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The world is going to hell in a hand basket, I feel fine.
January 28, 2008 10:04 AM   Subscribe

According to studies, most people are positive about their own lives, but tend to see the world going to hell in a hand basket - for a sample ride in said hand basket, see the disturbing A Crude Awakening: The Oil Crash (2006; 1hr 23m) one of the canonical Peak Oil educational/propaganda films. Doomer porn is nothing new - starting with Rousseau, a common belief still exists - both in popular and scientific circles - that humans reached the height of advancement in the hunter/gatherer stage, a proto-garden of eden, and its been downhill since. Or is it just the same old story?
posted by stbalbach (121 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oil being in finite supply as propaganda. This (thread and planet) should end very, very well.
posted by DU at 10:14 AM on January 28, 2008 [6 favorites]


Doomer porn

Added to dictionary.
posted by AwkwardPause at 10:18 AM on January 28, 2008


I'll stop worrying about the future as soon as greed and spite cease to be motivating factors for the human race.
posted by you just lost the game at 10:20 AM on January 28, 2008 [5 favorites]


Ah well, if most people are positive about the future, nothing can go wrong!
posted by Happy Dave at 10:22 AM on January 28, 2008


Peak oil is actually far less a doomsday scenario than the alternatively. Assuming you're not theorizing that oil is infinite, there's one of two ways to run out. The first is peak oil, where we hit a limit to how much we can pump out in a single day, and then spend greater and greater resources trying to stay at this limit as it eventually trends downwards. The second option is that oil is as easy to grab as a box off the shelf, and we grab greater and greater amounts until there's no oil left. It seems to me the second scenario would be much closer to a doomsday scenario. In fact, the sooner we hit a peak in the curve the better (at least from the long term perspective), because the peak will force us to find alternates while still having crude oil at our disposal.
posted by Crash at 10:25 AM on January 28, 2008 [5 favorites]


It isn't doomer porn unless it involves canine sidekicks and gerry-rigged cars driven around endlessly in the pursuit of irony gasoline.
posted by Pastabagel at 10:27 AM on January 28, 2008


Doomer porn is nothing new - starting with Rousseau, a common belief still exists - both in popular and scientific circles - that humans reached the height of advancement in the hunter/gatherer stage, a proto-garden of eden, and its been downhill since.

Almost nobody in the peak oil consciousness movment believes that, but hell, go ahead and shit up the front page with your editorialising, why don't you?
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:33 AM on January 28, 2008 [7 favorites]


Also, to forestall the inevitable remarks about how none of the alternatives can replace oil: There does not need to be a single replacement for all our energy needs any more than there needs to be a single food for all our eating needs.
posted by DU at 10:35 AM on January 28, 2008 [5 favorites]


> because the peak will force us to find alternates

Are there credible alternatives? I take the subway to work, and every day I pass over a highway which, day or night, is always streaming with an endless procession of cars, and by a mall surrounded by a parking lot the size of a small lake, which is always filled almost to capacity with automobiles. I'm no trained expert in the field, but based upon what I've read (and I've read a fair bit) there is nothing - no credible energy source whatsoever - that will allow us to continue living this way. We might be able to keep the lights in our homes burning with wind, solar, etc., but cars? Forget it. And whenever people talk about "alternatives," it's usually in the vaguest of terms and with an almost religious belief that "technology" will save us.
posted by you just lost the game at 10:37 AM on January 28, 2008 [13 favorites]


Actually I think this is a very good topic for discussion. I don't think there is any serious way anyone could argue that our oil supply will not run out sooner or later. But a number of peak oil believers have predicted the end of the world so often and with such zeal that they really do start to look like fanatical doomsayers. Read this, for example.

I stumbled across that site (Peak Oil Debunked). I don't agree with a lot of what's argued there, but I do like the way it challenges sensationalist and irrational claims. I found a tendency in my own thinking to latch on to the peak oil doom scenarios and reading that site brought me down to earth a bit. The interesting question is why the doom scenarios are so seductive.
posted by PercussivePaul at 10:39 AM on January 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Also, to forestall the inevitable remarks about how none of the alternatives can replace oil: There does not need to be a single replacement for all our energy needs any more than there needs to be a single food for all our eating needs.

That's a really bad analogy. Having a single source of energy powering our transportation is far, far more efficient than having a plethora of available sources. Consider how many gas stations there are out there, and imagine a world where there are also hydrogen, battery exchange, biodiesel, natural gas, and whatever else you can imagine stations, and then consider that instead of the infrastructure involved in harvesting and transplanting just one resource, there's several parallel infrastructures...
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:43 AM on January 28, 2008


Well, one of the "alternatives" must be conservation. All I was saying is that oil is going to run out, and the peak oil theory is a much less painful way to go about it then waking up one day and realizing we just pumped the last barrel of crude forever. Reduced consumption, a move away from the suburbs model of living, a complete overhaul of our thinking in regards to travel, and a higher and higher reliance on alternate energy doesn't seem to be a doomsday scenario. It might be painful, especially as oil prices continue to go up, but it doesn't have to be the end to civilized society. Whereas waking up one day and being completely out of oil in today's world would pretty much be the end of everything.
posted by Crash at 10:44 AM on January 28, 2008


Doomer porn! We do need a name for the phenomena, but I am not sure this is it.

Sad that cynicism is considered an acceptable substitute for wisdom in so many quarters.
posted by LarryC at 10:49 AM on January 28, 2008


> Reduced consumption, a move away from the suburbs model of living, a complete overhaul of our thinking in regards to travel, and a higher and higher reliance on alternate energy doesn't seem to be a doomsday scenario.

Amen, but I'm worried about our ability to get to that point in an orderly fashion in a world where you can't even put your laundry out to dry in many suburbs.

My point being: big changes and hard choices are on the way, and people don't like either of them.
posted by you just lost the game at 10:50 AM on January 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


And whenever people talk about "alternatives," it's usually in the vaguest of terms and with an almost religious belief that "technology" will save us.

So your thinking is that we won't find alternatives, and we'll just throw up our hands and die?
posted by smackfu at 10:53 AM on January 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


There is no viable replacement for spermicetti. Once the last whale is killed the world will plunge into darkness. Anyone who denies this is an idiot.
posted by LarryC at 10:53 AM on January 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


you just lost the game (damn you btw) said, "...it's usually in the vaguest of terms and with an almost religious belief that "technology" will save us."

Technology will not save us. Technology will only save the Scientologists, because they're hoarding all the scifi technology and will reveal it only to people who pay enough to become uber nth degree members. I say we storm their castles in search of Perpetual Motion Machines right now. You all know Tom Cruise has a Perpetual Motion Machine already. That's why he's smiling all the time! You can't fool me, Tom Cruise! It's salvation for the highest bidder if the Scientologists take over and I for one won't stand for it! We SubGeniuses came up with that ages ago. How dare Scientology steal our thunder!
posted by ZachsMind at 10:56 AM on January 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Also, to forestall the inevitable remarks about how none of the alternatives can replace oil: There does not need to be a single replacement for all our energy needs any more than there needs to be a single food for all our eating needs.

What about high-fructose corn syrup?
posted by delmoi at 10:56 AM on January 28, 2008 [6 favorites]


So your thinking is that we won't find alternatives, and we'll just throw up our hands and die?

No, I just don't think we can count on it. Blind faith is blind faith. A lot of people expect "technology" to "solve" the problem, and that absolutely no sacrifices or changes in lifestyle will be required of us.

Whale oil isn't a very good analogy, because it didn't power society to the same degree as oil does ours.
posted by you just lost the game at 10:57 AM on January 28, 2008


Are there credible alternatives?

As you say, the current state is not sustainable. The alternative is not some new energy source that will just replace oil. The alternative is a change in human behaviour, forced rather than by choice, most likely. What will it look like? Massive death of suburban areas in favor of denser population centers where people can bike or walk to where they need to go. That's not the worst case scenario, either.
posted by odinsdream at 10:57 AM on January 28, 2008


Having a single source of energy powering our transportation is far, far more efficient than having a plethora of available sources. Consider how many gas stations there are out there, and imagine a world where there are also hydrogen, battery exchange, biodiesel, natural gas, and whatever else you can imagine stations, and then consider that instead of the infrastructure involved in harvesting and transplanting just one resource, there's several parallel infrastructures..

ARRGGHGHGHGGH!!!! *TEARS OUT HAIR*

Energy. Is. Convertible. And. Transportation. Is. Only. One. Of. Many. Sectors. That. Need. Energy.

