Our Toughest Foes: Apathy and Cynicism

I am in the middle of a local campaign to bring bike lanes and greenmarkets to my powerful neighborhood. Today Super G and Yankee joined me for the afternoon as we posted flyers on telephone poles and handed them out to regular folks on Second Avenue. In the past 2 weeks I have given out at least 500 of these and combined with others, the number is well over 3500 now.

Afterward we had lunch and discussed our experience. Trying to get people's attention is quite a demanding task. A lot of people are totally apathetic, and either don't look at you, or look right through you. This experience with the average person was eye-opening. Our toughest enemy in creating a more sustainable world is not the cornucopians like John Tierney, but rather the pervasive apathy and cynicism in our post-modern society. And in particular, I'd like to call out my own demographic - Caucasian men and women between 20-35 years old (with an ipod in their ear and a latte in their hand). If we don't try to create change now for the world we will inherit, who will?

The most receptive audiences were any non-caucasians, elderly and in particular women between 40 and 55. Perhaps it takes time to develop the perspective to appreciate the types of ingredients to build a sustainable society. But it wasn't just the blank stares that got to me, it was the smug look of young professionals that said "Why care? You're not going to change anything." And to a certain extent, if everyone follows that cynical attitude they will be right.

Even if I achieve all that I hope to in my neighborhood, it would help somewhat but not stave off a severe PO scenario. But at least we would have done our share and we would be in a better position to adapt to the new realities.

Herein lies the answer: It would take all the neighborhoods in America together to find ways to solve the peak oil associated problems.

So TODers, what's your local plan to take action to make your community more sustainable?

Here are some suggestions on how to frame your thinking about taking action locally.

I too had the best luck with women over 40, but I doubt it was because they were interested in building a sustainable food source. Farmers markets (greenmarkets) in NYC are trendy, are publicized by the fact that the best restaurants feature their food, and the produce is usually somewhat tastier than the grocery store. Oh, and people on the UES are sick of going to Union Square to go to a Greenmarket, so there's probably a competition factor, too.

Every time I think about PO in general, and how to sell it, it raises the question of whether to jump right in with PO, or tell them about other problems that will conveniently be solved at the same time. Usually, the latter is better, since those reasons are more palatable. Take the bike lanes issue: for most people, it's not about reducing oil use, it's about reducing traffic congestion. I suppose that if we get the outcome we want and change people's habits for the future, it doesn't matter if they don't know why they're really doing us a favor for the future.

I've been disappointed by the response I've had when attempting to raise peak oil with friends. It has been almost universal lack of interest or denial, only about 5% have been sufficiently bothered to even discuss it or read anything about it.

I've probably tried to raise it with fifty people in real life, at least fifty more online outside the peak oil community. Perhaps 2 or 3 of them actually took it seriously at all, so I guess it will take some shock event to bring even a decent minority out of their torpor. It doesn't bode well for humanity waking up in time to do something effective to mitigate.

Fortunately there is beginning to be a little mention of the subject in the more serious UK media. Though relatively few people actually pay attention to that and the content hasn't been particularly good yet, I hope the steady drip of that low level background noise will eventually impinge on mass consciousness.

Perhaps the best route, for now, would be to target populations that are more likely to be interested and aware - leafleting farmers' markets, green and ecological meetings maybe.

The price will shock.  Don't worry, once oil get to, say $1000 per barrel, they will be all ears.
I doubt that oil is valuable enough to be worth an (inflation adjusted) $1000/barrel.  Economies will collapse before the price gets that high.
Are you inflation adjusting for that $1000? What the hell does that mean? They'll be charging for air before oil reaches $1000. And you and I will be dead, so who cares?
That's really weird, Engineer and I posted the same thing at the same time. That is really weird.
An easy contribution is to join the League of American Bicyclists (they do a lot of good work):


FWIW, I'd say that I make a daily effort to reduce fossil fuel consumption, but now and then I back off a bit.  It's no fun to be a hair-shirted monk in a world of libertines.  So for what it's worth I try to keep my "averages" low, but loosen up now and then.  Whether that is an accommodation to Apathy & Cynicism, or a means to combat it ... who knows.

I think those ranks of (what I'm semi-seriously calling) libertines will change on their own, if they change at all.

Considering all the self-identified skinny vegans who don't drive, don't buy stuff, grow their own food, didn't reproduce, and don't plan on it, I'd say this board is full of crocodile tears.

First remove the telephone pole from your eye, then remove the speck from your neighbor's eye.

This really demonstrates why you can't push to hard.  You may be (as I will be in a few minutes) on a happy ride to get your bagel ... but when some people see you, they'll think they see something else.

(BTW, I do ride to the excellent local carnicerias to buy meat!  But that happy ride might also be seen ...)

Speak for yourself: I'm an overweight carnivore with four grown children and three grandchildren so far, drive an Audi with the original German chip in it so I can go 165 miles an hour whenever I feel like it.

Furthermore I can drink you under the table, beat you at tennis or fencing, wipe you out at Trivial Pursuit and sail right by your power boat when you run out of gas.

Also, I have a great sense of humor;-)

LOL!. (note: on the acronym page, maybe there should be a difference between LOL in caps which means I really did laugh out loud and lol lowercase, which means Im typing this with a straight face but recognizing an attempt at humor)
A sense of humour often helps recovery from heart attack, as does access to an available hi-tech health system. Please do your best to avoid having it at 165 mph - your God may judge you culpable if you kill others (especially now i've made you aware).

Don't lose that sense of humour - I, at least, appreciate and like it - but do try to augment it with a bit more self wisdom before it's too late, particularly if your genetics are the least bit unfavourable.

Live long and prosper

Thank you. I know a great deal about genetics and phenemena such as regression to the mean. Now, please explain this: My children are smarter than I am, and my 8 year old granddaughter in second grade is reading Jack London's CALL OF THE WILD and loving it. Also, she is quite a chess player.

Please explain,

What did I do right?

Probability is only probability, means are only averages, there are always outliers. Perhaps the mother of your children is smarter than you realised ;) perhaps that's just her, or your, genes, perhaps their happy combination, perhaps the benefit of environment and / or education.

Once the waveform collapses you watch the electron, rather than ponder the probabilities of the waveform.

Good analogy!

I have this feeling, however, that somehow I can create "luck" and beat probabilities. I know intellectually this is totally irrational, but I feel it nevertheless.

In addition I think the men in my family are attracted to spectacularly intelligent women who have ancestors the same. But nutrition has something to do with it: My father was 5'3" and I'm 5'9" but my son is 6'4" tall. To grow thirteen inches in three generations is probably a lot more than just genetic selection.

One huge puzzle to me is why we are no smarter than people were 2,500 years ago. That is about 100 generations, and as I understand evolution, being smarter than others should provide some advantages. Yet if you read the ancient Greeks, it is pretty clear that people have not gotten smarter at all, and the simplest hypothesis is dysgenic breeding.

Oh now I'm going to be attacked from all sides, but maybe there is something to "The Bell Curve." I do know this: Plato worried a lot about dumb people having more kids than smart ones. Anything that Plato worried about, I worry about.

Thus, to do my part and redress the imbalance, I decided the right and moral thing to do was to have a lot of kids and improve the gene pool;-)

In a contest for Political Incorrectness, I'll win hands down. LOL

It may be possible that you can create 'luck', just as it may be possible that some can remote view and some 'see' into the future - the universe is almost certainly stranger than we, with our blinkers, currently deduce.

Many things can be limited by environment and can limit us in many ways, perhaps that has to do with height in your family, it reminded me of something I read yesterday: 'In 1942, 17-year-old Pvt. Harold Zatkowsky sat down for his first breakfast in the U.S. Army. "That was the first time in my life when I got enough to eat." '

There's an hypothesis in evolutionary biology that the rapid increase in human brain capacity was a direct result of dietary changes of humans living near seas and eating more fish oils. Twin studies indicate that about two thirds of intelligence (as measured by IQ tests) is due to genetic inheritance and only a third due to environment - but that third can make a huge difference, lol.

There's a lot of room under a bell curve, those at the extreme high end may be rare but are the ones whose words are most likely to live through history. Perhaps there are proportionately as many or more with the ability of Plato now but relative to the accumulated wisdom, knowledge and intelligence of humankind they are less obvious. I once saw a quote (dunno how accurate it is) that the average male in 17th century England processed as much information in their life as was in a typical 1980s UK Sunday newspaper - and they've got bigger since then!

Political correctness must not preclude rational discussion of important subjects. You and Plato were right to be worried about that, methinks. Many things, including 'luck', contribute to survivability, and human development seems to have thwarted most of those determinants in the last couple of centuries - but before then they were largely operational - without substituting any alternative mechanisms. No doubt some corrective processes will occur one way or another, if Darwin was near correct. Genetic (mitachondrial DNA) studies seem to suggest that virtually all modern humans are descended from a mere 6 or 7 women, hopefully we won't come that close to exterminating ourselves in the future.

