Fear of Losing Immortality

There's something I've been pondering for a long time about the reluctance of the collective conscience, particularly in the US, to accept the implications of peak oil theory. It's there, just below the surface, but drives many the various psychological defense mechanisms that people have built up.

It's the general philosophy that we as a species are above and apart from nature. It's found in many religions. It's definitely found in Star Trek. It's a pillar of both Communism and Capitalism. It's the universal idea that we are special, our superior brains separate us from the biosphere we inhabit. That we can transcend any traditional limits that nature sets for a species. That through ever greater technological innovation our species can continue to expand its size and consumption levels indefinitely into the future.  

We have accepted this philosophy because the alternative is to deny our immortality. To accept the idea that humans could be subject to the same natural forces and limits as all other species of plant and animal on the planet - the idea that we are not special, except in our own eyes.

This is the central conflict between those who want to work toward a sustainable ecological balance and those who want to continue to delude themselves that humans can continue to extract ever greater demands on the natural environment. It's also a deeper insight into the implications of Darwin's Theory of evolution.

Today's NY Times editorial page, recounts the reaction that the poet Alfred Tennyson had to Darwin's theory in 1868, 9 years after "The Origin of Species" was published.

"What I want," he later told a friend, "is an assurance of immortality."

This was an astute remark. Many of Darwin's readers, then and now, have tried to find ways to reconcile a divine creator with the clearly secular implications of Darwin's theory of evolution. As often as not, the effort is less a search for a first cause than a plea for assurances of immortality. Tennyson recognized that Darwin's "On the Origin of Species," which was published in 1859, offered no such promises.

What bothered Tennyson wasn't merely the possible loss of eternity. It was also the central observation that underlies Darwin's theory: the fact, first noticed by Malthus, that every species on the planet, including humans, produces far more offspring in each generation than nature can support. Coming as late as we do - nearly a century and a half after Darwin's "Origin" - we have the luxury of seeing at a glance what Darwin saw: that the pressure of so much excess population is a harsh but efficient test of the value of accidental variations in any species.

While this was a revolution in thinking at the time, the underlying implications of Darwin's theories for mankind were never really dealt with. Which is why restating Darwin's original ideas on the limits to growth never been more relevant:

The new exhibition called "Darwin" at the American Museum of Natural History portrays the making of the man and the scientist, and it reminds us how well and how fully evolution explains the life around us. It also captures the way Darwin's theory opened an entirely new window in the human imagination.

It is possible to say, in fact, that humans did not begin to understand their place in nature until 1859. I found myself wondering, oddly, what it must have been like to be alive at such a revolutionary moment. But we live in a moment that is no less revolutionary. "Our ignorance of the laws of variation is profound," Darwin wrote. In our time - the DNA era - the mechanisms of those laws have been revealed in ways that Darwin could only dream of, and in ways that confirm the essentials of his theory beyond a shadow of a doubt.

It reminds me that while the industrial revolution changed a lot about how we interact with the natural world, our pre-industrial ancestors would in general share our view that humans are above the natural world. From the exhibit itself, we can understand more about how pre-Darwin England viewed the natural world:

Before Darwin was born, most people in England accepted certain ideas about the natural world as given. Species were not linked in a single "family tree." They were unconnected, unrelated and unchanged since the moment of their creation. And Earth itself was thought to be so young--perhaps only 6,000 years old--that there would not have been time for species to change. In any case, people were not part of the natural world; they were above and outside it.

The original source for this philosophy can be traced back to something that Jews, Christians and Muslims all have in their philosophical underpinnings, Genesis 1:28:

Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

I find this biblical passage absolutely fascinating. Being fruitful and multiplying is not a uniquely human attribute. All species on the planet are born with a genetic directive to multiply as much as possible. However, I think the key point of this ancient text is that because we as a species are mentally (and therefore technologically) superior to all other forms of life, and because we will have the same genetic drive to reproduce we have a responsibility to replenish the environment around us instead of simply extracting resources from it.

It is a time to take responsibility. A time to heal. A time for replenishment. Turn, Turn, Turn.

Of course you humans are going to overshoot and drop over into the die-off plunge beyond the peak's ledge.

It is only WE LEMMINGS who are immortal and superior.

Understanding the tree of "no ledge" is a good first step for your species. Maybe there is hope for your f-ledgling kind. We will put in a good word for you with the Captain of the Star Trek Armada.

peakguy, your point of view is just as religious as the view your are criticizing. People who regard science, technology and the human imagination as a problem can hardly be regarded as champions of reason standing against religious superstition. Saying "let's return to a sustainable, medieval lifestyle and nurture Mother Earth" is the mark of a deeply religious conservative.

Your view is very similar to the "flat earthers" who opposed/feared Columbus' voyage. If you were living in that time, you would have been one of those saying: "Let's not delude ourselves with cornucopian nonsense about other continents."


The difference between what I am writing and religion is that religion requires "faith". I do not take peak oil as gospel. In fact I am completely willing to be convinced with scienific logic and facts that our current lifestyle is sustainable, but so far everything that I read negates that thesis. My interest in peak oil began when I realized that all the data floated around about oil reserves  and output was not confirmed on a well by well basis. I simply don't trust data that is based on faith that the Saudis and Iranians, et al are telling us the truth. For more on this read the end of this post

Also, don't put words in my mouth - I believe that new innovative technology will help us get to a more sustainable lifestyle. Technological development is not the problem, it's how we as a society decide use it that matters. I'm not advocating a return to anything, but rather a more sustainable future.

Sustainability isn't the be-all and end-all. The dinosaurs were living sustainably, in complete harmony with their environment, and they're all dead. I.e. they weren't really sustainable.
LOL - perfect analogy. Humans, as opposed to the dinos, are totally ready to stop a comet/asteriod/climate change from killing all higher forms of life. We'll just send Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck up there to blow it up.
The idea that the human race is doomed to extinction, like the dinosaurs, is a religious belief. How do you know we are doomed to perish like all animals? The fact is: you don't, because we are speaking of events in the remote future. Students of religion have a word for beliefs like yours:


 1. The branch of theology that is concerned with the end of the world or of humankind.
 2. A belief or a doctrine concerning the ultimate or final things, such as death, the destiny of humanity, the Second Coming, or the Last Judgment.

Saying "let's return to a sustainable, medieval lifestyle and nurture Mother Earth"

Please point out where he said that.

You're probably not the best person to say that, considering that your lifestyle these days revolves around medieval technologies like outhouses, making head cheese, haying with horses, and tooling around in horse drawn buggies.
It also involves tractors, automobiles and electricity. We're quite proud of our adaptability.

I also notice that you don't answer the question.

You are a true crank.

No one here buys your false dichotomy:

"I have true faith in science, whereas the rest of you are delusional."

Peak oil is the outcome of science.

Haying with horses and a loader are just as technologically challenging as doing it with tractors and a baler. The difference is you don't have to rely on mechanics when the equipment breaks down.

JD, you've managed to look up eschatology, but have you managed to look up straw man?

You seem to be reading a lot more into what peak guy said than what he appears to have said.

What modern technologies do you regard as sustainable? Clearly, electricity isn't sustainable. Look at U.S. power generation: 51% coal, 20% nuclear, 16% gas, 3% oil. None of that is sustainable. Lots of folks even say hydro (7%) is unsustainable due to silting, environmental impacts, dependence on petroleum inputs etc.

So it's just an elementary deduction: If you are opposed to unsustainable practices, then you're opposed to the electric power grid. That sounds pretty medieval to me.

Clearly, electricity isn't sustainable. Look at U.S. power generation: 51% coal, 20% nuclear, 16% gas, 3% oil. None of that is sustainable.


So it's just an elementary deduction: If you are opposed to unsustainable practices, then you're opposed to the electric power grid. That sounds pretty medieval to me.


you are, by your own reasoning, either "medieval" or FOR "unsustainable practices."

Which is it?

I'm for unsustainable practices. Not forever, but for the time being. Keeping the lights on takes priority over sustainability.

That doesn't mean I'm in favor of senseless, wasteful consumption and growth. It also doesn't mean that I'm ignoring the limits imposed by the planet. I means that I think the best chance for long-term survival of the human race lies in modern, technical, industrial culture. If we let the lights go out, it's 100% sure we will perish like the dinosaurs. Our minds are our only chance.

I don't know about you, but my mind doesn't need to be plugged into the grid to work.  :-D
I fail to see how the notion that the human race is doomed to extinction is a religious belief.  In fact, one could argue that it is a complete empirical conclusion based on the readily observable fact that species appear, flourish for a certain period of time, and then go into decline and vanish. I would challenge you to point to a single animal species alive 100 million years ago that still exists in the same form today. One might go so far as to say that it is more in the nature of a 'religious' belief to think that the human race is going to be around forever.

Furthermore, there is a built-in presumption that high-intelligence is a survival trait that will ensure the perpetuation of our species. This may not necessarily be so, for our superior intelligence has gotten us into lots of trouble. If we destroy ourselves in a nuclear war over access to oil, then from a classical Darwinian point of view, one might conclude that high-intelligence does not ensure survivial of the species.

At least one intelligent species, Neanderthal, has become extinct on this planet. Its extinction was not accompanied by Fimbulvetr, rapture, reappearance of the twelfth Imam, four horsemen or any other apocalyptic happenings that religious creeds have, in their anthropocentric arrogance, decreed must accompany such a profound happening. They just died out.

It may be slightly too much to say that it is certain that Homo sapiens will become extinct in a time comparable to time that that species has existed but it is not, in my opinion, unscientific to say that the evidence is such that the odds are so strongly if favour of this happening that it should be accepted as a working hypothesis.

When this happens, bacteria, the real success story of evolution, as well as many other species will carry on as normal.

