We’re all peak oilers now

snow capped mountain peak

Photo: poorfish, via flickr

There has been a distinct increase in dialogue around energy in the last year, and I hear a growing acceptance of the idea that we live on a finite planet and will either reduce the amount of energy we demand from this planet, or hit some version of a brick wall when that demand cannot be met.

Maybe we’re there already, we’re just not hitting the wall at speed, and therefore we’re not recognizing it. Before we can find the silver lining in our predicament, we first need to look at where we are.

An unholy corporate-government alliance

While a growing number of people are coming to the realization that we are in an energy crisis, certain corporations are cashing in on rising prices. Governments are (with reason) afraid that their voters will start revolting (like many across the world), and point the finger at them for their mismanagement and failure to take appropriate and timely action.

As yet only a few countries are showing the leadership needed to transition away from fossil fuels and disconnect their economies from dependence on oil. Most governments which are still dragging their feet, like ours in New Zealand, are now buckling under pressure from corporations and consenting to increasingly dangerous energy extraction practices which threaten life and destroy the very ecosystem upon which we depend. Big business is leading the charge of ecological suicide with practices like extracting oil from tar sands, keeping outdated nuclear power plants in operation, deep sea drilling, and now the insane practice of hydrological fracturing, or fracking, that is rearing its ugly head all over the planet. All this in order to fulfill the increasing demand for more and more energy.

If you think this perspective on things is a little strong, then ask yourself: “Are we leaving the planet in a better state than when we arrived? If not, why not, and is that OK?”


We can carry placards and lie down in front of bulldozers, but sooner or later we’re going to have to deal with the reality of life on a planet which is being stretched beyond its capacity to supply human needs, and accept that we need to make different choices.

Neither our technological advancements, our positive thinking, nor visions of abundance are yielding enough energy to meet the increased demands of a global population that is growing exponentially. Since energy and economy have been inextricably linked, the end of abundant cheap energy goes hand in hand with a failing economy – and we don’t know what to do.

We want to continue to drive, fly and buy, and yet growing numbers of communities around the world are saying NO to exploration and exploitation of their lands for energy extraction. Many want the energy corporations to stop their ever more ecologically insane methods for providing us with the energy we demand – both the direct energy to move us around, to light, heat or cool our homes, and the indirect energy needed to fuel every aspect of our consumption. What a double-bind!

With our back against the wall, what will we discover

In his book, The Great Disruption: Why the Climate Crisis Will Bring On the End of shopping and the Birth of a New World, Paul Gilding talks about the Great Disruption that started with the banking crisis of 2008. Gilding offers a stark and unflinching look at the challenge humanity faces – and this optimistic message:

The coming decades will see loss, suffering, and conflict as our planetary overdraft is paid; however, they will also bring out the best humanity can offer: compassion, innovation, resilience, and adaptability.

Dialogue – a conversation with a center rather than sides

I was one of the relatively early peak oil “alarmists,” but now that peak oil, along with climate change, and an urgent need to reform the global financial system are increasingly part of the conversation, I’m wondering what next? Where is the sharp edge of change, which could yield the kind of transformation that is needed?

One of my first blog posts five years ago suggested that dialogue is one of the critical skills we need to learn if we are to navigate the uncertain and fast-changing landscape that stretches out before us. I’m talking about those more challenging conversations, with people who hold a different perspective or worldview. With increased resource wars, financial meltdown, and societal disruptions across the globe, we need ways of communicating that are safe, allow everyone a voice, keep people in the room, and yield resolutions and commitments to change, that sidestep the need for conflict and violence. No small task, but not impossible.

We are not so different from one another, really. Though we think of ourselves as separate and unique individuals, people are more like inter-dependent cells in a single global humanity. We’ve been evolving now for a few thousand years, and will continue to evolve as we reflect on our place in the “Long Now” that stretches out behind us, and before us.

Some of us might wear suits, and others colorful costumes. But what could happen, if we practiced listening to one another, with a desire to understand beyond the outward appearances, and with a heart-felt intention to find the common ground that connects us?

The future will look very different from the past, that’s for certain. What it will look like though is not yet written and will be, in part, the result of our collective actions.

I intend to continue supporting emerging communities of interest, self-organize to build a better world. A recent work in this field was supporting the emerging Transition Towns movement in Aotearoa New Zealand, and now I find myself working in a number of areas, from The Auckland Food Alliance, to inspiring grad students working towards a degree in Sustainable Practice understand how to use social media to gather communities of interest in pursuit of a better world.

What is your intention?

Cross posted from James Samuel’s blog.

— James Samuel for Transition Voice

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  1. Linda says

    Blessings to ALL! May all Beings be happy. Dialogue is imperative and I only started to really talk about these things when I began talking to myself. I realized that I am the environment and the environment is me. Since I care how my body is treated, it only makes sense to me that I should care about my environment and how it affects me. Now I can have compassion for other people and by helping and educating me, I help and educate everyone else! God Bless

    • says

      Linda — As a Buddhist meditator, I appreciate how you start with the Buddhist wishes for all beings. Metta, isn’t it? And I’m with you on how compassion requires us to spread the word on resilient living.

      • James R. Martin says

        “And I’m with you on how compassion requires us to spread the word on resilient living.”

        It does require it, in a manner of speaking. But this “requirement” differs substantially from mainstream western ethical philosophy, which emphasizes obligation and duty over compassion, empathy and lovingkindness (which Buddhists call metta).

        It seems to me that the prevalent Western versions of ethics are failing us, and that we are seeing symptoms of this failure in the eco-social world as breakdown. Duty and obligation aren’t working as motivators. They inspire more guilt and shame than loving-kindness–which must emerge from the freedom within to respond rather than turn away. Too often, we hear messages meant to inspire care and react with guilt or shame — and then attempt to battle our “accusers” (as we see it). That’s a guilt-shame approach to the ethical dimention of life.

        When we discover our genuine compassion and loving-kindness as a form of freedom, we can respond to real needs with joy rather thant fear, shame, and guilt. This insight is not unique to Buddhism. It is at the heart of our innate and universal human spirit.

    • says

      Linda – What a simple and clear intention: “May all Beings be happy” – enough of an admonition to live a life by. If we include all Beings past present and future, then we’ll make choices that the “Seventh generation” will be proud of, and that will inspire them to further serve all beings and engage in regenerative practices, that allow this beautiful planet to thrive and support life.

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