Shuck and Jive

Thursday, January 13, 2011

What is Peak Oil and Why Should the Church Care?

That is the title of my presentation at our congregation's adult forum on January 23rd. If you are near our woods I hope you will join us at 9:45 a.m. It is a powerpoint presentation that I originally presented to the Presbyterian Student Fellowship at ETSU. I called it then: What is Peak Oil and Why Should College Students Care? It will be the same information with some updates.

What is Peak Oil? According to geologist, Colin Campbell:
"The term Peak Oil refers to the maximum rate of the production of oil in any area under consideration, recognising that it is a finite natural resource, subject to depletion."
Don't let the terse definition fool you. This peak of oil global oil production that many experts think is happening now has huge impacts on everything including geopolitics, transportation, economy, ecology, housing, food, career choices--in short--civilization.

In the meantime, you might be interested in what Michael Ruppert says about Peak Oil and civilization.

Here is an
article about and an interview with Mike Ruppert on Transition Voice. Definitely worth a read. He is predicting some dire stuff within the next few months.

I really have no guess how the implications of Peak Oil will play out. Ruppert is convinced that it is going to get bad and fast. It is hard to argue with him as he finds 50-60 news stories a day that provide evidence for his outlook. But then again...

I am quite interested in the spiritual, sacred aspect of this. Ruppert says, "God is on the table." This is kind of an odd sentence. It is fun to play with that metaphor. Perhaps God and Isaac have reversed their positions. Instead of his son, Isaac, Abraham has God on the table and is about to sacrifice him. Will Isaac be as "generous" and offer a ram to save the Lord or will he allow Abraham to kill God once and for all? That is a metaphor for our time, isn't it?

That isn't where Ruppert is going. He is talking about the spirituality, the integrity, the mojo that humans will need to survive the transition. We (non-religious) are even needing to talk about God again is the idea. God is on the table. Ruppert says in the interview:

And my personal opinion is that unless people preparing for the horrors that are to come incorporate something of a spiritual nature they will not survive. It’s not just about beans and growing food. “Man does not live by bread alone.” Man can not survive on bread alone.
I agree to that. As I have written before, I started this blog in response to learning about Peak Oil and wondering what a spirituality or theology of a Peak Oil world would be like.

I am not sure how horrific this will all be. He makes an allusion to the Cormac McCarthy book and the movie based upon it,
The Road. That is pretty extreme. Ruppert says he is doing what he is doing to prevent that.

I do in the end put a great deal of stock in the kindness and the creativity of human beings. I think we can handle many things if we stick together and act from compassion. That doesn't mean it is easy or that there won't be a lot of suffering. Denial won't prepare us.

I tend to like James Kunstler's novels, A World Made by Hand and Witch of Hebron. The green shoots grow from the stumps in those visions.

My presentation on the 23rd will be limited to the nuts and bolts of Peak Oil. A conversation regarding its possible implications will be necessary and I hope forthcoming.


  1. He makes an allusion to the Cormac McCarthy book and the movie based upon it, The Road. That is pretty extreme.

    Oh good grief. I'm so tired of this.

    While I agree that oil is a dying resource and the sooner we switch away from it the better, I have to say the apocalyptic tone of many Peak Oil people is a real turn off to me, and is probably counter-productive. I object to fear-mongering when it's used to sell a war for oil in the Middle East and I object to it when it's used to sell us solar panels and wind farms (not that I have a problem with solar panels or wind farms ... I have solar panels on my house. Just sayin' ....)

    I simply do not believe in the "Mad Max" apocalyptic vision of so many Peak Oil proponents. Human beings are nothing if not adaptable, resourceful and -- when they have to be -- flexible. We didn't crawl out of caves and slouch our way into modernity lo these many thousands of years without having hit a few bumps in the road before.

    Change is what we are made of. We can handle this. Already there are big changes taking place all around the world. We're going to be OK, people. Really.

    And let me add one more thing: there is power in ideas. And there is tremendous power in a lot of people holding the same idea. I am not afraid of Peak Oil, rather I am more scared of so many people around the world believing in the great coming Armageddon -- be it the Second Coming or the Mayan Calendar ending or a Mad Max-style post-Peak Oil world.

  2. are probably going to get tired of this blog because I am not anywhere near finished talking about this.

    Even the IEA (International Energy Agency) has finally admitted that we reached Peak Oil (in 2006!)

    Peak Oil is a reality and is a major game changer. We are not going to simply "switch away" from oil.

    If we wish to avoid an "apocalyptic" scenario (and I am all for that) then stopping denial of reality is a first step and talking about what we are facing and powering down together peacefully is the second and third.

    This is hardly a "bump in the road" and downplaying the seriousness of what we are facing will not help.

    I think we can handle change and we will.

    But I do need to respond to the implication that talking about Peak Oil makes it happen.

    Oil peaked in the U.S. at 10 million barrels per day. We now extract 5 million barrels per day. Talking about it didn't make it happen. That is simply a fact. A fact that only a minority people know.

    There are all kinds of people and places talking about this. If Ruppert's Collapsenet is too scary then there are others.

