Being eco is nothing new. And I don’t mean because of the bearded forefathers of green proclaiming impending doom in the 1970s. It really isn’t new. Since the dawn of time, survival has depended on careful use of available resources. Our evolutionary ancestors had to learn this the hard way (with the ultimate price for failure) and we, in most developed countries, are in the uniquely fortunate position of having far more than we need at very little cost.
The reason for this is very simple: cheap oil.
Without a plentiful supply of black gold the industrial revolution would have never happened and our lives would be unfathomably different, akin to the dwindling number of people still living in untouched, pre-industrial societies around the world. You wouldn’t be reading this because, along with every other blog post, article, website or book published with the help of electricity, it wouldn’t have been written. You wouldn’t be worried about the amount of plastic packaging waste you put in your bin each week because you wouldn’t have any plastic.
So, oil has led us down an exciting yet slippery path. At the beginning of our energy-intense journey we rejoiced in the availability of this seemingly endless source of energy which revolutionised so many aspects of our lives. Yet, before long, we began to take it for granted and assumed cheap and plentiful oil was the status quo. This shows how short-sighted we can be: oil was first drilled on a commercial scale just 160 years ago, a mere fibre in the tapestry of time. Even so, we now find it difficult to grasp the fact that much of modern life, including all capitalist economic systems, rely on this once abundant energy source to exist. It is so entwined in our everyday that, for most of us, the idea of it not being available as and when we want it is unthinkable. After all we use it in so many ways: to extract the materials which become the products we consume so hungrily; to produce the products, package the products and within the products; to travel, to work, to light up our lives and to lift us above the apparent boredom of an otherwise oil-less existence.
But an oil-less existence is precisely what we are going to have, in a very short space of time. It is generally agreed that we have reached the peak of oil discovery (places we can extract it) so it is only a matter of time before we reach a peak in production. Add to that an increase in demand from countries that previously didn’t rely on oil so much and it is easy to see that oil is about to become a precious commodity affordable only by the extremely rich. We may be 5 years away from that point, or we may be 40, but either way our children will be affected massively by the changes they will need to make to the way they live.
However, becoming oil-less may be precisely what we need to solve some of the most pressing problems we face on the planet. Take global warming. Without oil we won’t produce anything like the amount of CO2 we do at present. So, if oil does peak and becomes something that most people can’t afford, we will have solved one of the biggest challenges we face without even doing anything about it. Also, take population growth. Without oil we will be unable to indefinitely sustain a planet with a growing population. The number of people will adjust to the amount of food we can produce, just like in the animal kingdom.
So we may be forced to make changes, but some of those changes may be for the better. They may allow us to break free of the shackles of an energy intense, consumerist lifestyle in the knowledge that we are doing it as a whole society – not just as “worthy” individuals. We may face a different future, but that doesn’t mean it will be worse.