A Matter of Faith

Believing in the theory of peak oil is somewhat like believing in God, I think. I believe in both, for what it’s worth, and I burned some spare brain cycles over the weekend thinking about how the similarities and differences stack up.

Both are a matter of faith, although peak oil has a lot more hard science and current data to back it up. At some point in the farily near future, we will not be able to increase our production of oil beyond a certain amount even while demand continues to increase. We’re just not sure when it’s going to happen, or how bad it will be. Even the most accurate estimations of Earth’s oil endowment are at best very educated guesses, and the amount of extractable oil is a moving target that changes as engineers find out more about the geological makeup of each field, and as the extraction technology improves. Each country fiercely guards it’s data about it’s oil reserves, and the numbers that are put out for public distribution are usually ‘spun’ one way or another to achieve a desired affect. Normally this is to allay public fears about pricing and availability, but sometimes it may be to alter the market one way or the other. Much like religious texts, there’s more than enough grey area in oil production and usage numbers to support most any viewpoint, and that causes more trouble than it solves.

Our responses to both peak oil and God usually revolve around us altering our lifestyles now in anticipation of a payoff at some unspecified date in the future. The main difference I see is that the effects of oil peaking will hit us for sure in the next generation or so, while our reward from the almighty is one that we’ll get after we depart this mortal coil, unless you’re a rapturist (which I am not). Both ideally involve us reducing our attachment to the material goods so many of us cherish and live for in our modern society. The difference is that with peak oil, we simply won’t have access to all of the cheap material goods we assume are necessary for our happiness, while religious faith is trying to wrest our focus from this world to the supernatural.

Both paths are hard to follow. I don’t identify myself as a ‘peak oiler’ or an ‘environmentalist’ publicly for the same reason that I don’t identify myself as a ‘Christian.’ By attaching a label like that to yourself, other people try to fit you, your values and your way of life into a box based on their perceptions of the term you’re using to describe yourself. Even if I wanted to be known that way, I’d fail the inherent ‘purity test’ that you must pass to avoid being called a posuer or worse. I believe that we are at or near the global peak in oil production, and once we start down the back side of the curve, we are going to have to radically change how we work and live. Yet here I am living in the suburbs, driving a car daily to and from work, and dependent on the system like most everyone else around me. I’d have a hard time calling myself ‘green’ or ‘living sustainably’ and therefore I simply don’t bother. Much like my walk in the Christian faith, I’m trying my best to move down the path, but it’s full of (mostly self-imposed) obstacles, and for now I am simply a cheerful failure that hasn’t given up trying. Other people are farther down the path than I, but I’m doing my best to catch up.

The ‘identity politics’ side of both schools of thought places you on the edges of society to one degree or another. People who feel intensely about their faith in God sometimes actively try to withdraw from general society, much like those peak oil/environmentally-minded folks who either choose to live sustainably in the country, or live in an ecovillage. Outsiders may be shunned by the believers because they don’t seem to have many shared values. Or, the non-believers may shun the believers for the very same reason. I, for example, have figured out that my interest in energy issues and financial is a sure-fire conversation-killer at parties, and I have managed to annoy both my Democratic and Republican friends, often at the same time. In order to maintain some sort of social life, I now do most of my ‘conversing’ about these subjects here and at other places on the net. It’s also entertaining to see my co-workers’ reactions when they innocently inquire what book I’m reading at my desk over lunch:

“It’s called ‘The End of Oil,’ and it deals with our society’s over-reliance on a finite energy source, and how our dependence on oil is going to cause untold economic and climatic chaos if we don’t take positive steps to move away from it now.”

“Hmm…. I see. Interesting stuff. I’m sure it’s those damn Arabs fault, right? Gotta run… my Hummer’s due for an oil change.”

I can imagine that my regaling a co-worker about how people who don’t believe in Jesus are going to hell would go over in a similar fashion.

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