Lawrence, KS - Events Local News Groups Contact
Peak Oil - What it means to you
By Tim Hjersted /
By Tim Hjersted. From

You wouldn’t know it from the mainstream media’s coverage of rising gas prices, but the squeeze we’re all feeling at the pump is just a small part of a much larger picture.

The current price of gas is more than a just a little rough patch that might get worked out by the markets or policy wonks in Washington. Global oil production today is at or near its max capacity, and in the next few years current supply will begin a long and irrevocable decline that will mean dramatic changes for nearly every aspect of our lives.

We’re moving from an era of cheap, abundant energy to an era of increasingly expensive, scarce energy. Given that our entire modern industrial society has become heavily dependent on the availability of cheap fossil fuels to power everything from our transportation to food production, to a myriad of commercial goods and our overall economic growth—this is *kind of* a big deal. For college kids, soccer moms, and business tycoons alike—peak oil is going to bring a major smack down on our way of life.

While global warming has finally begun to break into the mainstream, its twin brother—peak oil—has yet to be talked about in our national discourse. However, the economic crisis that peak oil presents will likely be felt much sooner than global warming. Major price spikes may come in the next few years, and with rising demand from China and India, among other developing nations, the battle for remaining oil reserves will invariably lead to resource wars and increased conflict in the Middle East. Combine this with teetering financial markets and a devaluation of the dollar, if we do not begin to prepare for peak oil now, the overall financial chaos from all this may jeopardize our ability to address global warming with the stability and financial resources necessary to avoid an even greater environmental catastrophe.

Great news, right? Well, there is some good news. The essential solution for both of these problems is roughly the same thing: eliminating our use of and dependence on fossil fuels. The more our society transitions to renewable sources of energy, the less we’ll emit global-warming-causing CO2 emissions, and the less we’ll be racked in the balls by expensive fossil fuel costs.

Ultimately, a post-carbon society is inevitable. Whether that future looks remotely desirable to us depends on what we do now. The sooner businesses, private citizens, and elected officials stop futzing with little tweaks to the status quo, and get serious about the big picture at the end of the road, the better off we’ll be. These distractions include ethanol, nuclear power, “clean coal,” hydrogen, more efficient cars, and many of the other single-fix responses being proposed by industry and government currently. Many of these approaches may actually exacerbate our problems.

Case in point: though it may help in the short-term, we don’t need more efficient cars; we need radically redesigned cities that are not dependent on cars to get us everywhere. The city and suburban infrastructure necessary to support the speedy movement of the personal automobile requires an immense overall supply of energy and resources to build and maintain. It seems natural that the suburban model of design would have developed during the 20th century when there was such a vast supply of cheap energy to make it economically viable, but with an end coming to cheap energy, we’ve got to go back to the basics. We need to rethink the whole system.

Solutions that take into account a “whole-systems” approach do exist. In fact, the more I’ve looked, the more I’ve discovered sustainable and innovative ideas that are already being implemented in places all over the world. A resident of Oakland, California, Richard Register presents an inspiring vision of what a post-carbon, ecologically healthy city might look like in his book, “Ecocities: Building cities in balance with nature.”

Similar to New Urbanism, the places where people live would be built in close proximity to a mixed combination of work, shopping, food, and recreational spaces, allowing for easy use of bicycle or mass-transit to get wherever you need to go. The city’s economy would be re-localized, from organic food production to basic goods and services. Decentralized wind, solar, and geothermal energy systems would provide energy to the grid, while advanced efficiencies in building design would reduce energy demand by over 70 percent. Long distance travel would be accommodated by light rail or boat, and electric cars borrowed through community car-share programs would be used for medium distance trips. Gardens and plants would be integrated throughout multiple floors of buildings, and streams would weave through public centers and parks.

Finding an abundance of ideas for how to create more sustainable cities is not the problem. What we need is a national discussion at all levels of society, and at all levels of our communities, so we can start to talk about how we’re going to address peak oil here at the local level. How are we going to get from here to there?

We need to get our schools involved. We need to get our city and planning commissioners involved. Businesses, elected officials, and private citizens all need to come to the table and get to work.

Now, at the end of most problem-themed articles I’ve read, specifically ones dealing with global warming, I’ve noticed a curious trend. After spending most of the time talking about the problem, the one paragraph at the end devoted to “things you can do” usually centers solely around personal suggestions: Change your lights to compact fluorescents. Turn down the thermostat. Bike more. Buy less, and try to buy used more than new.

These are all things we should be doing to cut down on our own energy use, but I wonder why it always stops there. Presumably it’s because Americans are too lazy to expect they’d be willing to do anything more ambitious. I want to prove this assumption wrong.

