression-laden economy, do you really think the poor and even middle class of our country will be worrying about liberties and rights as much as they will be worrying about jobs, food, and energy? I don't think so. Talk about a recipe for further corporatization of power!

In better words, our society's priorities are going to change dramatically unless we do something soon to avert this crisis and somehow find a "soft landing" for our society.

We can only do that if we get the word out.

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Whenever I think about this, I have no choice but to come to the conclusion that the people currently in power are simply hoping that they're going to die before the crisis hits. They want to make as much money as they can in their lifetimes, and they're breath-takingly indifferent about what's to come because they probably won't be here for it. And apparently they don't care about their offspring.

I would like nothing more than to move to rural Massachusetts and join a farming collective. But do I plan my life now for what's going to be a crisis in 15-20 years? It's a real Catch-22, because if I become an organic farmer now I have to leave behind the life I kind of like now, but if I don't start farming now, it may be too late to learn the skills later.

I guess the perfect solution would ultimately be to get a faculty position in a rural area and take up farming on the side as I go about my daily business now...

A major problem with hoping for a "technical breakthrough" is that our economic systems require ROI (return on investment). If there is no ROI, there is no venture going forward. Think about it. What is the ROI for a tsunami warning system? That is why there are no tsunami warning systems. When the large wave is approaching the beach, it is too late for the market systems to begin reacting.

Same is true for Peak Oil. Even if you had a technical answer --and Mother Nature is not kind to fools-- you still have to come up with a business plan that promises immediate ROI.

Alternatives to peak oil?

Hydro Power. and Electricity in general.

Two Engineering Guru's wrote a book on it, I read it and it makes sense. When was the last time you heard of anyone test crashing a fuel cell car? The ROI for it is too costly of a loss. The distribution system is in place- the Grid as bad and outdated as it is it can deliver energy to your home easily. Cheaper and safer than any other form.

The Bottomless Well

Ianqui: it is a tough call. how does one "prepare" for this, even if it's a slow decline? The psychology of it alone is quite daunting, let alone the skills needed...

Also, to Marvin and Stepback:
I agree that there are alternate rows to hoe and solutions to be implemented. I hope we can find 'em.

As I said though, I guess my main concern is that these alternatives all need to be coordinated and invested in NOW, if not ten years ago...not waiting until petroleum resources become scarce.

The alternatives are not cheap, and they will have implementation and scalability issues, no matter the means.

Imagine yourself standing on the beach. You spot a large wave building and coming in. According to calculations, its "peak" will hit in about 2-5 years. It will devastate the community.

You design a new kind of wall to help deflect its impact.

You go to the VC's (veture capitalists) and ask for funding. "What is the ROI and how soon can I cash out?" they ask.

You run to the politicians. "Will this get me re-elected and by what margins?" they ask.

You seek help from the church. "My son, G-d helps those who help themselves" is the consolation you receive.

The wave is drawing closer.

"Peak watchers" assemble on the beach to watch the "coming" of the predicted apocalypse. They are mesmerized by its size and magnitude. No one moves. It keeps coming.

"I'm not worried," says one. "If they can put a man on the moon, surely they can stop this thing." Another says, "I read something about hydrogen. By the way, what is hydrogen? I never was keen on science. It's not part of my life."

The wave ignores the noises in the wind. It keeps advancing.

SB, I fear you're more right than wrong...I'd like to think we might get a couple'a years with a flat slow decline, but it's sad that that's best case scenario.

It's a very daunting situation, no doubt about it. In my opinion, we have to teach people about peak oil AND about alternatives and natural gas and coal and nuclear and conservation and environmental issues. The worldwide energy production, delivery, and consumption infrastructure is so complex and intertwined that you have to look at the whole elephant or risk being one of the blind men describing an elephant as a snake or tree trunk or wall.

My way of contributing to this education need is The Cost of Energy,, an energy education web site I launched recently. It's still in an early state, but I'd greatly appreciate whatever comments Oil Drum readers care to make (see the Contact page on my site for an e-mail form).

I appreciate your psot on my comments. I agree that one of the first steps that we can take is to reduce our debt, and increase sustainability.

(For someone that just moved out of the NY metro area to upstate NY...)You'd be surprised how a simple little thing like seeing a few rows of peas that you planted spring up, or that you are separating out your compost from your waste can make you feel so happy.

Like anything else, baby steps I guess...