Apocalyptic Peak Oilers: "the liberal equivalent of Left Behind"?

A new article in Harper’s Magazine caught my attention, one in which the writer visits his first convention for the “apocalyptic” wing of believers in Peak Oil - those who think that global ruin is inevitable and imminent. The writer, who appears sympathetic to the group and their beliefs, makes a comparison somewhat like the one in my thread title, and the more I think about it, the more apt I found it. Here’s some of the points of comparison I thought were particularly interesting:

The modern world is "wicked."

For Peak Oilers, this is the conspicuous consumption of Western/American culture, plus the general lack of will to explore alternatives up to now, not to mention conceptions of global overpopulation.

This wickedness will cause the inevitable, imminent end of humanity as we know it. Everything we know and love right now will disappear, and there’s nothing that can be done to stop it.

The Peak Oilers described in the article forsee the collapse of civilization from the lack of oil. They believe in the works when it comes to results: no transportation of people or goods anywhere (that’s not first class cruise luxury expensive), no plastics or natural gas-based fertilizers, millions upon millions dead from oil wars or starvation (as the food supply to suburbs dwindles to nothing).

Every alternative that’s been discussed in the media or on these boards has been pooh-poohed as too little, too late. The peak is already past, or is coming within the next few years, and it’s far too late for anything to be done. All that I mentioned above will come to pass.

However, we should welcome this upcoming catastrophe.

The author describes how the audience broke into a standing ovation when one speaker described a scenario similar to the one mentioned above, and it was pretty worst-case and dark.

For it will herald the creation of a better world.

The author describes the hope in many of the convention attendees: that the “post-oil” world will be more agrarian, more spiritual, more commune-like, more simple, more sustainable. IOW, a “hippie utopia,” in my view.

But only for those who heed these words, believe, and repent right now.

Of course, if you really, truly believe that the worst of Peak Oil is coming, and is unstoppable, you can hardly live the way most people do. Why train in technology? It’ll all be useless soon. Why save for retirement? By the time you’re of retirement age, paper money will be useless. Gold is a highly sought and bought commodity at these conventions. One convention-goer mentions that, despite having grown up in urban areas his whole life, he’s learning to slaughter pigs. Another considers New Zealand the best place to start human civilization anew. Yet another expects to be living on a lifeboat by 2007.

Now here’s my questions for debate: is the comparison I (and the author) make apt? What are the differences between the two kind of “rapture” beliefs? Should we take the Peak Oilers more seriously because they have hard science behind their beliefs?


They are both faith based without a shred of science to back them. And also a horrid lack of understanding of how the market actually works. There are a lot of things that might end civilization or put us in a Mad Max world…but oil running out ain’t one of them IMHO (at least not by itself…couple it with the odd 500 km meteor strike and you may have something). YMMV


No offense, xtisme, but the peak oil problem is more than just a myth. Oil is a finite resource and it will run out some day - it’s just a question of when and how bad the effect will be. Obviously some people are leaning too far towards the apocalyptical. On the other hand, some people are leaning too far towards the oblivious.

In the late 60s-early 70s, the liberal equivalent of Left Behind was Paul Ehrlich’s THE POPULATION BOMB. As a Lindseyite Rapturist from 1975 to 1982, I collected a bunch of Apocalyptic books, from Fundy Righty to Loony Lefty. I still might have Ehrlich’s but I doubt it.

While people who look forward to an apocalyptic economic collapse due to oil shortages are probably not all there intellectually speaking, they’re also much rarer than the OP would have us believe, I suspect.

However, people who believe that a finite resource (oil) which supplies the bulk of the world’s energy needs will never run out, and that if it does run short, nothing much will happen – THERE are some fantasists for you!

I don’t think these people are totally nuts. i see “peak oil” as an issue relating to current supply. Suppose (for example) a major supplier (like Saudi Arabia) experiences a serious delivery issue ( fanatics manage to blow up a pipline). Just removing 25% of the world capacity for a few weeks would be pretty disastrous. The point is, we are consuming so much petroleum that any disruption is going to hurt. Now that most of the oil is traded on the spot market, a huge price swing can be initiated by minor disruptions. Here’s a scenarion i dread, but may well happen:
-It is midsummer, and temperatures are soaring-the US electrical grid is producing at peak capacity. Suddenly, an Algerian natural gas terminal blows up. Generating plants in the US try to buy electricity from Canada-but Canada can’t supply any. then, SA announces a pipeline disruption. Oil soars to $125/barrel-and the US government announces emergency measures. Factories shut down, fisherman don’t leave port, farmers do not harvest grain.
yes, “peak oil” is no fiction-and when it comes, it won’t be fun.

Yes and no. Yes, in that they exaggerate the problem; it’s not like no alternatives exist, and looking forward to worldwide disaster is warped. As well, it’s unrealistic to claim that it going to happen in just a few years, for certain - no one knows for certain how much is left.

OTOH, running out of oil is a real and inevitable problem, unlike an apocalypse perpetrated by a fictional superbeing. A collapse cause by a lack of oil is worth worrying about; a religious myth coming true isn’t.

No offense Little Nemo but I didn’t mean that Peak Oil is a myth without scientific basis…thats not exactly what the OP was asking after all. I said the myth is the apocalypstic fantasy that some of these folks tend to have. THERE is NO scientific backing that the world will end when we hit peak oil. Or do you disagree.

I don’t believe thta ‘running out of oil’ IS a real and inevitable problem to be honest. Long before the oil runs out it will reach some critical threshold in price and quantity at which point it will no longer be a viable fuel source…and whatever is the next generation fuel source(s) will then kick in. Will it be painful? You bet. Will it be Mad Max or The End Of The World As We Know It™? Hardly.

