Leadership, Activism, Mancur Olson, Groups, Localism, and Conferences...

I've been doing a lot of thinking about activism these days...and the best ways to focus that activism to bring about a soft landing for our society in the face of the problems of peak oil. Individual action is all well-and-good, and we can conserve...but it is only going to be when we bring unified voices to bear on policy-makers that tangible changes are going to be made. How do we best do that? There are ideas floating around for courses of action such as demand destruction through tax increases and Heinberg's plan...but how do we best get government(s) to discuss the problems and implement solutions?

There are the obvious courses of action, of course. These being contacting your elected representatives, city planners, resource specialists, and the like...one, just to make them aware, and two, to see if anything has been pondered. (I have done some of that...and as I will post next week, the discussions have been interesting, but really only of any worth at the city and county level. But, I'll spend more time on that next week...).

The catch is that if these kinds of plans are only implemented in a few localities, they will not matter all that much in the grand scheme except for those involved in them. We need the federal government involved if there is going to be a national solution.

In many ways, however, federalism is going to stand in the way of innovation, I fear. If we wait for the federal government to do anything (as we have seen), it will be way too late because it will, at best, be terribly slow, deliberative, and incremental. Ergo, it seems to me that many of the policy-based solutions to this problem will be discovered locally, especially those where communities decide to move toward sustainability, and then germinate up to the state and federal level (I doubt even state-wide officials will take these problems seriously in the next two or three years, they face ridiculous budgetary constraints to do much of anything with the recent devolution of expenses away from DC back to the states).

Mancur Olson was right about a lot of things (and here's another good piece on his work as well), one of them being that large groups are problematic (think "herding cats") and are tough to get anything done in...the smaller the group the less likely free riders will exist, etc., etc.

There are already some groups forming. In seven days, it will be United Oil Awareness Day. Oil awareness meetup groups seem to be a good idea if you have the time and inclination and are proximate to one of these groups. It is also good to see local blogs on the topic of peak oil forming, such as PO-NYC and Oil Awareness-SF, to discuss these local solutions.

Even more importantly, however, I think from the leadership side of this movement, conferences are going to be the real key to discussion and development of ideas. So, I wanted to bring the upcoming Community Solution conference and the newly-formed ASPO-USA's conference to your attention.

If you're in Ohio (YS is just east of Dayton), you have to head to the Community Solution conference. Richard Heinberg and Mike Shuman are the featured speakers...and it's 9/23-25.

If you're around Denver, Colorado, ASPO-USA is holding a high-level conference to discuss the impacts of a peak in world oil production, November 10-11, 2005. Keynote speakers include Matt Simmons, author of Twilight in the Desert, a study of Saudi Arabia's petroleum resources, and Congressman Roscoe Bartlett, (R-Md.; invited).

(Yes, these cost money. Yes, there's usually going to be a membership fee in addition to a registration fee. But, yes...this is the price the organization must charge in order to put these things together and bring in the leading voices.)

In the end, leadership is going to matter. Local efforts are going to matter. However, it is only when both of these parts form a cohesive whole will the voices be strong enough to actually change public policy...and we might have a chance of changing our policies in time to change the course of history, even just a little bit.

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Would it help for there to be concrete steps that anyone or any organization or political entity might take? I think every person needs an "energy policy", which is a plan to address the POSSIBILITY of Peak Oil (in other words, you don't have to believe in it 100%, you only need to be cautious). I think also each town, city, state, etc. needs such a policy.

This line of thinking leads right away to some exercises. One point that jumps out at me is that such a policy depends totally on how one thinks PO will play out - whether economic consequences will be sudden and steep, trapping lots of people, or gradual with lots of plateaus. For example, if I live in suburbia and have a great job where two Interstates meet, do I sell my house and quit my job today? Probably not - there is too much to lose. But if things develop so that PO is much more certain and its effects are clearly dangerous, that might change my thinking. So suppose I make up a "personal energy policy worksheet" where you check off your degree of fear and how deeply you are committed to your current situation, and it tells you what you can (and perhaps should) do now. (Suggestions for a range of

Two points to note:
1. If you can just get a person to take PO seriously enough to go through a worksheet like the above, you've made that person take PO seriously. The person will peek at suggestions made to people who are more concerned.
2. One's commitment to the current situation (e.g. suburbanite) will definitely affect the level of acceptance of PO - we've talked about denial.