From a planetary perspective man's passing will not be of fundamental importance and from a cosmic perspective, and these religions tend to imply that their teachings have cosmic application, man's passing will be of utter insignificance.  

Peakguy is entirely correct that the mind set that so readily accepts all manner of improbable propositions in order to avoid acceptance of the oblivion facing him in a few decades is pre-conditioned to accept comforting stories that dismiss or minimise the problems threatening him and to do so in the face of all evidence to the contrary

Very well said!  I can't add a single thing to it.


I fail to see how the notion that the human race is doomed to extinction is a religious belief. In fact, one could argue that it is a complete empirical conclusion based on the readily observable fact that species appear, flourish for a certain period of time, and then go into decline and vanish.

It's a religious belief because you are predicting the future with too much certainty, i.e. with a certainty requiring faith. The fact that the dinosaurs  became extinct due to a cosmic catastrophe does not prove that we are doomed to the same fate. We may be different from the dinosaurs. Only time will tell. The scientific position is agnostic: maybe we'll go extinct, maybe we won't. "Doomed" is a religious concept.

I would challenge you to point to a single animal species alive 100 million years ago that still exists in the same form today.

Alligators, army ants, cockroaches, the coelacanth, cycads, the dragonfly,the gingko, the horshoe crab, the nautilus, salamanders, the sturgeon.

Also, change and extinction are different things. If the human race survives by gradually morphing into something more mechanical (a la Ray Kurzweil and Hans Moravec), I wouldn't say the human race became extinct. There's a big difference between a lineage changing and perishing.

It appears that cold blooded animals are very adaptable.
This strongly favors republicans.
So what? I mean, what are we supposed to make of this, JD?
Perhaps that trolling has become the fine art of those who have nothing better to do.
Criticism IS the point, it seems.  Everyone else is always wrong; it's all so simple, too bad we're all so dumb/conservative/anti-environmentalist/religious/whatever to understand the obvious truth.  

Criticism is a useful tool, we can all benefit from having our positions tested, but when there's nothing more behind it but more criticism, it gets truly tiresome.

I'd rather call your belief in human ingenuity religious.
By the way most Peak Oilers are not claiming that this will be the end of our species. The claim is that the implications will range from huge to disastrous depending on which path we take now.
I'd rather call your belief in human ingenuity religious.

I readily admit that my view is religious. It's a religion called "Faith in Science". The opposing view ("No faith in science") is also a religion, for exactly the same reasons.

The difference lies in political affinities. Believers in science are the natural heirs of the enlightenment and technological culture. Non-believers in science and technology clearly aren't the "scientists" in the debate. They are the natural allies of religious people, who have long been skeptical of science.

The downfall of human society due to technological hubris is one the oldest religious stories there is. See the Tower of Babel, Genesis 11.

The opposing view ("No faith in science") is also a religion, for exactly the same reasons.

The opposing view is not "No faith in science" it is "Science has limits". To know yourself, what you can do and the limits of what you can do is not a religious belief - it is one of the prerequisites of the critical thinking hence science. I know wishful thinking helps but it also has limits - cross the limits and you are in the delusional area.

Personally I prefer to doubt myself and the others than just place my beliefs and hold my thumbs. I've seen too much of evidence that this world is run by idiots to trust in it.

Can you describe a specific example of a limit on science?
LOL I guess we have some misunderstanding here... I was referring the limits we have for the science to deliver ad-hoc solutions for our problems, not the absolute limits. Is an AIDS vaccine possible? Certainly! What next: cancer, cold fusion, nano-machines, even teleportation are theoreticaly possible. But not in the foreseeble future are they?

I strongly object betting our childrens lives on some possible techno-fix - it is irresponsible at the least. If you ask me we can fix PO even with current technologies... But there is a great chance we will simply not do it and even greater chance that the fix would turn worse than the problem itself (CTL or biofuels). And after PO surely will come peak natural gas, coal, drinking water, topsoil even biosphere... it's quite possible that PO will be the easiest to deal with.

I strongly object betting our childrens lives on some possible techno-fix

I understand your feelings. There are a lot of oblivious SUV-driving cornucopians out there with too much faith in technology. I find them irritating too. But that doesn't mean we should declare open-season on technology and the human mind. It's too extreme and hopeless to say: "We're just animals, and technology isn't going to save us."

If you ask me we can fix PO even with current technologies...

I agree with you. But then why bash technology? Even really simple technologies like city planning and blankets and bicycles could make a huge difference. So why is there this undertone that science/technology is not going to save is?

It would be nice if everybody just admitted that technology isn't the problem. Then we could talk about the merits of specific replacement technologies, like nuclear power. (Of course, then you'll get the same two sides shaking out again: the people who think sustainability is the top priority, and people who think it's not.)

I'm not really interested in how the future is going to turn out. I'm an agnostic. Maybe we'll colonize the moon, or maybe we'll revert to the stone age and then go extinct. Both alternatives are possible.

I'm mostly interested in the future I want to work for. I want to work toward a future where we have electric power and colonize the moon. I can't give you iron-clad proof that it's going to happen, but I'm working toward it anyway.

But why then bash technology?

I think you got it all wrong. Nobody bashes technology here, except for a few who think that support the mazohistic idea of going back to the caves. It is the way we use technology that matters; there are number of ways we can shoot ourselves with it in a way the caves option would be thousand times preferable. A lot of things point out that we are headed this way and not because technology by itself is bad but because we seem to be incredibly stupid using it. Hence the doomsday scenarios... Again as someone else said PO is a societal problem, not geological or technical, it is our short-term focused goals that lead us to a major crisis. I'm sure it will change a lot of things and lead us to a better society - the easy way or the hard way. And this society will also have its technologies (sustainable or at least with marginal effects to environment like nuclear). Our grandchildren will not climb back the trees. Unless we really screw things up in the years to come of course.

Just stopping in to see how this thread has "evolved".

Wow. I'm amazed. It went off into personalized attack & defend mode rather than exploring the connection between denial of Peak Oil and denial of mortality.

Like Peakguy, I think there is a very strong connection.

We are inately wired to survive and continue our species. (Otherwise we probably wouldn't be here having this discussion.)

Part of that wiring includes some irrationally exuberant optimism about our future, namely: (1) we will always be here at least as a species; (2) we will always find a heroic way around every adversity that comes our way; and (3) Technology will always "advance" and bring our kind to new Star Trek heights of achievement and "progress".

As for heroic answers: when the bird flu strikes (if it strikes), we'll just send in a commando team starring Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stalone, Ben Afflick, did I miss anyone? oh yeh: Arnold to flame fry those sick chickens and make the world safe for Colonel Sanders again.

When Peak Oil hits, we'll telephone professors Pons and Flieshman to bring back their cold fusion kit and start it up again.

Never give up. Never give in. We are the greatest thing on this planet since sliced tyranasaurus. Or are we?

Exactly, we just need to recognize the duality of this internal optimism. In general it is a good characteristic, but the danger is that you also need to plan for the worst scenarios as well. We will survive for a very, very long time, far beyond any of our ability to predict.

The near term question is whether the people in 2100 will be as numerous or have as high a standard of living. I'm really not sure of the answer to either of those questions.

Even immortality does not guarantee happiness or ever rising standards of living, not to imply that the two are necessarily connected....

My observation is that God and nature gave us traits useful to survival.  A couple of those traits, which are generally positive are:

  • the general expectation of stability in nature
  • the ability to focus on short-term problems

Most people will make the (statistically correct) assumption that tomorrow will be a lot like today.  That boils down to an expectation that oil will be there, at similar prices, and we should worry about more pressing issues.

High gas prices and energy crisises are game changers because they show instability in the system and frame the problem in the short term.

Basically we gotta hope that problems like peak oil, or global warming etc., present themselves through crisises and that they stimulate incremental action in that fashion.

Peak Oil, and people ignoring it remind me of an anecdote from Jared Diamonds 'Collapse', which stuck with me : I forget the exact environmental problem but when locals were asked how concerned they were about a giant dam collapsing and flooding everything beneath it, people 5 miles away were moderately concerned, 2 miles away were very concerned and 1/2 mile away very concerned. The people that were within several hundred yards of the dam professed to be not concerned at all. Some sort of psychological denial. We will have that in spades with Peak Oil.
It just occurred to me that those two human positive traits you refer to:

- General expectation of stability in nature, and

- The ability to focus on the short term,

perfectly fit my beloved late pet 4-foot iguana, Edgar.

While I didn't speak his language, I could tell by the way he'd sit on his branch under the heat lamp for hours on end that he had a very strong general expectation of stability in nature.

And he was an expert at focussing on the short term.  When he got hungry ther was nothing else he'd focus on except his bowl of iguana salad. In fact, he was so short-term oriented that sometimes if we'd go away for the weekend, we'd leave him a second bowl of salad to carry him through.  Well, he was so focused on the short term that after he'd finish the first bowl, he'd immediately start in on the second bowl and polish that one off too.  

Yep, Edgar the iguana was the perfect embodiment of these two qualities.

By the way, he didn't give a hoot about 'peak salad', either. Those salad bowls just mysteriously kept on coming. Must have been abiotic salad.  

There you go, proving that we are indeed part of nature, and not so different from the other critters ;-)

(If Edgar could drive through McLizards would he be obese?)