One possible solution to the "problem" you mention: Electric cars. The electricity can be generated from N different sources.
posted by DU at 10:58 AM on January 28, 2008 [6 favorites]


Ya I'm with you DU, we need an "energy internet", with everyone generating a little bit, some generating a lot, from their solar/wind/guy on a bike system, all feeding the same grid, perfectly fungible power from a wide variety of sources.
posted by Mister_A at 11:02 AM on January 28, 2008 [6 favorites]


A lot of people expect "technology" to "solve" the problem, and that absolutely no sacrifices or changes in lifestyle will be required of us.

Well, I don't think it will magically solve the problem, but I think the sacrifices will be gradual and that we'll just deal with them. Plastic gets expensive, so cheap shit doesn't get made out of plastic any more. Chinese food will come in paper cartoons instead of plastic containers. We use paper bags instead of plastic. Stuff happens.
posted by smackfu at 11:03 AM on January 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


> Ya I'm with you DU, we need an "energy internet", with everyone generating a little bit, some generating a lot, from their solar/wind/guy on a bike system, all feeding the same grid, perfectly fungible power from a wide variety of sources.

gompa writes about this sort of thing at length in his most excellent book about alternative energy and related matters.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:09 AM on January 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


go ahead and shit up the front page with your editorialising, why don't you?

Dude, relax, your favorite doom scenario is safe. Read the linked stories, think about what this FPP is about (really think about how these three stories fit together - the linked stories dont mention Peak Oil and I mention it only as an "example"), then if you want, we can talk about it in a civil manner. This is not an anti-Peak Oil post, I could just has easily picked Climate Change, Destruction of the Oceans as examples .. I picked Peak Oil as an example because the movie is entertaining and worth linking on MeFi (BTW "Doom porn" is taken from the guys who run TheOilDrum, if that makes it better for you). Your not going to understand this post if you don't read the articles (which have nothing to do with Peak Oil except philosophically). PercussivePaul seems to be the only one who gets it The interesting question is why the doom scenarios are so seductive. The FPP seems to have quickly gone into a discussion of Peak Oil which we already have over 40 previous posts about.
posted by stbalbach at 11:10 AM on January 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Doomer porn is now my new favorite term.

Not just for the peak-oil enthusiasts, but for that peculiar mixture of a) 1 part real evidence; b) 1 part doom-and-gloom, we're-all-gonna-die interpretation of said evidence; c) 1 part conspiracy theory. It seems to permeate several subjects -- see peak oil, climate change, electoral politics, the rise of China, etc, etc.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:10 AM on January 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


If no one gets the point of your post, you did it wrong.
posted by smackfu at 11:11 AM on January 28, 2008


Energy internet, yes! I've had this vision for a few years now (people generated power at their homes, some more than they need, some less (not that this would necessarily be sufficient--just good)) but never thought of calling it that.
posted by DU at 11:16 AM on January 28, 2008


The header of the site linked to by PercussivePaul:

Peak Oil Debunked

Debunking peak oil hype with facts and figures, and exposing the agendas behind peak oil.
DISCLAIMER FOR IDIOTS: This site officially accepts that oil is finite, and will peak someday.

giggle.

Even a year ago, the "anti" camp wasn't acknowledging that the oil supply is finite. CERA, a company / organization that informs corporations on the state of the world's energy supply, wasn't either. Now they've "retreated" to the position that peak oil will occur 50 or so years out - conveniently out of range of even the most conservative, long-range thinking oriented companies and governments.

We've lived with the faith that economic growth has no limit for many decades, handed down through economic doctrine. We're so steeped in the the idea that people can make claims such as "technology will save us as it always has" and be taken seriously without discussion.
posted by MillMan at 11:20 AM on January 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Seconding The Chart Cheat's recommendation of gompa's book.

Being able to tap multiple sources of energy is just good common sense. See also this National Geographic article:

The long answer about our next fuel is not so grim, however. In fact, plenty of contenders for the energy crown now held by fossil fuels are already at hand: wind, solar, even nuclear, to name a few. But the successor will have to be a congress, not a king. Virtually every energy expert I met did something unexpected: He pushed not just his own specialty but everyone else's too.

"We're going to need everything we can get from biomass, everything we can get from solar, everything we can get from wind," says Michael Pacheco, director of the National Bioenergy Center, part of the National Renewable Energy Laboratories (NREL) in Golden, Colorado. "And still the question is, can we get enough?"

posted by Fuzzy Monster at 11:23 AM on January 28, 2008


Read the linked stories, think about what this FPP is about

I'm fascinated by the subject as well - the difference in attitudes between theoildrum.com front page posters vs. about half of the people that comment on the site is fascinating - but you really dropped the ball in how you worded this.
posted by MillMan at 11:24 AM on January 28, 2008


I'll stop worrying about the future as soon as greed and spite cease to be motivating factors for the human race.

You forgot to mention envy and schadenfreude.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 11:25 AM on January 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


Doomer porn! We do need a name for the phenomena, but I am not sure this is it.

Crisis cult?

Cult seems more appropriate because most of the worst Peak-Oil-type websites are selling something.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 11:26 AM on January 28, 2008


The end of the world has always been coming next week. I for one am done worrying about it. I largely agree with the Economist article: the human race has been careening from "disaster" to "disaster" and always finding ways to survive when less adaptive species belly up and die. Sorry to say to all the anthopophobes out there, but we'll most likely be the ones turning the lights out on this planet when it's through.

Quite frankly the hand wringing is getting in the way of environmental and social progress. The next person that tells me that they are helping the world by "getting the word out" is going to get a 5 finger sandwich. Shut up and help...or just...shut up.

I shall now don my flame retardant helmet....
posted by The Light Fantastic at 11:26 AM on January 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


Did anyone read the Scientific American proposal for the US to eliminate its dependance on foreign oil by 2050, and all carbon-based fuel by 2100? It seemed optimistic. And covering Arizona in solar cells is almost as future-cool as those rayguns we were promised.
posted by broodle at 11:27 AM on January 28, 2008


Assume that oil is no problem for a number of years. Now turn to globalization. India and China are becoming wealthier. India is now putting out a car for 2,500 bucks and the firm making them claims they can sell one million EVERY year. Now add China,its growing wealth, and its new inexpensive car. See? lots of oil (?) but much much more pollution, and I am only talking about oil and not about industrial wastes spewing into the sky. If all this is merely the usual doomsday talk, then does that meanglobal warming and water scarcity is no problem but just dumb talk?
posted by Postroad at 11:27 AM on January 28, 2008


If no one gets the point of your post, you did it wrong.

The post doesn't have a "point" (no agenda), but clearly if you read the linked articles, it's not about Peak Oil, that was just an example. I admit tying these links together was not easy and it may not have entirely come off well, but I do think they are all related. How you want to relate them is kind of up to you, there is no right way to do it. Worst case, any one of these three links could have been a standalone FPP, they are all good.
posted by stbalbach at 11:30 AM on January 28, 2008


stbalbach, my objection is not to the points about peak oil's viability or not but the unfounded and slanderous accusation that peak oil proponents are primitivists. That's a nauseatingly stupid assertion, and it does, in fact, constitute shitting on the front page.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:36 AM on January 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Shut up and help...or just...shut up.

Just curious, what are you doing to help?
posted by odinsdream at 11:46 AM on January 28, 2008


The interesting question is why the doom scenarios are so seductive.

People find it very hard to stick to the Golden Mean. If you're concerned about the various evils of the world, in trying to avoid the Scylla of "don't worry, be happy" it's hard to steer clear of the Charybdis of "OMG the sky is falling we're all DOOMED!!!" (The first link's sneering contrast of private happiness vs public doomsaying is absurd: what, anyone concerned about the fate of the world or the condition of the poor has to wear a hairshirt and live in a gutter or be a hypocrite?)
posted by languagehat at 11:48 AM on January 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Anyway, I was thinking that jefgodesky would stop by and comment on the dissing of hunter-gatherers. That would have been interesting! Then tiresome. Then interesting again, then one last spasm of tiresomeness.
posted by Mister_A at 11:51 AM on January 28, 2008


Also: The reason a lot of these doom scenarios are avoided is that there were doom prophets warning about it early. Was Rachel Carson a Chicken Little because DDT turned out not to destroy our ecology?
posted by DU at 11:52 AM on January 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


> The end of the world has always been coming next week.