There's a lot of room under a bell curve, those at the extreme high end may be rare but are the ones whose words are most likely to live through history.

Like Yogi Berra?

That's what my parents did. Scholarships to Harvard and Radcliffe, had ten kids in fifteen years to outbreed the dumb people, then got divorced. I always said that to get time to go back for seconds on the brains, they had to skip the common sense. All my siblings agree with me.
It's why I never had kids. I already raised a family when you count taking care of the younger ones.
In an attempt to appeal to peoples relative fitness algorithms, I have a date and place in mind where Im enlisting the artistic support of a friend, renting a Humvee and painting "I AM AN A$$HOLE" all over the back and doing hubbert curves and #s of dead in iraq etc along with some energy website links - i will drive it (with beefy copilot) through some big east coast cities. Perhaps some newspapers will take photos.

This type of message, where its not only not 'cool' to be profligate and unaware, but IS cool to be sustainable- has to, and will someday pick up momentum. People wont do things for the planet  unless it somehow helps their own lives as well. We need to change culture in a way that conforms to our evolutionary impulses to be more fit than the next guy (even if we consciously are thinking about saving frogs going extinct, we are subconsiocusly thinking about how to get the 'chicks' and get more money-our cultural fitness measuring stick)

my little stunt is a small step in the direction of having 'chicks' choose differently - (the money thing will only follow post peak) If some would be Humvee buyer consciously sees that driving one makes him an a$$hole, maybe he/she would reconsider the purchase, out of shame.

( I rationalize that my actual use of the Humvee and miles driven will be outweighed by the impact of smaller future Hummer sales, so that 'technically', Im not really an a$$hole)

That's funny and all, and I wouldn't try to talk you out of it (on the contrary -- go for it!), but I believe that any prospective Humvee or SUV buyer who sees that will (1) probably not get it, but (2) either way, agree that you are an A$$HOLE, to be totally ignored.
Isn't painting "I'm an A^#HOLE" on a Hummer a tad of an oxymoron?
No, not an oxymoron. It would be repetitiously redundant.
Oops, that's actually more what I meant.  I spaced..
For intelligent humans, yes; but could work when morons see it.
I love that idea with renting out that Hummer. Maybe each of us with a few hundred to waste could do that in each of our respective cities on one date, like the oil peak date's anniversary. (peak date as of that one expert)

If a Hummer isn't "good enough" rent out a moving truck and put signage made with bed sheets. We could send out press releases a few days before we embark on out gratuitous missions of fuel-wasting protest. You could make a CD with one "song" with a repeating message like an advertising sound truck, blaring the stereo. For Hummers, you could get magnetic signage made easally so as you drive off, you get your load of fuel, slap the signs on, and slip the CD in, and start your all-day drive. Of course, you drive the "a$$hole-mobile" by crowds to attract attention. A nice bright RED Hummer would work best, the only case where you WANT a red vehicle.

Let's pick a date this summer. 7/4/2006? I'm game!

I will try to keep this post short, becuase I could write reams on it.  But the apathy you encountered IS a big problem and its not going away.  Solutions have to rely on it not going away.

People think that if we can just educate people on issues, they will all come around the to "right" way of thinking about something.  But the problem is that "Success", defined crudely as actions that result in more of what you desire in a certain timeframe, doesn't always align with what is "right".

Wealth and power are measured in timeframes shorter than those of their impacts.  There has long been, and forever will be a  thoughtful and more educated minority of activists.  Many will burn out in grassroots attempts at converting the masses.  But the problem is a company, government, or individual who is willing to seek short term gains at the longer term expense of others, will often be "better off" and their offspring will be "better off" and so will overpower those who are more thoughtful of the long term impacts.  There are many exceptions, and they do well in proving the rule.  If you match a peaceful, long term thinking culture and pit them against the power of highly consumptive U.S. like culture in a conflict, it is clear who will continue to exist in the future and who will perish (in the timeframe of that conflict, not ultimately).  It is this fact that we are inherently ill equipped to be "aware" of the long term (knowing only cerebrally, not instinctually) that will cause us to face Peak Oil more as crisis than as transition.


There are many who have given up on trying to educate the masses.  At this point we plan the best we can so that we can to survive as individuals, and the folks with the big SUVs and all the rest will be blindsided when TSHTF.

Part of the problem is that for many people this 'issue' still isn't critical - it is optional.

The best analogy I can come up with is that people say we ought to reduce oil usage just like people say they need to work out at the gym more often, but in the end it is just talk.

This is really coupled with the individualism, materialism, consumerism and all of the rest that people in our society have strongly embraced.  I hear some people talk who say they are all for alternative energy, and once it becomes cheaper than traditional energy they would buy it.  No thought given to simply using less for the common good - the notion that there even is a common good got lost years ago.

I hate to say it, but I am thinking that it won't be until oil prices jump a few more times that people will be sufficiently introspective to actually do something about it.

In the 1970s I was an idealistic young adult and wanted to save the world.  The world didn't want to be saved.

Now I want to buy a low priced used LPG car and low priced farmland.  The apathy of the masses makes those tasks easier.  Since it is at least 20 years too late to mitigate the PO transition, public education in 2006 doesn't make any sense at all.  The apathy I used to hate is now my best friend.  Go sheep, keep playing your oil age consumer games while the rest of us quietly prepare for the inevitable.

You, good sir, are a wise man.
I don't think that I have ever seen Hubbert's preprinted remarks that were headed out at the famous 1956 API meeting.  Note that the 50th annivesary is coming up in March.  I added the dates in parentheses--(i.e. 2006) and (i.e., 1966 to 1971).   As almost everyone knows, the Lower 48 peaked in 1970.   Using only the 1970 and earlier data, the post-1970 cumulative Lower 48 production was 97% of predicted using HL.  

I think that it might be a good idea to permanently post the preprinted versions of Hubbert's remarks somewhere.


A Special Editorial Feature by GEORGE PAZIK Editor & Publisher, Fishing Facts, November 1976


The preprinted version of Hubbert's paper distributed at the March 7, 1956 American Petroleum Institute meeting in San Antonio, Texas had the following statements:

"According to the best currently available information, the production of petroleum and natural gas on a world scale will probably pass its climax within the order of a half a century (i.e., 2006), while for both the United States and for Texas, the peaks of production may be expected to occur within the next 10 or 15 years. (i.e., 1966 to 1971)

"Assuming this prognosis is not seriously in error, it raises grave policy questions with regard to the future of the petroleum industry. It need not be emphasized that there is a vast difference between the running of an industry whose annual production can be counted on to increase on the average 5 to 10 percent per year and one whose output can be depended upon to decline at that rate. Yet, in terms of the production of natural gas and crude oil, this appears to be what the petroleum industry in the United States is facing."

(When the paper was published, after Shell Oil Company censors had finished with it, the statement above was deleted and replaced with the following: "the culmination for petroleum and natural gas in both the United States and Texas should occur within the next few decades.")

My experience of political work is basically:
You do not get feedback.  

I got a realy nice energy politics article into the largest local newspaper a couple of days ago on the most read page. 0 phone calls, 0 emails, so far 0 answers in the newspaper (the editing delay can be a week or two), 0 letters, some friends and relativs commenting  that it was a realy good one.

The direct feedback to established politicians seems to a large extent be nutty people, a few ordinary citizens, friend and relatives and other politicians. Politicians high up in the hierachies seems to often become isolated and only get feedback from other politicians, mass media and lobbyists. I get the impressions that their views on things then can drift away to strange lands, at least that would explain a lot about how the world is led.

Of course, I do not realy know how strange my views on things are. I use misc sources and debates such as TOD to "anchor" them in reality. A sad thing about that is that a 0 feedback article perhaps accomplishes much more then writing with feedback such as this forum or other with more nutty people then sane. TOD has better signal/noise ratio then most. But it is said and I think it its true that the thankless work is important for winning the election. I might be spoiled by the direct feedback on the net.

Your work to get something good built probably do more good then what is apparant when you campaign.  Try and try again. Perhaps you can also figure out better ways of getting it done, that is what I try myself when my political opponents have a good idea or get something to work.

We did get some good feedback from people, but that was maybe 1 in 15 that even took the flyer, which is maybe 1 in 100 of people who passed by us. I agree that immediate feedback is not necessarily the best measure for success. To quote Margaret Mead, the famous sociologist:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.

How does TOD match up?
Small group? 1777 member spread throughout the world
Thoughtful? Definitely! The best on the web IMHO
Committed? To varying degrees, but I would say more committed than most. There's definitely some room for improvement

I wonder if you might get more takers if you had a discount coupon for a local deli or something right in the middle of the page.  I'm sure the owner would be happy to get the exposure.

The Peak Oil special today is Ham and Swiss :-)

It might work because you would be offering an immediate benefit in exchange for the off chance they would actually read the print near the coupon.

With a catchy headline they might even read further.

Just a thought.