If I would have let Edgar drive through McLizards, he would have been even fatter than he was. All in all, he was a good lizard, albeit not too future-oriented. Edgar lived in the present, and was therefore probably far more happier than any of us.
i guess you guys are a lot more optimistic than i am....i look around the world and see the incredible destructive force that man is..ecologically... species destruction , habitat destruction,pollution, on and on..and i don't see anything positive about man's long term chances for existance or redemption...what has man done in the last 10,000 years but foul his own nest..and science has done it's darnest to help that along....so man as a long term species...maybe in a greatly reduced fashion....but i'd put my bets on the ants.
Right on! Exactly what I was going to say. Humans are in an incredibly unfortunate position. We possess the intelligence to unveil the higher order of the system, yet we cannot seem to comprehend what meaning it has for us. Our instinctual drives (focusing on short-term problems, assuming continuity) amplify such a thing. We put our faith in improbable (or at least unknowable) redemptive cosmic forces, sometimes sacrificing the only life we know of for them, and are unable to realize our place in the greater system of life. What a sad condition our species is in. If there really are gods, and I certainly doubt it--at least in the form that humans have portrayed them, we must have really been someone's cruel joke. Or maybe not.

We'll all find out when we're dead. Or we won't--and at that point it will be moot anyway. It's that simple.

P.S. I really did enjoy that prior thread, but really J.D. was the ungrounded, reductionist and reactionist ad absurdum attack neccessary? Maybe you should read Daniel Quinn's Ishmael, or any number of anti-anthro books. Might open your mind a bit.

P.P.S. I was refering to odograph's comment, although everyone above me was also very good.
As an added note, this ability to focus on the short term, and to expect long term stablity, explains wonderfully our ability to deplete fisheries, forests, game popluations, etc.

It is hard, really hard, to get people to accept that tomorrow might actually be different.

... and I think that is why "peak oil moderates" expect at least some rough patches ahead.

Exactly, step back.  

Touch the nerve of "immortality" and you are sure to waken mini-dragons that want to flame anyone who thinks we are responsible for our own destiny, that we have no divine dispensation to be placed above the rest of creation.

But, of course, some dragons think that God will step in, close the show, and wisk them off to sing hallelujas for eternity.  No humility.  Maybe it is the arrogance of our species that fosters such beliefs.  No humility.

Be gentle, JD.  

Be humble. Peakguy is speaking to the arrogance of all who think that they are somehow special. Your pride and arrogance is showing.  

Maybe it is the arrogance of our species that fosters such beliefs.

My theory is that it is not "arrogance" so much as fear of death and fear of control or "dominion" over the Earth.

Without the cherished spice of power (as in "Dune") we will lose dominion over the planet. We will no longer be the all powerful, all techno-advanced beings that we dream ourselves to be. That is why there is tremendous denial regarding the end of our cheap/ abundant oil age and the end of our days of power.

I meant fear "of loss of" control/dominion
I'm recently thinking about putting in a new furnace in my downtown house. Its oil, and I've been thinking about alternate fuels. Not gas, no future there, maybe combo wood/oil or coal/oil, can't do geothermal in our small lot and pellets or corn might be cheaper for now but with what future. But it still makes me really worried with these choices. I have to look out for myself and would be willing to burn wood/coal even though these choices would be as bad or even more damaging for the environment than oil/gas. What I should do is sell this house, buy something really small and downtown in a smaller farming town and insulate it to hell. But I can't do that now and make a living doing what I do. So for now I will buy a new furnace. If everyone thinks like this then the environment/climate is going to really be in trouble after oil. If everyone thinks primarily of their individual survival, as they must, then it follows that we could easily strip the world of trees, topsoil, water and fuel choices.
Honestly, I do not understand this post. What exactly is the point? Humans are NOT special? Really? I'm perfectly willing to grant that social species like dogs have language of which we know very little, but I think no species has ever mastered the trick of culture the way we have. And that's not speciesism!

Then the people who do not trust human imagination. ??? It was imagination which made Darwin come up with evolution, it was imagination that made people invent a divine creator and so on.

I do not deny Peak Oil. I will even admit the production of light crude peaked yesterday. But it will be imagination which saves the day. Who on Earth needs the action hero's? I think you worry that oil per barrel isn't expensive enough yet. If we have peaked than we shouls see $100 per barrel pretty soon. After that affordable solutions will pop up in people's imaginations equally soon. That's the way it works.

No selfrespecting human worthy of the name will deny mortality. After all, not even the universe itself is immortal. We might live a 1000 years, who knows. Personally, I'd be content with just a quarter of that, just to see how it all works out.
If you folks can't move beyond the 'denying peak oil = denying mortality = boo hoo hoo', then, I think, you are stuck in just another version of We Ate From the Tree of Knowledgde & Oughta Burn For That In Hell Forever... sigh.

Um, it's really very simple? If you just read what he says?

Humans have not unmoored themselves from the laws of nature, period.

Nor from the laws of their own nature.

But a big part of the question is "crisis." This planet and this species are relatively resilient, however this planet and civilization tend to shake in historical terms fairly regularly. So, if we are at a point, particularly for America, a resource that is the life blood of it's society becomes scarce and/or unprecedentedly expensive over a short period of time, that society is going to shake rather vigorously.

It is all well and good to see there are other energy solutions, but none of them can just smoothly transfer from our present oil based infrastructure. That means Americans are going to have change their lifestyles, in a way that is different from what is presented to them today as the good life. Historically, such crisis for a civilization is inevitably met with violence and war. How do we do this without for example, having some idiots start throwing around nuclear bombs, which there are tens of thousands of on this planet.

If the fall from peak is precipitous, there isn't a historical example where a civilization has met the challenge that I know. So, it would be unprecedented, but I think doable, but it's going to take a lot more than some techno-theocratic faith, for one it's going to need some really smart and noble politics.

You can view imagination as just another tool we received though evolution to adapt.
The more general point is the overshoot problem - the point at which we've reached the peak of our adaptation capabilities and the population growth and resource depletion outpace innovations. If we do not voluntary step back before this point we are doomed; and ironically the longer we postpone the moment of reconciliation the more disastrous the fall would be.
I think every post I have made on TOD has been bitter and negative, and that is sad.  I do not want humans to self destruc, but the behaviors I have observed over my short 31 years lead me to belive that we might just succed at destroying our beautiful planet that sustains us.

Personaly I would probably wood be happier in a world that uses less energy and material technology, but that is me.

From what I have learned over the years (this is what I think I know).... life on earth is supported by the radiant energy of the sun and the mineral/elemental material of the earth.  We eat plants and animals.  Plants get therie energy from the sun and their material from the earth.  Animals eat plants and sometimes other animals,  getting most of their energy and mineral/elemental components from this food source.  We eat both plants and animals.  Plants, animals and yes even humans die, they decay and the material part of their existence is re-cycled back into the earth.  

Death is a reality we can not escape.  Every one of us is going to be a pile of rotting meat or ash some day.  That is the way of the world.....

As far as our spirit and souls go I have no idea if they exist and if they do I don't know what happens to this aspect of our being.  I BELIVE we have something like a soul, but I don't KNOW if we have a soul...........  

I am an agnostic with Buddhist tendencies.  I view life on the planet as a great cycle, and death a.k.a mortality is an integral part of that cycle.  Where would we be without it???  I have observed that our society here in the U. S. does not like to think about death.  We spend most of lives denying our mortality, and ultimately this may ruin the planet for all life........

Humans make up language, religion, economics, politics.  All forms of spoken and written language were created by us.  We have become lost in the symbols we use to communicate and understand our world.  We have denied the origins of our material aspect, a. k. a. nature, insulating our minds in symbolic worlds of our own creation.  Think about it, Alomost everything we come in contact with in our daily lives is man made or engineered.   If you ask me this is what is killing the human spirit.....

WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE so why not LIVE life to it's fullest and treat our planet and fellow humans with care and respect.

That's my two cents....... on imortality

We hardly know everything about the world but in the last hundred odd years our ideas of the world have come into close agreement with observations, especially at low velocity, low temperature and low gravity regimes. For the previous several hundred odd thousand years we had to survive without the benefit of that knowledge. Perhaps that sense that one can survive in spite of any difficulty was the result of selection. Those who didn't feel they could survive didn't. I'm willing to call that sense immortality.

This is what makes it difficult for many to deal with complex technical solutions. It goes against our nature to have limits put on us. I recall arguing with a guy who wanted to build a perpetual motion machine. It wasn't that he was deficient.  He just couldn't accept that this avenue was closed to him.

It seems to me that the fear of "losing immortality" is most acute in societies that are the youngest and thus most historicaly naive.  Societies that have experienced peaks in power and prestige followed by long humiliating declines are the global norm.  Middle eastern, African, South American and Asian societies (North American?) have societies all experienced such events in their history.  I believe that such societies are far more capable of dealing psychologically with the coming decline of energy resources.  Of course this excludes the youngest and so far exclusively ascendant societies of the west and a few in the miscellaneous category.  They simply have no experience with the consequences of resource depletion so their "statistically correct" assumption is that it never will.
It is extremely difficult for any culture to accept any possibility that fall outside the accepted narratives and myths.  I think this is very understandable.

Collapse is nothing new in the experience of human societies.  For more on this topic I reccommend a god read of Jared Diamond's "Collapse" - on how socieites choose to fail or succeed.  He claims that beliefs are a crucial element in allowing societies to adapt to changing conditions, be they environmental, resource based or what have you.  Those less willing to acknowledge and accept change are condemned to a far more painful consequences than those that actually choose to adapt.

Good post.  Look forward to more threads of this nature.

The fear of mortality is the natural state of affairs.  It was a matter of revelation that mankind should now think otherwise.  But mankind is not really able to think much past next quarter's profits, and when disaster doesn't strike within two quarters they discount the danger entirely.  Most of this is because we are hollow.  Inferno means "hollow within".  It always makes me laugh that Darwinian theories should be placed in juxtaposition with "Intelligent Design", as though God would place a giraffe suddenly upon a molten ball of lava.  How many giraffes had to die before God finally got it right?
I've been wondering about something related. Why are Peak Oil, and environmental and resource issues more generally, "left" issues? There doesn't seem to be any intrinsic reason why an intellectually honest conservative -- and yes, Virginia, there are some -- should be a peak-oil skeptic, an anthropogenic global warming denier, or a faith-based cornucopian.