PAST RETURNS DO NOT GUARANTEE FUTURE RESULTS: A One-Act Play

ACT ONE

SCENE: It is 11:45 AM on August 24th, 79 A.D. AMANTIUS and DECIMUS are citizens of Pompeii. The two sit in an antechamber at DECIMUS' house, which has a good view of the volcano Vesuvius.

AMANTIUS: Vesuvius has been smoking and rumbling for weeks now! It vexes me terribly!

DECIMUS: Ah, Amantius! The end of the world has always been coming next week! The town elders say there is nothing to worry about, so let it vex you no further.

There is a loud noise offstage.

AMANTIUS: What was that?

THE END
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:53 AM on January 28, 2008 [29 favorites]


MetaFilter: It vexes me terribly!
posted by Mister_A at 11:56 AM on January 28, 2008


Regarding the people-generated power from home. If you're talking solar or wind power shouldering some of the household burden and even adding power back into the grid ... kick ass.

But if you're talking people on bicycles or treadmills ... you're out of your head. Fine for, say, running your television when you're working out, but it doesn't scale at all. The energy contained in one gallon of gasoline is the equivalent to an enormous amount of food calories, and gasoline is still only about two, two-and-a-half bucks a gallon before taxes.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:57 AM on January 28, 2008


Also: The reason a lot of these doom scenarios are avoided is that there were doom prophets warning about it early. Was Rachel Carson a Chicken Little because DDT turned out not to destroy our ecology?

A popular global warming denial technique these days is "Remember the hole in the ozone layer? Didn't come to anything!"
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:59 AM on January 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Just curious, what are you doing to help?

Ah, the inevitable question - and so quickly!

I'm doing what I can do. That is, I work in a good livelihood (non-profit), I buy only what I need and then I buy very few new things (though I can't really get behind using a used toothbrush or underwear), I don't drive - or even own a car - and chose where I live so that it would not be necessary. I share a home with several friends, I'm active in my community, I waste very little. In short, I live pretty simply. I appreciate my life and try to make the lives of those around me better.

In the end, I do what I can do, and don't loose sleep over what I can't. Negativity isn't going to do anyone any good.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 12:01 PM on January 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


Thanks for the shout out, Card Cheat. I was just about to pipe up myself, particularly as regards this:

whenever people talk about "alternatives," it's usually in the vaguest of terms and with an almost religious belief that "technology" will save us

This is the "magic bullet" school of technophilic thought, but there's no shortage of reasoned, informed argument suggesting that those "alternatives" can finally shed their ironic quotes. To wit:

Humanity already possesses the fundamental scientific, technical, and industrial know-how to solve the carbon and climate problem for the next half-century. A portfolio of technologies now exists to meet the world’s energy needs over the next 50 years and limit atmospheric CO2 to a trajectory that avoids a doubling of the preindustrial concentration.

This is from the opening remarks of a study in the 13 August 2004 issue of the journal Science by Stephen Pacala and Robert Socolow, co-directors of Princeton University’s Carbon Mitigation Initiative. I'd highly recommend familiarizing yourself with their "stabilization wedge" concept before you go suggesting that we're bereft of legitimate, market-ready, cost-effective solutions to the potentially catastrophic convergence of peak oil and climate change.

And Crude Awakening's a fantastic movie and far from propagandistic; I watched it at a conference with an audience that included the head of BP's Alternative Energy division and former chief geologists from Royal Dutch/Shell and Fina, and none of them disputed the film's research and reporting. (In fact, the filmmaker's a rather stereotypically earnest Swiss fellow in the well-known style of his clockmaking-and-banking fellow citizens, whose reportorial approach is much closer to Frontline than to Michael Moore.)
posted by gompa at 12:01 PM on January 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


unfounded and slanderous accusation that peak oil proponents are primitivists.

I'm not even sure what that means, but if you think I did it, than I'm sorry for whatever it is that you think I did, I'm pretty sure it was not intentional.
posted by stbalbach at 12:02 PM on January 28, 2008


Was Rachel Carson a Chicken Little because DDT turned out not to destroy our ecology?

There's a heck of a difference between "Silent Spring" and "we're all gonna die next week." There's a heck of a difference between a bird die-off and "better start thinking about the price you can get for your kids when the time comes."

Carson was above all a reasonable voice, as well as a persistent one, and that's why she was successful.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:05 PM on January 28, 2008


I'm not even sure what that means, but if you think I did it, than I'm sorry for whatever it is that you think I did, I'm pretty sure it was not intentional.

It's right there in the post.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:07 PM on January 28, 2008


I searched and can't find it, but I think there was a post recently that talked about how the thing that makes humanity different from other beasts is the ability to adapt to conditions. I suspect that optimism, the feeling that things will turn out okay for a given person, is a key part of that ability to adapt. Another key would be ability to recognize what is wrong in the world so that problems can be fixed/alleviated/dealt with. So seeing the world as crashing down around us while we are optimistic about our prospects to survive probably have some evolutionary value.

Looking at those two factors, there are four combinations of them:

1. The world is going to hell, but I will be okay.
2. The world is going to hell and I'm going with it.
3. The world is fine, no problems, and I will be okay.
4. The world is fine, but I'm doomed.

The first option, I think, is typical of humanity in general. The second option is not evolutionarily favored because those are quitters who don't even try. The third and fourth options preclude adaptation because the people don't see the need for change.
posted by Doohickie at 12:13 PM on January 28, 2008


"People generated" was supposed to be "people generating". I'm well aware we aren't going to get anywhere by pedal-powering each other's TVs. People with solar arrays on their roof, micro-hydro in their streams, windmills in their yard, etc are what I'm talking about.

Carson was a reasonable voice, but so is Gore and many others who can tell you that oil is not in infinite supply. And yet the FPP poster basically just called them Chickens Little.
posted by DU at 12:17 PM on January 28, 2008


I don't think there's any question that we'll survive 'the end of the dominance of oil as a primary energy source' (aka "Peak Oil"), it's just a question of how unpleasant the transition will be. I could imagine that it might be more than a little uncomfortable, if we fail to plan ahead sufficiently.

The OMFGPEAKOIL people are annoying, but those who create strawmen and then respond to them by saying 'eh, the human race will survive' are pretty irritating also.

I doubt there's really anything manmade -- including a large-scale thermonuclear war or Ebola superplague -- that would wipe us out as a species, 100%. There are just too many people and we're too adaptive. But that doesn't mean that either of those things would be good. I don't know about anyone else, but I have kind of a lot invested in this whole civilization thing, and I'd like to see it keep ticking along with minimal catastrophes, whether fatal to the species or not.

Just because it's not going to kill every last one of us, doesn't mean it's not something worth thinking fairly hard about. It wouldn't take too much of a price increase in natural gas or diesel fuel to make life hard -- by pushing many more people (perhaps even the majority) to the 'food or fuel' point. If that sort of thing can be mitigated by realizing the problem now and planning around it, it seems silly to ignore the issue until it's a crisis.

Ultimately, I think the disconnect between "doom porners" and would-be soothsayers occurs whenever you have two groups of people with two very different ideas of how much attention and concern should be paid to the issue. There really doesn't seem to be much factual dispute, either on Peak Oil or many other issues; if you just talk facts, it's easy to get everyone to agree on the basics. Where you run into problems is with disagreement on the relative importance of the core issue. If you spend a lot of time thinking about Peak Oil, you'll probably tend to think of it as the #1 priority for society right now. In contrast, if you work in healthcare, Peak Oil probably seems a little far-off and abstract; poor people without health insurance might seem like a more critical issue. That's a completely subjective difference, and I don't think there's a 'right' answer. It all depends on what your personal risk exposure is like.

The 'wrong' answer is when you start dismissing people out of hand, because they have slightly different priorities than you do. Both (just as examples) peak oil and healthcare are worth thinking about, and thankfully we have enough people that they can both be thought about simultaneously. There's really no need to denigrate people, just because they find things important that you don't.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:18 PM on January 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Carson was above all a reasonable voice, as well as a persistent one, and that's why she was successful.

This is more or less true, Cool Papa, but to suggest that she was seen as "reasonable" in her time is an elision of the facts that verges on horseshit. Carson's book was met initially by the same mix of glib dismissal and intentional misrepresentation of argument that you're flirting with here - I'll be generous and assume somewhat accidentally - by associating strident argument in favour of urgent action on the climate-and-energy crisis with apocalypse porn and selling the kids for food.