One obvious point of leverage at the local level would be to get local environmental groups that are presently engaged in fighting sprawl on board. If nothing else, it's another arrow for their quiver against exurban and suburban fringe development. Getting them to speak up in city/county council meeting and planning commission hearings would help foster local awareness and discussion of the issue.

Road expansion/construction projects would be a prime target. Most of these projects are funded with bonds paid back over 20 years or so. If you think we are going to see PO within 20 years, it is patently stupid to tie up your public financial resources in paying off these bonds. Light rail, for example, would be a much wiser investment.

For anyone in Maryland reading this, think Inter-County Connector (ICC)!

We only have to look at what the Federal government thinks of California's attempt to see where the Federal governments 'solution will lead us.

What about contacting journalists? They are the gatekeepers, so to speak, and they can reach the masses. I've had some success informing them and the results were quite good.

Many people haven't even heard about the peak oil problem, and that includes many, many journalists. Inform them about the issues and you most probably inform the public, too.

Hi, New Here - I like the idea of contacting journalists. I have written emails to the ombudsman at the local (biggish city) paper. What do you do, find out who is covering what and call them in person, ask to meet, and so on?
I had thought of writing short summaries of the several books I have read, offering them to [who knows who]. Might this be useful? I would like to be much more successful locally, with my big city local paper.

When approaching a news reporter, you face a higher barrier of skepticism than when approaching a lay person.

News reporters are wary that people want to "use them".
News reporters are bombarded with information coming in from all sources all the time.
News reporters run into way too many kooks.
News reporters have shorter attention spans than do lay people because of problems 1-3 above.

So before you even open your mouth to a reporter, you have to have your 10 second elevator pitch well honed.

What are the first 5 words that come out of your mouth?

They better be really good, because after that the reporter will have turned down the volume and stopped listening.

They better "frame" the issue just right. Everything that follows is based on the opening frame.

Mr. Reporter, excuse me, are you aware of the permanantly expanding oil gap crisis?

The wha ???

Yes, it is a permanent crisis that is not going away.
A growing gap between the amount of oil we need each day and the amount we can get our hands on at a viable price. ....

The exact words are not important
But you need to quickly establish that this is *permanent* crisis that is not going away
You need to quickly establish that it is about a relative gap ... between demand and supply *rate* curves

If you get hung up on *when* the peak will occur, you will have been diverted into a meaningless alley way. There is no point in debating over exactly when, down to the microsecond, the peak will happen. The point is that we are at the start of an ever-widening gap and most politicians do not understand why that leads to disaster. The markets cannot compensate. There is no substitute liquid that can be used in transportation for packing as much punch per unit volume as can oil. Those first class flights on fuel guzzling jumbo jets are over, both for the reporter and the politicians and the rest of us little people. ....

Maybe now you got his attention.

Keeping a blog is a great way to become a source for journalists. There are two angles:
* having a local news hook -- work on local and state policy from a peak oil angle, and then keep them informed
* become a source for the national media, by providing good blog coverage and sending them tips.
The key is to provide news and analysis.

see http://www.savemuniwireless.org as an example of this approach on an unrelated issue -- that's a Texas-based group that helped fend off a ban on city support for broadband access. By covering the state story, we became a source for mainstream media covering the story.

What kinds of local action would be most effective? Would it be possible to create materials for several sorts of campaigns, and then network people who were running similar campaigns in different cities/states? How does this overlap with existing groups and policy initiatives?

Another approach is that of doing a journalistic piece that focuses on the human interest story behind the scenes rather than on the technical topic itself. Example:

Peak Oil Bloggers, What Flames Their Fires?