Speaking as a sociologist who has done a fair amount of reading about social movements, what TOD needs is a zealot, a charismatic leader who can get a major social movement going. The problem is that the people on TOD are rational, cool, excessively sane and balanced folk (by and large). We need, in my opinion, a social movement on the scale of The American Revolution.

Where is our Tom Paine?
Where is our Patrick Henry?
And where oh where can we find George Washington . . . Ben Franklin . . . . Where is our Madison? Or Adams? or Jefferson?

Let us make no small plans.

How about a new political party? Both the Dems and GOP are worthless and worse than worthless in their craven dependence on Big Money from the fat cats in special-interest groups that benefit from the status quo.

What would be a good name for such a political party? (BTW, the Green party had to fail, partly because of its unimaginative name. Names matter.)

For example, in Minnesota, a state that not long ago elected professional wrestler Jesse "The Body" Ventura to be Governor (as an Independent) we now have Jonathon "The Impaler" Sharkey, also a professional wrestler, Satanic Dark Priest, Sanguinarian Vampyre, and Hecate Witch. Now that is what I call originality: a self-confessed vampire as politician! Truth in advertising? I mean, how many other candidates for high political office confess to being vampires? Until somebody better comes along, he's got my vote. Maybe we can co-opt him to TOD agenda, because after he becomes governor, he has presidential ambitions.

O.K., who wants to start a new political party?

One huge puzzle to me is why we are no smarter than people were 2,500 years ago. That is about 100 generations, and as I understand evolution, being smarter than others should provide some advantages. Yet if you read the ancient Greeks, it is pretty clear that people have not gotten smarter at all, and the simplest hypothesis is dysgenic breeding.

You had dumb people then too - its just that the works they created were not saved by anyone - so today you have no record.

Alas today, if humanity still has technology in its futue, all the dumb things said via SMS and on usenet will be around for others to read.

How about a new political party? Both the Dems and GOP are worthless and worse than worthless in their craven dependence on Big Money from the fat cats in special-interest groups that benefit from the status quo.

The purpose of government is to benefit the status quo.   Period.   Each American here HAS gained a benefit from the dollar as international trade unit - with all the baggage which comes along from that idea.  

The problem for humanity is when the benefit goes away, the resulting actions of the removal of what is seen as an entitlement/birthright will mostlikely end up in personal harm being done to us.  

As for a political party - you have the Technocracy (One of the founders is M. King Hubbert).  If one wishes to break the back of large corps, VERY local government would mean they'd have to spend large amounts of money ALL over, instead of spending a bunch on the federal level - the downside is local corrupt or just plain incompetant officials  

Don't forget networking! At Crisis Energética (1777 members, 3000 unique visitors daily, leading peakoil & energy website in Spanish) we link some of the posts here, and we recommand people to come over here (if language it's not an issue).
What paper Magnus?
I'd like to read it.
(My guess is that you're a swede like me)
Östgöta Correspondenten 2006-02-07 page A3

http://www.corren.se/archive/2006/2/7/ijvrj8lweyd6uff.xml?category1=1097835189-26&category2=1097 835189-27

Its lots of thoughts in very few words and its in Swedish.

Thanx for the link.
I agree with your thoughts fully, great short piece. However I think very few not already thinking of the energy issue will really get it. But I can feel the awareness and worries growing in general; friends and collegues is showing more interest when the subject comes up. At least in the rather academic context in which I live.
By the way, regarding the subject of this thread, I find people not listening if you start the subject of PO flat out. Rather make them ask you by hinting when discussing other or related subjects. Or when asked of your own adjusted lifestyle.
it is funny ,though, that when i visit the whole foo
dstore in my long island neighborhood that the parking lot runneth  over with fuel guzzling suvs. a bit of cognitive dissonance i guess

This is only because 'organic foods' is yet another trend that these people are chasing.

I was in an organic foodstore the other day, and I was surprised at how overpackaged their stuff was.  I don't know if you can blame the store - if the customer wants a trendy instant meal in a box, then I suppose that is what you have to give them.

It makes sense that in a very small community (up to 100 individuals), where people know each other and are inter-dependent, community pressure and the desire to act for the common good can have a strong influence on people's actions. But in a larger community (over a few hundred people) that dynamic just doesn't work.

A tiny minority of people doing the right thing will be totally swamped by the hordes doing the selfish thing. We could complain about how wrong that is, but I think it's more productive to accept it as the reality we live in.

People's behavior will change when the economic incentives change. In Amsterdam bike riding is the primary means of getting around. Gas prices are high, but perhaps just as important, there's nowhere to park and roads are narrow and congested. It's just so much faster and more convenient (and cheaper) to get around by foot, bike, or public transportation.

I think the best strategy is to try to change the incentives, not urge people to act altruistically for the larger good.

Doing what you're doing (going to public meetings, handing out flyers, trying to get bike lanes, talking to people) is still worthwhile. It can help add meaning to your life and it's fun, and it's no joke to say it might even be an effective way to meet "chicks" :) ... but to create change I think you should focus on changing incentives.

Unfortunately, the mass media and the politicians are totally working against you. Consider republicans. I really doubt you'll get any receptiveness there. Now consider democrats (elected officials). Well, setting aside that they are generally spineless and totally ineffective, I don't think you'll find much more openness to your message there. I just got an unsolicited email from the democratic party in my state urging me to help them pressure republican lawmakers to make laws to lower gas prices. Brain-dead, but true.

You might have the best luck with local officials.

There is good news, however. If peak oil is now coming upon us, that means gas prices will be on a rising trend from here on out. Slowly, the economic incentives will favor conservation more and more. It would be nice to hurry the process by removing subsidies for motorists (and that is a strategy worth looking into), but even if that fails, reality will step in and reduce incentives to drive, through higher prices.

I think local officials are far more responsive, especially if you focus on tangible ideas / projects that improve quality of life in their area. I highly recommend getting familiar with the staff at your local politicians offices. They can help you understand both sides to an issue and help you strengthen your arguments. Also, just keep showing up and have your voice heard. Seek alliances with local groups that have shared goals. And I agree Mikey that over time our arguments for conservation and more sustainable living will become more practical matters as the cost of gas continues to rise.
If politicians over there is like hobby politicians over here we love to get good ideas presented.

If you are lucky you will talk with someone who is a little negative and questioning and who book a time for a new meeting or start an email conversation. This actually means that your idea is good enough to make a difference.

If it is all smiles and I love you, your idea is probably destined for the round archive below the desk and the politician congratulate himself to an easy vote. I do not like politicians who love all ideas and everybody whos vocabulary is "yes", "intresting", "we will solve your problem", "trust us".

I did have some success in the past when dealing w/ local elected officials. In the mid-90's I called up my representative in the R.I. state legislature, Edie Ajello, on the eve of the election. (She'd dropped off a flyer at my house and gave her home number and said I could call.) We talked for a while about my concern about pedestrian issues, and miraculously she went on to win re-election and introduce and pass new legislation protecting pedestrian rights. (Specifially, imposing a fine in some cases when a motorist doesn't yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk).

I was also pissed about the amazingly decrepit state of the crosswalks in Providence at that time. I contacted city hall but they were indifferent. I set up an online petition that people could sign asking city hall to fix the problem. The rules were anyone signing had to promise to call city hall, then sign, and ask some friends to do the same. Eventually it kind of snowballed and a couple hundred people signed and called. I checked in w/ city hall at one point, identified myself as the person who set up the petition, and the staffer exclaimed "That was you? I hate you!!" A few weeks later they painted a lot of the worst crosswalks.

A few years later in Princeton I called up my city council rep to chat about similar issues and she promptly invited me to join a citizen's advisory group. I agreed; we mainly discussed parking. That was the obsession. Parking, parking, parking! I did sucdeed in changing one small thing. The local commuter bus company routinely parked diesel buses in town and left them idling (illegally and obnoxiously). For a year I couldn't make any headway on this issue. It was frustraing: clearly illegal by local and state laws, but couldn't get enforcement. Until one day at a committee meeting I mentioned it to the police officer who sometimes came by to talk with us, and he was like, "Oh yeah we can take care of that no problem." They started giving tickets to the bus drivers and incidents of illegal idling went way down. This latter story is recounted here: BUSTED: Suburban Transit Caught on Camera!

