Time to throw in the towel?

I used to talk, and write, about peak oil with considerable urgency. But my enthusiasm is waning. Perhaps it’s time to throw in the proverbial towel, give up the proverbial ghost, switch proverbial horses, or … well, insert your own tired cliché here.

After all, as Nietzsche said, there are those who know and those who will never know. Or, in this case, there are those who get it and those who will never get it. Why bother?
And you don’t have to be a damned genius to get it. Need evidence? I get it. Need more? It’s pretty simple, really: (1) Oil is a finite resource that is (2) the lifeblood of civilization for which (3) there are no comprehensive substitutes. And if you haven’t observed the economic consequences of expensive oil, you must be living in a news-free zone.
Any questions?
Discover magazine declared peak oil the #1 story of 2008. In a rare stroke of reporting based on reality, they claimed: “By the end of the year, though, dreams of a sustainable, domestically produced fuel that could help end our addiction to oil had deflated.” Sadly, the story claims we’ll simply use technology to solve the problem, instead of even hinting we might be in for hard times.
From politico.com comes “Four really, really bad scenarios,” although those of us who actually care about the planet — and I’m sure there are at least five of us — beg to differ with the headline (I agree with the author that a terrorist attack would be bad, but I disagree with him about the “badness” of the other three scenarios).
The bastion of American conservatism, the Wall Street Journal, seems to have caught on, quoting a prominent Russian spook who predicts the United States will fail by June 2010.
And then there’s Tom Whipple writing for the Falls Church (Virginia) News-Press: “Of all the world’s nations, America is probably the worst prepared to deal with deep, prolonged economic hardships, for more of us have disconnected from 19th century, rural, somewhat self-sufficient, lifestyles than in most other countries. In the 1930’s many found that they could still return to the family farm, where food, shelter, and meaningful work was available. In 2010 that option exists for very few; we have become dependent on a complex infrastructure fueled by oil for our food, water, clothing and warmth. Start reducing the flow of oil and increasing numbers of us are going to become increasingly desperate.”
The San Francisco Chronicle claims we’re taking our last road trip in a nicely written piece: “Are you kidding me? A buck seventy five? For premium? WTF? It is the frightening rule du jour: the cheaper gas gets right now, the more completely screwed you know we are.”
There’s enormous sad news at the personal scale, of course.Consider a few snippets from my email in-box:
“I give up. I’m leaving my church to eat itself alive as its members seem to enjoy doing. There’s so much blackness in the human heart, and sadly, I now find it creeping into my own. I give up. I’m just a tired outcast … in a society that’s accelerating toward a brick wall. Good luck with the mud hut. I can’t afford a mud hut, but I don’t have the energy to defend one, either. So, it all works out. To hell with all of it…. I pray it all comes crashing down, even if it means we suffer, I’m so sick of the bullshit in this world. Being shuttled quickly to the next, even if there is no ‘next’, is surely better than slogging through this existence for one more year.”
“Though I repeatedly tell people in my house that I have no interest in either christ, holiday consumption, or even some loose interpretation of pagan shenanigans, they put on christmas carols and mock me. It is the conservation vampires that haunt me though. An inept conservationist is a toxic thing because they prevent someone else from doing a good job. That seems to be an integral part of our social promotion scheme. ‘Ok, we’ll give you a
livelihood if you don’t say anything that offends big money interests.'”
And don’t even get me started about my colleagues who teach about limits to growth while failing to recognize they might actually exist. After all, as the math books say: In theory, there’s no difference between theory and practice. But in practice, there is.
All in all, I’m close to the edge. I’ve managed to irritate most of the administrators at my esteemed university, as well as — and this is far more important, depressing, and unintentional — a few of the former thoughtful commentators on this blog. Seems I really am an equal-opportunity offender, however inadvertantly. Much as I’ll miss writing and interacting with people who get it, perhaps it’s time to move along and spend my limited time preparing for a post-carbon future. Perhaps it’s time to live in one world — the real one — instead of trying to live in the fantasy world of Empire even as it crumbles to its inevitable rubble. As much as I enjoy my research on energy depletion and its economic consequences and my teaching with Poetry Inside/Out, it may be time to move along.
Happy new year, everybody. May 2009 bring you joy even as — or in a few cases, because — American Empire crumbles.