"When I first heard of Peak Oil," explains Professor Goose, "it sounded like a bad joke. Now I run a 24/7 blog on the topic. How did I get so hooked? ...." story continues on page B4 ....

The problem with Olsen's critique is, given the free-rider issue, why people actually get togther in groups and try and improve something. I think it is passion- something economists cant count and therefore overlook. We who are passionate about PO problem need to do all of the following:
i) join a group
ii) write letters/blogs/phone radio stations
iii) contact politicians
iv) take action overselves
v) get angry at lack of government action.

I suggest that we should get Professor goose to punch Daniel yergin on his snout- that will give us 15 mins of publicity. :)

Ive given up, thrown in the towel on tring to get the Peak Oil word out. After attempt after attemp and being made into a clown...i just anymore play the guy..."ohh i wonder why gas is going up...Or NG in the winter...
I honestly think the only thing that will wake people up is when they stand in a bread line.

Many of us have encountered the exact same problem.
We live in an information overload age.
The average person is inundated with advertisements and information sources that test his or her intake bandwidth to the max.

That is why newspaper stories have catchy headlines.
If you do not get through to the reader (or listener) with the first couple of words, you lose out completely.

That is why it is so important to structure the opening couple of words with great care.

1) The opening line has to be targeted to your specific audience, to get their attention.

Not to be stereotypical, but most women for example will respond to trigger words that men do not respond to and vise versa. Feign a threat to a mother's children or family and she will immediately go into high attention state. Why do you think politicians always threaten to shut down the schools if they do not get more tax money? Duh. They are threatening education. Education equals kids. When PTO moms (soccer moms) hear this, they go into instant rage. It's an old and tired game played by politicians --the same ones that kiss babies during elections.

When you talk to Joe Sixpack, you might try feigning an attack on his sense of command and control. Yo Joe, without fast flow of oil you may not be able to *preserve and protect* your way of life. You will not be able to *provide* for you family. (Joe is not interested in "nurturing" kids. But talk about providing, preserving and protecting and suddenly the stag in the deer herd has his ears perked up. Are you talking to me pal? Are you threatening me and my herd buddy? Bring it on.)

2) The opening salvo also has to frame the major issue succinctly rather than allowing extraneous words to enter for diversionary debate down a side stream. That is why I personally do not like the "Peak Oil" moniker. The "peak" by itself is of no consequence. It is the combination of growing demand rate and dwindling supply rate (the down slope) that creates a Growing Oil Flow Gap --a permanently expanding gap in a vital economic fluid for which there is no substitute.

That is the message we need to push. (IMHO)

Its going to take a real crisis, IMHO, before your average citizen or politician takes any real action.. But the question is will that be too late to make the difference between survival or resolving the issues of PO!! I don't know!!

I email my congressman about Peak oil and ask him what he thought obout Mr Bartlett's speech before congress.. I received no reply.. Perhaps I'll try it again today!!

These are very good questions. We're up against something bigger and badder than peak oil itself, of which peak oil is just a symptom: a whole way of experiencing and interpreting the world. You can't challenge people's perceptions of reality head-on: there's all sorts of natural 'immune' systems in the human mind, all there for good reason.

Step back, you have some interesting ideas... tried them yet?

When I was little we called all this the 'energy gap', and every light switch in the country had a little 'save it!' sticker on it. Nuclear power was going to save us, along with sweet little cars all bundled with the newest technology and a compost heap in every garden. In the UK we were woken up to the possiblities by a monstrous drought, a plague of ladybirds (ladybugs) and the guys in the power stations turning off the lights just cos they felt like it.

And then it all just kind of went away... and here we are again.

Why don't we just call it the Oil Gap?

Showing a reporter or ombudsman what other papers have published (e.g., by including links in an email) may also help. Reporters seem to love to steal story ideas from each other.

I think Oil gap is a great way to frame it. Peak Oil causes a permanent gap that causes prices to increase continuously - which they have been since 1999.