Here's a more accurate representation of how Carson was initially greeted by her opponents:

Some critics characterized Carson as a hysterical alarmist who advocated for rolling back progress — though Carson never argued for out-right pesticide bans — but rather for study and caution. Others impuned her science. A review in CHEMICAL & ENGINEERING NEWS ended with a condemning note: "The responsible scientist should read this book to understand the ignorance of those writing on the subject and the educational task which lies ahead."

Carson's point of view carried the day because she and her opponents were tenacious, yes, but also because her argument, shocking as it was, was consistent with the facts of the problem. Even five years ago - indeed even in some quarters still today, where Bjorn Lomborg's don't-worry-be-happy tomes are thumbed through like they're the Book of Common Prayer - I could find you the exact same types of arguments against the basic facts of climate change, let alone the need for action.

The hysterics in this conversation are the ones who suggest a finite resource known to cause irreparable damage to the planet's climate can continue to be the cornerstone of its energy economy. Just because they've got the fancier titles and sharper cuts of suit doesn't make them the reasonable ones.
posted by gompa at 12:23 PM on January 28, 2008 [4 favorites]


The Light Fantastic:

The next person that tells me that they are helping the world by "getting the word out" is going to get a 5 finger sandwich. Shut up and help...or just...shut up.

Negativity isn't going to do anyone any good.

FAIL
posted by wemayfreeze at 12:27 PM on January 28, 2008


Doomer porn is nothing new - starting with Rousseau, a common belief still exists - both in popular and scientific circles - that humans reached the height of advancement in the hunter/gatherer stage, a proto-garden of eden, and its been downhill since.

The idea of a decline from a long-ago Golden Age considerably pre-dates Rousseau. Hesiod, for example.
posted by Chrysostom at 12:28 PM on January 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


"Oil being in finite supply as propaganda. This (thread and planet) should end very, very well."

"Assuming you're not theorizing that oil is infinite, there's one of two ways to run out."

"I don't think there is any serious way anyone could argue that our oil supply will not run out sooner or later."

OH GOD IT HURTS. No wonder people buy into this peak oil doomsday bullshit.

I'll say it again, like I do in every peak oil thread; people are misunderstanding the issues. Oil (okay, hydrocarbons we can burn as fuel... call it "oil") will not run out. Get it? Oil will not run out. Why? Because we can make oil. Look up Fischer-Tropsch sometimes. There are other ways as well.

Synthesizing hydrocarbons is, of course, more expensive, for now, than sucking it out of the ground. Peak Oil isn't about running out of oil. It's about running out of DIRT CHEAP oil. That definitely would have effects; since we use oil to ship almost everything, almost everything will get more expensive. But it will not, goddammit, mean we're thrown back into the stone age because there isn't any more oil.

Every time I hear someone say that we're going to run out of oil I want to slap them with a chemistry textbook.

posted by Justinian at 12:31 PM on January 28, 2008


starting with Rousseau

I guess I gotta re-read me some Jean-Jacques -- in all the musing about the 'noble savage' (tshyeahright, like he'd gone out and met a bunch) I missed where Western Civ was going to pot because we'd evolved past the hunter-gatherer stage to the point where we could publish books decrying our progress. I thought the doom-and-gloom stuff started with Thomas Malthus considering population growth (Recent MeFi thread on him.)
posted by pax digita at 12:31 PM on January 28, 2008


we can talk about it in a civil manner

Well said stbalbach.

We have been creating ecological crises for ourselves and our habitats for tens of thousands of years. We have been solving them, too.

That is my hope as well. And I try to do what I can day to day in my community and life to bring about positive changes.

The interesting question is why the doom scenarios are so seductive.

PercussivePaul, I also found that intriguing.

Doomer porn, oh dear stbalbach, I needed that phrase. Thank you for the excellent vocab.

There are a bunch of dear friends who seem incapable of enjoying life and perennially spam my mailbox with doom porn. Truly, like they're getting off on the horror, the injustices, the misery, the catastrophes. It's just *non-stop* and frankly, I experience it as a sort of deleting the humanity in life. It's like misery on a grand scale is the only thing they see or want to see. It may be in some degree a reaction to the staggering blindness of the last couple of generations to what has been happening in the world and I agree that people need to speak up. But there is good in life also, love, joy, warmth, fun, sharing, creativity.

And then there is that Schlock Porn that also spams my mailbox, you know the garbage I'm talking about, the web 1.0 drek about angels and chain mail and if you don't mail this shit to five other people You'll Be Damned crap.

Black and White thiking. Doom porn on one end and widdle puppy rainbows (with menacing subtext if you do not obey and forward this meme) on the other. ugh. Rigidly limited mindsets there.

Another thing I find interesting in the Doom Porn crowd is how the haters come out of the woodwork when the barest hint of solutions and constructive ideas are mentioned. They pile on the contempt, rage, ridicule and that got me thinking there are many who prefer to dwell on doom. For the doom porno addicts it seems less about the reality of what's going on in the world, which needs actual solutions, people working on making positive change and more about them stuck in hate and blame.

There is plenty of globally monstrous stuff happening. But only putting a focus on that, non-stop, constantly, is an expression, imo, of deep and unresolved anger, which adds to the misery of the world. And it feels like it's masturbatory, macabre bloodlust.

Years ago, I discovered this brilliant site about helping children and adults who experience intense or chronic anger (which I've found quite helpful in understanding some of the flamer types in MetaFilter by the way). It's called Getting Your Angries Out.

The author of the site wrote an article on Doomsday Thinking in which she includes some of the negative strategies that maintain chronic anger states, such as Over Generalized Thinking, Making an Assumption and Running with it, Fortune Telling , [Over] Focusing on the Other Person's Behavior in the Past not the Present, Piggybacking, Closed Mind Thinking, Black or white Thinking, Preoccupation with Right and Wrong and Perceived Injustice, Grudge Holding , Revenge Thoughts, Catastrophe Thinking, Egocentric, Entitlement, Irrational Emotional Reasoning, The False Consensus Effect, Minimizing One's Own Contribution to the Problem, Projection, Always Putting the Blame on Others.

Projection, Blaming, Grudge Holding, Doomsday Thinking, Revenge Thoughts, Black and White Thinking: Irrational Ways of Thinking Which Keeps You Angry

While it is essential in making constructive changes to be educated about what's going on in the area of one's interest, it may be easier for doom porners to dwell on doom, even get paralyzed with the enormity and end up sinking into a passive despair state, blaming others or something external than risk making a constructive effort to improve life.

Thanks for your excellent and stimulating post stbalbach.
posted by nickyskye at 12:32 PM on January 28, 2008 [4 favorites]


Okay I didn't close an italic tag, sorry. Everything starting with OH GOD IT HURTS is me.
posted by Justinian at 12:32 PM on January 28, 2008


Justinian, you might want to look up the Second Law of Thermodynamics some time. Unless you think coal is in infinite supply?
posted by DU at 12:36 PM on January 28, 2008


Energy. Is. Convertible. And. Transportation. Is. Only. One. Of. Many. Sectors. That. Need. Energy.
Every. Time. You. Convert. Energy. Or. Transport. Energy. You. Lose. Energy.
Oil. Is. The. Single. Best. Dense. And. Transportable. Energy. Source. Humankind. Utilizes.
Humanity. Is. Already. Struggling. With. Resource. Scarcity. In. All. Sectors. As. A. Result. Of. Poor. Oil. Distribution.

Is the sky falling for privileged First World MeFi readers? Probably not. But every single thing we can do to alleviate peak oil and global warming, if done correctly, will also help alleviate real, immediate suffering, regardless of whether or not these things are urgent to us. The sky really, truly is falling for the billions of poor in the world. Less oil spent on stupid ass shit like single occupant commuting is more oil that can be used as fertilizer or to transport and distribute food and it's more oil that can be used to diversify third world industry or clean or desalinate water. The biggest losers in global warming will be the already impoverished, who didn't contribute to the problem, and who don't have the resources to up and move, who already have struggling crops and who are already most vulnerable to extreme weather.

There's no good reason to not treat peak oil as serious. And just because the sky hasn't fallen in the past, doesn't mean that it won't some day. Unless you deny entropy, you have to admit that humanity will die out one day. Our goal is to stay vigilant to make sure that doesn't happen soon and to minimize suffering. Who's to say that previous doomsayers didn't help prevent bad things like nuclear Armageddon and environmental collapse?

