Naomi Klein now officially a peak oiler

Naomi Klein speaking

Has Naomi Klein gone where few green activists dare? Photo: Just Warr via Flickr.

You’re more likely to hear the author of No Logo: Taking on the Brand Bullies target Nike sweatshops than predict how many barrels per day are likely to come out of Ghawar in the third quarter.

Recently, perhaps the world’s most popular activist has taken leadership on climate issues. Last week Klein joined the board of the new-and-improved 350.org, on the occasion of their merger with fellow climate group 1Sky.

Sure, like many liberals, she worries about climate. But that doesn’t mean she cares about peak oil. Does it?

Totally talking about peak oil

On the one hand, she clearly doesn’t think peak oil will save the world from climate change.

“My fear is that we have too much oil – too much unconventional fuel of various sources; not just oil but natural gas, coal,” Klein told Rob Hopkins on her recent visit to Totnes. “These new technologies will allow us to go well beyond the environmental tipping point.  James Hansen came up to Canada recently and he said, ‘if you go after the tar sands, we’ll go beyond the tipping point.'”

On the other hand, she also gave a TED talk recently on our new “era of extreme energy,” which sounds pretty peak oily.

She didn’t actually say “peak oil,” but Klein clearly understands that the age of easy oil is over and that, as the International Energy Agency said last year, the world will now have to get more of its fossil fuels from “unconventional” sources such as deepwater oil, hydrofracked gas and tar sands.

Klein is peak-oil enough to get that these unconventionals are a lot of trouble for a very poor return, the energy equivalent of scrounging for nickels and dimes in the sofa cushions. Or maybe of ripping the cushions apart to get at the springs.

Athabasca back at ya

“This is not oil drilling,” Klein says of tar sands, whose source in Alberta can already be seen from space and could grow to an area the size of England. “It’s not even mining. It is terrestrial skinning. Vast, vivid landscapes are being gutted, left monochromatic gray.”

Tar sands, Klein points out, emit three times more greenhouse gases than conventional oil from her home country of Canada.

How else to describe this than as a form of mass insanity? Just when we know we need to be learning to live on the surface of our planet, off the power of sun, wind and waves, we are frantically digging to get at the dirtiest, highest-emitting stuff imaginable. This is where our story of endless growth has taken us, to this black hole at the center of my country — a place of such planetary pain that, like the BP gusher, one can only stand to look at it for so long. As Jared Diamond and others have shown us, this is how civilizations commit suicide, by slamming their foot on the accelerator at the exact moment when they should be putting on the brakes.

A convert to peak oil?

Judge for yourself. Watch Klein’s TED talk video, “Addicted to Risk.”

– Erik Curren

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