I can see that these problems are likely to require government action if they're going to be solved or mitigated, and conservatives don't like government action of that sort. But that's not a reason for denying that environmental and resource problems exist and are bound to become more acute. I mean, why do some people get frantically anxious about "Islamofascism," homosexuality, and the estate tax, and yet engage in grossly magical optimistic thinking about environmental and resource problems?

I guess I agree with Peak Guy that it's got to be something deep in the culture, but I'm not sure that immortality has much to do with it. I don't know what it is, actually.

In a 50:50 nation it is pretty easy to guess that each party is half right.

Our American current split seems to between a market-centered world view versus any kind of non-market group action.

I think some of it might grow out of the fall of communism, and a simplistic take-away that everything must therefore be markets.

I LIKE markets, but my reading of human history is that while markets are almost always there, they are seldom the only structural element in a society.

It's sad (and dysfunctional) that many people who relish non-market institutions (like churches?) unthinkingly eschew all but markets in their public arguments.

Not so.  In a 50:50 nation both sides can be quite wrong.  In fact what usually happens is the issues become cartoon straw men with each side throwing rocks at the resulting oversimplifications.
I think the problem is one of fastening onto fragements of truth, and overextending them, rather than coming up with something "left field" and "completely wrong."

Look around.  Moderen industrial democracies have a mix of market and social institiutions.  The 50:50 partisans assume that mix is wrong, an accident, rather than a solution.  Each group tries to drag the country into a 100:0 or 0:100 solution.

Actually I think for a variety of reasons the "left" got depowered and the "right" got enthused at about the same time, and so are trying hard to drag us to 100:0.

A lot of it is just dysfunction.  People who want to go hunting and fishing end up supporting habitat distruction because "environmentalists" are evil leftists, etc.

The pendulum might swing back, but it hasn't been a good few years.

We could add that in a two party system the 50:50 split allocates a weird combination of positions to each party.  Religious belief goes with supporting torture, to name one inflamitory example.
Tainter claims that as collapse nears, ideological strife intensifies.  Everyone's looking for a better way, but there are none.  If there were, people could unite behind it.  But without an obvious path, they just turn on each other.
Also, see my comment on the most recent open thread concerning what an exponential function is.

You know, folks, as Odograph mentioned above, human nature is such that people think that "the way it is now" is "the way it always was". That is our limitation as a species. Then it all changes around and we stand around asking "what happened?"

My view of Homo sapiens is that what you see is pretty much what you're going to get. Arguments that we're clever and can somehow muddle through the coming fossil fuels crisis without great suffering strike me as inane and entirely ahistorical. Over and over again in human history, foreseeable crises have been allowed to occur without the least bit of insight and action to mitigate those events. Why would peak oil be any different?
Dave, this is what I wrestle with as well.  Will the invisible hand drive development of new energy sources and solutions that use less energy quickly enough to avoid disaster?  Will and enlightened leadership and motivated population do it instead?  Or will we just carry on with bidness as usual, doing nothing (or not enough) until it's too late, even though "we" could see what's coming?  And given the time lag and investment needed to replace large amounts of infrastructure, is it already too late?

My personal opinion is that we will start turning the ship way too late, as from my own (too limited) knowledge of history, that is what usually happens.

The earlier references to the extinction of the dinisaurs puzzle me.
Perhaps I am not up to date but I thought that it is almost certain that there are billions of survivors. They are called BIRDS. If they could get some dinosaur DNA they could prove it.
The trouble is that the vast majority of birds spend almost all of their time neurotically looking over their shoulders.
I agree!
I'm not sure acceptance of peak oil really has anything to do with religion.  Europeans often say that there's a lot more coverage of peak oil in the U.S. media than there is in Europe.  Japan is also much deeper in denial than we are.  Europe and Japan are a lot more secular than the U.S., and I suspect they have a better sense of cycle of empires, having seen their own rise and fall (while we have only seen the rise).  

I think we may the verge of a paradigm shift, as great as Galileo or Darwin.  People will have to realize that sustainability is more important than "progress."  Though many will resist this idea, as fervently as they resisted Darwin.  

That is what makes us superior to bacteria in a petri dish.  We can understand that growth can't continue forever, and stop.  Bacteria can't do that.  

And yes, I firmly believe that it's possible.  It won't be easy, but it's possible.  As Diamond's book points out, there are societies that have achieved sustainability.  Limiting growth is a big priority for them.  If they can do it, we can.

I hope you're right about sustainability versus "progress" = limitless consumption.
Some views on technology expressed in this thread:

peakguy on the view that is the problem:
"However, I think the key point of this ancient text is that because we as a species are mentally (and therefore technologically) superior to all other forms of life, and because we will have the same genetic drive to reproduce we have a responsibility to replenish the environment around us instead of simply extracting resources from it."

step back:
"Part of that wiring includes some irrationally exuberant optimism about our future, namely: (1) we will always be here at least as a species; (2) we will always find a heroic way around every adversity that comes our way; and (3) Technology will always "advance" and bring our kind to new Star Trek heights of achievement and "progress"."

step back:
"We will no longer be the all powerful, all techno-advanced beings that we dream ourselves to be.

"So, it would be unprecedented, but I think doable, but it's going to take a lot more than some techno-theocratic faith..."

"Personaly I would probably wood be happier in a world that uses less energy and material technology, but that is me."

Anyone can see that this thinking is akin to luddism. You have negative feelings toward technology and progress. Writing "progress" in quotes (to sarcastically indicate that it's not really progress)  is not the mark of a progressive. It's the mark of a conservative, i.e. an ally of religion. The churchmen who opposed Galileo didn't think much of "progress" either.

Well said! The values of the Enlightenment -- science, reason, liberty, equality before the law, technological progress, separation of church and state, and so forth -- remain our best hope as we face the peak.
Equally well said!

Sooo, when do YOU think we might get them back?

Given the rise of Fundamentalist Religion here in America and in the Muslim world because of
  • An insecure world involving now a war between Christian and Islamic values (read about the Crusades and the sociologist Max Weber)
  • A large power struggle to control not only resources but also societal destinies
I would have to say that your remarks are extremely naive. What Enlightenment are you talking about? The Iraq war and the failed resurrection of its oil industry? The continuing looting of our national treasury in the US by means of tax cuts for the richest Americans? The foreign debt and lack of concern for American working people? The efforts to put a new kind of creationism (called "intelligent design") into our educational system? The greater and greater disparity between the rich and the poor in our culture? The Western effort to impose "Democracy" in the Middle East under the guise of fighting the War on Terrorism? Let's all stay close to reality as we have these discussions, shall we?

Here's some news for you, Southsider1, the "Enlightenment" is over--that happened about the year 1800. Some French philosophers and American politicians. That's it, end of story.

The "Enlightenment" values are good ones. The point is that such values were a brief idealistic interlude in human history. We don't live in that world. It was a hopeful but brief (as they all are) all-too-human delusion. A lot like the '60s.

Ordinarily, I wouldn't bother with your remarks but I see an opportunity for education here and, hell, I'm not doing much else at the moment. Have a good one,
Dave, you know there is an awful lot of doom and gloom in your assumptions. Yes, the sh*t will probably hit the fan economically when we peak. But all those Enlighenment values I mentioned -- science, reason, liberty, equality before the law, technological progress, separation of church and state -- are still alive today, albeit tenuously. And they all arose before the beginning of the age of oil, so there is no reason why they cannot endure after the age of oil.

I am reasonably certain the future will be much poorer than now, from a material standpoint. But where we end up politically is completely up for grabs. Sure, Road Warrior is one outcome -- and from all the hand wringing going on lately it seems that many TODers see it as inevitable.

But there is no reason why, at the end of the day, we can't do better than that. Our great-grandchildren have as good a chance of living in something resembling a Renaissance city state as they do of living in a new Dark Ages. If we choose to maintain our Enlightenment values and the institutions they inspire, then I will remain somewhat hopeful. If we all get depressed and give up, then I am much more worried.

"If kindness and comfort are, as I suspect, the results of an energy surplus, then, as the supply contracts, we could be expected to start fighting once again like cats in a sack."
George Monbiot

We are keeping the values of Enlightment because it is possible and necessary to keep peace and prosperity. But how much of them are truly predicated by our way of life? IMHO they are pretty much detached and are serving only to feed our inner sense of moral superiority. This bears the duality of our lives (the growing gap between what we say and what we do) which strikes me more and more every day. For example what are the Enlightment values guiding the relations between the First World and the Third? Equality? Freedom? Brotherhood?

Yes, I am a luddite sympathizer,  I am a weaver after all.  I also love this computer that allows me to communicate with folks all over the world.  I am a walking talking contradiction.  I do not deny that.  I do not see technology as evil, but I have a hard time seeing how it will solve the social, political and economic realities that are integrally connected to our use of energy.
Five years ago I was much less cynical,  but after five years of Bush & Co  I have lost my optimism.


What are your solutions for dealing with the complex web of issues confronting the human animal.

JD, I'm glad you made this point. You are the real Luddite. Over-reliance on fossil fuel technology is the new Luddism. Airlines and Auto makers are going backrupt, yet we still cling to them. They are old technology, going the way of horses and buggies.

Luddite has been used to describe anyone opposed to technological progress and technological change. For the modern movement of opposition to technology, see neo-luddism.

Sustainable technology (hybrids, wind, solar, etc) are the wave of the future. They are what will save us from peak oil, if we move fast enough.