Citations:

Thermodynamics [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thermodynamics]

Energy density of batteries versus gasoline [http://www.energyadvocate.com/fw64.htm]

Food Scarcity [http://www.energybulletin.net/39344.html]

Water Scarcity [http://www.who.int/features/factfiles/water/en/index.html]
posted by Skwirl at 12:42 PM on January 28, 2008 [6 favorites]


Fortunately. The. Period. Is. Not. Running. Out. If. it. were. we. would. be. in. real. trouble.
posted by sien at 12:55 PM on January 28, 2008 [4 favorites]


I doubt there's really anything manmade -- including a large-scale thermonuclear war or Ebola superplague -- that would wipe us out as a species, 100%

Which is exactly what those of us with canine sidekicks and jury-rigged cars are hoping for.

See you in Bartertown, mate.
posted by quin at 12:58 PM on January 28, 2008


The obvious solution to this problem is to kill billions of people none of us know personally. I can't believe no one has suggested this.
posted by Pastabagel at 1:02 PM on January 28, 2008 [5 favorites]


.
posted by Mister_A at 1:02 PM on January 28, 2008


It's right there in the post.

For you, no doubt. Pope Guilty, your so hyper-sensitive about Peak Oil you've totally missed the other links in the post and seem unable to put things in context and see the bigger picture. I mean, your using phrases like "the peak oil consciousness movment" - frankly, that sounds like something an idealogical nut job would say. I've known about Peak Oil since the early 1990s, I follow TheOilDrum - I also know how to keep my life in balance, look at the other side of things, try to be optimistic and not get swept away by disasterism - eventually, you too will get sick of it. Ironically, this is what is being discussed in the first and last links, your exactly the type that would benefit from reading those articles, they end on optimistic notes.

Let me share a private email I just got (no one in this thread), the persons name is anonymous.
For the record, I understood your post.

It was a good post.

Thank you, that means a lot (will reply in email).
posted by stbalbach at 1:03 PM on January 28, 2008


Justinian: You could also argue we're never going to run out b/c that last barrel is going to cost a fortune to retrieve and no one's going to bother. Sure, we can make synthetic oil, but can we make 85 Million barrels of it a day?

So when we say the oil is going to run out, we don't literally mean there will be no oil left on or in Earth. We just mean oil will no longer be a legit power source, at least on the scale it is today.
posted by Crash at 1:04 PM on January 28, 2008


Who's to say that previous doomsayers didn't help prevent bad things like nuclear Armageddon and environmental collapse

Definition of doomsayer: One who predicts calamity at every opportunity.

Doomsayers get ignored because it's a kind of stuck mindset.

It's people who learn about the problem from a bunch of angles, think about possible solutions, work on that, make an effort, take constructive action on a small or large scale, who make the positive changes. That said, there can be, rarely, an intelligent doomsayer, who not only sees the big picture from a number of angles but also opens up something like Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, to do something, which not only gets the info out but works on solutions in his own way.
posted by nickyskye at 1:07 PM on January 28, 2008


Another thing I find interesting in the Doom Porn crowd is how the haters come out of the woodwork when the barest hint of solutions and constructive ideas are mentioned.

Interesting analysis overall. I think part of the reason some people embrace the Doom porn concepts initially is that it's is a way for them to cope with life in the existing society that they are not well-adjusted to, for whatever reason.

In other words, if the Doom Porn advocate envisions a future where he's working a farm or living a "simpler" life with his friends or family, that person probably isn't well-adjusted to the more formalistic and bureaucratic society we have now.
posted by Pastabagel at 1:11 PM on January 28, 2008


Justinian, you might want to look up the Second Law of Thermodynamics some time. Unless you think coal is in infinite supply?

The Second Law of Thermodynamics? That the amount of entropy in a closed system increases over time? Yeah, I know that one, thanks. Are you seriously arguing not that the world may run out of cheap oil soon but that it's running out of useable energy?

What the heck does coal have to do with our ability to make hydrocarbons in various ways, such as from carbon monoxide and hydrogen? Are you sure you know what you're saying?
posted by Justinian at 1:11 PM on January 28, 2008


We've lived with the faith that economic growth has no limit for many decades, handed down through economic doctrine. We're so steeped in the the idea that people can make claims such as "technology will save us as it always has" and be taken seriously without discussion.
The thing that really confuses me is how derisive most of those people are towards the actual alternatives while they're being developed. "Hah-hah! Hippies and their alternative energy!"

Fuckin' hippies are the invisible hand getting ready to smack you DOWN.
posted by verb at 1:14 PM on January 28, 2008


The obvious solution to this problem is to kill billions of people none of us know personally. I can't believe no one has suggested this.

I disagree; the correct solution is for everyone to kill at least one person they do know personally. That way everyone is guilty, all may be punished, all have an interest in moving forward after the slaughter. Plus we avoid most of that tedious race-mongering, class war, and so on.

It's about time mass-murder learned the benefits of distributed workload. Everyone simply turns and kills the person next to them. No fuss, relatively little muss, and nigh-perfect egalitarianism!
posted by aramaic at 1:15 PM on January 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


stbalbach, I was hoping when I got back to my desk that the discussion would be about "doomer porn" - great term - and not about peak oil. Unfortunately it seems the train has left the station on a different track. I guess peak oil is one of those topics that always sparks a debate. I appreciate the post anyway. Also, thanks for the comment nickyskye.

I might as well say what's on my mind in case some others are interested in discussing it. I have come into contact with a lot of environmentalists out there and "doom" is a fairly accurate description of the main thrust of their arguments. The more you read the more convincing the argument becomes that we are doing irreparable damage to our environment and we will face some kind of reckoning in the near future, whether it be peak oil, climate change, or perhaps the collapse of ecosystems followed by a food crisis -- who knows. Maybe people have been saying the world is going to hell for thousands of years - but maybe it really *is* this time. At the very least there's no denying we're making some irreversible changes.

Now, imagine yourself instead as, I don't know, a plains Indian in the 19th century. The buffalo are disappearing and white settlers are encroaching onto your land, and your people are dying from disease. It would not be a stretch to imagine that a member of that culture would have thought the world was ending. From their point of view, it was. And it did. But worlds end all the time. Wars are fought, governments are overturned, cultures collapse or are subsumed by other cultures, revolutions happen and a whole way of life can simply become irrelevant.

In fact, now that I think about it, great sweeping change has pretty much always been looming over the horizon for everyone, everywhere. This change brings uncertainty and is tempting -- or maybe seductive -- to call for a return to a safer way of being in order to avert some doom this change will bring. I think hunter-gatherers are romanticized because they have an idealized existence of living without change, following the same way of life in the same homeland, for tens of thousands of years or more. This is of course a fantasy - these cultures still faced the threat of warfare and conquest by neighboring cultures - but by comparison with the rapid change we face today they come out ahead.

In my own head, I wonder if latching onto doom scenarios is a symptom of fear and distress about my own uncertainty about my future. I am after all about to finish a master's degree and have lots of big unanswered questions about what I want to do with the rest of my life. That's something for me to think about.
posted by PercussivePaul at 1:21 PM on January 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


I disagree; the correct solution is for everyone to kill at least one person they do know personally

Done. What's part two of your plan?
posted by quin at 1:23 PM on January 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


i think Rousseau as a jumping off place is just the tip of the iceberg. Entire belief systems are predicated on the notion of end of days calamity. Who survives. Who doesn't. Who had it coming.

This is not to say that I'm arguing the validity or the real threat of the current crop of doomsday scenarios (peak oil, climate change, etc), nor would I ever claim that technology will save us all (I am, in fact, a committed Luddite), but I do wonder what purpose these end of the world scenarios serve on a practical level. Is it really to affect change in the here and now? To scare people into falling in line with some pattern of behavior or another? To create a sense of superiority among those who are already following the code--buying local, biking to work, conserving energy--and using that to judge people that, for whatever reason (ignorance, denial, lack of opportunity, what have you) aren't? To imaginatively render the future as some adventureland dystopia in which the enlightened, prescient minority can play out plotlines they picked up from the fantastic tales of their youth? Increasingly when conversation turns to such topics I sort of feel like I'm sitting in on a brainstorming session for a "Left Behind" series for the secular set. And at the the end of the day, this feels all too familiar--like someone trying to scare me straight (no pun intended).

