The enduring attraction of apocalyptic predictions
I’m sure I’ll eventually forgive Toby Hemenway at Energy Bulletin for writing — before I did, and better than I could have — a cogent and eloquent analysis of the apocalyptic bent of those concerned with peak oil. His piece should be read by environmentalists not obsessed with peak oil as well.
I now believe that Peak Oil catastrophism is largely a manifestation of our primary cultural myth: that all things end with suffering, death, and then resurrection. Belief in apocalypse is programmed into western civilization. Given our heritage, “the end is nigh” is the nearly unavoidable personal and collective response to times of uncertainty and rapid change….
The apocalypts may, for the first time in thousands of predictions, be right … But perhaps some of us can recognize how familiar is this dark road, resist the natural urge to repeat the story once more, and remember that there are many routes into the future other than the one toward the lowest common denominator.
I honestly don’t understand the enduring popularity of apocalypse porn. I don’t believe there’s any empirical evidence for the catastrophist interpretation of our various crises, as much as I am 100% convinced of the danger they represent. Crucially, you can’t prove the certainty of any future, dark or light.
While I don’t want to come off as some technologically-determinist “cornucopian” optimist, it’s quite an argument to say we’ll be helpless before the ravages of climate change, or peak oil, or whatever. It’s essentially an argument that the undeniable power of human civilization — all the ingenuity, all the energy, all the industry — will simply stop working so suddenly that we’ll all be cast into chaos and despair.
This is a profoundly dehumanizing view. It assumes people are incapable of intelligent collective action in the face of crisis. Moreover, it is prejudiced against finding solutions, because after all, anything that sustains our lives as we know them is simply aggravating the problem.
That’s not what I think advocacy of any stripe should be about, much less something as important as environmentalism.