I'm all for technological progress that will lead us to a more sustainable lifestyle.

Step out of the way you fossil fuel Luddite.

Galileo had something testable to propose.  And you?  The only benefit I have had from your posts so far is a far clearer definition of trolling.  As far as I'm concerned you brought nothing of value past that.  Your primary focus seems to be an empty inflation of your own ego at the expense of those here who are attempting to have a good faith but speculative conversation.  The fact is that none of us "know" what's coming.  I have faith that conversation about the many possibilities has some survival value both individually and collectively.  That faith is, of course, untestable so you would probably call it a religious point of view.  And I don't care.
All of this conversation smacks of missing the forest for the trees.

There are undeniable facts available to all.

  1. We are mortal.
  2. The universe will end.
  3. We live on a sphere.
  4. All fuels that do not rely on timely recharging from the sun, will run out.
  5. Commenting on the number of rivets on the front of the train that is bearing down on you is counterproductive.
  6. Arguing about how reality resembles something other than itself (in effect, analogies, religion, conceptualization, etc.) is a futile exercise.
  7. Telling yourself that you are special is a form of narcissism.
  8. Nature does not care if you live or die no matter how much you anthropomorphize it.

HOW THIS THREAD STARTED: [it was] about the reluctance of the collective conscience, particularly in the US, to accept the implications of peak oil theory. It's there, just below the surface, but drives many the various psychological defense mechanisms that people have built up.

Just a reminder of how this thread started.
We were looking at why so many people are relucant to accept the possibility of PO and what it might mean.

At the end of the day you realize that many people are simulataneously of two minds, in a quantum physics way.

  1. On mortality: they both accept it and deny it.
  2. On the Hubble constant: few realize it will end with a whimper
  3. On finite volume of the Earth: we understand it abstractly, yet it "feels" as though the planet is full of endless possibilities. It's a confusing Yes and No response, and the No--it won't end response is oh so much more appealing.
Well done to all. It has been very enjoyable reading all of the post posted here. Makes one wonder what the Romans thought were important issues that were discussed in their discussions a few thousand years ago. Oh well, there all dead, who cares today anyway.

Something happened today while I was away from the office trying to enjoy a very rare event, (Four days off). This may not mean much for those that are not self employed, but us self employed, it is a grand event when we can sneak away and hopefully have a business to come back to.
I lease a good portion of a commercial building where my business is located, but today down at one end of the building someone lost their business to a fire. Do not know what happened yet but do know they were there and could only look at watching their business go up in smoke. One of the employees is in the hospital with third degree burns. The sad thing was they did not have one fire extinguisher to try and put out the fire when it was small. In my business you will find one every fifty feet.

Here I was all cock-sure of myself thinking that I had protected my business from such of an event from ever happening. But something that I didn't think about was all of the smoke and water damage that could occur which happened.

My point to this post is, there just might be another event just waiting to happen besides fossil fuel shortage worries. Makes one wonder what is coming into our lives that wasn't thought about. Hope everyone had an enjoyable Thanksgiving. I did until today.

there just might be another event waiting to happen besides fossil fuel shortage worries.

I look at Peak Oil, not as the end-all, be-all catastrophe, but rather as a symptom of our dysfunctional national and global social orders.

BTW, if you live in the USA, "fossil fuels" is not a problem. We got lots of coal. On the other hand, if you're a Brit (given this is an English speaking site) you know the local coal mines have been stripped long ago. Oil is not all fossil fuels. It is a liquid fossil fuel. It's physical liquidity is what makes it so valuable. (Try pumping solid coal through a pipeline.)

Yes there are plenty of things to go wrong.
In a past life, I was an engineer. We worshipped Murphy's Law --anything that can go wrong, eventually will go wrong; but not until the worst possible moment and then it will all go wrong. (OK that last 2 pieces are correlaries. They seemed to be the most true. Systems were all go until the customer showed up for the demo. Then, at that moment, everything crashed.)

We have a long list of worrisome things that can go wrong:

  1. oil
  2. water
  3. pandemic
  4. freakonomics
  5. global warming
  6. extreme climate change (not same as GW)
  7. probably lots more to add to this nuclear age list

The point is that the herd is "happy". It's Christmas all over again and this year, and as is the case with hurricanes, it appears to be an unusually long season; having started well before the Thanksgiving bird was finished. I wonder why.
The point is that the herd is "happy".

The herd is not only happy for the moment, its also asleep at the wheel. It doesn't recognize what the future holds with less oil and could care less until something dramatic happens to changes its way of thinking.

The few that have been culled from herd, are happy too but not asleep. But the few cannot convince the herd to follow them yet.. The herd is on a path all by themselves, and that path is headed right for a cliff,IMHO..  SO whether or not we can steer the herd away from the cliff, is something we all will have to wait for.. In the mean time, enjoy life.. Its going to get interesting for sure!!

At the very top of my list of Things That Can Go Wrong, and standing well above all the rest in my opinion, is an armed conflict over Middle East oil resources escalating into a full-blown nuclear war. Should such an event take place, all the other concerns become relatively trivial by comparison.

And with all this talk by the Bush regime of taking out Iran and/or Syria and adopting a policy of preemptive first use of nuclear weapons, I don't think such worries are fanciful at all.

Even a cursory reading of military history clearly shows that the decisions to go to war have almost always been gross miscalculations when viewed in hindsight. There is no reason to believe that the next one will be any different. The potential for screwing up in a big way has never been greater.

I'm feeling a need to say something about my attitude toward science and technology, given all the negatively JD's presence around here manages to attract like a magnet, including from me:

I love science. My first major was geology. Then I moved to biology. It wasn't working, though. My impediment: math. It's my shortcoming, and not one I'm proud of. That's why I appreciate people like Bartlett, whose video on exponential growth is a balm for those of us who are innumerate. Same with John Allen Paulos' book "Innumeracy."

Studying peak oil has had the interesting side effect of inspiring awe in me for the extraction technologies humans have come up with, as well as for the numerous uses people have managed to discover for oil. My anxiety rises when I consider that most in the public are clueless about all this, and have no idea that this era of abundance is about to end.

To acknowledge that science and technology has limits has nothing to do with




or the other sticky-post labels JD throws around here.

People who are the most dependent on oil, gas, the electric grid tend to be the most technologically illiterate. I know. I routinely ask my students their knowledge of where their light comes from, where oil comes from, what energy is. They simply don't know.

Those of us who tinker with old farm equipment, traditional food preservation techniques, solid-fuel stoves, liquid fuel lighting (kerosene), animal husbandry, and the like, are in love with this history of technology.

We don't trust Big Brother to take care of us during fuel shortages, or even during ice storms. In 1998, when we lost power for nine days, we were among the few who did not simply leave the area. Instead, we through a party for those who were still around.

It seems many people want to continue climbing the steps of the technological ziggurat as if it will continue indefinitely into the sky. Maybe it will. But I'm not counting on it. The technological skills of those of us milling around the base of the pyramid are just as informed as those continuing into the clouds.

Very well said Mike B. I didn't personally weather the 1998 ice storm here as I was living on another continent at the time, but the previous occupants of my farm did and they were among the few in the area who didn't have to leave their home. They had no power but had a second well with a manual pump and a 1928 wood-burning kitchen range. Were such a thing to happen again now, the house would have power as well because it has solar panels and a large battery bank in the basement. We'd be quite comfortable looking after ourselves here for a long time without assistance from the government or anyone else, which gives me a measure of peace of mind. There's a great deal to be said for at least some degree of self-sufficiency.

The history of technology fascinates me too. Rediscovering the skills required to make do with less is an intriguing challenge - one our whole family has taken on. The future offers uncertainty and the best way I know of to counter uncertainty is with flexibility. I think of it as minimizing the consequences of being wrong. If I learn these skills and turn out to have been wrong about a coming crisis, then I haven't really lost anything. On the other hand, if I took no measures to provide for self-sufficiency on the assumption that the status quo would continue for my lifetime and was wrong, the consequences could be very severe.

Were such a thing to happen again now, the house would have power as well because it has solar panels and a large battery bank in the basement. We'd be quite comfortable looking after ourselves here for a long time without assistance from the government or anyone else, which gives me a measure of peace of mind. There's a great deal to be said for at least some degree of self-sufficiency.

Three comments, none intended to be critical; just comments for discussion.

First, it has become impossible for most of the population of the US to take such action. Consider the amount of land needed per household to be moderately self-sufficient: enough for a well, enough for a septic field, enough for an extensive garden, etc. The US population is just under 300M this year, and more than 75% live in urban and suburban settings. Many of the 165M or so that are employed have jobs that would not be practical if the population were that diffuse.

Second, consider how much of the self-sufficiency is due to technology that would probably not be possible without the urbanization. The best solar cells available today are the result of much energy-intense R&D, almost certainly in an urban setting. I think one could convincingly argue that such R&D could only happen in an urban setting, with its dependency on energy to deliver food, water, etc. It's not just enough to have the knowledge, it's also necessary to have the means to put it into practice.

And the whole self-sufficiency thing is out the window as soon as there's a major medical problem. I have an uncle who has spent years collecting letters written by some of our ancestors as far back as the 1820s. I remember one series in particular, written by early settlers in SE Iowa, who were largely self-sufficient (ignoring the tools and nails and such that they had brought with them from urban areas farther east). Every letter was filled with news about who had died since the last letter: Susan was taken by the vapors; Bob had a compound fracture and even though the doc amputated at the knee, he died; some sort of respiratory disease went through and most families lost a child.

First, it has become impossible for most of the population of the US to take such action.


Personal self-sufficiency and the desirability of returning to low-tech ways of independent living are topics that frequently come up on TOD forum. These are desirable goals, but I am beginning to suspect that only a very tiny fraction of the population is in a position to put these into practice in any meaningful way.