I teach English at a midwestern university and, as part of my student's education, I show the film End of Suburbia. Nothing has as great an effect as this film. From there I direct them to lifeaftertheoilcrash.net. They are required to write a ten page research paper on peak oil as related to their major or interests. Because it is a captive audience, they must listen or drop the class. There is the rub. Getting the initial contact in a non-captive audience situation, such as passing out flyers, to be more than a fruitless engagement with glassy-eyed consumers who hear only a threat to their easy motoring, shopping as enterainment lifestyle is the problem. They are children. That is why middle aged people listen and the twenty-somethings don't. THEY ARE CHILDREN. It is not until the gloss of coolness departs the body sometime about thirty-four or five that they begin to realize that there may be something beyond the meaningless pursuit of the latest cool thing. They begin to see that they too will wrinkle, stoop, and die. Then their minds open, their intellects engage, and their lives take on a meaning other than that which is defined by the brands they pick. And, I believe, this is why we may be doomed. For there is no other society on earth that lets childhood linger for so long. The Rolling Stones are sixty years old for christ's sake. Commercials routinely pander to older people assuring them they are still young. The American culture practically demands that society remain infantile as long as possible. A nation of children armed with Hummers, IPods, and strawberries year round will never be the leader of the revolution. It will be the victim.
Cherenkov, I would be interested to hear how your students' thinking and actions develop after the film soaks in for a while and they write their papers.
Cherenkov, as a 20-something who's done little but worry about and act on PO for the past many months, I'd like to thank you for engaging those of my generation. But also: we're not, actually, children. We're adults. We've just been born and bred into privilege and consumption culture. But if you can get our attention we ARE capable of thoughtful, responsible decision-making. In terms of the thankless (hopeless?) task of public-education, I'd even venture that it's the young (young adults, that is) who have the least to lose by divestiture from the current system and the most to lose by proceeding with business as usual. Peak oil, climate change, all of it -- these problems are and will be the entirety of my adult life. Don't write us off as children -- use that.

(yay -- finally ending my lurking days...)

Cherenkov, I had professors like this in college too. I realized pretty quickly that I just had to parrot their opinions back to them and get the 'A'. Any attempt at critical thinking would only hurt me. The impression it left on me was that the professor was biased and trying to force their opinion on me - not that they had some great wisdom that I should listen to.

Perhaps your case is different. Do you give equal grades to those who agree and dissent? Would you give an 'A' to a well argued cornocopian?

I'm sorry if I am wrong or offensive, but this seems like misuse of a position to push a political view point. And since students aren't as stupid as you think (are you mistaking disagreement for stupidity?), it probably backfires.

Yeah, you can't simply forcefeed this stuff.

It would be fair to offer both sides - have them write about Yergin's book as to be fair ( I think it won some type of prize or something...) Let them make up their own minds and grade on quality of analysis.

If its an "English" writing course, I think you have to  discourse on the metaphorical analogy to Prometheus Unbound or  Milton's Paradise Lost in order to succor favor with the English professor.

As I see it, Peak Oil will be our Paradise Lost and we will be like the fallen angels who have lost our powers of up high and now must contend with lowly existence in an oiless world. And thanks to Global Warming, our world will be just as hot and uncomfortable as is the world of the prime fallen angel in Milton's work.

My sister lives just south of your "powerful neighborhood" on 56th Street in what is called, I think, Turtle Bay.

After several visits there, IMHO, what you need for Peak Oil is 1) The Second Avenue subway (Lexington is just over capacity !) and 2) streetcar feeders (yes, make an exception for the overhead wire ban) from the subway stations on the "Streets" (I would place them in a special curb lane that has a rough surface) and find a little used avenue to go N-S on.

Ideally, have "S" routes where the streetcar route crosses the subway lines at the stations ($).

As for locally grown food for NYC ?  A lost cause.  Too many people, not enough land.

As for myself, I am heading out the door to meet with a MidCity group (badly flooded, we are meeting in a half renovated house, in the only room finished) and plan out the cityscape for Galvez Avenue (including a streetcar spur from Canal to the Medical Center, the SuperDome and Upper Poydras) as well as an intergrated bike lane.

Thanks Alan - I think some of the transportation centered development plans for NO look promising. Best of luck in influencing that whole process.

If your sister is interested in helping out, have her shoot me an email. Even if my efforts are successful, I will still need her neighborhood to approve a bike lane too to get the other half of my ride completed!

Thy obvious idea for NYC in general should be to become more energy efficient and even better at producing unique culture so that the rest of the world will trade with you.  Becomming better on both things will attract more skilled people.

Its like my own stupid dreaming about Sweden. We are fairly ok regarding having a stable energy supply, good energy efficient infrastructure and good institutions and we could become one of the best or the best! Hopefully this will attract skilled people and business. This gives us something to trade with and we can survive well in a in some ways poorer world.

Being self sufficient is good for survival but to have a working and nice culture it is important to produce enough of something to be able to trade. It is probably the same in the micro scale, a few goats, a large garden and a wood stove is ok  and you can survive on those resources for manny years but you anyway need to do something more to get something to trade with.

Magnus - your TOD email addy seems to be in swedish or something (imagine that) - I am petitioning Mona Sahlin of your government to come to DC to a conference I am organizing on Peak Oil and the  Environment - she has spearheaded Swedens drive towards zero fossil oil in 2020 - know how to get her ear? if so email me
Mona Sahlin is the nice smiley female minister used when our current Swedish government needs to feel with some issue. I do not expect her to be the driving force behind zero fossil oil in 2020. But she would probably do a superb job of representing out current government.

I can of course be wrong in this. I am an insignificant person in the opposition, not part of our government.  I have no direct contact with anyone in our current government. My guess is that the best way might be via ASPO Sweden and its probably likely that someone there reads this forum and is familiar with your posts.

My email adress was a little cryptis, I have tried to correct it. I dont think another spam harvest matters since I have used it for nearly everything wise or stupid since 1989.

Survival for oneself and one's family and community of neighbors if worse comes to worst is feasible. I have made and carried out plans just in case TEOTWAWKI comes within five years. Magnus, you will be happy to know that my axes are of Swedish steel; I use Swede saws (Bow saws are called Swede saws in Minnesota) and that my Mauser rifle was made in Sweden and may be similiar to yours. You Swedes do a lot of things right, far more right things than we do in the United States.

For the U.S. change is needed on a scale not seen since the American Revolution or the Civil War. Do I advocate blood in the streets? No. It need not come to that. For example, consider the enormous success of a social movement called the Women's Christian Temperance Union 100 years ago. Despite being in a minority, they were able to create the social support needed for the Noble Experiment, Prohibition of the manufacture and sale of alcohol for human consumption. Prohibition was an experiment that failed, but the success of the social movement that brought about the Noble Experiment shows that a relatively small but well-organized group can mobilize social change forces sufficient to pass a major Constitutional amendment. (And by the way, at no time did a majority of American citizens support Prohibition. Americans have been a hard-drinking society as far back as statistics go, even to the late seventeenth century.)

Local action is all well and good, but it is not enough. Setting an example is all well and good, but it is not enough. Preparing for the collapse of industrial civilization is equivalent to provisioning life boats in case the Titanic hits the ice berg. Now I may be too optimistic, but in my opinion we are about four miles from hitting the ice, and if we reduce power and turn as fast as possible within the next few years, then we have maybe a fifty-fifty chance of avoiding an encounter of the worst kind with that floating ice.

A gigantic problem with big and luxurious ships is that it is very very hard to turn them. Extending the metaphor, Sweden is a much smaller ship than the U.S. and easier to turn away from fossil fuels. A small society such as that of Iceland, where there is a high degree of consensus, is even less difficult to change than Sweden.

Perhaps the nation state has failed as a form of organization. If only Minnesota could secede from the United States, it would have a good chance of adapting well to peak oil, because we have possibly the best public education in the country (still quite bad), plenty of water, plenty of timber, plenty of low-grade taconite ore for iron, plenty of good land for crops, a heritage of clean politics and tolerance, often characterized as "Minnesota Nice." Also, we produce much ethanol from corn and could produce much, much more from timber or from switchgrass or from any number of other crops.

Yes, Magnus, I am aware that there are more people of Swedish ancestry in Minneapolis than in Stockholm. The poor people, the losers, the landless came here and made good, as did the impovrished German and Irish peasants, not to mention the other ethnic groups that have contributed so much--the Norwegians, Serbs, Croats, Danes, Italians, and more recently Blacks, Mexicans, Hmong and Somali. All came here and made good. Most remarkable, seldom do we get in rages and riots and kill people who do not look like us.

Any state that can produce Bob Dylan, Eugene McCarthy, Paul Wellstone and vote to elect Jesse "The Body" Ventura as governor has to have a lot going for it.

But my thought is to make no small plans. Either figure out how to mobilize a social movement on the scale of the American Revolution or . . . stock up on tools, traps, medicines, food, . . . and dig a well in your back yard, and get a hand pump. Learn how to make an outhouse, because if the lights go out, running water will not run for long. Oh yes, and learn how to use an ax and a Swede saw;-)  

Thank you for the comment on our steel. For me it gives a better fuzzy-warm feeling to have good industries within my country then to have Swedish sport champions. Both is a kind of illusion since I neither own or work on a steel plant nor am I part of our hockey team. And a lot of the industries are owned by foreigners and a lot of the sport teams have foreign people, but that is ok, lovely that they want to cooperate with us living in a chilly northern country with people who like to keep for themselves. But it is good to have productive neighbours and I am sure that speciality steel will be very attractive long after the oil peak. And we do not have to worry as much about peak oil if speciality steel is overtaken by even better materials.

