As the age of cheap abundant energy comes to its end, making meaningful plans for the future depends on a vision of the future we can expect. Many of the supposed answers to the challenge of peak oil, however, have been proposed in response to many other crises, real and imaginary. How much of our thinking about the future is defined by the attempt to find plausible problems for culturally favored solutions to solve?
Look for proposals for responding to the crisis of industrial society these days and you’ll find that nearly all of them fall into three groups. First are those who want to organize a political movement to throw the current rascals out of office and put a new set of rascals in. Second are those who talk about building ecovillages in the countryside, to provide a postapocalyptic version of suburban living to today’s smart investors. Third are those who plan on holing up in a cabin in the mountains with guns and canned beans, and waiting until the rubble stops bouncing. I’ve argued elsewhere that none of these is a viable response to the future we’re most likely to face, but there’s another point worth noting: each of them is also something many people in today’s American middle class want to do anyway. Quite a few people nowadays think they ought to have more political power; an equally large number like to daydream about moving to a new exurban development far out in the countryside; and of course, the appeal of firearms collections and fantasies of self-reliance remains strong in an age that has problematized traditional images of masculinity. To a great extent, peak oil has simply become another excuse for the pursuit of activities, real or imagined, that many people find desirable for other reasons.
The U. S. electric grid: will it be our undoing?
Many believe that a decline in oil production can be remedied by increasing our use of electricity - more nuclear, wind, solar voltaic, geothermal or even coal. This model assumes that our electric grid will be working well enough for this to happen. There is substantial doubt that this will be the case.