How about everyone starts participating in other blogs about random issues (that you are interested in), then after 1-2 weeks after you have established that you are not a complete freak and one tracked mind about peak oil or oil gap, then you post a link to something peak oil -ish and then steadily up your volume on the issue. Going in screaming is not going to help.

One small suggestion: I think it might be wise to stop calling ordinary people morons or Joe Sixpack because none of us here, as far as I know, are so all-knowing that a little bit of humility might not go amiss. PO advocates should forget about feeling superior just because they are more "in the know". Many people here seem to work in academia or in quite hi-tech jobs but it's those ordinary people who keep things ticking over... so can I make a small plea to treat everyone with at least some respect?

I have worked with all kinds of people over forty plus years. On a good day, I refer to them as Eloi, on a cloudy day they are LIUPs ... lazy, ignorant, unscrupulious people. Calling them a sixpack is as accurate as any name and nicer than most. Joe sixpack is responsible for the bums being elected and re-elected for the last fifty years.

The posters and lurkers here at the Oil Drum are NOT joe sixpacks. What would the ratio of PO ers and the Eloi be ???
Say 1 to 10,000 maybe and this after five or more years of heavy discussion on the internet.

Between the LIUP's habits and the superstraw depletion of oil, the future for the usa looks like the Olduvia gorge within ten years.

Keep on posting, don't let a few names stop you. Please help change my mind.


Philip Martin you are so right.

Thank you.

Like every other Joe Sixpack I get habitutated into using certain code words and then do not realize I'm doing it. We need to come up with an esteem preserving language because "they who do not yet know" are not dummies. They are simply living their lives --as best as they can under the observed circumstances.

Yeh I thought about just saying OG (Oil Gap).
It would have been sweet if the message could be more compactly wrapped into 2 words. But OG does not get the message across about the permanance of the thing, and OG does not include any brain candy.

What is brain candy?
Close you eyes and listen to these phrases: "Love Life", "Compassionate Conservative", "Terrorrrrrrrrr ism".

Do you see? There is a resonant pattern inside each of them.

The human brain is not a one thing.
It likes to be fed candy.
It has many things all running around at once inside.

One of the things we have running (executing for you computer programmers out there) in our heads are these pattern detecting creatures. They get very happy when they spot a pattern. For them, finding the pattern, connecting the dots in whatever realm they dwell in, is reward by itself. It is candy.

You can understand why it is evolution-wise advantageous to have parallel-processing pattern detectors excuting in background mode in one's head. Oh oh, a series of stripes. Is that a tiger? Attention other creatures, attention, we may have a Houston problem here.

So the creatures in your head that tune in on phonetic patterns like lots o' alliteration or simple sound repetition. The creatures that focus in on visual patterns like visual pattern puzzles with easy solutions. Connect the dots. Fill in the gaps. Here is an example: "Kohl Coalition" is not visually symmetrical. "Coal Coalition" is. They both sound the same, but one is more asthetically pleasing than the other. (The spelling bee creature likes the 2nd one too. two?)

OK. I sound crazy now.
Seeing is believeing (or is it?)
Pay close attention to TV commercials.
Are they feeding you brain candy?
Be Brilliant.
Be Powerful.
Be an E-trader.
All will bow before you.
--This is a real commercial I spotted the other day on the squawking chicken show (US stock markets TV show). Do you hear it and see it?
Can you catch the candy inside the commercials you watch regularly?

Now that you know about crainal candy, you are probably starting to feel a bit disturbed. Just give your head time to absorb it.

We are not who we think we are.

I know. You are angry (pissed) at me for the peppered propositions sprinkled inside this very set of mixed messages. It's all fair and unbalanced. Don't tilt over in the spin zone because of this. Breathe slowly.

Growing Oil Outsourcing Gap ? (The GOOG prob-Lem )

How does that sound? look? feel? resonate? abstract-tinate?
Should we switch it around? Say GOOG probLemmo first?

We need a group response because one person alone does not a focus group make.

