3 May 2011

What the Oil Bloom Bought Us

Greens are portrayed in the media as profits of doom, as though a fascination with the negative impacts of our lifestyle might be some sort of psychological flaw. My own view is that we are closer to reality than the vast majority of the population, who are trapped in denial about the ecological crisis, but none the less I think it is worth re-evaluating the extraordinary achivements of the 200-year oil bloom.

To focus our minds on the technological and social achievements of industrial society I suggest you watch the visualisation presented by Dr Hans Rosling during his BBC series The Joy of Stats. In spite of questions about what measuring wealth in US dollars over the past 200 years can actually mean, the achievements in terms of life expectancy are impressive and should not be sidelined. The impact on China of its turbulent political history, as it bounces up and down, argue strongly for evolutionary rather than revolutionary change.

Wonderful though these achievements are, they have been bought with a level of energy intensity that we can no longer afford. But the advances in knowledge and technology will stay with us. Our challenge now is to find ways of using them that achieve the maximum in human well-being with the minimum of resource and energy use. Here another recent visualisation is helpful.

Although the footprinting methodology is limited in terms of what it can offer policy-makers, it is a great asset in helping to communicate the message about over-use of resources in an intellectually and visually appealing way, as Jacob Houtman's global map, made freely available on Wikimedia Commons demonstrates.

As well as illustrating the situation facing us so vividly, these two visualisations also demonstrate another asset we have available: the creativity that was used to display these data can also be used to explore and implement solutions to the ecological and political problems we face.


  1. Larry Menkes: CSBA (NaSBAP), Transition Bucks County5 May 2011 at 18:18:00 BST

    Thanks for your cogent post. The visualizations are wonderful. I agree with your assessment of where we're at, but not with your techno-cornucopian assessment of the solution. The solution will also require a radical shift in lifestyle choices in the leading GHG emitting countries that will delay or defeat your max/min well-being challenge.

    Certainly, denial driven US, Canadian, and Australian (etc.) energy and climate policies have hastened our arrival at what may well be a point of no return. US Greens have not been portrayed as prophets of doom. In fact, the Green Party here has been largely silent on what is obviously their best ever issue opportunity.

    Although it is already too late to mitigate some of the catastrophic effects of climate change and "peak everything", the Greens here have generally not been in front of the solution. Like most of America, the US Greens seem to have ADD and still look for a magic bullet.

    We already know how to start powerdown. We already know what else can immediately begin to reverse the critical trends. The challenge is in actually beginning this. Only those of us riding in the engine and the first cars can see that were about to have a slow motion train wreck. Only when somebody pulls the emergency brake will the rest begin to notice what is happening. Then, they'll only ask one thing. Ride it out or jump?
    Tell us what to do now that we're awake. Whatever our party, we need to have an answer, however imperfect it will be.

    I think that the Transition model, coupled with the work of the PCI and esp. Post Carbon Cities, is the best approach to a solution. If the US DoD and DOE are correct in their assessment that crunch time will occur between 2012 and 2015 (and they may be a bit conservative there) we would all do best to start or join our local Transition Town and get to work on what will best cover our tragically exposed behinds.

  2. Hi Molly, should be 'prophets', not profits of doom in the first line? Congrats on getting elected to the district council! Tim