The whole field of study revolving around oil depletion, food security, financial crisis and sustainabilitty is the collective failure of public relations efforts. It’s an issue that’s bugged me for some time now, and I’m thinking about ways to get the message out. There are a number of issues with this that I’m going to discuss in this article, and I’d love to get some feedback on them.
The first issue is trying to ‘sell’ what’s essentially a negative message. Most people, when they expend any time at all on recreational reading, don’t wish to hear about how their future and all their preparations for it, are basically going to be flushed down the toilet. On TV, for example, ‘reality shows’ are great as long as it’s someone else’s reality that’s being jacked with. There’s seems to be a growing subconscious realization among Americans that something is wrong with our nation, but most people choose to submerge themselves in diversions of one sort or another to avoid the subject. Witness the popularity of talent shows, reality TV, sports, and other entertainments. Much like late Imperial Rome, bread & circuses are becoming more and more necessary to keep the ‘mob’ in line. As the price of bread goes up, I wonder how much more sensationalized the circuses will become?
There is a need to have some commentators step up and try to frame the issue as neutrally as possible. As much as I like the writings of James Kunstler (let’s leave the whole pro-Israel thing out of it, for this discussion, as it’s off-topic), he’s a poor advocate for doing anything, in my opinion, since his message is basically a sensationalized version of “we’re screwed, and there’s nothing that can be done about it.” That’s great fodder for the true believers, but it does nothing to try and motivate the rest of America. Richard Heinberg would be a decent candidate, I think, for he seems to be able to write coherently about peak oil without making everything into an end-of-the-world scenario. While he definitely has a liberal bias, he can keep it under control much better than some others out there, and he doesn’t seem to revel in anticipation of upcoming turmoil like some others do.
As a side issue, reader Liz commented in one of my earlier posts that there is a definite lack of female peak oil advocates. She’s not the first person to realize this, as Shepherd Bliss has written several articles on this subject (linked at Energy Bulletin Part1/Part2/Part3). I have no idea why this is, but it’s a damn shame, since having some rational, female voices added to the fray would be very beneficial. There are several women who do write on both peak oil and related subjects, and I can recommend the sites of Carolyn Baker, Paula Hay, and Catherine Austin Fitts, among others. If anyone knows why women don’t seem to raise their voices as much as they should, I’d love to hear the reasons. This journey we’re about to undertake will affect all of us equally.
The next issue is how to break out of the echo chamber that’s set up around peak oil. While there are a few ‘conservative’ advocates out there like Roscoe Bartlett and Matthew Simmons, most of the people actively trying to raise awareness for these issues are of a liberal bent to one degree or another. In today’s polarized political climate, this means that half of the population will likely tune these people out because they’re liberals… a classic case of shooting the messenger before you’ve even heard the message. Bryant Urstadt’s article in the latest issue of Harper’s sets biases before you even get into the meat of the subject. “Scenes from a Liberal Apocalypse” automatically casts the issue as one that’s only of interest to hippy eco-fascists, and it’s since it’s a ‘liberal apocalypse’, that seems to imply that it’s some sort of secularist version of the rapture. While there are some people out there who think this will be the likely outcome of things, it’s unfair to paint the whole crowd that way, and it’s unhelpful in getting an honest dialog started.
Control of the media is another stumbling block. Jeffrey Brown does a nice job of arguing how the “Iron Triangle” of automotive/housing/financial companies, oil companies, and mass media have a vested interest in keeping the status quo running for as long as possible, extracting as much money out of the American consumer as possible before things come crashing down. This is despicable, but it also fits perfectly with Wall Street’s demands for short-term performance over long-term stability. The people at the top of the corporate food chain will rake in hefty profits for as long as they can, and then skip out to a safer part of the world once things become untenable here. So, we get stories either setting up strawman arguments or attempting to debunk the theory instead of any real information. This is changing slowly, but the really balanced stories are still few and far between.
With most of the major corporations of the world being true multinationals now, the United States becomes just another market to be exploited and then exited when it becomes unprofitable. This is the reason that the government doesn’t see anything overly alarming about exploding debt both for the government and the individual consumer, in my opinion. use the good name and bond rating of the United States for as long as possible to achieve the goals that the ‘elite’ deem worthy, and then stick the average American with the bill, which he or she will not be able to pay. I only have one credit card right now, and don’t carry a balance on it. I have a fixed rate-mortgage on my house and I am making progress (albeit slow) on reducing my principle. I hope many of you are in the same position, for the changes to the bankruptcy laws and universal default are aiming to make as many people as possible into debt slaves of one sort or another.
So, what to do? We have a clearly set of defined problems, but no real way to get the message out beyond the internet, which will work, but slowly. The first step is getting yourself into as good a situation as you can.
Part of the solution to oil depletion is relocalization. If you’re not living in a place where you’re close to work and your support group, getting there as fast as you can should be a priority. Moving to where I did recently doesn’t make sense from a long-term perspective, since I’m still in the burbs in a modern house with all of it’s dependence on energy. However, I can bike to work & shopping, and walk to both my in-laws and my sister-in-law’s places. Like many people, while I may be on-board with reducing my energy consumption and downscaling into a smaller, more energy-efficient house, my spouse isn’t, and probably won’t be until it’s obvious that the way of life we all grew up being used to isn’t working anymore. While the issues of oil depletion and sustainability are important to me, I’m not about to wreck both my marriage and my children’s lives over it, so we’ll stay where we are for a while and see how things go. I’m lucky in that my in-laws have a spacious house that is totally paid-off on a nice piece of land, so there’s always that safety net if it’s needed.
But I digress. The point I was trying to make is that you need to figure out where the best possible location for you is and try to get there. Perhaps it’s where you already live… if so, that’s fantastic. Once you’ve figured that out, I think that finding a local group of people is important, and that’ harder than it seems. Car culture has destroyed many local systems. Unlike things several generations ago, we don’t work with our neighbors anymore. Neither do we shop with them. It’s a rare surprise when I’m out shopping at the local grocery store, etc, when I run into a co-worker or neighbor. Usually, both parties seem to be shocked at seeing someone they know, and they quickly move on to completing their tasks. We seem to thrive on anonymity in most things that we do.
The two areas I can think of where we truly interact with our neighbors are school and church. (N.B. – This could be any religious organization: mosque, synagogue, etc., but I’m Lutheran, so I’ll call it church). Both of these issues present problems, for in both cases you’ll probably be seen as either trying to brainwash people, or causing disunity & trouble. Since both of these local groups are control structures, I’m not sure that anyone would have much success in alerting people to the coming crises, or doing anything about it once you’ve made your points.
As an aside, I think that a real Christian church would be a great place to get the word out; unfortunately most churches these days seem much more concerned with not rocking the boat, making everyone feel happy and keep the money rolling in, versus actually challenging anyone to live up to the teachings of the Bible, etc. In the church’s early days, theology and issues of faith were of primary importance to the majority of the people, whereas today’s Christianity, regardless of denomination, has become a vehicle that performs a few tasks in regards to setting basic morality for kids, but otherwise is something that people feel vaguely obligated to attend once a week, hopefully ending before the football game starts. Before confirmed secularists start sweating and navigating away, I’m not a die-hard Christian, nor especially religious. Faith or lack thereof is a personal decision, and I’m a foe of organized religion for the reasons I’ve listed above… OK; rant over .
Anyway, I’ve wasted a lot of space describing the reasons why peak oil awareness seems confined to a pretty small group of people. I’ve been thinking about ways to get the message spread out more, but long story short, I’m stumped. Does anyone else have any ideas? Post a comment. I’d be glad to hear what you’ve got to say.