Part 5 of Kevin Drum’s series on peak oil is out. In it, he turns from describing the phenomenon to considering what should be done about it. It’s at once the most interesting and frustrating entry in what is, I should say, an excellent overall series. (If you know someone looking for an easily-digestible primer on the subject, you won’t find better.)
Before I get into the weeds, let me say why I find this last entry frustrating.
As the era of cheap oil ends — and it’s already happening — a great deal of power politics will be going on behind the scenes. There are lots of very large, entrenched financial and political interests involved in the oil game, to say the least. It is to their benefit that the transition to a post-oil world happen with as little disruption (for them, that is) as possible. If there’s one iron law of socio-politics, it’s that power’s first imperative is to preserve power.
However, the path of least resistance for those powerful interests may not be the healthiest or safest path for the rest of us.
Greens rightly view the end of cheap oil not only as a threat but an opportunity (and no, the chinese character says no such thing). There will be some big changes. Ideally, some of those changes will meliorate things about how we live that are harmful, either materially or psychologically, and others will open up new ways of living and interacting.
Greens — no, humanists — should view it as their mission to advocate, early and consistently, for the kinds of changes that will do the most good for the most people, over the long term. Sometimes that will overlap with the changes advocated by the powers that be, sometimes it won’t. But we should be the voice of the people; the post-oil transition is as much a populist, social-justice issue as it is environmental.
Getting back to Drum:
He is, by temperament, a centrist. Most of the time this serves him well. But sometimes it just leads him to a kind of he-said she-said melange. Take his peak-oil post on oil policy. His recommendations read like a grab bag: "Something from this group, something from that group, and here’s me, reasonable guy open to all of it!"
Yes, but it’s not all reasonable. In particular, increasing domestic production of oil just makes no sense. It’s a massive, environmentally destructive undertaking that will do virtually nothing to stave off the decline of oil. Any oil we produce just goes into the world oil market like any other oil, and barely makes a dent. The push for drilling in the Arctic Refuge comes from the powerful Alaska congressional delegation, oil-services companies, and far-right culture warriors. The substantive case is vaporous. It has no merit.
Drum even seems to acknowledge this:
I’m not a fan of drilling in ANWR, but if it were part of a larger deal that included things like higher CAFE standards, an incremental gas tax, and serious support for alternative fuel research, I’d swallow hard and support it.
Perhaps. But that kind of concession should come up in negotiations, once folks have agreed about the problem and the need for action.
At this point, the powers that be have barely acknowledged that there’s a problem. Until they do, we should be advocating loudly and often for the right solution, setting the parameters of the coming debate. Once that debate is joined in earnest, then we can start making strategic concessions. When we give up the game before it’s even begun, we make it that much easier for entrenched interests to advance their agenda as "reasonable."
It isn’t, and Drum shouldn’t be providing it cover.