*Photo by My Mom Is Wolves via Flickr.
Over the course of the last eight years or so I’ve written hundreds of articles on energy and the environment for the online magazine I co-founded — Transition Voice — and for a subsequent personal website of mine, Lindsay’s List, which was devoted to women, energy, and the environment, the latter essays from which I folded into this website, lindsaycurren.com.
A big part of my mission over the years was to educate readers and followers on the reality — the fact, not the theory (in spite of how it’s spun) — of peak oil.
In brief, peak oil, first described by M. King Hubbert, shows that, given that oil is a finite resource, it’s extraction point will reach a maximum at some point, after which said extraction would be in decline.
In layman’s terms, we got access to less and less oil over time and there’s no turning back.
Now there’s all kinds of hoohaw and voodoo to challenge, re-describe, and even attempt to discredit the math of this, like pointing to recycling toxic plastics for oil reuse using some kind of meltdown alchemy, drawing on deepwater oil, oil available after an Arctic or Antarctic thaw, shale oil available in fracking and other extraction methods, and the ever-ready hyper-filthy tar sands in places like Alberta, Canada.
To which I say, “Yawn,” when I’m not otherwise crying foul, my boredom and outrage spawned by all the nonsense hidden behind such claims, most notably a disconnect between the extraction of these potential low grade oils and the impact both extracting and burning them creates in an already environmentally taxed world.
You know, that world that is our one and only life support system? That one that’s on life support itself in this historic moment?
At this point, your eyes glazing over and your trigger-happy finger itching to surf to a different website for something far more palatable, like, say, kitty-cat videos, is infinitely understandable.
Remember the quaint days of watching Kim Kardashian and her champagne bottle booty?
Now we’ve got Trump’s butt stains in white pants on the golf course and Trump’s documented 4.9 lies a day in office and Trump’s middle school tweets and Trump’s insanity and Trump’s family and Trump, Trump, Trump.
With so much variety to engage us, isn’t American life grand?
And here I am hoping you’ll cotton to the math of worldwide oil reserves and the science of resource use impact!
No wonder my blog is less popular than all my friends who blog on baby burp cloths, how flawlessly fantastic is their family life, and the potential 210th interior re-do of your living room — this time complete with re-pro Mid Century Modern furniture, and even better than the original because you can get it at Target for a song!
Long story short I’ve tried and tried to write about and talk to people about the complex matrix between our fragile fossil fuel paradigm, how it in turn, via its exponential power and abundance fuels our excessive, indulgent, wasteful, and even farcical consumerism, and the tie in to all of this to our acidifying oceans, human health crises, animal and species depletion, escalating climate hell, economic woes, and overall unsustainability.
The Power of Myth
But child, it ain’t working. Cassandra, she not popular!
And why should such a message resonate when there’s cheap international flights to exotic locales to be had (and travel competition is so aspirational!), along with never-ending cheap goods manufactured every day and by gum you and I NEED a new handbag/sports jersey/pair of high-end sneaks/set of wine glasses/slate cheese tablet/patio furnishings/iPhones for the kids/travel soccer team commitment/fourth car/Ivanka Trump dress, etc.
I know, I know. Who am I to say? We’re all different. We’re individuals. We have needs!
I’m guilty, too.
Truth is, I’ve received the message, and not just because respondents have sent it, letting me know how wack-a-doodle crazy I am to be concerned for our world, either because God wants our depletion Dominion-style, or because their thirsty kids still need that throwaway water bottle and that’s more important than modeling and affirming stewardship, but also because “who knows what’s gonna happen anyway?” or because we should live for today or because I worry too much or because in the end, we have no control.
Perhaps it’s that final point I gravitate to the most. Not because its relativism brings comfort. It brings the opposite — existential anxiety — but only until I embrace the eternal now and shit and am all like, “Whoa, it’s all good!”
Okay, in the most abstract realm of all we can connect to the so-called infinite now and recognize that change, transience, is the only constant. I’ll give all those staring at the head of a pin that one, and spot you 50 angels.
On a personal note, as a Christian with what I consider to be a pretty profound personal relationship to God, I also have faith and that faith is both sustaining and comforting. It also brings perspective.
But even the most novice philosophy or theology student will remind you that here you can take a path toward hedonism or one towards what seminal modern dance choreographer Deborah Hay called “playing awake,” Ie., some degree of consciousness, and in that, more thoughtful, present, engaged, aware choices.
Choices that may bring more rather than less happiness.
Rock and a Hard Place
Yes still, still, I recognize that my life is as bound up with immediate and earthly questions as anyone else’s when it comes to the nitty gritty of daily matters.
My mortgage still goes to a national bank, my energy bill to the monopoly state utility, my insurance into national funds, my trip to the gas pumps into international conglomerates’ pockets.
Even at my most consumeristically saintly, a benchmark I fall woefully short of at every moment, I can’t even wish myself out of the complex, large, and unaccountable systems to which I am inextricably bound.
Sure, years of strategic planning, intense savings, good luck, and awesome timing might allow me to de-escalate my consumer ties and reconfigure my relationships to things, money, and services, but realistically speaking that’s not happening any time soon in many ways beyond picking up tomatoes at the farmer’s market, eating at local rather than franchise restaurants, and buying from antique shops instead of new, the latter of which brings up the whole other question of endless growth and our DUTY to our economy.
Meantime, you’re a much more desirable party guest if you can just suck down martinis in a fetching new dress and regale the crowd with your recent getaway!
All of which makes it sound like I’ve adopted the path of hedonism — or at the least guilt-free lifestyle enjoyment.
But I haven’t.
I’ve just realized that configuring my life around the concern of peak oil (for example, any emergency planning beyond the norm), and the proselytization of peak oil (trying to build energy literacy), is likely both to fail and to make me miserable.
This doesn’t mean I’m not still a believer in smaller-scale local living, not flying in airplanes, smart development, walking/biking more and driving less, reusing and reducing rather than buying new, eating less meat when possible, choosing experiences over things, and all that good stuff.
It’s just that the resistance worked. I’ve re-adjusted my personal sights downward and I recognize the unlikelihood of me influencing one person let alone many, or our culture at-large. Thinking I would have influenced anyone was a delusion and I find shedding delusions is like that song, “Cruel to be Kind.” In the right measure it helps.
In an age of real fake news (the stuff like Breitbart and Rush that Trump loves rather than the legitimate sources that he lambastes), I no longer imagine or expect that punching through and getting sense to prevail will happen, that thinking adults will populate the room and have as their primary concern effective and healthy large scale problem solving, or that families will make long term choices rather than only pressing and immediate ones.
I’m completely disabused of all of this. It’s simply unrealistic right now. People are up against a lot. The benefit of the doubt suggests that everyone is trying to do the best they can.
It’s not either bitterness or resignation talking here, just simple realism, and maybe a little less of the kind of hubris that gets in your eyes and rules your mind when you think what you have to say is really important and that because it’s important that people will either care or listen or change or all three.
That may happen. But I can’t live my life expecting that.
It’s only the expectation being shed here, something the Buddhists would say is the source of my unhappiness.
All other hope remains alive, the most notable of which, for me personally at least, is that knowing the truth about our earthly predicament on energy and the environment doesn’t have to be in opposition to knowing, as Pharrell sings, that “happiness is the truth.”
Ignorance may be bliss, but a measure of enlightenment is pretty dope, too.
— Lindsay Curren, Average American