I met a prophet just over three years ago while I was a Jesuit Volunteer in California.His name is Richard Heinberg and he is an economist who speaks all over the world on Peak Oil Theory. Although my theology professors would probably argue that if he doesn’t speak about the Kingdom of God he technically can’t be labeled prophetic, I beg to differ.I am not sure if Heinberg has any sort of religious studies in his background, but his message certainly had eschatological undertones.What I mean is that his presentation was heavy with fervor of end times, hope, and conversion.
I still vividly remember when my Jesuit Volunteer community read that Heinberg would speak to us about oil at our mid-year retreat.We rolled our eyes over the imminent boredom and made jokes about the seemingly inappropriate topic for a bunch of young socially active, service minded progressive Catholics.
It ended up that Peak Oil Theory was no laughing matter after all.Peak Oil Theory is about oil production and the global economy.M. King Hubbert originally suggested the bell-shaped production curve in 1956 and it was used to predict the United States oil crisis of the 1970s.The very simple explanation of the theory is that we’re approaching (or are at) the global limit of how many barrels of crude oil can be produced a day, despite demands for more.Heinberg is not the creator of the theory, but has written extensively on the topic. Being an expert, he explains it much better than I can.(I’ve heard his book Power Down is pretty good.)
After we heard Heinberg talk our eyes were bugging out of our heads and we were numbed by a new awareness that the world we grew up in was about to be no more.It seemed like a different type of rapture than the kind I had heard about from my fundamentalist Christian friends.Instead of some bodies being sucked up to heaven and the rest of us being left behind, there would be a different kind of chaos. We would see an economic recession within the United States and there would be violence because of an international food crisis.Oil prices would sky-rocket, unemployment would rapidly rise, and international air travel would become so expensive that it would become a luxury that only the very rich could afford. Suburbs and long commutes would become a thing of the past as cities would become gentrified.As a civilization, we rely so much on oil that the impact of Peak Oil would be felt in all industries and services: health care, education, and transportation. There would be all types of shortages and nearly everything would become more expensive.Oh yeah, and wars would be fought over control of oil, too.
Yeah, I’ll admit it.I’m a little freaked out by how prophetic Heinberg really is.I wanted to believe that his Peak Oil Theory was all gloomy bologna like the Y2K scare had been. But I can’t help but to remember his message as I hear the news nowadays.Heinberg is probably uttering “I told you so!” from his sustainable home in California while wondering why no one listened to him.
On our way home from the retreat my community and I imagined what the majority of our adult lives could look like if the world was really about to become so chaotic.Heinberg had ended his presentation by emphasizing that we should not lose hope.Certainly there would be chaos, and unfortunately many people would struggle.We must not lose sight, he said, of where such a drastic shift would take us. When we no longer can rely on oil for our daily existence then we’ll be forced to live sustainably.Many folks would finally walk to work, there will be less consumerism and materialism, we’ll begin to turn our faces to our neighbors with whom we’ll share gardens, worship spaces, jobs, and recreation.We’ll be community.We’ll be healthier and more respectful to Earth.We’ll be living like we were meant to live.
Sure, it’s going to be tough to turn ourselves into cooperative communities living simply like the pioneers.We’ll mourn the things that we won’t be able to have anymore, like abundant plastic and overseas vacations.To get to where we are going we must look out for one another and clothe ourselves with humility.We must teach how to live generously and nonviolently.Together we must put down our arms.We must do what we can to assist the farmers provide affordable food to all people, rich and poor alike.We must listen to our leaders who inspire us to act according to the virtues of unity, peace and justice.
Yes another world is possible: a post-Peak Oil world.It’s more possible than we realize.It’s already happening.It’s popular to eat local and organic food, to bike, to have a community garden and share housing.On the other hand, bottled water, gas-guzzling vehicles, and gluttony are becoming unpopular.So, while oil prices continue to increase and hurt people throughout the world, let’s not lose hope.We’re on our way to something different- we’re on our way to something better.