I do not have a gun at home. The mausers are all sold or melted down. The home guard has switched to Ak-4:s (A slightly modified G3) but since the threath level is low they no longer have any ammunition at home. The Swedish defence had an enourmous disarment after the end of the cold war. It was more or less decided to replace it with a kind of expiditionary force to help EU/Nato/UN keep the peace far away from our borders. This has not worked out well and we are back in the situation we had in the 1920:s or worse when it was decided that there would be no more wars i Europe. A very weak army but lots of research and some very modern thinking. Then it was the bofors 40mm, dive bombing and airforce and an army the nazis could have walked over so we had to trade with them to survive. Now it is excalibur, Gripen and some other armaments and information technology.

We can hardly do anything far abroad nor defend ourselves against any threath larger then a Jugoslavi war lord. Its like we have shot ourselves in the foot to have no option left but to sit on the bench and shout encouragements while world politics games are played out. Back then the central part of our defence were to be able to blow up our iron mines and ball bearing factories. I guess we could threathen to blow up refineries refining a significant part of the russian oil exports if they threathen us. :-/ And beat us up and there wont be a Nobel prize! :-)

We have had a civil defence you would have dreamed about. There were some light starvation during WW1 and a better civil defence with stocks of supplies, pre planned rationing etc were set up after WW1 and worked well during WW2. This organisation were improved further to keep people alive and productive during a multi year near total trade stop. It was then further improved to handle nearby nuclear war and a few nuclear warheads detonating in Sweden. All municipials had NBC hardened civil defence command posts, there were evacuation plans and shelters for the whole city/town population, there were firefighting equipment stored outside of cities to put down fires after heavy bombing or high level N bombing. There were refined oil products stored for half a years use and then a years use or more, I have only found public figures for closed civilian oil depots.
There were food stored for at least a years use and then fertilizer, spare parts etc to keep farming, food industries etc going for a few years.

But it degraded over the years. The civilian defence planning slowly disintegerated. It was an impossible goal to store spare parts and key supplies for constantly changing industries. What is the use for hundreds of tonns of steam boiler tubing when those boilers are scrapped?  It was used for other political ends. We had for instance an ailing shoe industry that were out competed. Our government wanted to waste tax money on keeping them alive a little longer but had signed free trade agreements forbidding subsidies. This was solved by ordering the civil defence to store massive ammounts of shoes. Never mind that most everybode had multiple shoes at home that would last for years. It was probably financed by redirecting civil defence funds intended for other supplies, free votes at no extra cost, brilliant!

We had the same kind of rot in our defence force. Previus generations had used every trick to combine defence and civil defence with other needs to get more defence for the limited public funds. Like building schools prepared to be converted to war time hospitals. Now it turned around and the defence budget was used for other needs, mostly for doing things to employ people in key voting regions.

Almost everything was scrapped after the cold war ended. The rebuild is partial and they have neglected to use a lot of the usefull leftovers.

Civil defence was at its worst a couple of years ago. It seems like it slowly is being rebuilt stimulated by 9/11, and the Tsunami and the small hurricane "Gudrun" a year ago. The goals are fairly moderate like nearly complete cablification of the <40kV grid within about 5 years. Emergency diesels for all teleco installations, water works and larger old peoples homes within a year or two more or less volontery for the teleco operators and municipials but most do it. Having exercises on local levels on what to do if there is a bus crash, or a large chemical accident, or we get bird flu is starting to be common.

I would like to have a little more ambitious goals like an ability to recieve refugess equal to 10% of our population and keep them alive for one year on stored supplies, preferably outside our major citiers if some terrorist would do something realy nasty. Some smaller parts of the home guard train for scenarios such as stripping refugess of any arms, registering and feeding them, if I have heard the right rumours. I hope it is correct since then
at least some ideas are being prepard for others to use.

Planning for problems like global warming is not very fast. The state meterological institute and some researchers have started to go public with
maps and lists of costal areas threathened if we get significant sea level rise during then next decades and wich areas would be hurt if we get any large area extreme rainfall. Some relevant work have been done since we 10-15 years ago had a small dam overtopping and failure and it prompted a complete recertification of all hydro dams and their calculations and some dam strenghtening. And our insurance companies hastily included a clause that broken dams are force majure and coverage of them require special probably very expensive insurance.  I guess the same will happen with the exposed costal areas if the seas start to rise. Levees will be built and the houses behind them wont have any insurance, support the levy or be screwed.

Myself I like prepairdness but its second tier hobby, the most likely outcome is that no harmfull things will happen to me. The biggest personal threath is that I exercise too little. I need to find more income and then build a cottage, that is good exercise, work is good, sports are boring. The funniest thing about thinking about such things where when a few friends said that their
TEOTWAWKI plan were to find me since I surely would figure something out. Prompted me to buy a propane stove to be able to greet them with hot cofee or tea. :-)

I think there are lots of parallells between how disaster prepairdness works for individuals and states.

And there must be something regulating a states system so that it do not turn too corrupt. We have in manny ways failed in Sweden, some of the failures are being fixed, some are not being fixed and some failures are very dear to large parts of the population making them very hard to do something about. We have a very large state sector and enourmous tax preassure and a lot of the failures are within our states functions. Hopfully it isent bigger then it can be slimmed down and made vital. A state that try to do everything becomes a burden and cant do anything right, it has to concentrate on what is vital and do a very good job with it.

A state is very powerfull, much good can be done with such an authority and also immense failures. The USA government should be able to do quite a lot about peak oil, you got the institutional tools and its only a few generations since you did massive things with much smaller money and energy flows. You also have much more powerfull corporations that in themselves can get a lot of things done. Most of what we have in Sweden in pony size or smaller compared to other countrys immense resources.

My guess is that we will have a massive introduction of biofuels in Sweden due to industry and enviromental intrests. I do not think peak oil is the most driving force yet. A 50% jump in fuel cost would do it and then things would happen fairly fast. I dont think the fairly large part of the population that has an "engineer" mindset will have especially hard to understand peak oil but most people will probably not react untill we are on a likely plateau. I will try though, today I by accident got my grandmother to understand the extra biofule for heat energy needed in an FT-diesel from blac liquor plant. Maybe I should write a book. ;-)

Do get a few hectares of land and build your cottage. I have some large tents for refugees and plans for a small business in case worst-case scenario happens. Perhaps prostitution is the oldest profession, but in the absence of money I think it is not a good one to get into. Instead I will have a small cafe where I will sell strong home-brewed ethanol, excellent soup, homemade sausage and maybe some wild rice and used clothing for barter goods. This way I will meet interesting people, make a profit and not become poor or embittered. The name of my tavern and cafe is "Don's American Cafe," and it is modeled on "Rick's American Cafe," from the film CASABLANCA. I have not yet found somebody to play piano . . . .

By the way, the Swedish military surplus clothing is excellent--none better ever made, especially for cold weather.

I see in the news that our Vice President Cheney mistook a hunting companion for a grouse and shot him. Some people should not be allowed to have guns. In case you want a Swedish Mauser 1896 model (or later modified model) they are readily available in all grades from "good" for very little money up to excellent sniper quality, accurate at 800 meters and deadly at five times that distance. How sad that so many things have gone downhill in Sweden: But you still live in one of the best countries in the world. (And it is easy for you to get Danish butter, ham and bacon, the best in the world;-)

For example, consider the enormous success of a social movement called the Women's Christian Temperance Union 100 years ago. Despite being in a minority, they were able to create the social support needed for the Noble Experiment, Prohibition of the manufacture and sale of alcohol for human consumption. Prohibition was an experiment that failed, but the success of the social movement that brought about the Noble Experiment shows that a relatively small but well-organized group can mobilize social change forces sufficient to pass a major Constitutional amendment.

There is another way to see the histroy.

Rockefeller was in the business of making kerosne save via removing the more volitile gasoline.  That waste product needed a market.   Lo and behold, along comes the car.   Cars that used to run on either alcohol OR gasoline.    If the alcohol went away - the only product to use would be gasoline.  

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You want a 'movement' - somehow make the movement profitable for the monied interests.   Then it will have funding and backing.


Word is that William Randolph Hearst, who had just put lots of money into pulpwood acreage, learned of the hemp decorticator (which generates hurds well-suited for papermaking) and its threat to the value of his investment.  You know how that one played out.
I do like the idea of redesigning NO to include sustainable transportation and emphasizing walkable, bikable neighborhoods and mass transit.

I also wonder about the wisdom of rebuilding at the same place while climate cahenge is likely to bring us more and worse storms.

Isn't it a waste to build where we will be required to spend a huge amount of energy and materials to try to protect the city against future storms, and where future storms may overwhelm the systems put in place anyway?

I attended a presentation by a friend of mine this morning who worked on cleanup between No and Biloxi, and who is heading back to do more work in April.  The photos and description of the damage brought this question to mind at that presentation as well.  Why not find a way to rebuild back from the coastline, and cultivate natural barriers along the coastline.

