Sunday, April 15, 2012

On Being a Peak Oil Pest for the Future

While listening to NPR this past week, I heard a lawyer talking about the chances of George Zimmerman, who gunned down Trayvon Martin for the unforgivable crime of toting a handful of Skittles, getting an unbiased jury. It seemed to me an impossible task. Who could not know about this reprehensible murder? It saturated the media and still is popping up as new events and information emerge. But the lawyer quickly jumped in and said, au contraire my friend, you would be surprised at how many people are absolutely clueless as to events not just national but extremely local. The lawyer went on to say that they rarely had to go outside of even small towns to find clueless jurors. At first I was taken aback, but soon thought about my run-ins with people who are not my friends or coworkers (smarties, professors, and admins), and I realized that most people are utterly ignorant about almost every major issue.

Now, I don't mean the cretinous people who watch Fox News, they are not so much informed as, um...., misinformed. No, I'm talking about the majority of people who receive no news at all--not local, national, radio, newspaper, blog, billboard, or word of mouth. Thinking back to the many classes I've taught to both younger students and the returning student, the lack of awareness these people have about almost any issue is striking. I even had one class, an entire class, who had no idea who Adolf Hitler was. Now this general lack of an informed populace, on its face, is enough to make one weep or wince, but when you think of its effect on the dissemination of peak oil information, the ramifications are stupefying. If most people are unaware about Trayvon Martin, a media firestorm topic flogged to the nth, then how likely are they to be aware of peak oil. Furthermore, how likely are they to ever be informed? Perhaps not until the nation is in flames and the rubes can't fuel their Hummers and DodgeFordRamalamadingdong trucks in order to drive fifty miles to see some country western act at the motor speedway.

The sad truth is people we are trying to reach are not in the loop. In clueless town, the television never sees a news programs. The computer is not available or is used for porn, lolcats, Facebook, and poker. The newspaper does not arrive. The radio is tuned to the local Clear Channel monopoly station. Quite simply, unless the police travel about with loudspeakers making specific announcements, these people will not know about peak oil until they are involved in a food riot. "You hear about peak oil?" he said with his chin steadying a stack of Ensure cartons. "Oil? Are they going to get some gas down at the station?" she said, clubbing an attacker with her varmint rifle.

The effect that such willful ignorance will have on how people react if a Black Swan event shuts off the Strait of Hormuz can only be assumed as negative. Riots are fueled by rumor. Without an informed public, the chances for social unrest can only be magnified. If students can riot for something as trivial as a football game, rioting due to extremely expensive/non-existent fuel seems a certainty. Perhaps that's why Homeland Security is planning to buy 2,717 Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles. Nothing better to keep the rioters down than a combat vehicle tested in Iraq.
So, despite the many, many blogs and websites devoted to informing the public about peak oil, the message is unlikely to get out beyond the palisades of the peak oil community. Truth be told, I believe that the community of those in the know is limited, perhaps a few hundred thousand, with many peak oil sites getting the majority of their hits from the same group. I know I travel the same peak oil sites day after day.

It comes down to this. The only way this can reach a critical mass and breach the main stream media's defenses is for each and everyone of you who are in the know to tell someone about peak oil. I mean tell one new person every day, every single damned day, all of it. Each semester I make each of my classes write their research paper on peak oil. I show the "End of Suburbia," and they're hooked. I assume that, on average, they each inform at least two people about what they have learned. That's a total of 225 people. I also like to make a pest of myself by interjecting in bars, restaurants, theaters, and parties whenever someone says something that can even be remotely associated with peak oil. For example, someone says, "Of course, I wash my car and it rains like crazy that night."

I respond, "Better enjoy that while you can."


"Washing your car. Chances are you won't have a car within two to five years."

"What are you talking about?"

And I'm off to the races. Usually what follows is an interesting conversation where I see a complete neophyte raise all the typical questions and solutions that people devoted to the industrial paradigm offer, and I get to shoot down all of their "save the car" responses all over again. It's great fun.

So, get to work. Word of mouth is the only way that the masses will get the message. Drop the shy routine and strike up a conversation with a complete stranger.

"Hey, have you heard about peak oil?"


  1. The way I put it to the uninformed goes something like-
    Do you know how many Chinese there are? do you know how many have a car? Do you know how many will be getting one soon? Do you think there will be enough gasoline to go around?

    That way I don't use the expression "P.O." or mention Al Gore It goes over much better this way.

  2. I think that rebranding peak oil is effective in many circles who have picked their defense and are sticking to it. However, I've found that most people are simply unaware of the problem, and that is not age dependent.

    I guess hammering away is what I'll do. I suspect that the greatest proselytizer of peak oil will be the events that unfold once the catabolic breakdown begins.