George, i tend to agree with your observations. Most people as long as they have some comforts in life do indeed fall into the LIUP's in the political , geo, social and towns realm. . In history during deppresions or hard times they tend to be not as LIUP in those areas...ie geo "why are we invading Iraq?", towns 'whats going on next door?" social "why so many prisons, why the millions of illegal alliens?" Politics as said above near all the politicians of the West have been crooks and lovers of theirselves more then their nations for the past 50 yrs. i think people on the downslope of the bell will pay more attention to these iteams....but mixed with strife and anger.
This is a good talk on peak oil.com about the PO perfect storm I tend to agree> http://www.peakoil.com/fortopic1514.html
Olduvia...next 10 yrs?? I'm mixed on that. Depends on so many factors. I think 1 of the big factors will be how fast the world oil fields decline...a 2% a year or maybe 7+% a year? The oldovia Theory has a steep decline and a Huge drop in the standard of life and living. 10 years seems ..unlikely but of course maybe this will only be the powerouts, and the drop in crop yeilds ect?? Anyway i'm 30 yrs old i'll be seeing the Oldovia Theory...if I live to be 70..That will be 2045 wow imagine what the world will look like by then....?
Yeah I dont really talk much about Peak Oil anymore. Prime ex. Last week a few middleclass people stoped by the home..they have a comfortable life...nice cars, home in the booneys but a nice home. i slipped in the 'gas sure is high" "oil is now over $60 and some economist think $100 by 2010" 'I read A congressman from the USA talk about oil depletion ect.." Well about two minutes later their talk was about the next purshare of some material iteam of insignificance.
One note one good thing about preparing for peak oil. I made a batch of beer 3 weeks ago I am enjoying one right now...Home made! Taste like a Malt beer for some odd reason...but hey its mine ;-)

George and SlickSi

We are all Joe Sixpacks

We are all bombarded by too much shit flying at our heads

What makes us sit up and pay attention?

Whats in a name ...

just brainstorming

Tight Oil Supply Situation - we can TOSS away our kids' future or we can change .

Systemic Petrolium Energy Crisis - we risk reducing our civiilization to a SPEC of what it was.

I should spent some serious time on this. Could probably come up with something catchy given enough attempts ;)

"What's in a name?" is exactly the problem.
It is not an easy problem.
Words decode differently in each person's mind.

So to find a sound string that slings mixed messages simultaneously into all the key parts of the mind --and gets a meaningful message across-- to many different kinds of people; is a hard hard thing to do.

(Just heard a cute one line opener on the boob tube: "Do you have the passion for fashion?" It was an ad for some type of fashion school. A cute attention capturing gimmick. Rings home the point)

GOO GaP (Growing Outsourced Oil Gap Problem) ????

yeh, I know, it's too childish

keep trying

collectively we might come up with something ...

Hehe .. I totally understand that "What's in a name" gets to the very heart of it - i was being facetious ... Its about striking those chord's in our psyche, and as has been stated, people respond differently to different words in different ways, and also those responses change over time as an individual's perception changes as well as the general use of certain words in our society.

Shit, 5 years ago Terrorism didnt mean the same thing (at least, no to me).

Perhaps some kind of attempt at doing focus groups with some of the proposed terms would yield interesting results. Asking people off the street what they get out of the different terms, how the terms make them feel. "Peak Oil" should be included as a control.

hrmm .. Looming Oil Production Shortfall (LOPS). Or something like that ... A LOPSided approach -- focussing on only short term gains is a very dangerous path to take.

But I suppose in the end an acronym is probably not that great anyways. Passion for Fasion has that 'sound' to it, coupled with the emotional response.

Maybe we're reaching a fatal "Consumption Junction"? Not sure how to involve the emotional aspect since the issue is so complex for most people and the fallout of it will affect so many aspects of our lives ... but you can't just say that this situation is going to 'wreck all your plans for the future' or something. Hrmm is there a word for 'wreck all your plans for the future'? Its an Oil Uncertainty Emergency!

I dunno. Will continue to brainstorm intermittently.

The LOPSided fall of Civilization
The Perilous Petro Plunge

sounds like we are going for a roller coaster ride --interesting imagery