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The End of Cheap Oil: An Opportunity to Create a Better World

Posted Jul 25 2011 1:37pm

Here at Chelsea Green we spend half our time worrying about what’s going to happen when the resources our society depends upon become so scarce we can’t afford them anymore…and the other half getting excited about the unreal opportunity that kind of scarcity represents! Authors like Rob Hopkins of the Transition movement are favorites because of their realistic optimism. Blogger Christine over at 350 or Bust feels the same way. From a recent post:

As a species with the creativity, adaptability and opposable thumbs that enabled us to create an Oil Age in the first place, we can be pretty certain that there will be life beyond it. Similarly, we may be able to prevent the worst excesses of climate change, and indeed the measures needed would almost certainly make the world a far better place. However, the point is that the world and our lifestyles will look very different from the present. It is worth remembering that it takes a lot of cheap energy to maintain the levels of social inequality we see today, the levels of obesity, the record levels of indebtedness, the high levels of car use and alienating urban landscapes. Only a culture awash with cheap oil could become de-skilled on the monumental scale that we have, to the extent that some young people I have met are lucky to emerge from cutting a slice of bread with all their fingers intact. It is no exaggeration to say that we in the West are the single most useless generation (in terms of practical skills) to which this planet has ever played host. However, the first step to the creation of a localized, low-energy-abundant future is actually visioning its possibility.”

So writes Rob Hopkins, the founder of the Transition movement and author of “ The Transition Handbook: from oil dependency to local resilience .” I’m halfway through this inspiring and practical book about how to embrace climate change and peak oil as the impetus to creating a better, healthier, more community-oriented way of being on this planet. The changes that Hopkins is talking about are not simple changes, like deciding to recycle; they are significant changes in thinking and in “business as usual”. But as he (and many others) point out, inevitable and profound changes are ahead, whether we are prepared for them or not. What Hopkins, and the Transition Movement, do is to provide a roadmap for navigating those changes. As Hopkins writes:

I do not have a crystal ball. I don’t know how the twin crises of peak oil and climate change will unfold – nobody does. I don’t know the exact date of peak oil, and again, nobody does. Similarly, I don’t know if and when we will exceed the 2 degree climate threshold, and what will happen if we do.

What I am certain of is that we are going to see extraordinary levels of change in every aspect of our lives. Indeed we have to see extraordinary levels of change if we are to navigate our societies away from dependence on cheap oil in such a way that they will be able to retain their social and ecological coherence and stabillity, and also live in a world with a relatively stable climate. In terms of looking forward, many people have set out different scenarios for what the future might hold. I have trawled through a lots of these for insights as to how life beyond the peak might be.

Rob has written a new book for the Transition community, The Transition Companion: Making Your Community More Resilient in Uncertain Times , which hits our shelves this October. Check it out!

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