I have grave doubts that fear is the best way to affect human behavior and catalyze change. You can control people with fear, but the control is sometimes even scarier than the possible outcome. I don't hear a lot of difference in conversation between the people counting down the days till the Biblical Apocalypse and the folks buying guns and remote farms in preparation for peak oil. This is not to say I think any of our current crop of end-of the world scenarios are improbable or imaginary. They're obviously not. But fear is not the only mode of discourse, and for better or worse, shit doesn't always pan out exactly the way we think it's going to.

On a personal note: I was born in the mid-seventies to hippie-ish parents in a left-leaning town and spent most of my childhood convinced that some combination of soil, air and water contamination, plague, nuclear meltdown, nuclear annihilation and yes, climate change, would turn the world into a arid, lifeless cesspit long before I reached legal drinking age. I am now thirty-two years old, still waiting for the end of the world, and more than a little worried that an obsession with sensationalistic future calamity tends to blind a lot of otherwise intelligent, enthusiastic people to what's actually happening in the present
posted by thivaia at 1:26 PM on January 28, 2008 [3 favorites]


What, me worry?
posted by Postroad at 1:28 PM on January 28, 2008


doom pornies are just hoping for the end of the world, because they think in the new world that will follow it they will be vikings. See the movie Heavy Metal for more on this subject.
posted by Mister_A at 1:28 PM on January 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


For you, no doubt. Pope Guilty, your so hyper-sensitive about Peak Oil you've totally missed the other links in the post and seem unable to put things in context and see the bigger picture. I mean, your using phrases like "the peak oil consciousness movment" - frankly, that sounds like something an idealogical nut job would say. I've known about Peak Oil since the early 1990s, I follow TheOilDrum - I also know how to keep my life in balance, look at the other side of things, try to be optimistic and not get swept away by disasterism - eventually, you too will get sick of it. Ironically, this is what is being discussed in the first and last links, your exactly the type that would benefit from reading those articles, they end on optimistic notes.


You are not responding to me, but to the angry criticism you want expect. I am not disagreeing with you about Peak Oil. I am mildly annoyed at being called an "ideological nut job" based upon your assignment to me of characteristics that I do not have.

My problem with you is your horseshit allegation of primitivism, which is vicious, irrelevant to the topic at hand, and baseless. I thought you were an asshole for making it (and thereby shitting on the front page), but now I think you're an even bigger asshole for ignoring what I say, projecting the attacks you expect to receive onto me, and then calling me an unbalanced ideologue for it. You have no idea what my position on the matter is, as evidence by the paragraph I've reproduced in italics.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:43 PM on January 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


Here's my explanation for the doomers hope of civilizations demise....

As some of you may have noticed, many religions have warned that anyone not following their moral code was going to burn in hell for all eternity. The exact same thing is occurring when doomers find satisfaction/hope in the thought that the world is coming to an end. By wasting our resources, they find us immoral. And since humans like to pretend that justice will be served, it makes sense that we'll eventually be held accountable for our gluttonous ways. In some strange way, I think those looking forward to society collapsing believe they will avoid the punishment themselves, since they're not guilty themselves (again, in their own mind).

Please note, I'm not condemning those that are arguing that peak oil is real. I'm merely commenting on the idea of that some people seem to delight in the eventual destruction of their own society.

I read a study once showing the majority of people tend to find the silver lining in life. For example, people who ended up divorced tend to think it was for the best. Others rationalize the death of a loved one using the logic that the person is no longer suffering or that their death will somehow help prevent someone else from the same fate. Basically, no matter what happens, we tend to think it all worked out. If you buy that, it's a pretty logical idea that we also project this thought process into the future (it'll suck, just not for me). Being optimistic seems to be an extremely beneficial trait in evolution.
posted by Crash at 1:45 PM on January 28, 2008


Actually, on reading the thread more closely, a lot of the discussion has dealt with the question stbalbach intended to raise. Sorry everyone for implying otherwise.
posted by PercussivePaul at 1:59 PM on January 28, 2008


For a quintessential piece of doomer porn: see Adbuster's S11.2 issue. Disaster always has a way of wiping out what is seen as "undesirable" by those who predict the doom and gloom. Whether they be large corporations or otherwise.

As for an alternative to doomer porn as a term, Terriblisma?
posted by zabuni at 2:00 PM on January 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


I tried whacking off to doom porn once, but I found the poor hygiene habits of post-apocalyptic chicks to be something of a turn-off.
posted by pardonyou? at 2:00 PM on January 28, 2008


wemayfreeze:

The next person that tells me that they are helping the world by "getting the word out" is going to get a 5 finger sandwich. Shut up and help...or just...shut up.

Negativity isn't going to do anyone any good.

FAIL


..or...continue with your masturbatory fantasies of how everyone is fucked and you were right..you TOLD THEM!!!!!!!
posted by The Light Fantastic at 2:08 PM on January 28, 2008


I think it's mostly just a typical emotional reaction of the crowd when confronted with some bit of news that it can't fully comprehend. See also: Terrorism, child pornography on the Internet, subprime mortgages, avian influenza, ethanol as a motor fuel, social security reform, and to some extent most everything on the evening news shows. Things get exaggerated, twisted to suit the popular fantasy and delusion of the day.

Makes it difficult to have serious conversations about these things. When it comes to peak oil though, the farther-out of the end of the world scenarios have some serious competition. I suspect that it's still probably more common to hear that the high price of oil is the result of a conspiracy by big oil companies, hedge fund speculators, and/or Saudi Arabia. Plenty of noise out there to choose from, I don't see the doomer kind as being all that different. Just another hopeful attempt to explain a big complex problem with a nice simple story.
posted by sfenders at 2:14 PM on January 28, 2008


Obviously incapable of civil discourse.

if the Doom Porn advocate envisions a future where he's working a farm or living a "simpler" life with his friends or family

huh, Pastabagel, never known a doom porner, or doom pornie (that's a fun one), to express an interest in that. Usually, in my knowledge of doom pornies, they come from seriously dysfunctional families and are avoidant personality types. Maybe that fantasy lies behind their anger?

I agree with you about: part of the reason some people embrace the doom porn concepts initially is that it's is a way for them to cope with life in the existing society that they are not well-adjusted to, for whatever reason.

thivaia, Is it really to affect change in the here and now? To scare people into falling in line with some pattern of behavior or another? To create a sense of superiority among those who are already following the code--buying local, biking to work, conserving energy--and using that to judge people that, for whatever reason (ignorance, denial, lack of opportunity, what have you) aren't? To imaginatively render the future as some adventureland dystopia in which the enlightened, prescient minority can play out plotlines they picked up from the fantastic tales of their youth? Increasingly when conversation turns to such topics I sort of feel like I'm sitting in on a brainstorming session for a "Left Behind" series for the secular set. And at the the end of the day, this feels all too familiar--like someone trying to scare me straight (no pun intended).

Brilliant comment.

You can control people with fear, but the control is sometimes even scarier than the possible outcome.

Yes! So well said. I've been thinking recently about how perfectionism, when that kind of controlling becomes expansive, ends up a kind of fascist mindset.

an obsession with sensationalistic future calamity tends to blind a lot of otherwise intelligent, enthusiastic people to what's actually happening in the present

Good point.
Nice to meet a committed Luddite on MetaFilter. They're rare around here.

I think hunter-gatherers are romanticized because they have an idealized existence of living without change


That's also an interesting point Percussive Paul. Maybe it's idealized because it's an expression of self-loathing, of thinking humanity is all bad and that it was better when we were more like just another one of the animals on the planet, without much power, vulnerable to extinction by natural forces, rather than by the products/messes/problems of our our own creation? Maybe it pedestalizes Nature as the All Good.

Crash, I think those looking forward to society collapsing believe they will avoid the punishment themselves, since they're not guilty themselves (again, in their own mind).

Also a good point.

"terriblisma," by which they meant the strange, gratified awe one feels when beholding dreadful disasters


Megaschadenfreude?
posted by nickyskye at 2:28 PM on January 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


here's one antidote to doom peddlers and purveyors and here's another :P

i mean former-veep (and oh-so-very-close usian prez) "balance the budget deficit" gore the bore won the nobel peace prize -- who saw that one coming!?

and if you believe obama is like clean/green-tech (yes you can) and google is god, not least for promoting economical solar and electric cars, then it shouldn't be so hard to envision a better tomorrow :D

cheers!
posted by kliuless at 2:37 PM on January 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


"I think the sacrifices will be gradual and that we'll just deal with them."

Unfortunately, history is littered with the graves of cultures that did not deal with resource issues and fell off the face of the Earth.