    The place that interviewed him is one, Transition Voice, also Post-Carbon Institute, and Peak Moment, are all places (and there are many more) where people are going to share ideas about transitioning.


  3. are probably going to get tired of this blog because I am not anywhere near finished talking about this.

    Don't misunderstand me: I'm not tired of talking about Peak Oil and the need to change to more sustainable ways of living, I am just tired of being told that we're all doomed and it's really too late anyway, and let's just all buy some land out in the hinterlands and build our post-Peak Oil compounds.

    I know way too many Peak Oil folks here in Nashville who are selling us the doom-and-gloom vision. To me that's on a par with those nutjobs who talk about how our currency is down the tubes and we need to switch to Liberty Dollars.

    Keep the message positive, please. One of the greatest detriments to the environmental movement has been a defeatist message. This has dogged us environmentalists since the first Earth Day. People don't need to hear constant "we're all gonna die" scenarios -- remember nuclear winter? And the hole in the ozone? When the inevitable catastrophe doesn't manifest it's easy for folks to think we're making it all up.

  4. But I do need to respond to the implication that talking about Peak Oil makes it happen.

    That's not what I said (or meant). I said talking about food riots and catastrophe and "The Road" scenarios makes it happen.

    We don't have to manifest Armageddon. We can choose to manifest positive change.

    Peace ....

  5. But I really WANT to buy some acreage in the hinterlands and build a post-Peak oil compound!

  6. But I really WANT to buy some acreage in the hinterlands and build a post-Peak oil compound!


    Well by all means do so ... don't let me stop you!

  7. Snad:

    In fact, let me open a vegetarian restaurant on your peak-oil compound. We can call it the Endive Times.


  8. I prefer "Restaurant at the Endive the Universe".

    By the way, I think John's posts on Peak Oil are just what the doctor ordered - be prepared, don't panic, and work to create community. Even if the Peak Oil issue is overblown, how can these things be bad?

  9. I do my thing.

    Whether it is positive, negative, depressing, or exhilarating is up to each person to evaluate.

    Even though I write about Peak Oil often, it is something that has not been in the public consciousness except recently. It is far from mainstream consciousness. It is still vastly misunderstood.

    Some people who have an inkling about it deny it, ignore it, soft pedal it, and mock those who bring it up. That is understandable. When we realize how oil (the cheap easy to get kind) is our life blood, that over 5 billion of us are here because of it, and the peak of its supply means economies will contract not expand indefinitely that is pretty sobering.

    I try not to argue with people about it. Nor do I have plans to move to the hinterlands. I will continue to write about it and link to others who have thought more about it than I have.

    I do it because I think education is a good thing. I don't think sex education makes teenagers more likely to engage in risky behaviors. I believe the opposite is true. I don't believe educating people about Peak Oil and its possible implications will bring on "The Road." I trust that the opposite will happen.

    I am actually a pretty positive guy. I have a strong faith (perhaps a naive faith) in human beings. I believe that we can be creative and care for each other even in the most stark times.

    Having gone through some of my own psychological stages (awareness, depression, and now relative peace) I am actually finding this all rather interesting. It is a fascinating time to be alive and to witness the world today. My profession gives me a role to play. I will do what I can until I can do it no more.

    What a long strange trip it's been (and will continue to be).

  10. I'm positively preparing my compound in the hinterlands of North Memphis to serve the greater community as we move through the difficult transition between petro-food and import living to a return of local production.

    There WILL be a rocky patch on this road, but I agree that positive planning and advance work can make the grade a lot smoother. I haven't watched "The Road" yet, having already had my fill of ugly apocalypse imagery but please don't let anyone be deceived that those who predate now, won't predate even more in the absence of convenience.

  11. sbanbury, thanks! A word about "The Road." First, it is excellent writing by Cormac McCarthy. And the film is great too. But...that was more of a throwaway thought in this blog post and in the interview with Ruppert. It is not what will happen but what could happen if we go nuts and blow up the place.

    I agree with positive planning and advance work. I think still the big challenge is overcoming denial.

  12. Sbanbury, BTW I am very appreciative of your work for localizing life. That will be our future. Other than that who knows how to prepare? I think being physically in shape, mentally aware, spiritually centered (whatever that means), and flexible are helpful. Life is impermanent.

  13. Pastor Shuck,

    I just followed a couple of links from and found your post here. Will be bookmarking you, now too.

    I am very interested in knowing if you have a slide show or any other presentation material I could use to propose an upcoming class to our Adult Sunday School. I belong to an Episcopal Church in the MS Delta. This is something I have not been able to bring myself to discuss with other congregants here, and your bringing in the spiritual dimensions is a breath of fresh air to me.

    I also don't hold with the Mad Max future scenario, but think things could be very difficult in the coming years, more along the lines of John Michael Greer's long descent. We in the South have our own history that could be very instructive to those trying to pick their way through the possible futures, Reconstruction. As we know, life after the major economic and energy resource was taken away did not devolve to anarchy, but people did what they always do: they reinvented or created new structures of organization. It seems to me that the Church could be a very positive part of that.

  14. Hal,

    Thanks for the comment! After I update and make my presentation on Sunday I will figure out how to put it on the web for others. I think the church can provide an important social role as you said.