You're both absolutely correct, of course. I don't advocate everyone's moving to the country and digging gardens. It would be a disaster.

I advocate country for country people, and city for city folks. Those of us who can manage to support at least part of our food needs will be taking pressure off the system at large.

I tend toward the sustainability camp, where McMansions are dynamited to make way for broccoli patches. ;]

Peakguy...Peak Oil isn't a part of the collective conscience for more practical reasons.  Most of us accept immortality, although we certainly play at looking better longer.  I think most of us are so busy that we really don't have time to invest in a myriad of issues; in fact, if we have time, we prefer immersing ourselves in something mindless or in the passion for which our working lives leaves so little time.  Peak Oil is a serious subject and TOD and Energybulletin and EV world have all helped to give it press but my guess is that the parade will not become a revolution until the price at the pumps truly becomes ridiculous, until it affects the day to day.  That time is coming.
what is EV world?
Personal self-sufficiency and the desirability of returning to low-tech ways of independent living are topics that frequently come up on TOD forum. These are desirable goals, but I am beginning to suspect that only a very tiny fraction of the population is in a position to put these into practice in any meaningful way.  

Quite simply, the problem is that there are far too many people in the world today for us to 'go back'. This fact will hit you right in the face every time you are in a plane making a nighttime approach to a major uban airport, such as New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles. What you view is literally millions of lights as far as the eye can see. Most of these lights are places were people dwell. Now, can you try to imagine all of these people 'going back to the land' or whatever you want to call this notion of reverting to a simpler life?  For the life of me, I can't.  

And reelatively recent attempts have resulted in mass death: Think Chairman Mao or Pol Pot.

If I understand correctly, over half of the world's population now lives in an urban evironment. One of the reasons is that i) being a subsistance farmer is a wretched way of life for most, and ii) land is more valuable for real estate and other uses than for family farms.

Now, if you are a reasonably well-off First World person and are lucky enough to possess farm land, and you want to make a go at independence from The System, then more power to you. I wish you luck. But my point is that this avenue is only open to but a very small fraction of the population.

If we had 1 billion instead of over 6 billion people, we might be able to pull of the 'simplicity' route, but I think it is far too late for something like that. I believe that we will sink or swim based on how well we can use technology and innovation (not to mention common sense) to both increase energy supply and reduce energy demand.

The 'Greenie' route may be fine for rural Vermont or Oregon, but it hasn't got a prayer in New York, Chicago, or LA. And today there are many cities in the world much larger than these. Our living environment is more like an ant hill than a praire.

My comment above is placed right in the thread to address your statement.

Basically, I say that those of us who can manage to support ourselves will be taking pressure off a food system that is going to need all the help it can get.

Very true.  People often point to the Great Depression as an example of how we can survive peak oil.  Little oil was used then, and hunger was a problem, but people survived (often by fleeing the city to live with relatives in the country).  

But there are something like three times as many people in the U.S. now as there were then.  And our population is still growing.  It's projected to be something like 45% larger by 2050.  

To PeakGuy: your post takes a peek at the BIG issue of our culture's worldview. Developing a wider perspective on how our culture sees itself and it's role in the world is a wise way to gain a bit of understanding into how we will respond and deal with worldwide chronic conditions such as declining energy production.

A little conversational post is too small to dig deeply into the subject, but I can offer you a tip on where you will find an interesting perspective on how our culture's worldview came to be what it is and how we can move on to a worldview more useful to a living on a planet with visibly limited resources. Go to the library and bring home the books from the "Ishmael" series by Daniel Quinn. There are four: Ishmael, My Ishmael, The Story of B, and Beyond Civilization.

Don't be put off by the literary "trick" the author uses of presenting the information in a fictional setting. It makes the information accessible to a much wider audience than a dry non-fictional style. (And the story format is an enjoyable read.) And don't let the telepathic ape throw you either - it's another method used to convey some very deep insights.

Give the books a try. It is usually recommended to read them in the order I listed above, but a little shuffling will not detract much. "Beyond Civilization" is much more a how-to book and should be read after a couple of the other books.

Coupled with your knowledge of our energy situation the insights found in these books will be quite powerful.

To give some taste of what you'll find; in Steverino's reply to your post he wrote "i look around the world and see the incredible destructive force that man is...and i don't see anything positive about man's long term chances for existance or redemption". In one of the Ishmael books this common opinion is responded to as follows (paraphrasing from memory here): 'It is not mankind that has brought such destruction - it is just one culture out of the many cultures that mankind has experimented with. Humankind lived sustainably for hundreds of thousands of years, only in the last 5000 years has one culture arisen that contains such destuctive potential".

Below I'll paste in a few more favorite Ishmael quotes to give you a further idea of the insights to be found...

Greg in MO

It's almost impossible for one paradigm to imagine that there will even be a next one. The people of the Middle ages didn't think of themselves as being in the "middle" of anything at all. As far as they were concerned, the way they were living was the way people would be living till the end of time.

"It is my bizarre theory, Julie, that the people of your culture are destroying the world not because they're vicious or stupid, as Mother Culture teaches, but because they're terribly, terribly deprived--of things that humans absolutely must have, simply cannot go on living without year after year and generation after generation. It's my bizarre theory that, given a choice between destroying the world and having the things they really, deeply want, they'll choose the latter. But before they can make that choice, they must see that choice."

To figure out a better response to failure than doing more of what didn't work last year, you don't (as they say) have to be a rocket scientist. I'd formulate it this way:
If it didn't work last year or the year before that or the year before that--or any year in recorded history--then TRY SOMETHING DIFFERENT.

"People can't just give up a story. That's what the kids tried to do in the sixties and seventies. They tried to stop living like Takers, but there was no other way for them to live. They failed because you can't just stop being in a story, you have to have another story to be in."

Ishmael nodded. "And if there is such a story, people should hear about it?"

"Yes, they should."

"Do you think they want to hear about it?"

"I don't know. I don't think you can start wanting something till you know it exists."

You don't have to "go somewhere" to get beyond civilization. You have to make your living a different way.

i did have ishmael in mind when i said "the last 10,000 years", meaning since the rise of western farm based monotheistic culture...but i don't even know if i can agree with mr. quinn on the "giver" cultures either...now how's that for lack of optimism!..i thought about those indigenous cultures and it seemed to me that they were just hampered by lack of population, because their lifestyle was so hard, no antibiotics ,etc. that they didn't harm the ecoregion that they inhabited.certainly they were less hard on it ,and because there were relatively so few of them the ecosystem survived. hawaiians , for example were much less destructive than the haoles that now populate the islands, and they recognized the need to rest their lands and seas during the makahiki period of the year, but, on the other hand, they did wipe out a number of species. and had a growing population of 500,000 at the time of cook's appearance.

the real time bomb, as dave alluded to is not necessarily the lack of oil, but the exponential growth of population.if we somehow dodge this bullet, adapt to a lower energy future, but still have 6 billion (or many more) humans on this planet....houston, we still have a problem

Well, once again, it is all a matter of population. There once was a time when we humans were 'sustainable' as hunters and gatherers.  Then when the world got more populated, we turned to organized family-based agriculture because there wasn't enough stuff to be hunted and gathered by the expanded population. Then a few millenia later, we went from the family farm to high-tech agribusiness as a way to feed the billions of people now clogging this planet.The arrow points only in one direction. We can't 'go back' even if we wanted to. That is unless we want to get rid of a few billion people (which might happen anyway if we really screw up).

Not everybody in the anthill can go out and get themselves a nice little farm in a bucolic rural area and make a go of it.  Those days have long been over. In fact, in well-developed areas like Europe those days were over centuries ago, which is why so many people there were anxious to take their chances in the New World. Well, the New World is now the old one, and there doesn't look to be any more New Worlds on the horizon.

Therefore, I think we are stuck with a densely populated urban environment which will continue to be highly complex and interdependent and totally at the mercy of the energy situation.

If we are smart enough and have the will to expend the enormous amounts of capital required to make a transition to some form or alternative energy, then we migh have a prayer (though I wouldn't bet on it). If not, then we are in for some pretty serious nastiness. Nature might eventually bring the human population down to a sustainable level all on its own, but it won't be pretty.

I don't think it's in the nature of humans to ever live in harmony with nature.

Peakguy lays out a pretty good platform for what could be considered "political peak oil". It is complex and inter-related set of beliefs of which the end of oil is only one. Others are that consumption, capitalism, growth, and corporations are bad. I don't agree with much of this, but many of my friends do and I respect then and Peakguy. However, it is not necessary to buy this line wholesale in order to believe in peak oil or in order to be an active participant on this site.

I do believe that we are bumping up against permanent constraints in oil supply and that this is generally consistent with the peak oil theory. I do not think the peak will be as drastic as many other do. I think that as constraints grow, prices will rise and other options will emerge. Population growth trends are already slowing and a population peak will occur in many of our lifetimes. I am not at all convinced that the end of life as we know it is imminent or that learning to farm is a good idea.

I welcome JD and his comments, although I disagree with some. If we peak oilers couldn't face any criticisms or challenges, than "Peak Oil" would be a religion as he suggests. The Oil Drum has featured wonderful fact-based commentary from people who hold a range of beliefs. Let's continue this exchange, not try to censor others by bullying them with insults such as troll.

I also welcome JD's comments, but I doubt as whether is incorrect to call him a troll. In his own words, read what JD thinks of his mission regarding peak oil:

Debunking peak oil hype with facts and figures, and exposing the fascist underbelly of peak oil

I agree with the first part, for that "hype" can be counterproductive for peak oil research, but the adjective "fascist" is way too much for me to swallow.