YMMV (ironic that, ehe? :stuck_out_tongue: )


This is true. The major differences between “Left Behind” and any of the current liberal apocalyptical scenarios - peak oil, global warming, etc, is that the latter scenarios at least have somewhat of a nodding acquaintance with the real world.

But a nodding acquaintance is all it is. There is not going to be a Long Emergency. We are not going to burried under 100 feet of snow in a Coming Global Superstorm. Much like Left Behind, the authors of these books took an idea and ran with it to it’s logical extreme.

James Howard Kunstler is the most high-profile one I know of.

Regarding his site, would someone please tell me what the hell “lumpenleisure” is supposed to mean?

The idea suggested in the OP is exactly the vibe that I get from the most extrem left-wing groups. They see the wealthy, suburb-dwelling, Hummer-driving crowd as a corrupt and decadent society, and they imagine a scenario where those people will be forced to ‘wake up’ and acknowledge how morally wrong they were and how right the far left was. It’s precisely analagous to what the Lindsey/LaHaye crowd is hoping to get from the Rapture and the end times business. Of course, one may measure the relative size of these two movements by observing that the we’ve seen only a few hundred people who seriously believe that the modern economic and political powers will come crashing down due to oil expense, while Lindsey’s opus The Late Great Planet Earth sold thirty million copies.

As to whether there’s a basis for the panic over peak oil, most articles on the subject only mention liquid oil reserves. There’s more oil stored as oil sands than as liquid, though it’s more expensive to refine, and we can also refine oil out of coal and natural gas if we need to. In short, there’s no danger that we’ll actually have an insufficient amount of oil on the planet within the next century. And those who are stocking up on batteries, bottled water, and spam against the day when we run out are probably the same ones who were stocking up against Y2K seven years ago. In some cases it’s probably the exact same batteries, bottles of water, and cans of spam.

But “oil running out” isn’t going to happen. We’re not gonna be slurping, slurping, slurping on the straw, and one day find the milkshake glass empty.

What’s really going to happen is that oil is going to get more and more and more epensive. There’s lots of expensive oil out there that costs too much to develop when oil is a $X per barrel, but would be economical at $2X.

Yeah, we’re not going to see $1.00/gallon gas again. But there will always be plenty of oil…as long as you’re willing to pay the price. Most people won’t be willing to pay the price, which means that the expensive oil is going to last a lot longer than the cheap oil.

I have no idea why people expect civilization to collapse if gas goes to $5.00/gallon, or $6.00/gallon, or $10.00/gallon. And if gas goes to $10.00/gallon there are dozens of cheaper alternative fuels. The law of supply and demand isn’t magic. Substitution and reduced demand are predictable consequences of decreased supply and increased price.

Those who say that there’s no substitute for gasoline are dead wrong. Yeah, there’s no substitute for $2.00/gallon gasoline. But there are dozens of substitutes for $10.00/gallon gasoline.

Anyway, stocking up on batteries, bottled water, and spam is a GOOD idea. Not because civilization will collapse when we burn the last gallon of gasoline in the last Hummer, but because earthquakes, fires, tsunamis, hurricanes, floods, volcanic eruptions and blizards happen from time to time, sometimes two or three at a time. Everyone should have enough emergency supplies to survive for a week or two cut off from resupply with no power and no tap water.

I agree with you completely Lemur866…except the Spam thing. Yuck! :eek:



Exactly. And don’t forget the shale oil in the Rockies. There is a HUGE amount of oil in there…probably more than in the entire ME. Its just damn expensive and a complete pain in the ass to get it out. At some point though it will become economically feasible to do so. Not that I don’t hope we are onto some alternative source like hydrogen, anti-matter or perhaps dilithium crystals by that point. While I think the Peak Oil frenzy (wrt the inevitable end of the world) is a bunch of hooey, I DO think that cutting our carbon emmissions may be a good idea…and the price of oil going sky high is just the incentive to ween us off hydrocarbons as a primary personal power source. IMHO.


I think it’s a great analogy. The rejection of science by some (who claim to be) on the left is really scary. You see people that will not give their kids vaccinations because they think it causes autism and now there is a rise of childhood diseases that had been all but eradicated in the US. The Y2K apocalytic vision was another case of hysteria. I had friends who refused to fly on that date. I’m a liberal BTW.

My sister is one of those who won’t get their kids vaccinated. She doesn’t ‘believe’ in ‘western medicine’, and doesn’t want to risk her kids in case something goes wrong…and really, those diseases are in the past anyway (of course, the REASON those diseases are ‘in the past’ is because of that ‘western medicine’ she doesn’t ‘believe’ in…and of course the pact that we all, as citizens make to GET our kids vaccinated). I’ve noticed a lot of anti-technology anti-science trends lately wrt this question…or at least a lot of skepticism about technical solutions to problems we face. You even see it on this board, though not nearly as rabidly as from my sisters crowd when it comes to stuff like this. Yeah…they ALSO believe that Peak Oil is going to throw us back to a population world wide of a couple of million hippies living in an agrarian paradise (and patently NOT using that evil ‘western medicine’ :stuck_out_tongue: ). Thats if Global Warming doesn’t completely destroy the world first…


My mother worked as the vaccination coordinator for the county we lived in during the 1990s, and she described the mounting ignorance about vaccinations and the increasing number of unvaccinated children as serious social health problems. Yet, this is the same woman who supports homeopathic “medicine” and got rid of her microwave because she decided that the radiation would give her cancer. :rolleyes:

[TOPPER]I watched my sister wave an LED over her food then wave it over her head. This was to “align the molecules” in the food with her body.[/TOPPER]

Please tell me this was a joke of some kind.