I’m linking two articles here, one emphasizing the secular trends themselves, and one that links those trends to the kinds of activism that each issue demands. The reason this falls into the category of boundaries of executive power is fairly obvious, but I’ll reiterate what they have in common in this regard. (1) No matter what any executive does (and Obama is already constrained by what we comonly call “political reality”), many of the worst effects of climate change asre already irreversible and inevitable. (2) No matter how far any political-reality-constrained executive is willing or able to go in the most essential and inescapable option to deal with peak oil — dramatic, legally-mandated conservation — we are already decades behind technologically to retool for a post-peak world, and we are a century out of step with the demands of this emergency when we look at the constraints imposed on us by culture. At best, Obama may be able to rearrrange a few of the deck chairs on the Titanic.
The Fusion of Peak Oil & Climate Change
by James Howard
Peak Oil and Climate Change are two historic events for humans and life on earth. The first threatens modern industrial ways of living and the latter threatens the climatic systems that are an integral part of our world and the way we live and survive.
A quick recap on both. Peak Oil is the point of historic maximum global oil flow, Climate Change is the alteration of established climate systems due to (in this case, anthropogenic) global warming. The onset of both will affect food & water supplies, mortality rates, conflict, migration and much more. The evidence that climate change is underway and almost past the point of no return is very strong and Peak Oil day by day gathers more credence as many studies point to an imminent peak.
How do these two events affect each other though?
The decline of global oil supply and the increasing cost of everything as a consequence means we will see our ability to deal with the consequences of Climate Change reduced.
Let us take a look at Britain. The decline of oil and gas will of its own accord make it harder to keep Britain warm but if the Gulf Stream does switch off as a result of Global Warming, the gap between what is needed and what will be available will get wider. The change to a colder climate would have a negative affect on crop growing, at a time when declining oil and gas supplies make the agriculture business more expensive. Warming sea temperatures are pushing fish stocks further afield, out of traditional (and already over-fished) fishing waters. Fishermen, so dependent on oil for their boats, will have to pay more for their fuel to go after these already dwindling and increasingly distant fish stocks. The insurance industry is already facing increasing pressures from Climate Change, but when the economy nose-dives past the oil peak, this double whammy could knock out the insurance industry. Will those in increasingly flood prone areas be able to pay the insurance costs during the recessions brought…
Bridging Peak Oil and Climate Change Activism
The problems of Climate Change and Peak Oil both result from societal dependence on fossil fuels. But just how the impacts of these two problems relate to one another, and how policies to address them should differ or overlap, are questions that have so far not been adequately discussed.
Despite the fact that they are closely related, the two issues are in many respects dissimilar. Climate Change has to do with carbon emissions and their effects—including the impacts on human societies from rising sea levels, widespread and prolonged droughts, habitat loss, extreme weather events, and so on. Peak Oil, on the other hand, has to do with coming shortfalls in the supply of fuels on which society has become overwhelmingly dependent—leading certainly to higher prices for oil and its many products, and perhaps to massive economic disruption and more oil wars. Thus the first has more directly to do with the environment, the second with human society and its dependencies and vulnerabilities. At the most superficial level, we could say that Climate Change is an end-of-tailpipe problem, while Peak Oil is an into-fuel-tank problem.
Because of this crucial divergence, the training and priorities of people who study one problem often differ from those of people who study the other. Most advocates for the Peak Oil concept—sometimes known as “depletionists”—are energy experts, economists, journalists, urban planners, or workers retired from the oil industry (usually geologists or petroleum engineers). Among climate analysts and activists there are more environmentalists, fewer energy experts, and far fewer retired oil industry employees. It is my experience that, when placed in the same room together, the two groups often talk past one another.
My own background is primarily as an environmentalist: I teach a college course on human ecology and have been writing about ecological issues for 15 years or so; at the same time, I find myself identified primarily as a Peak Oil activist, having written three books about the subject and having given something like 300 lectures on it. To me, head-butting arguments between the two groups as to which problem is more serious constitute a peculiar kind of hell, in that such arguments can only hamper the efforts of both groups in doing what we all agree is essential—averting environmental and human catastrophe. Nevertheless, disagreements and misunderstandings are already emerging for the simple…