SOCORRO, New Mexico (STPNS) -- Modern Western civilization, as we have known it, is history. The lives we in the industrialized world have led since the advent of affordable and reliable energy, including natural gas but especially oil, is on the verge of being turned upside down through a combination of suffocation and privation. The scope of change in our lives will be so profound it is nearly impossible to grasp today, yet failure to act will only guarantee the worst.

In a series of articles in the last seven issues of the Mountain Mail, New Mexico Tech professors David Raymond and Robert Holson have methodically laid out the factual bases behind the concurring phenomena of global warming and the imminent peak of oil production, otherwise known as peak oil. Their arguments ascribing human origins to changing climates and the reality of an oncoming cataclysmic shortage of petroleum-based energy and products have been clear and concise, and based on a multitude of scientific sources. From the standpoint of either of these global phenomena, our civilization cannot continue under the current energy model. In fact, the very definition of peak oil means the paradigm will be irrevocably changed.  



Dr. Raymond concludes in a December 13 article that the human response to the twin crises ?is likely to be determined by a competition between ingenuity in adapting to new circumstances versus human obstinacy in clinging to outmoded ways of doing things.?  Unfortunately at the time of this writing there is more evidence to indicate that obstinacy, both personal and institutionalized, is winning.

While the phenomenon known as global warming is now well exercised in mainstream media, the concept of peak oil is still foreign to most. This is especially true here in the United States, where we use by far more energy per person than any nation on earth. The reasons for the pervasive ignorance surrounding peak oil are readily understood yet they unfortunately signal devastating consequences.  

Some Americans will remember watching President Jimmy Carter?s televised speech of April 17, 1977.  Conspicuously dressed in a sweater, Carter revived the concept of the presidential ?fireside chat? to have what he termed ?an unpleasant talk? with Americans about the nation?s energy outlook. Although the term peak oil was not yet in use that is what Carter described, and his warning that immediate action was necessary makes for chilling reading three decades later. Carter offered an energy plan resting on ten principles, prominent among them government involvement, protection of the environment, and an equitable sharing among business and citizens of the sacrifice he repeatedly stated would be needed to avoid economic meltdown. Beyond the creation of the new cabinet-level Department of Energy (since then largely captured by corporate interests), Carter?s plan went nowhere. His plea for ingenuity in adapting to new circumstances was overpowered by systemic obstinacy in clinging to outmoded ways of doing things, namely a fatally flawed energy policy based on the fallacy of limitless resources.

The charade of limitless consumption goes on today, further sanctified through the manufacture of close associations between nationalistic symbols such as the flag and icons of waste such as NASCAR and Hummers. The use by politicians of coded phrases like ?the American way of life? allows easy dismissal of the bearers of unpleasant realities as unpatriotic.

Indeed, ?unpleasant? scarcely begins to describe the scope of a future we as a species now face. With the unavoidable decline of the supply of oil and natural gas, manufacturing, transportation, building construction, central heating, air conditioning, and communications (including our beloved computers) will all break down. Since food production (planting, fertilizing, pest control, harvesting, processing and long range delivery) and even water supply and sanitation have become inextricably dependent on oil, wide scale thirst, hunger, and disease also loom as part of a probable future.

These prospects are hard for us to face. A member of an informal Seattle reading club formed to investigate peak oil told a news reporter that several others have dropped out of the group. ?Once people have assimilated the idea that peak oil is imminent, they start to go through the stages of grief, just like a loved one has died. All of a sudden there?s denial, and then bargaining, anger and despair, and finally there?s an acceptance. But that?s never a happy acceptance. It?s more pragmatic, but the depression is there.?

We don?t want to face these issues and we don?t need to, especially with such a large menu of distractions available to us. We can travel, build things, or just go shopping. Unfortunately, almost all these escapes are dependent upon oil, underlining the inescapable nature of our dilemma.

There are personal as well as institutional reasons for ignoring or denying global warming and peak oil. On January 10 the Pencil Warrior will discuss possible technological alternatives, why they won?t save us, and the only true solutions.  

Dave Wheelock, a member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, is a sports administrator and athletic coach who lives and home-studies in Socorro. Reach him at davewheelock@yahoo.com. His views do not necessarily represent those of the Mountain Mail.