How to talk about peak oil

World War II propaganda posterLIVE REPORT

The best way to talk about peak oil may be not to talk about it at all, according to panelists at the ASPO-USA conference panel today on Message, Media and Outreach.

Instead of rehashing statistics on world oilfield depletion on the one hand or giving lectures about how peak oil means we’re all doomed on the other, the panelists agreed that what we need is to develop a compelling narrative.

And that narrative might need to “tell it slant” as Emily Dickson says about the way to tell the truth.

A likely story

“It may turn out that the narrative doesn’t say that peak oil is the biggest problem we have,” said panelist and ASPO-USA board member Dave Room, co-founder of Bay Area Localize in the San Francisco area. “Instead, it may be we talk about how it’s a problem that our society discounts the value of nature,” treating people, animals, and all of life as objects for us to use to make money.

Our story about the predicament needs to be inclusive by race, class, and income, “to be a narrative in which all people can see themselves,” Room said.

It also needs to be a good yarn, one that gives an inspiring vision for the future, according to author, farmer, and Room’s fellow ASPO board member Sharon Astyk. “We have the good stories,” she said, such as:

  • Heroism in the face of great odds
  • Caring about the kind of world we leave to posterity
  • Sustainable agriculture and living a healthier, more meaningful life

“We are now the new greatest generation,” Astyk said.

Ministry of propaganda

But what is the most important thing to remember as we develop stories to deal with the world that peak oil will bring?

Our story should not be boring. Or, as Astyk put it, “our messaging shouldn’t suck.” Advocating what she unabashedly calls “agit-prop,” Astyk urged her audience to learn from the great propaganda campaigns of the past, illustrating her talk with fun propaganda posters from World War II to make the point that our movement needs to pull on good iconography (Tea Party anyone?)

“Agit-prop is not complicated, and it appeals to people’s shallower sides. Many people I know on the left don’t like that. But those who use agit-prop are those who win.”

Speaking of agit-prop, ASPO-USA co-founder Jim Baldauf — who proudly owns up to being the only Texas oilman ever arrested by George W. Bush —  finished off the session on a light note with his idea for an ad campaign “Save the Oil…It Could Save Your Life.”

Since oil is needed for making things like solar panels, electric cars, and vital medical supplies, “we should save the oil for things that only oil can do…Burning oil in your car is like burning dollar bills in your fireplace,” Baldauf said.

Look for it soon on a bumper sticker near you.

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