OK. I hadn't seen that. None-the-less, I do think that the peak oil argument is strengthened by exposure to criticism and the power of the great responses to it.

I won't comment on whether troll is appropriate in this case. However, I do hate the term as it is so often a symptom of lack of tolerance for those with different opinions. It would be a tragedy if this site became an echo chamber for the choir.

I use the term "fascism" in a very measured way, to refer to material of the following sort, which is there for anyone to see in the ASPO newsletter. Is it trolling to call this fascism?

To those sentimentalists who cannot understand the need to reduce UK population from 60 million to about 2 million over 150 years, and who are outraged at the proposed replacement of human rights by cold logic, I would say "You have had your day, in which your woolly thinking has messed up not just the Western world but the whole planet, which could, if Homo sapiens had been truly intelligent, have supported a small population enjoying a wonderful quality of life almost for ever. You have thrown away that opportunity."

The Darwinian approach, in this planned population reduction scenario, is to maximise the well-being of the UK as a nation-state. Individual citizens, and aliens, must expect to be seriously inconvenienced by the single-minded drive to reduce population ahead of resource shortage. The consolation is that the alternative, letting Nature take its course, would be so much worse.

The scenario is: Immigration is banned. Unauthorised arrives are treated as criminals. Every woman is entitled to raise one healthy child. No religious or cultural exceptions can be made, but entitlements can be traded. Abortion or infanticide is compulsory if the fetus or baby proves to be handicapped (Darwinian selection weeds out the unfit). When, through old age, accident or disease, an individual becomes more of a burden than a benefit to society, his or her life is humanely ended. Voluntary euthanasia is legal and made easy. Imprisonment is rare, replaced by corporal punishment for lesser offences and painless capital punishment for greater.


I realize that this is an extremist trend in the peak oil community, and that many thoughtful moderates are also involved in peak oil. That's why I used the word "underbelly".

I am willing to admit that the term fascism has become diluted through such frequent application that it may be more moderate than it was a few years ago. By your definition and the caveat words "hype" and "underbelly", I suppose I could go along with you. I actually do think there is a fringe group of radicals who are attracted to peak oil since it challenges society and as we know it, not because a careful examoination of the facts led them there. However, I do believe in peak oil and the general thrust of this website as exemplified by Stuart's recent posts.

So what do you think about peak oil itself? Do you think we are running out of oil? Will there be significant supply constraints in the future? Or do you see the whole thing as another link in a long chain of failed doom scenarios?

I admire Stuart's work too. He's a great model of the sort of person peak oil needs more of.

I believe in peak oil. I'm skeptical about how immediate it is, but it is a real problem, which will have profound effects on the world.

On the other hand, peak oil tends to get blown out of  proportion, and a large part of it is, like you say, "another link in a long chain of failed doom scenarios".

No, calling that fascism is very appropriate. In fact, being the editor of the Spanish version of the ASPO bulletin, I was very angry at the way this text went into the bulletin. I am for free speech, and I can see that the reading of that text can be illustrative of some political reactions to the possibility of a early and destructive peak oil (reactions you can expect from the BNP in UK, or Nuevo Orden -New Order, in Spain).

In fact, we published that text the way we felt must have been published in the first place: with a very big warning and making very clear our views regarding the fascists solutions to the population problem put forward in that article.

I think that there are a lot of people dealing with peak oil that don't deserve the "fascist" adjective.

That's why I called you a troll. And I'll say it again, I appreciate your contribution, I learn a lot from what you say. Perhaps a bit less of attitude would help you...

"I think that as constraints grow, prices will rise and other options will emerge."

Jack, this is exactly the problem. No one has any idea what other options there are. When population pressure put an end to hunting and gathering we switched to farming and using wood for fuel. When wood became scarce we switched to coal. When coal became scarce (in some areas) we switched to oil. When oil becomes scarce we switch to what?

Coal, oil and wood all represent concentrated, stored energy from the sun.

Some alternatives might be frozen methane hydrates or thorium reactors. Both represent vast stores of usable energy. As yet there is no technology for utilizing either. Even if we do develop this technology, we are probably bumping up against the limits caused by very high energy flows in our society.

Peakguy lays out ... what could be considered "Political Peak Oil" [PPO]. It is [a] complex and inter-related set of beliefs of which the end of [cheap] oil is [but] only one. Others are that Consumption, Capitalism, Growth, and Corporations are bad.
I don't agree with much of this, but many of my friends do and I respect them and Peakguy [for it].

However, it is not necessary to buy [into all of their beliefs] ... in order to believe in Peak Oil or in order to be an active participant on this site.

The above rephrases slightly what Jack said. He scores many good points in the few lines.

IMHO it is important to understand that the original Hubbert Curves (the centerpiece of PO beliefs) are themselves a mixed study in geology, economics, politics, etc.; in short they are graphs of "Political Peak Oil" behavior as applied to domestic, onshore-drilling USA.

Think about it. In 1956, as the American herds were heading toward the cliff some 15 years into their future (1970), they did nothing about it despite the early warnings of chicken little Hubbert. They called him names. Belittled him even though he was dead right.

Luckily for the Americans, 1970 was not the real deal because a safety net lay directly under their first cliff. It was called global oil.

So here we are some 35 years later, repeating the same behavior on the global level. Very interesting. Of course, there probaly will be no catch-us-if-you-can safety net for the "First World" this time around. (BTW Cuba & others are already living in the post-peak universe. Peak Oil is really about the joining of the "major powers" to the already-existing, post-peak universe.)

On Jack's statements though, note what he says about need for affirmation from a group of other people (his friends). This is an example of herd mentality. I poke not fun at Jack because truth is, we are all herd animals. We all need affirmation from the group. (After all, what the hell am I also doing here but not giving and seeking affirmation in writing at this site?) So Peak Oil is indeed a complex mix of social, economic and scientific disciplines. It is not "Geology" plain and simple. It is not "Economics" plain and simple. It is not "Human Stupidity/Nature" plain and simple. It is a complex mix of all of the above.

I don't think that a loss of the feeling of immortality is the overriding factor why people don't buy PO.  I think it is mainly because of the constant barrage of propaganda that people are subjected to their whole lives (see Chomsky and Herman's Propaganda Model and the fie filters).

This drives the herd mentality by firstly not giving people real information with which to make a choice and also by phychologically punishing those that don't follow the line.

Also, I disagree with the Monbiot quote above.  Our cheap energy resource society works in a way that is counter to our natural selves, hence the need for the propaganda model.  With the passing of the cheap energy age, the propaganda model might well crumble allowing the natural human traits of "mutual aid" and "survival of the fittest" to come to the fore rather than the unnatural concept of the self above all else.

Most of us who read this are not geologists, not economists, not politicians, not engineers. We're citizens.

I teach language. What people say, and how they say it, tells me a lot.

I draw your attention to the adjective-laden discourse:

One who doesn't agree with a certain person gets these accolades:






and so on.

The Oil Drum has featured wonderful fact-based commentary from people who hold a range of beliefs. Let's continue this exchange, not try to censor others by bullying them with insults such as troll.

I'll take this with a grain of salt. I just call them as I see them. I have no power to censor anyone. This site is the most useful by far of the others I've read.

Here's a scenario and a question:

I'm an EMT. I can describe for you, in detail, the effects upon the human body of a car crash. You tend toward driving along at eighty, on the highway, without a seatbelt. If I go into detail to you about the "three impacts"--first, the car impacts with the object, then the body impacts with the inside of the car, then the internal organs impact with the inside of the body cavity, and the great the speed, the greater the momentum of impact--am I a fear-monger? a doomer? hysterical? and are you more or less likely to slow down and wear your seatbelt next time?

I like this analogy.
I think that our difference with the optimists is that they are non-stop claiming that we'll be able to hit the breaks on time. On what base we can be 100% sure, I may ask? IMO it is vital to keep alive the option of a full-speed head-on crash with the wall. This might be enough incentitive to start slowing sooner rather then later.
To extend this analogy further, I think the wall is very real, and that we won't make any serious attempt to slow down our car hurtling towards it, but the wheels are about the fall off the car. This may or may not cause a nasty accident which not all the occupants of the car would necessarily survive, but it would stop the car's progress towards the wall for the time being. If the car can be repaired, I would expect the remaining occupants to get right back in, point it towards the wall again and put their collective foot down hard on the accelerator. The wall may also have moved closer to the car in the intervening time.
I will contribute the Catholic viewpoint on this topic.  For clarity, I will use the expression "I believe" referring only to the absolute certainty in the truths that God has revealed.  The post is rather long, but covers all the issues raised by Peakguy.

So, I believe that
<quote from catechism at vatican.va, emphasis added>

God created the world according to his wisdom. It is not the product of any necessity whatever, nor of blind fate or chance.  Because God creates through wisdom, his creation is ordered.

Scripture presents the work of the Creator symbolically as a succession of six days of divine "work", concluded by the "rest" of the seventh day.

The hierarchy of creatures is expressed by the order of the "six days", from the less perfect to the more perfect. God loves all his creatures and takes care of each one, even the sparrow. Nevertheless, Jesus said: "You are of more value than many sparrows", or again: "of how much more value is a man than a sheep!"

Man is the summit of the Creator's work, as the inspired account expresses by clearly distinguishing the creation of man from that of the other creatures.

Man occupies a unique place in creation: he is "in the image of God"; he alone is called to share, by knowledge and love, in God's own life. It was for this end that he was created, and this is the fundamental reason for his dignity.

The human person, created in the image of God, is a being at once corporeal and spiritual. The biblical account expresses this reality in symbolic language when it affirms that "then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being." (Gen 2:7).

The "breath of life" refers to the innermost aspect of man, that which is of greatest value in him, that by which he is most especially in God's image: his spiritual soul.