I laugh at myself as I suggest this. Developers want money and get it by building right on the coast.  The cost of compensqating people to move would be pretty big.  Some folks would insist on being allowed to rebuild right where they were, etc....

It does seem like a waste of energy to keep rebuilding in places where we are likely to see terrible storm damage again.

Apathy and cynicism are reinforced, IMHO, when we ignore the role of climate change and energy resource deplation as we "rebuild" after Katrina and Rita.

The basic point of Duncan's Olduvai Theory is that e [energy/population] is now decreasing.  The elites understand this basic point, so their only inclusive fitness goal is to reduce population by economic means and warfare.  This strategy will keep E [energy/elites] as high as possible for as long as possible; the elites could care less if the little guy starves and freezes to death.  It is the same dynamic operating along the entire spectrum of humanity, otherwise each one of us would gladly share whatever we have to ease the plight of others.

Yet, we do not universally share, but we just talk about it and generally donate a pittance to charity to make ourselves feel good.  Basically, we are not evolved to have a sharing modus operandi; we have evolved to have a greedy, even murderous modus operandi.  Even as children we express this innate drive by playing the games of Keepaway, King of the Mountain, and Sharks and Minnows.

Until a breakthrough in genetics occurs whereby everyone can subconciously and conciously seeks sustainability: we will Overshoot and Dieoff till time eternal.  The Dieoff will be incredibly horrific as the elites control BioWMDs and nukes.  Until then, the elites can direct decline by fostering, and greatly profiting from, wars and insurrections that grind up the weaker humans as canon fodder.  More E for them, less e for us.  Such is the Tragedy of the Commons and the ruthless calculus of ERoVI [energy returned on violence invested].

This ERoVI is the primary fear of survivalists. ERoVI is always greater than ERoEI: for example, you labor greatly to grow crops, only to have them removed by force after the harvest.  The person who holds the food is the new elite, the person lacking will soon starve. ERoVI/ERoEI is the basic ratio impelling Dieoff until sustainabilty is reached.  Jay Hanson's Thermo-Gene Collision as explained by the reams of information available at Dieoff.com can make this point clear to all.

Bob Shaw in Phx,AZ  Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?

When their private security guards turn on the elites, the fat dumb and happy will be among the first to get Darwin awards. Predators know that in the big houses of gated communities is much good loot.

Being wealthy does not necessarily make a person stupid.

But it helps.

Bob, I don't think the elites are actually clever enough to understand that "e [energy/population] is now decreasing". And they certainly don't know where Olduvai is and what it might represent.

In fact, I often struggle with your signature question: Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?

Today, I have my doubts.  

I have a distinct recollection that peak per capita energy production happened over 20 years ago. The world did not shake. Those many who consumed least consumed a bit less, the few continued to consume much as before.

The current change in demand is due to the few consuming yet more and a few of the many beginning to consume a little more. It is incumbent on the few to change their ways, otherwise the many must try to kill the few else face a slower death. Those are the basic choices.

If you, reading this, are around afterwards I ask you to carry this thought with you: never allow an economic or power elite to develop, put in place limits to individual and group power and wealth such that the disparity between the richest and poorest cannot exceed a sensible level (say, ten fold). It will be easier, then, to make this philosophy stick for you will see things as they are now with more clarity.

I'm surprised that you were surprised by this.  I happen to be one of those latte sipping, iPod carrying young professionals.  I am anything but cynical or apathetic.  However, as an urban pedestrian it is reflexive for me to ignore people handing out leaflets.  I simply prefer not to contribute to the extra solid waste, and I've rarely seen a leaflet that is worth my time.  

The key isn't just education and awareness.  The key is education and awareness among people that actually care and are in a position to do something substantial.

We like to think that our pitch made the leaflet worth people's time. "Support greemarkets, farmers markets on the upper east side! Better food options for your neighborhood!"

We're not comedy clubs, or restaurants handing out flyers. Those are the ones that I politely say "No, thank you" to. We didn't stand there mute, hoping people would take them--we tried to make our case. And it's worth pointing out that the people caught at the corner waiting for the light to change were more likely to turn around and ask to take a flyer after they'd actually been forced to listen to the pitch one or more times (though it was still the women over 40 who turned around). Maybe we hadn't found the perfect, pithy 5 word sentence that would have appealed to everyone, but I'm guessing that 20-somethings on the UES wouldn't have cared no matter what, because they aren't particularly domestic (i.e. they don't cook).

Believe me, we hardly want to contribute to the solid waste, but how else are we supposed to get this message out to the community? And is it more important to garner support for the markets than it is to save paper? Sometimes you have to sacrifice.

Yeah, I reject any arguments about solid waste as a reason not to take a piece of political literature. I'd rather someone not take one because they truly disagree than because they think that by not taking a flyer they are being "environmentally friendly". Paper is a renewable resource and can be recycled. It's not my fault the city only offers one trash can on the curb and no recycle option except at home.

In fact reducing solid waste generation will probably be my next campaign. Will giving out flyers about how people can compost organic waste be worth the paper we use to spread awareness? I think so.

Perhaps we need a scientific way of calculating this: EROERI - Environmental Return on Environmental Resources Invested?

I did not intend to imply that the waste generated outweighed your purpose.  I was simply explaining how I generally approach all leaflets that are thrust my way.  Based on your experience, it seems that I am not alone in this general approach.  

Having said that, if you reach one person who goes on to make a difference with this issue, then I'd say your day was a success.  I just wouldn't have high expectations with a leaflet campaign.  

From the beginning of recorded history humanity has always been materialistic. When someone saw that someone or country had something that they did not have gave them the desire to get one to. Are not countries just a bunch of individuals that live in a geographic area? You can call it greed or envy or what ever, but the bottom line will always remain the same, humanity as a whole has no idea who they really are and what is their purpose in the short lives that they live. The myths that have been created that have been adopted as fact and became the guidelines for humanity to follow will always keep humanity at a disadvantage compared to other species on this world. If you look at an ant farm or a bee hive you see a society that has accepted truth and not make-believe. Think about this for a moment, if you live a life based on fantasies and fiction, how can you convince someone that there is a problem. It is very difficult to convince people that you really do know a truth and you are not making up just some other new fantasy. If you through in some deity or politician that is supposed to know how one should live or what to believe in, you can begin to understand that having higher intelligence is not always an advantage. Maybe, just maybe something soon will happen that will wake up humanity in the realization that what they thought was truth has only been based on myth.  Amazing.
The deepest truths are embodied in myth. There is much literature on this topic, and I especially recommend the works of Joseph Campbell.

We need some new myths. Not made up "noble-lies" such as Plato proposed, but more along the story of John Henry, the steel-driving man who won a contest against the steam-powered machine . . . but then fell dead. Or how about the Johnny Cash song, "You load sixteen tons [of coal],
And what do you get?
Another day older, and deeper in debt.
Lord dont't take me, 'cause I can't go:
I owe my soul to the Company store."

Now if those lines do not express the deep universal eternal truth of the futility of materialism, I do not know what words could.

I find it interesting that the most apathetic part of the population is the most economically active, and, I would guess, the best-informed part: young, working age men and women. Maybe they know something that the others don't: that trying to embroider around the edges by installing bike lanes here and there within the existing economy and mindset is like keeping the beach clean by picking up bottle caps around the dead whale.

Who needs bike lanes when every other street can easily be closed to motor vehicle traffic, just by dragging some Jersey barriers into place? And when will this happen? When nobody can afford to drive any more. All we have to do is wait.

So the audience for your leaflets might be said to consist of two kinds of people, those who are clueless and therefore optimistic, and those who are well-informed, know that the system cannot be reformed, and therefore pessimistic.

Maybe the best-informed ones sense intuitively that the most fruitful approach is a cold restart: let the entire system shut down completely, let all these debt and credit-based relationships go pop, allow all financial capital to wither away, and then something more reasonable can take its place, but without any input from those people who have had so much say in creating the current mess.

The bike lane is needed to get people pedalling before things turn bad so that it becomes something positive to do and not an emergency thing for survival.

But a few lanes will not make a large difference. There is a fairly large networking effect. My impression from Sweden is that towns with complete bike lane networks have a much larger percentage of biking then towns with partial bike lane/walking networks.

Actually, I usually encounter something different than cynicism or apathy when I  mention Peak Oil and its consequences.
It's more along the New Age line of being "negative." People - especially women thirty and younger - will tell me I should be more positive; that I have latent personal issues to resolve.
Ouch!  A "shoot the messenger" response?  Are there any peak oil Valentine's cards, chocolates, flowers, or lingerie out there -- to help us spread the word? ;-)
Not exactly shoot the messenger.
Though I don't discount that there are a certain percentage of  Peak Oil Death Wishers, most are of a scientific bent and accept the predictability of  thermodynamics.
There are however, many people out there who operate from a different paradigm; one that sometimes conflates dire predictions of  hardship,  or decline in civilization with an individuals personal  unhappiness or suicidal thoughts
For myself, I don't have the expectation that humans are farsighted and wise, so I'm not disappointed when they prove otherwise. My observation of humanity is that we only change what we are doing when it leads to a crisis. This is true both individually (it often takes a divorce to get someone into counseling), and collectively (we usually start the first city fire brigade shortly after a sizeable fraction of the city burns down). Coming at this somewhat with the perspective of a designer of (software) reasoning systems, this doesn't surprise me - it was probably adaptive. For hunter gatherers with rather poor, unpredictive, theories of the world - mainly involving sacrificing things to propitiate the gods -- there are so many things to worry about and the world is so uncertain, that it's better to wait until one is really sure there's a problem than spend all ones effort trying to solve problems before they become overwhelming.