I'd love to believe that we'll continue to grow and prosper but I can't see my way past the following:

If there is some crisis that requires humanity as a whole to take significant action based on something in the future that's obvious based on reasoning, then we will not do it.

Over and over again through history, you see individuals, groups, governments and cultures taking the most-short-sighted, narrowest scope decisions every time.

It could be that global warming or peak oil is one of those things that would require us to start acting several years before we are forced to act in order to avoid a catastophe -- and if this is true, we will experience a catastrophe.

Humanity is much like a chain smoker who refuses to see a doctor. When you get the test results back telling you you have cancer, it's too late to quit smoking. When someone says something like, "I think the sacrifices will be gradual and that we'll just deal with them," what they mean is, "I hope the sacrifices will be gradual and that we'll just deal with them, however we won't find out until it's too late."

We might survive -- most chain smokers don't die of it -- but we will survive through luck, if so, not wisdom. And I think one day our luck will run out. I merely hope we can negotiate a soft landing and the second time, learn a little wisdom.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 3:04 PM on January 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


Unless you deny entropy, you have to admit that humanity will die out one day

Are we talking millions or billions of years here?

Peak oil, to me, means $10/gal gas in my lifetime, if not the next decade.

At $10/gal (current dollars) monetization there's plenty of alternate sources (eg. Mr Hugo Chavez's low-grade swamp crude) to provide for our habit until the Mr Fusions are invented.

That's all.
posted by panamax at 3:24 PM on January 28, 2008


Unfortunately, history is littered with the graves of cultures that did not deal with resource issues and fell off the face of the Earth.

That's certainly true, and I can point to several examples to back up the point.

But while I was reading your post, I was trying to think of cultures that came out on the losing end of something and thrived anyway. The two that came immediately to mind were Germany and Japan after World War II.

Two cultures that underwent large-scale, widespread, externally originated destruction, yet both rebounded to become even more healthy than they had been previous to the destruction. And Japan, for one, has never been known for its wealth of natural resources.

So, it's not all doom and gloom.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:33 PM on January 28, 2008


Of course, postwar Germany and Japan benefitted massively from a level of American foreign aid never before or since equalled.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:38 PM on January 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Of course, postwar Germany and Japan benefitted massively from a level of American foreign aid never before or since equalled.

Of course they did. And they recovered and moved on. This could be repeated (and, in fact, should be repeated in Iraq and Afghanistan, but of course, we've seen how well it's been handled).
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:47 PM on January 28, 2008


Peak oil is not a quasi-religious idea. The quasi-religious idea is that there can't possibly be a technological solution to this, because that would allow us to get off the hook with no cosmic punishment for our wasteful behavior. And it's really unfortunate that a lot of the people who are most insistent in raising awareness about peak oil and global climate change seem to take this moralistic approach. I stopped reading the climate change blog The Intersection after a finger-wagging, science-free lecture on the prospect of geoengineering to combat global warming ("Life isn't like the movies and we're not going to get a do-over if we miscalculate. We must address the real problem before we begin playing doctor with our planet.") The "real problem," apparently, is lack of moral virtue.
posted by transona5 at 3:51 PM on January 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


I think Steven King probably said it best, as he was talking about writing The Stand: “Kicking over the trashcan of the world is fun.”

There's a tremendously tempting schadenfreude to imagining the end-times (in which the dreamer is always, inevitably, the survivor): the punishment, misery and death of those who didn't follow the right path, or were guilty of some sin; the Darwinian winnowing-away of the base, the slow, the impure and unfit. To that end, doom porn has always been with us: from well before The Book of Revelations to today's I am Legend and last week's Life After People on the History Channel.

It's equally true that every empire falls; also that most every human being, at the peak of their empire's strength, believes his culture to be the best possible, the most enduring, the grandest and most advanced of them all.

The problem, as I see it, is this. In the broader scheme of things, it was not a problem in the past that the Mayan empire fell, as there were other, more "advanced" (however that term may be interpreted) cultures to eventually take over and displace it; it was not a problem of have a European Dark Ages when you had Plato and Aristotle being preserved and debated and mathematics being advanced in Al-Andalus. It was not a issue, in the greater canvas of history, as the Mayan (and Incan, and Aztec) and Spanish empires were only peripherally connected: the fall of one enriched the other.

Today, the problem (as I see it) is the interconnectedness and shared dependency of nations. When things are going well, an incoming tide rises all boats; but when things go poorly, everyone on the planet is affected, to a greater or lesser degree. (Currency crashes in South-East Asia, a world-wide recession, etc).

It is true that alternatives exist. Unfortunately, our current economic paradigm is such that these alternatives will not be fully exploited until there is enough profit promised in the endeavor. BP may style itself as "Beyond Petroleum", but when oil hits $100 a barrel there's a very high disincentive to do anything other than pump more oil. Certainly the CEO of Shell is aware that long-term prospects are not good: but shareholders are far more interested in quarterly returns than long-term results.

The question then becomes: do those alternatives stand a chance of being rolled out quickly, efficiently, and cheaply enough to replace our current energy use without severe consequences? Everyone says "oh, electric cars are the future", but no-one thinks of the tremendous changes to infrastructure that would need to be effected to achieve that. For starters, where does the massive increase in electricity delivery come from? Coal? That's just offsetting the fossil fuel, and you still have carbon issues. Solar? That works in the sun belt of the equator, but with sharply decreasing efficiency as you move north and south. Wind? Same problem as solar - you can't make the wind blow when you want it. Tidal only works in areas close to the ocean. Dams only work with high enough flow rates, and have tremendous ecological impacts. Nuclear is good, but expensive, and depends upon yet another natural resource that will inevitably peak (uranium) found in high concentration in only a few places on the globe. And electricity generation is local - you can't "ship" electrons from one place to another, not without tremendous transmission loss.

In terms of liquids, biofuels are a solution, but take food resources away from a population. Natural gas is there, but is due to hit a peak itself. Thankfully, relatively few people are talking about hydrogen any more.

Is it possible that there's a solution that's as yet unappreciated? Of course: fusion, algeal, even alternative production of hydrogen are all possibilities. But we've been working on them for decades without success: are they worth betting the future of modern civilization on?

Add to this: 800 million cars on the planet. $2000 cars being marketed to a billion Indians. All but one-tenth of one percent of them relying on oil. Now how quickly do you think change can be rolled out, especially if oil hits $200, then $400 a barrel in very short order?

I'm sure that there were doomers throughout the 800-year reign of the Roman Empire. Usually, they would have been ignored. Sometimes, their prognostications might have added a little caution to the actions of the Senate. Eventually, they were right.

At what point do you start listening to them?
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 4:20 PM on January 28, 2008 [9 favorites]


Peak oil, to me, means $10/gal gas in my lifetime, if not the next decade.

Eh, in the UK gas is already about that much. They seem to deal.
posted by smackfu at 4:24 PM on January 28, 2008


And they recovered and moved on

you're missing the point that this recovery was driven by favorable trade and assistance from the US, not to mention rather massive occupation forces affecting things favorably.

not to mention the fact that post-war (West) Germany and Japan weren't exactly picnics even with all the external aid until the recovery starting kicking in, in the 1950s.

So yeah, if peak oil doom scenarios actually arrive, according to CPB all we need to look for is ET to give us a hand out of our jam, and we'll be on the road to recovery in 10~15 years.
posted by panamax at 4:24 PM on January 28, 2008


Eh, in the UK gas is already about that much

With most of the money going to government and right back into the economy, not OPEC.
posted by panamax at 4:28 PM on January 28, 2008


I think you're an asshole for ignoring what I say - Pope Guilty

LOL get used to it.
posted by stbalbach at 4:29 PM on January 28, 2008 [3 favorites]


There's a tremendously tempting schadenfreude to imagining the end-times (in which the dreamer is always, inevitably, the survivor)

I definitely had those fantasies when I was much younger. I was poor and alienated and the end of the world seemed like the perfect leveler (pun intended). Somewhere along the line, I stopped imagining myself and my friends as the survivors romping across a post-apocalyptic landscape. Unfortunately, imagining yourself going up in a giant fireball is a lot less entertaining.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 4:33 PM on January 28, 2008


Assuming that car transportation becomes infeasible, would average suburban or exurban Americans adjust to public transportation and walking, or would a surreal future transpire in which

(1) Americans travel in rickshaws powered by recent immigrants

(2) a steadily growing proportion of the population never leaves their homes but telecommutes and spends most of their free time in a virtual reality with unlimited fossil fuels and technology, rather like Second Life or the Matrix? Virtual America(tm) will be available in various political flavors, but the wingnuts will be most fond of it.

