Oil Sands Truth: Shut Down the Tar Sands

Shut up about the deckchairs!

In his latest entry, Jonathan Dawson stresses on the need for a
collective 'peak moment'
by Jonathan Dawson
New Statesman (September 28 2007)

One of the ports of call during the last two weeks that I have been away
was the sixth international conference of ASPO (the Association for the
Study of Peak Oil) in Cork. This is the body, founded by former oil
geologist Dr Colin Campbell, which more than any other has brought to
public consciousness the imminent peaking in the availability of cheap
fossil fuels.

‘Fun’ was hardly the word for it, but it was good to be in the company
of people who have clearly understood the pivotal role of cheap energy
in creating the highly abnormal and completely unsustainable global
society in which we live today. Unsustainable precisely because the
cheap energy on which the whole edifice is built is getting more
expensive by the month - and is set, bar the odd blip, to do so

Within the peak oil community, the experience of realising this very
simple but paradigm-altering truth is coming to be called ‘peak
moments’. People at the conference were exchanging stories about their
own peak moments, when their focal point suddenly shifted from the
pattern of the deckchairs on the fore-deck (the stuff of political and
philosophical discourse over the last couple of centuries) to the
iceberg of resource (and especially energy) depletion towering over the

It is within the context of this radically altered understanding of what
the current moment of history is all about that the eco-village
phenomenon comes to make sense. It is lovely to arrive back in Findhorn
to see the wind turbines cheerfully twirling to the tune of the brisk,
autumnal northerlies; the vegetables being taken from the gardens to
kitchens, passing the food-scraps from the last meal making the reverse
journey; self-builders working away on their energy-efficient homes;
hand-carts coming in from the forest laden with logs being put in for
the winter.

However, the point is that these are not primarily the cute and
eccentric behaviours of over-privileged urbanites who have chosen to
escape the grind of the cities (though there may just be a touch of that
as well!)

Rather, the whole experience - here and in a growing number of
eco-villages around the world - can only be understood as a profoundly
sane response to the imminent energy crisis. (Of course, it is not only
eco-villages that have got the message. I return from Cork with serious
and intelligent energy descent plans from, among others, the cities of
Brisbane and Portland Oregon and the town of Kinsale in County Cork.)
I chose to travel to and from Ireland over land (and sea) which, apart
from being enormously more agreeable than flying, also gave lots of
uninterrupted time for comfortable reading. On the return journey, I
read Making Globalisation Work (Penguin, 2007) by former World Bank
chief economist, Joseph Stiglitz.

Now there is a man, if ever I saw one, who is in need of a peak moment.
The book is full of admirable - sometimes inspired - proposals for
tweaking the current system to make trade work better for the planet’s
poor. However, there is no recognition that the energy needed to
continue to ship stuff around the world might not be available - or
could be spent without climate-changing emissions.
I have been struck on recent working visits to Sierra Leone and Senegal
by just how few private motor vehicles were on the road. The answer soon
became clear: the governments were purchasing much of the diminishing
oil imports (diminishing because of increasing prices) just to keep the
lights on, if only sporadically. Meanwhile, the spark that ignites the
flames in Burma is ... yes, a doubling in the price of oil.
As a civilisation, we are in big need of a collective peak moment. Let
us embrace the inevitability of expensive energy and use it to our
advantage, creating more decentralised and human-scale communities that
live well within their means.

Jonathan Dawson is a sustainability educator based at the Findhorn
Foundation in Scotland. He is seeking to weave some of the wisdom
accrued in twenty years of working in Africa into more sustainable and
joyful ways of living here in Europe. Jonathan is also a gardener and a
story-teller and is President of the Global Ecovillage Network.


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