In the modern world, our reasoning frailties are more serious problems. But I think we can assume that 90% of the response to peak oil will not take place via enlighted foresight, but rather through people doing whatever they think is their best personal option in response to the higher prices that peak oil is already engendering. Society is, and probably will continue to be, responding largely unconsciously to the problem.

Good points, Stuart!

I ride pedicabs and cargo trikes, as you pobably know.  I work from my trikes and traliers.  I do all kinds of work for people who are relatively quite well off, with discretionary income to hire people to clean the house, do repairs and improvements, and take car of the yard.

Some of these folks have a little "W" stinker on the bumper of the gas-guzzler, while others have stickers representing the Dems or various liberal or progressive political persuasions.

I talk with all my clients about peak oil and climate change.  I find that as my clients get to know me, we are able to talk quite openly about these matters.

While people are able to talk about peak oil and global climate change as theoretical constructs, when it comes down to "what will I do" or "what can I do" or "what is likely to happen" people who identify with the two mainstream US political parties often react in exactly the same way.

The bumper sticker on the SUV  or Volvo wagon is considered activism.  Allusions to techno-magical fixes abound.  Reasons why "we need the trucks to haul the boat and trailer to the lake" and other such themes recurr in conversation.

Talk of change is always kept remote and revolves around the idea that sooner or later we will develop products that people can comfortably buy so to solve these problems.

A few of my clients "get it" though and are active beyond the bumper sticker.  Wealth tends to insulate us so that we cannot see the handwriting on the wall.

Was it Flannery O'Connor who, when asked why she wrote such strange stories with exaggerated characters replied: "You have to write really, really big for the blind."  She was not talking about physical sight.

Keep up the activism, all!

> "we need the trucks to haul the boat and trailer to the lake"

I think that is perfectly ok and affordabel post peak oil if they can walk/bicycle to the train/subway/trolley station to get to and from work and friends most of the time.  A fine car as something extra you use on weekends and when you have a special transportation need, not something you use each day. A car that is more like the boat on the trailer...

Magnus Redin: "a fine car as something extra..."

Good point.

It looks to me like we will have plenty of trucks and SUVs sitting around in my city for occasional discretionary use.

Do Ford, GM, and all really think that world needs millions upon millions of new SUVs?

I hope to do an optional class at my son's school entitled something like "Futurology: Imagining Post Peak Oil Life."  The idea will be to stimulate kids and their parents to look at information about peak oil and global climate change together, and then begin to imagine how they will be living in ten, twenty, or thirty years with less petroleum.

This might be a good way to help people begin to grapple with peak oil and climate change.

Driving the car or truck as a special-purpose, even special-occasion vehicle seems like one of the changes some people will make.

Anyone else doing peak oil education for kids or for families?  Any suggestions for activities or ways to present information so that the people in such a class are not too intimidated to participate?


I had good success with a bunch of little quaker kids having them create two island kingdoms  Sylvania and Effluvia, in which they did their little bests making the best and the worst worlds they could think of, and then having the two discover each other and interact.  Lots of fun and lots of apparent insights by the kids.  They also responded well to the prisoner's dilemma game, some of them concluding all by themselves that the way to go was to recognize the symmetry of humanity and seek the best return for the group, rather than for the individual.  I let them get a lot of money from me by that disovery.  They told their parents that I was an idiot and could easily be parted from my dough.  So--- maybe not a complete success there.  But, with time, maybe hope.
That is brilliant!

But notice that you could probably not get away with doing anything that good in a public school.

Yes, IMO the key problem is our brain and "reasoning frailties". A very interesting book on this problem is William Calvin's "A Brief History of the Mind" http://williamcalvin.com/BHM/index.htm

The entire book is a good read but Chapter 9 is the core of his argument -   From Africa to Everywhere: Was the still-full-of-bugs prototype spread around the world? http://williamcalvin.com/BHM/ch9.htm

Also, an excellent read is his previous book, A Brain for All Seasons: Human Evolution and Abrupt Climate Change http://williamcalvin.com/BrainForAllSeasons/index.htm

We view ourselves as primarily rational beings with thought processes founded on logic, evenly weighing strength of evidence and evaluating options but we fail to recognize or account for the impact of emotions and unconscious cognitive processes.

To understand the impact of emotions and, in turn what is required to gain and retain the attention of various groups of people sufficient to change their behaviour, look at the work of George Lakoff, http://www.georgelakoff.com/ Matthew Nisbett http://www.comm.ohio-state.edu/People/Faculty/MatthewNisbet.aspx and others doing research in this area.

More links are in this chaotic pile of stuff here: http://www.vetmed.wsu.edu/courses-jmgay/SustainableAg.htm#Sociology

Actually, those clever anthropologists discovered that hunter-gatherer sacrifices, usually meat, were mechanisms to (re)distribute energy thoughout the group.  

Social scientists of the early 20th century had trouble with "primitive" world theories. Levi-Strauss and others developed elaborate theory about cooked and uncooked food for example. Taboos were of great interest too. A community mindset, like the hive-mind of science fiction, is not easily translated into a modern Western paradigm.

The hunter-gatherer societies were not worried about, or particularly uncertain, about their world. They had centuries of successful adaptation... not to be confused with rigid custom.

Eskimoes lived well in a most inhospitible and energy deficient environment. So did the Navaho. Forest pygmies had it a bit easier.    

The reason highly technological societies will have major problems with peak oil is that social flexibility is very poor (are we not still arguing about the ancient issue of homosexuality?) and our rituals do not drive group concensus.

So... we will try raiding and shouting loudly, like savanah chimpanzes for a while.

So now a few others have discovered the great combination of ignorance
apathy, complacency and inappropriate belief systems that characterise
the general public.

We in NZ who have been pushing the issues of PO and climate change
for several years know all about it. The government does not want to know,
city councils do not want to know, businesses do not want to know: they just want
the delusions to continue.

After over five years of banging our heads against the wall of indifference,
the more active amongst us have recently concluded that there is now no time
left and that our major effort needs to be directed toward self-preservation
- as exemplified by From the Wilderness giving up on trying to convince the
unconvincable and relocating away from the heart of dysfunction to a more
survivable location.  

Just for your inforamtion, last Easter I carried out a re-enactment of Christ's
last journey and asked the question "Did Jesus die in order that peopel could
destroy the planet through emissions?'  I was arrested on a pretext by the corrupt
Auckland Police for my trouble  -New Zealand is no longer a Christian country, so
let's not pretend any longer. A new religion, the worship of cars took over a number
of years ago and is unshakably embeded in mainstraeam culture; anything that cgallenges
the car-worship religion [that provides a handsome income for the eco-vandals who run it]
is dangerous and has to be opposed with overwelming force.

Although I eventually was exohorated in court and did not have to pay any further penalty,
I learned my lesson and ceased attempting to assist the people of Auckland who simply do
not want to know. I am sure the same of similar phenomena of materialism and car-worhip apply
around the world.

But the world will soon enough divide into survivors and perishers (it's already happening
in many locations) and individuals therefore need to take care of themselves and those
close to them, rather than trying to undo a generation in trained in dysfunction that the
advertising sector has created.  

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

William Butler Yeats, "The Second Coming," 1921

I've gone back to Auckland once a year for the last 9 years, and it seems to me the only thing that will wake people up is toal gridlock 6am to 8pm everyday. seems to me they are almost there. when petrol hits NZ$3.00/litre it will also usher in a new paradigm. things will come to a head within 5 years, IMHO. Auckland is not organised along any principles I have seen elsewhere--Japan and Europe. It is proably much closer to the big US exurbs but not as extreme. the lack of viable public transport in a city of 1.2 million is breathtaking.
I was naive enough to think the Greens would get traction in the recent elections from the rising oil price. but just the opposite ensued--people were baying for reduced petrol taxes and blaming the oil cartels. the Greens nearly got tossed out of parliament altogether. so my conclusion is that somewhat less than 5% of people in NZ have any real grasp of the issues. thus, education of the general public seems a lost cause. people who are curious enough can get the information themselves and figure it out, as most of the people reading this probably did. so i think web information resources and a few high-profile people popping up from time to time in the mainstream media is as effective as we'll get it in the medium term. of course local initiatives like bike lanes are practical and non-doomerist, so I'm all for it.
It's a mistake to think that things are going to happen right away or just because you tell people something. We don't learn until we get conked in the head. That doesn't mean it isn't good to warn people they -- no, WE -- are going to get conked in the head. It's essential.