"The weather's just great here," boasts Bud as he powerboats out to sea at high, fossil-fuel-burning speed off the Florida Keys (actual physical location of his meatbody: underwater bubble habitat off the present coast of Florida).

Virtual America(tm) will preserve its free-market capitalist economy; many of today's RPGs have extensive and complex virtual economies.
posted by bad grammar at 4:58 PM on January 28, 2008


With breeder reactors and seawater extraction, there's enough uranium to meet all of our energy needs for literally billions of years. There currently exist electric cars with ranges long enough for any commute. Rail systems should be handling all our long distance travel and shipping anyway.

It would be worthwhile to convert to nuclear even if there were unlimited supplies of fossil fuels. All that's left is convincing hysterical doomsayers that a. their problem has a clear solution b. it's right fucking there.
posted by Ictus at 4:58 PM on January 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


To contribute to the discussion with a slightly more level head (putting aside the thought that I may unwittingly have caused more harm than good) I think that there are at least two posts to be made here, and that stbalbach rather unfortunately conflated the two, in the same way that I might, say, make a post about conservation and the Unabomber, Resource depletion is a serious concern, and it's quite possible to lose sight of that by putting it in an apocalyptic context. Peak Oil isn't just about doomsaying, and typing "educational/propaganda" (Both sides, see?) isn't very much to go on. I was all set to jump in with a story, too, but I think I'll save it for the next peak oil thread.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 5:12 PM on January 28, 2008


you're missing the point that this recovery was driven by favorable trade and assistance from the US, not to mention rather massive occupation forces affecting things favorably.

Yeah, funny how unfettered, free trade can benefit a society. You'd almost think that low taxes and regulation would be a good thing everywhere ... hmm ... I wonder how that goes over with the average lefty MeFite ... ?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:27 PM on January 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's called Getting Your Angries Out.

That pisses me off!
posted by Crabby Appleton at 5:50 PM on January 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


That pisses me off! posted by Crabby Appleton

Eponysterical.

At what point do you start listening to them?

Listening to educated or savvy prognosticators is wise in navigating reality. Listening to doomsayers is, imo, a mistake because the message is about doom, not about making constructive change.
posted by nickyskye at 6:05 PM on January 28, 2008


LOL get used to it.

You're the worst kind of dick.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:05 PM on January 28, 2008 [3 favorites]


btw here's gregory clark on 'life after peak oil' :P cf. viridian design; co2stats might help here.

cheers!
posted by kliuless at 6:25 PM on January 28, 2008


Yeah, funny how unfettered, free trade can benefit a society

yeah, tell that to the workers in the maquiladoras, or the phillipino fourteen-year-old who sewed your overbig britches.

how does the marshall plan = free trade, anyway? sure, tariffs were "lowered," but the most important aspect of it was the economic aid in the form of billions of 1946 dollars to rebuild.

by that logic we should be expanding AFDC and not curtailing it, right?

... hmm ... I wonder how that goes over with the average lefty MeFite ... ?

oh, will you stop with your smug supply-side-guy bullshit? it shows you don't really want to engage unless it's to maintain your sense of "i've got it all figured out" superiority.
posted by Hat Maui at 6:28 PM on January 28, 2008


Oh, the solutions are there, nickyskye, but they're deeply unpopular. Almost universally, they mean inverting the accepted norms, even perceived rights: from a paradigm of constant growth to one of equilibrium and sustainability. For starters, strongly encouraging or limiting a woman's reproduction to one child, for several generations.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 6:33 PM on January 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


strongly encouraging or limiting a woman's reproduction to one child

'solutions' needn't (and shouldn't) be coercive, as eo wilson once said:
The decline in global population growth is attributable to three interlocking social forces: the globalization of an economy driven by science and technology, the consequent implosion of rural populations into cities, and, as a result of globalization and urban implosion, the empowerment of women. The freeing of women socially and economically results in fewer children. Reduced reproduction by female choice can be thought a fortunate, indeed almost miraculous, gift of human nature to future generations. It could have gone the other way: women, more prosperous and less shackled, could have chosen the satisfactions of a larger brood. They did the opposite. They opted for a smaller number of quality children, who can be raised with better health and education, over a larger family. They simultaneously chose better, more secure lives for themselves. The tendency appears to be very widespread, if not universal. Its importance cannot be overstated. Social commentators often remark that humanity is endangered by its own instincts, such as tribalism, aggression, and personal greed. Demographers of the future will, I believe, point out that on the other hand humanity was saved by this one quirk in the maternal instinct.
whoa! - that's actually kinda depressing tho :P
posted by kliuless at 7:11 PM on January 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


that's actually kinda depressing tho

huh. Reduced reproduction is depressing? I love that E.O. Wilson quotation. Didn't know about him, thanks for the education kliuless.
posted by nickyskye at 9:52 PM on January 28, 2008


The interesting question is why the doom scenarios are so seductive.

Doom scenarios are really just a subset of Tales of Disaster. Disaster (particularly avoidable disaster) tends to interest us because we spend most of our lives having various authority figures in government and industry insist, in the face of broad evidence to the contrary, that everything is going to be fine. When something goes wrong, you can say "See? You're full of shit!"

Doomer porn! We do need a name for the phenomena, but I am not sure this is it.

We don't need a name for this 'phenomena'. What we need is a complete fucking absence of the rush to elevate people's tendencies into pseudo-pathologies. 'Doomer'? What was wrong with 'pessimist'? While we're thinking up new ways of advancing mutual understanding by labeling people, what's a good one for "someone who ascribes deficiencies in character to people based on opinions said people hold at that particular point in time"? Something pithy would be nice.
posted by Ritchie at 1:46 AM on January 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


Calling a spade a spade. Pessimist. Doomsayer. Doom porn.
posted by nickyskye at 3:27 AM on January 29, 2008


Interesting.
posted by Ritchie at 3:52 AM on January 29, 2008


While we're thinking up new ways of advancing mutual understanding by labeling people, what's a good one for "someone who ascribes deficiencies in character to people based on opinions said people hold at that particular point in time"? Something pithy would be nice.

LOLbeling?
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 5:07 AM on January 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


Ictus:You do know that there are zero commercially viable breeder reactors in existence, right? Theoretically, they're possible, but let's not go betting the future of civilization on something that doesn't actually exist yet, at least beyond the prototype stage. There's also the issue that breeder's can be used to create weapon grade nuclear materials, so distributing them far and wide might have other repercussions.
posted by Crash at 7:08 AM on January 29, 2008


Reduced reproduction by female choice can be thought a fortunate, indeed almost miraculous, gift of human nature to future generations.

I am optimistic enough to agree with this. Future generations may well be a lot better off for it. It gives hope that some day people can learn to build a sustainable world civilization; it gives a hint as to how that could be possible.

I am pessimistic enough to see the cruel irony of the fact that unless it gets a lot stronger real soon, this trend towards freedom and prosperity which leads to reduced population growth could well be reversed by the problems related to over-population.
posted by sfenders at 9:21 AM on January 29, 2008


That's a really great quote/link, kliuless. Not sure why you'd think it's depressing; it's about the most uplifting thing I've read in a while.

I share sfender's concern though, that unless we're careful, it's entirely possible to collapse the very gains that have led to a decrease in population growth and which will hopefully lead to stabilization, and put us into some sort of Malthusian overpopulation-death-spiral. We need to make sure that birth control and female empowerment doesn't evaporate with the cheap oil.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:51 AM on January 29, 2008


Rail systems should be handling all our long distance travel and shipping anyway.

Why stop there with your fantasy? Why not suggest we use gravity tunnels lined with supercooled magnets for all of our shipping needs? It's just as far fetched.
posted by odinsdream at 1:06 PM on January 29, 2008


oh no, not depressed about that; just the passage of time i guess :P

btw, the earth without people, cf. the chloroplast organelle...
It's possible that plants are more advanced than animals, at a cellular level, but us animals - because we took the 'worse is better' approach - have had more time to do the bounded random walk into intelligence. Give it a billion years, and maybe the underlying smarter engineering of plants will win out in the end.
Why stop there with your fantasy?

peace on earth and magic highways!?
posted by kliuless at 3:52 PM on January 30, 2008


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