Fossil Fuel Nostalgia and Post-Peak Sentimentality

retro lamp photo

That really is an ugly lamp... Image credit: Rob Hopkins

Rob Hopkins, founder of the Transition Movement, isn't shy about sharing his views that our future will be radically different from our present. He recently declared, for example, that the idea of a global consumer society without oil is nonsense, and he has urged folks to embrace resilience over sustainability in order to weather coming shocks. But he's clearly in a reflective mood right now. Inspired by a rather ugly lamp, he has some musings to offer on how we might one day look back on fossil fuels with rose tinted spectacles.

New Technologies Reflect What They Replace
Having recently moved his aunt, and marveled at an electric lamp made to look like a candle, complete with dripping wax, Rob pontificates on how we might reminisce about the age of oil and debt. He points out that, just as the makers of this electric lamp hearkened back to nostalgia for a candle-lit era, modern consumers buy gas log fires and program retro ringtones into their fancy new iPhone. He also notes that electric car makers are considering installing recordings of an engine to counteract the uneasiness caused by such a quiet vehicle.

Looking Back From a Post-Oil World
So how might this sentimentality play out if and when peak oil changes our way of life? Rob has a few ideas of what might happen:

"Might clubs of people, known as 'petrolheads', organise events where they wheel the last few remaining carefully tended cars out of garages, a bit like the vintage car rallies we see today, and use small amounts of petrol to recreate traffic jams? All squashed into a small bit of road somewhere, revving their engines and sitting back with the windows closed listening to the radio? Perhaps people will recreate the experience of transatlantic flight by going to the local theatre where they enter a bit box and watch films for an hour in uncomfortable seats, during which time the set on the stage is changes, and a group of actors all pretend to be New Yorkers and they all then role play a shopping trip to New York. Perhaps local food shops will, given the demise of the supermarkets, hold days when they try and make the shopping experience as much like shopping in supermarkets had been."

It's an interesting idea, humorously presented. In the end, of course, Rob's predictions say as much about his visions and assumptions about the future as they do about our future views of the past. But even if the techno-optimists among us prove to be right, it is still fascinating to reflect on what we might miss, and how we might remember it, from these heady days of fossil fuel indulgence.

We know that backcasting can help us view a sustainable future, and I found this a useful exercise in exploring what I would miss most if our consumer society would disappear tomorrow. While I can't say I'd miss traffic jams, I could see myself sneaking off to listen to the radio in the now stationary car. Which will presumably be doubling up as a hen house, if the worst Mad Max scenarios play out...

More on Future Scenarios and Sustainability
Why Backcasting Can Help Us See a Sustainable Future
Activism Beats Prophecy: Wishful Thinking is Not a Strategy
2012 and the Mayan Prophecies: It's Not the End of the World

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