Comments 15

  • Guy! That was weird! I think you and I hit post at exactly the same moment because I got some weird text on my screen jut as I posted in the other “Marauders” thread.
    Interesting, though it might just be this computer in the hotel I’m staying in, located in beautiful Peoria Illinois. Well, there’s a bridal show going on in this very same hotel, and I intend to abuse my rugged good looks,so I’ll post later.

  • Professor Guy:
    I have your salvation.There are two very important reasons to be grateful.First,you are seeing history in the making on a daily basis,at the most fascinating point in history–the end.We are the last generation.You can look at the entire scope of civilization,from beginning to end.Next month in California we’ll see an entire state
    implode as they run out of money and will not be able to reconcile political differences to save the state.Damn,won’t that be interesting to see? That is one of the things that keeps me alive and vital:I’m an intelligent consciousness capable of witnessing and understanding the denouement of “civilization”.
    Second,be hedonistic.Let me help you to see the many beneficial aspects of the drop.Enjoy consumption.You owe it to yourself.When they try to mock you at Christmas say “Bah humbug”.Now,since Jesus and I were half-brothers in my previous life (we had differnt mothers),I can’t agree with you on Christ,but so what? You never offended me.
    Your family is not mocking you.They are laughing with you,not at you.You should hear me sing Silent Night in the original German.
    Join with me in scolding Total Turboguy for his shameless self-aggrandizment (“my rugged good looks”-yuck).If you want to see good looking you should see Frank.And I’m very charming to boot.The only reason I can say that is because those who know me best
    say that my biggest fault is I’m too modest.My friends don’t appreciate any false modesty on my part–they consider it condescending.
    We have so much to live for Professor,let me help you to give it a try.

  • Memo to Total Turboguy:
    Read my blog above.
    Fabulous Frank

  • Memo to Matt:
    Are you really Matt Peacock–the famous Australian journalist?

  • Heh Frank, it’s not my fault I’ve got them, but by God since I do I get to abuse them, and boy did I ever! Imagine letting a uniformed Air Force guy loose amongst easily three hundred wedding crazed twenty and thirty something single women! I barely got in the door before I was asked if I was the entertainment! I was asked to dance by a young lady and was later swarmed. Fish (Or should I say sharks) in a barrel my friend.
    Anyway Guy, if you did give up, where exactly would you point when the unwashed masses collectively say, “Why didn’t you *TELL* us!?!” Imagine the satisfaction you could glean from hearing their complaints of how hard it is, when it’s relatively easy for you?
    All you need is one. If you even wake one person to the reality around them, open the eyes of one, is it not worth the trouble? If good men stand by and do nothing when a preventable catastrophe is imminent, is that not the same as causing the catastrophe yourself? If through a warning, a shout of fire in the midst of a playing of Ride of the Valkyries where few if any might hear you, you could potentially save millions, thousands, hundreds, or even one, is it not worth it?
    I say yes, but then again, the decision on whether or not you throw in the towel early is entirely up to you.

  • Guy,
    I recently had the pleasure of starting at the beginning of this blog and reading the entirety of it. The wealth of information you provide both in your writings and in your links regarding economics, energy, and philosophy is extremely valuable to any information-hungry individual. While I’ve benefited as a thinker from everything you’ve had to say, as a young adult preparing for that “life” thing I’ve heard so much about, being able to understand the monstrous obstacles ahead of me doesn’t quite provide for much hope. And as you’ve said, without hope, what is there?
    Those that do get it appreciate what you have to say. I may not be very vocal on this site, but Nature Bats Last is on my list of daily websites to check and I always love the updates. As Voltaire said, it is hard to free fools from chains they revere. So while the herd may not get it, we do. I do hope the posts keep coming while the electricity still flows.

  • Guy, you’ve done so much for many of us who look forward to your ideas and presentations. Awareness can only come to those willing to listen. How many people “look” at art, nature, animals, humans, etc but do not really “see” what’s there? All your effort is valuable to many. A pearl starts as a grain of sand, a mighty oak from an insignificant seed. Hope we all can forge ahead together.
    thank you

  • In response to Nietzsche:
    Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. And those who can’t teach, teach PE. -Woody Allen
    And besides: 2 are 1. See the Prajna Paramita (The Diamond That Cuts Through Illusion).