Every spiritual soul is created immediately by God - it is not "produced" by the parents - and it is immortal: it does not perish when it separates from the body at death, and it will be reunited with the body at the final Resurrection.

God unites man and woman in such a way that, by forming "one flesh" (Gen 2:24), they can transmit human life: "Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it." (Gen 1:28).

In God's plan man and woman have the vocation of "subduing" the earth as stewards of God. This sovereignty is not to be an arbitrary and destructive domination. God calls man and woman, made in the image of the Creator "who loves everything that exists", to share in his providence toward other creatures; hence their responsibility for the world God has entrusted to them.

The seventh commandment enjoins respect for the integrity of creation. Animals, like plants and inanimate beings, are by nature destined for the common good of past, present, and future humanity. Use of the mineral, vegetable, and animal resources of the universe cannot be divorced from respect for moral imperatives. Man's dominion over inanimate and other living beings granted by the Creator is not absolute; it is limited by concern for the quality of life of his neighbor, including generations to come; it requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation.

Creation has its own goodness and proper perfection, but it did not spring forth complete from the hands of the Creator. The universe was created "in a state of journeying" (in statu viae) toward an ultimate perfection yet to be attained, to which God has destined it. We call "divine providence" the dispositions by which God guides his creation toward this perfection.

The witness of Scripture is unanimous that the solicitude of divine providence is concrete and immediate; God cares for all, from the least things to the great events of the world and its history. The sacred books powerfully affirm God's absolute sovereignty over the course of events.

God is the sovereign master of his plan. But to carry it out he also makes use of his creatures' co-operation. This use is not a sign of weakness, but rather a token of almighty God's greatness and goodness. For God grants his creatures not only their existence, but also the dignity of acting on their own, of being causes and principles for each other, and thus of co-operating in the accomplishment of his plan.

<end of quote>

Notice "symbolic" referring to "six days" and "dust from the ground".  So, no conflict here with Big Bang and the universe being 13.7 billion years old.  And no conflict either with evolutionary theory explaining the mechanism for the successive creation along the "days" of the different living creatures, including the biological layer of man.

Speaking about the evolutionary theory, now strictly within the biology realm, I assume that everybody knows that current scientific knowledge - actually since the work of H. De Vries and T. H. Morgan in early XX century - supports the neodarwinist/mutationist theory, as Darwin himself was Lamarckian.  Thus, "random" mutations (DNA changes) provide the "feedstock" upon which natural selection through the struggle for life operates. (Remembering the last paragraphs of the quote, we know that the mutations are not really random at all.)

Back to the origin of man, at one point in the evolution of hominids, most probably in sync with an speciation event, God started to infuse an immortal spiritual soul, beginning with a couple.  From that point onward, we have humans from a theological viewpoint.  Before then, just more or less intelligent 2-footed animals.

(The specific point is open to debate.  My personal pick is the appearance of Homo Sapiens 250 K years ago.  Thus Neanderthals would have been animals.  You can start with Homo Ergaster/Erectus 1.7 M years ago if you like, or some point in between.)

Note that A. R. Wallace, who authored the evolutionary theory simultaneously with - and independently of - Darwin, departed from him regarding the origin of man, by not thinking that natural selection explained it and admitting the existence of spiritual factors, in line with what I said above.  Note also that Wallace was closer to the current mutationist theory than Darwin was.  To me, the sad fact that Darwin has eclipsed Wallace in the general public's mind is just a matter of PR.

Now, it is just plain obvious that our being special ("in the image of God") by our immortal spiritual soul does not imply:

  • That through ever greater technological innovation our species can continue to expand its size and consumption levels indefinitely into the future.

  • That at our biological layer we are not subject to the same natural forces and limits as all other species of plant and animal on the planet.

So, the commandment "fill the earth" does not mean the irresponsible indefinite multiplication of the population.  Personally speaking, I think that, collectively, mankind has already complied with that commandment.  Of course, we will never hear a voice from heavens saying "OK, folks, you've done it.  Take it easy now."  But we have what the Church calls "the sign of the times".  The Vatican II Council (GS 50) says about the parents making procreation decisions: "Let them thoughtfully take into account both their own welfare and that of their children, those already born and those which the future may bring. For this accounting they need to reckon with both the material and the spiritual conditions of the times."

So, while on the way up to Hubbert's Peak it looked sensible and responsible to have big families, Roscoe Bartlett's-like, reckoning with the impending peak oil and the impact it will have on society makes it seem not so wise and responsible now.

Which is apart from the teaching that the only licit method of birth regulation is periodic abstinence.

Minor typo. It is "the signs of the times".
Thanks Beach Boy. I appreciate your perspective. What are your thoughts on the replenish command - is that what you mean by taking into account future generations?
Peakguy, sorry for the delay in checking for replies.  Basically, there's a problem of biblical translations here.  Mine says, for Gen 1.28:

God blessed them, saying: "Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that move on the earth."

So, no "replenish" command here, but "fill the earth" (yourselves, i.e. multiply until you fill the earth with people).

Taking into account future generations comes from a doctrinary point related to the 7th commandment, which is called "the universal destination of goods" and BTW has nothing to do with socialism.  In case you are interested, here it is:


In the beginning God entrusted the earth and its resources to the common stewardship of mankind to take care of them, master them by labor, and enjoy their fruits (Gen 1:26-29). The goods of creation are destined for the whole human race. However, the earth is divided up among men to assure the security of their lives, endangered by poverty and threatened by violence. the appropriation of property is legitimate for guaranteeing the freedom and dignity of persons and for helping each of them to meet his basic needs and the needs of those in his charge.

The right to private property, acquired by work or received from others by inheritance or gift, does not do away with the original gift of the earth to the whole of mankind. The universal destination of goods remains primordial, even if the promotion of the common good requires respect for the right to private property and its exercise.

In his use of things man should regard the external goods he legitimately owns not merely as exclusive to himself but common to others also, in the sense that they can benefit others as well as himself.  The ownership of any property makes its holder a steward of Providence, with the task of making it fruitful and communicating its benefits to others, first of all his family.

Goods of production - material or immaterial - such as land, factories, practical or artistic skills, oblige their possessors to employ them in ways that will benefit the greatest number.

<end quote>

It is obvious that expressions such as "the whole human race" or "the whole of mankind" include future generations, as the paragraph I had already quoted explicitely says:

The seventh commandment enjoins respect for the integrity of creation. Animals, like plants and inanimate beings, are by nature destined for the common good of past, present, and future humanity.  Use of the mineral, vegetable, and animal resources of the universe cannot be divorced from respect for moral imperatives. Man's dominion over inanimate and other living beings granted by the Creator is not absolute; it is limited by concern for the quality of life of his neighbor, including generations to come; it requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation.

One way I practice the illusion of immortality is through my art.  Two of my favorite mediums are stone and metal and the primary reason for this is because they will be around for many years after the worms eat me.  

It always pushes a button when the word Luddite is used in a derogatory way.   The Luddites knew first hand how painful progress can be.  Im not saying that destroying machines is the answer. But I do think it is important to understand the effect technology has on the way we live our lives and the way we interact.  Sometimes that effect is very positive, and sometimes it is devastating....  

As an artist I am very aware of the lack of quality in contemporary goods.  Most contemporary goods are not made to last, most of them are  made by machines, and a great deal of it ends up in landfills. Disposable crap is now an integral part of our culture and economy, we are encouraged to consume more and more crap because it feeds the economy....... it drives me crazy.... most of us seem to realize that the American way is not sustainable.  If there is any hope of preventing mass chaos, die-off, or extinction we have to change....

I know my attitude and ideas, my sentimental yearning for a world were handmade objects are valued are naive in some respects.  At the same time a slower world, were people are more aware of their  interdependence and mortality would in my eyes be a better one.  

Peakguy--An interesting post, and fascinating responses--you clearly hit a nerve or two.

For those who haven't encountered it, a key piece of reading on this topic is Ernest Becker's The Denial of Death. Becker basically argues that keeping busy to forget our mortality is the key motive that underlies individual and societal human behaviour.

To second peakguy's point: if we can deny that we are mortal, it makes perfect sense that we'd deny that oil, which fuels our material fantasies, is finite. It's no accident that when a my-lord-I'm-mortal midlife crisis hits, a hot sportscar looks like just the ticket to soothe the mind.

keeping busy to forget our mortality

Knowledge of death is the price we humans pay for havinge "intelligence". (The Tree of Knowledge according to some religions. We Lemmings call it the Tree of No Ledge --if you see the similarity, ha ha.)

Each individual deals with the "problem" of mortality in a personal way. Many flock to religion and a belief in an "after life". Many develop a notion that the Angel of Death awaits in a far off future and is not around the corner. Some feel they are "special", better than the next person and that is why "it" won't happen to me. Many hope they will be senile or unconscious (asleep, unaware) when "it" happens.

All the various coping mechanisms develop a life of their own in the human brain and start intruding into cognitions of all things that might be "bad" or unpleasant.

Peak oil is an unpleasant notion.

  1. "It" will not happen until a point far off in the future (definitely not until 2100 for sure).
  2. My religion will save ME, I'm special.
  3. Adam Smith will save ME, I'm rich (special)
  4. "They" will save me, those nerd Technology servants
  5. My country 'tis for me will save me, we are special (we are "Americans", we are her Majesty's loyal subjects, we are ... wherever you are.)

So you were wondering why their eyes glazed over this Thanksgiving when you tried to tell your family members about the "it" that you believe is coming? Well now you know, Chicken Little. "It" will never happen to me/us. Problem solved.
Peakguy, if you are interested in this topic, you might enjoy False Dawn by John Gray (Professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics). It's a very insightful analysis of exactly this issue.