Great change has never been inspired by small requests. If it seems like people in America haven’t been doing much lately to address global warming, it’s because not much has been asked of them. Most of the time, our leaders simply ask us to shop. I think if we do start to expect and ask more of each other, though, we’ll be surprised by the results. As Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R, Md.) has said, “There is no exhilaration like meeting and overcoming a big problem... and I think that Americans could be exhilarated by the challenge.”

So there it is. We’re facing some pretty unprecedented challenges. The time for just making small, personal changes is over. As I heard Alex Steffen say recently, “Don’t just be the change. Mass-produce it.”

Tim Hjersted is the director of the Films for Action project. To read his online blog, visit

0.0 ·
What's Next
Trending Today
Noam Chomsky Has 'Never Seen Anything Like This'
Chris Hedges · 10,855 views today · Noam Chomsky is America’s greatest intellectual. His massive body of work, which includes nearly 100 books, has for decades deflated and exposed the lies of the power elite...
Donald Trump Is the Mirror and Hillary Clinton Is the Mask
Chris Agnos · 7,205 views today · Disclaimer: I do not support Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton for president. I think the scope of the political debate is far too narrow for the kinds of actions that need to...
Gil Scott-Heron Deconstructs Colonialism and Black History in His Own Unique Style
3 min · 3,509 views today · His-Story: I was wondering about our yesterdays, and starting searching through the rubble and to say the very least, somebody went to a hell of a lot of trouble to make sure...
Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed (The Real Reason For The Forty-Hour Workweek)
David Cain · 3,453 views today · Well I’m in the working world again. I’ve found myself a well-paying gig in the engineering industry, and life finally feels like it’s returning to normal after my nine months...
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 2,495 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
Mark Corske's Engines of Domination (2014)
60 min · 2,264 views today · Political power -- armed central authority, with states and war -- is it part of human nature? Is it necessary for human communities? Or is it a tool that ruling elites use to...
HyperNormalisation (2016)
161 min · 1,574 views today · We live in a time of great uncertainty and confusion. Events keep happening that seem inexplicable and out of control. Donald Trump, Brexit, the War in Syria, the endless...
Donald and Hobbes Is Genius
Various · 1,449 views today · Some clever folk have been replacing precocious 6-year-old Calvin, from the Calvin and Hobbes comic strips, with Donald Trump and the results are, well, take a look...
What Makes Call-Out Culture So Toxic
Asam Ahmad · 1,326 views today · Call-out culture refers to the tendency among progressives, radicals, activists, and community organizers to publicly name instances or patterns of oppressive behaviour and...
10 Quotes From an Oglala Lakota Chief That Will Make You Question Everything About Our Society
Wisdom Pills · 1,064 views today · Luther Standing Bear was an Oglala Lakota Sioux Chief who, among a few rare others such as Charles Eastman, Black Elk and Gertrude Bonnin occupied the rift between the way of...
The White Man in That Photo
Riccardo Gazzaniga · 1,062 views today · Sometimes photographs deceive. Take this one, for example. It represents John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s rebellious gesture the day they won medals for the 200 meters at the...
Anarchists - What We Stand For
unknown · 850 views today · Anarchism : The word “anarchy” comes from Greek and means “no rulers”. As a political philosophy, anarchism is based on the idea that organization does not require rulers—that...
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 798 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
For Those Who Don't Want to Vote for the Lesser of Two Evils
Peter White · 795 views today · Ranked-choice voting is catching on, and Maine might become the first state to help citizens vote for candidates they actually want.
Planet Earth II Could Be Best Nature Doc Ever Made
3 min · 630 views today · 10 years ago Planet Earth changed our view of the world. Now we take you closer than ever before. This is life in all its wonder. This is Planet Earth II. A decade ago, the...
Schooling the World (2010)
66 min · 405 views today · If you wanted to change an ancient culture in a generation, how would you do it? You would change the way it educates its children. The U.S. Government knew this in the 19th...
The Top 100 Documentaries We Can Use to Change the World
Films For Action · 367 views today · A more beautiful, just and sustainable world is possible. Take this library and use it to inspire global change!
Lessons in the Calais Jungle: Teaching Life Stories and Learning About Humanity
Aura Lounasmaa · 342 views today · I am part of a team of academics teaching a course to residents in the Calais Jungle, a camp for migrants and refugees outside the French city. Life Stories in the Jungle has...
Eckhart Tolle: Your Facebook Ego, That's Not Who You Are
2 min · 290 views today · “Identification with thoughts and the emotions that go with those thoughts creates a false mind-made sense of self, conditioned by the past: the "little me" and its story. This...
Are You Lost in the World Like Me?
3 min · 271 views today · Animated film by Steve Cutts for 'Are You Lost In The World Like Me?', taken from These Systems Are Failing- the debut album from Moby & The Void Pacific Choir. 
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
Peak Oil - What it means to you