Some time back I wrote that activism beats prophecy when it comes to peak oil. It was, in part, a reaction to doomers like the sexy, yet depressing, Oily Cassandra who seemed convinced, even gleeful, that the impending threat of peak oil would bring down capitalism as we know it.
The Wishful Thinking of the Pessimists
At the time, I was concerned that activists were cherry picking from a broad range of scenarios, and then declaring the one that best suited their ideology to be inevitable. Almost like the Republican activists who swore blind that every poll but Rasmussen and Gallup was skewed, there seemed to be a faction of the environmental movement that was giving up on making the future they wanted to see happen, and instead hoping that circumstances would do the work for them.
A Shifting Energy Landscape
There may have been some pretty solid reasons for doing so back then. There was certainly a convincing case being made by major players that peak oil was a serious threat, including the IEA's chief economist warning that no Government was prepared for peak oil. A few short years later, however, we see a boom in fracking and US oil production, leading some to argue the energy landscape has fundamentally shifted yet again.
As Damian Carrington reports over at The Guardian, the IEA's latest report warns not of too little oil, but too much—and that this oil must remain in the ground if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change in our not-too-distant future:
What follows from this is that the idea of peak oil has gone up in flames. We do not have too little fossil fuel, we have far too much. It also follows directly that the world's stock markets are sitting on toxic levels of subprime coal and gas, a giant carbon bubble ready to explode. How has it come to this? The simple answer is because the cost of the damage caused by carbon emissions is still not paid by the polluter.
Pick a Future. Then Work For It.
I am no oil geologist. I can't say whether peak oil is around the corner or centuries away. I can't tell you whether world oil reserves have been overestimated, or whether we are sitting on centuries worth of new power. What I can say is that the world keeps changing, and our technological abilities to harvest fossil fuels, and to harness renewable energy for that matter, keep changing too. We can't afford to make predictions about the future and then hope they come to pass. Instead, we must pick the future we want to see—and my money is on a low carbon, energy efficient, equitable, enjoyable, compassionate and sophisticated new economic paradigm—and then work like heck to make it happen.
This is what James Murray was talking about in his recent call for a new environmentalism. We need a vision, and we need a bold strategy for making it come to pass. And that vision and strategy will only come about if we can learn to view the future not as a given, but as an astoundingly broad range of potential scenarios.