  • Professor Guy:
    Look at the plethora of new, intelligent,vital people you have brought to this site.You cannot let so many down,at this most important point,the denouement of history.
    Please stay with and continue to guide us–we need you now more than ever.

  • I can certainly understand why you might feel like throwing in the towel. It does seem like so much of the world just doesn’t ‘get’ the degree to which the world and its inhabitants are in peril. And I agree with other commenters that some are likely never to understand this, even as they are themselves crushed by the rubble of Empire collapse. But for those who might still get it one day (soon), I hope that you just hang up the towel for now, and perhaps bring it out again when there is a confluence of other factors that may have them on the brink of insight. I do hope you can find some rejuvenation of spirit while you get down to practical matters in and around your mud hut. I know that when I feel hopeless, enlarging my garden or adding to the woodpile helps a lot. Peace to you and everyone.

  • Professor Guy:
    Please heed the wise words from Mother Theresa above.
    When you get older you’ll understand what all old farts learn by experience:priorities get reversed.Everything you think is important now isn’t.Everything you think is unimportant now is.Que sera, sera.Failure to understand this leads to misconceptions.
    When you think your family is “mocking” you,they are actually expressing their love for you.Someday you will understand–I guarantee it.

  • Frank – could we stick with Sister Theresa at least? You’re making me feel old! ;)

  • Guy,
    I have been an avid reader of your blog now for several months. Though I have never before entered a comment I felt it necessary to implore you not to give up. You are an oasis in the desert we call empire. You are a bright light in the darkness. It was an article you wrote that first opened my eyes to what was happening. For several years now I have felt that something was wrong but could not put my finger on it. Reading one of your articles on Peak Oil was an epiphany moment for me. If I survive what is coming I have you to thank for opening my eyes. Since then survival has become the most important thing for me. I spend every moment I can spare studying what is happening and how to best prepare for it. I consider your blog one of the more important resources on the web. We, those that you have helped awaken, thank you and honor you.

  • Why the long face? People will come to terms with the collapse as it begins to effect them or it comes to them in an epiphany. If someone is not willing to accept your message don’t be afraid to let go and move on. I have been going down the same road. Few will hear what they don’t want to hear, but they assimilate the information just the same at an unconscious level. Although there is great suffering on the way, many of those who see it coming are also those who rejoice that it has finally arrived. They see the Empire spreading out like a cancer with it’s tendrils of manipulation spreading all over the earth, destroying our shared resources on all fronts for personal gain of the few. Is this how people were meant to live? No, most assuredly not. Thank goodness it will finally come to an end. You are doing a good thing by trying to ease the transition and at least here your message does not fall on deaf ears. It is quire frustrating that people blind themselves so completely that even prominent people in scientific fields will not question consensus despite the evidence to the contrary. The restoration of balance will require a large dose of humility, and that is precisely what we have to look forward to. Those who have it will transition gracefully, while those who do not will struggle until they find it.

  • Just getting caught up on your blog. OMG, Guy! To think you almost threw a towel into the sunset whilst I was in a proverbial cave – new manuscript in the throes of edit/rewrite. I agree there’s an element of moral justice in the fall of an empire based on rampant consumerism and entitlement. And it is damn depressing to see the masses rushing blindly, almost defiantly, smack into it. But while it may actually happen this time, there is a point to consider: this has all happened before. And here we still are.
    There’s an article by Greg Sabin, “Nightmare on Wall Street”, that enumerates four other periods of inevitable doom that no one seems to remember. I’ll just take one: The Panic of 1873.
    It was an era when folks depended on horses the way we do oil today. They transported cargo, carried the Army, pulled emergency vehicles…it’s how the country ran. Well, in 1872 an estimated 99% of all horses in the U.S. contracted equine flu.
    In just a few months, commerce was paralyzed. You couldn’t even run the railroads without horses to haul the coal for the engines. A fire in Boston raged for days without horses to carry water.
    During “The Great Epizootic”, as it was called, 20,000 businesses failed, a third of all railroads went bankrupt, unemployment spiked to 15%, etc. The economy took nearly a decade to recover. This, in spite of the ironic fact that the horses nearly all got well again by the following spring.
    So. We may very well get what’s coming to us. But it ain’t necessarily The End.