Lot's of people think the whole business is just a conspiracy by the oil companies to drive up price and profit. Others think it'll just blow over. The scary part comes when people start believing peak oil. Which way do we go now? Do we follow Bush and crew and say let's go take what's left, come hell or high water? That's not impossible! Coulter and others of her ilk are already whispering that in people's ears.

Peak oil is not just a matter of conserving and so forth. It's a deeply political issue, connected with the whole direction of the country (and the world!) As are things now, we are headed into a series of wars -- well actually they already started, haven't they? People will start taking an active interest in the conservation part when their pocketbooks are badly damaged, just as a practical matter.

I'm not worried about that, not mostly. What matters most is their political reaction: do we go to war to keep our "way of life" as long as possible, or do we support working with the rest of world on figuring out how to come down off the peak without spilling as much blood as we have oil.  

I live in a 9 story condo with 69 units. I've been yelling about peak oil and its impact for at least a year now. It's not been a waste even though not a whole lot has actually been done yet. We only got a slap in the face so far. By next year, I fear will be getting bruises around the eyes, and we'll do more.

For me peak oil is not an isolated issue. (I'm sure that's true for most here at TOD, although beyond that disagreement sets in.) It's connected to war, to 9-11 (see Colin Campbell's take on that issue in his Oil Crisis), to the fate of empires, and society itself in the remainder of the century.

Don't get me wrong. The change in lifestyle is something we need to get working on, even just to show what's possible, to show that it IS possible to go down off peak in a reasonably comfortable way -- and a hell of a lot more comfortable than endless war. I have a car -- parked about 4 blocks away. I went to turn it over last week just so the battery doesn't run down. I don't use my bike much any more. I walk, more exercise.

But in the heartland, people don't seem to have much choice. Our whole country is built around the car. The arteries to every major city are huge parking lots for several hours twice a day. It's absolute madness. This is something that cannot just be reformed. Our whole way of life cannot go on as it is. How will the transition be made? Katrina gives us an idea, doesn't it?

I'm babbling, aren't I?

No, you are not babbling; you are doing your rather good best to define the problem. Like an elephant, it has many aspects.

Now, in regard to things not being able to go on as they are:

Here is a DUET (Deep Universal Eternal Truth)

If something cannot go on indefinitely, then it won't.

The pain hits at the transition point. But I wonder why people wonder at the harm 20 billion people are going to do to planet earth. Not going to happen--don't worry about that.

Rather, we should focus how to get through the painful times to come as best we can, as individuals, families, organizations, communities, regions, and nation states.

> The arteries to every major city are huge parking lots for several hours twice a day.

Why dont you build lots of public transportation freeing up road capacity so people who realy like or need their car actually can use it to drive somewhere?

Should it nor be good for your car culture?

You raise very interesting questions. The short answer to them is that powerful special interests block any rational solutions to our transportation problems.

Any economist worth his salt can devise a system in which gasoline is very heavily taxed and the funds are used to subsidize public transportation--with the result that there are huge enormous GIGANTIC improvements in overall welfare (less congestion, less wasted fossil fuel, less road rage, faster times of travel, far less air pollution, and on and and on). But look at political realities: In the United States the last president to call for an increase in the gasoline tax was Jimmy Carter. He wanted an increase of five cents per gallon. And what happened? He was regarded as nuts for proposing this and lost the next election.

Carter had good ideas--not one of which he was able to get through Congress.

Politics rules.

For better or worse.

And worse.

Or the roads could be transfered to some kind of economical entity who lives on fees on moving traffic with a right to invest profits in public transportation. Most of the money flow then goes to service providers to run roads and railways and infrastructure builders.

My guess for what would be reasonable in Sweden is a complete system change on how the roads are financed. Fossil fuels have very heavy taxation and those incommes are used for roads and as a regular tax cash cow. The alternative bio fuels are so far more expensive to produce then fossil based fuels and the same "road" tax on them would delay their introduction for several years. If we then would start to juggle different taxation levels on wich fuel is best of RME, FT-diesel, Biogas, electricity, Metahnol, DME, and so on we will create a regulation mess.

If I were an influential minister I would accept shrinking tax incomes from fossil wehicle fuels. It would partly ballance out by increasing tax incomes from regular sales tax on bio fuels and taxation on the production work.
I would then introduce a distance, road wear and road space used fee that directly finances the road network. And when oil prices continues to get higher I would lower and then abolished the special fossil fuel taxes to make the taxation system simpler. Investments in the road and rail network can then be financed with the sales tax on fuel and other services. Hopefullt most of the running costs will be financed more or less directly by fees giving a system that is quite close to an ordinary market economy and thus less sensitive to future bad political decisions.

Lots of people seems to want to get into the system we have in Sweden and I think more on how to get out of it to a better one. ;-)
If you only tell people about problems, they will conclude "Even if this is real, there is nothing I can do about it" and go apathetic on you.

This is why I spend a lot of time on The Ergosphere writing about solutions.  It has inspired at least one person to go, find and implement solutions; I'll post his letter on the blog on Tuesday.

Sadly, it seems like for so many, peer pressure is a stronger force than reason or logic. You can argue to somebody's rational mind and make the strong case for the impending Peak Oil Crisis, but if they see nobody else reacting, they'd rather be in the bus full of people driving at the brick wall. It's human nature. Jonestown.

So often I feel like the one person left in "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" who hasn't turned into a mindless robot consuming and trundling along (the people in the bus, paragraph 1).

Prepare yourself for when the shit starts hitting the fan, and when it does, you'll be your local visionary who people might come to for advice later.

After all, we might be wrong. What if we are just like many see us: the latest craze like Y2K'ers.

Even if I am overreacting by buying gold bullion and a small off-grid farm, I might find a happier simpler life even if the peak oil scenarios lead to a soft landing...

If I rant too much to my friends and family, they just shake their heads and think I've gone mad.

Buying the farm sounds practical, which is what I am working on too. However loading up on gold bullion probably isn't:

  1. Lots of countries have huge gold reserves and will likely use them to finance their economies. This will likely put a cap on gold prices. It will happen as soon as they realize that the gold sitting in vaults does provide them any security and can't buy them oil & gas that isn't available.

  2. During the collapse of the Soviet Union, consumers barted for food, vodka, toilet paper, etc. They weren't interested in foriegn currencies or precious metals. Vodka was the highest valuable commodity as it was in short supply and in high demand, but that was a Russian thing. I doubt Vodka would hold the same value here in the US.

Gold like any commodity is only as valuable as the demand. I can't predict what commodites will be valuable in the future and I don't think anyone can either. In my opinion investing your capital in your farm will probably more valuable and rewarding than any shiny pieces of metal can offer you.

Good luck to you

JHK cuts a fairly wide swath today.  He's cynical, but he's not apathetic.  After reading how much many of you like the WSJ, this was rather amusing:

The Wall Street Journal has resigned from reality in order to DJ the financial sector's dangerous game of musical chairs.


Note that a few of the first five comments depart from the usual sycophantic tenor of his followers.

I've informed every member of my immediate family, most whom are college educated. And yes they ignored me about peak oil. Their comments ranged from "conspiracy theorist" to "lets go all nuclear" to " technology will save the day".  

But at least they are aware of the situation and I bleive that's all we can ask as this juncture of the game.. People will not listen to the message of peak oil until the crap hits the fan and we all know it will be too late by then.

As the saying goes, " 'de Nile is not just a river in Egypt."
I worked with mostly college educated people for lots of years and have concluded that a college education does not seem to dispose people to accept unwanted answers. I know because I was often the one handing them out (unwanted answers that is). I recall once the manager of a team I was on saw the light and jumped in with, "he's not negative, he's POSITIVE it won't work."

FWIW, I had no trouble at all convincing two high school educated nephews that peak oil was a happening thing and that it mattered. Oh BTW, I never attended college either.

just remember the old adage: You can lead a horse to the water, but you can't make him drink!

you did your part.

"Technology will save the day" if and only if they do their part to create and adopt it.

I don't see this.  I see resistance instead.

most whom are college educated. And yes they ignored me about peak oil.


You & I have gone back and forth on the part about how "their eyes glaze over" when you start talking Peak Oil.

There could be another factor to the equation: Specialization.

Think about it.

Each of your relatives (& mine) specializes in some very narrow trade, especially if they went to college and majored in some focused area. Some spend their whole lives studying "managerial accounting", some spend their lives on "just-in time supply side economics". Some are "electrical" engineers and some are "chemical" engineers. (OK you mechanicals & civils, we know you're out there too.)

There is no "everything" person. Not one of them knows how the whole thing comes together. Each simply "assumes" there is someone out there taking care of every tiny detail. Nothing falls through the cracks. The system provides. (The markets provide.) It's the specialization of a college education that blinds them. They're too smart to see outside the framework of their tunnel vision spectacles.