Suburban Bureau

The End of the Tunnel

We are heading toward a troubled future. The directions we choose now will help determine where we end up.

By Trey Shaughnessy
Published September 15, 2005

Do you remember when you realized that the world wasn't what you thought it was? Did it come to you like a thunderclap, or was it a series of events that made you realize, over time, that the world wasn't "Leave it to Beaver" or "The Cosby Show".

Were you always someone who lived life like "Little House on the Prairie" and appreciated the small fortunate events and circumstances that happened to you?

When did you welcome reality? Or are you still living on a climate-controlled cloud?

Personally, I thought I had the world figured out. I saw the programs on TV that showed life in developing countries. I had the lectures at home and at school about starving people. I knew that the western world was industrialized and modern and that we enjoyed a standard of living was never before dreamed of in history - because we earned it.

Or did we? I always thought our well deserved life came from hard work. I went to school, got a job, got married, had kids, and worked hard until a life of leisure in retirement.

Was I ever wrong.

I awoke to reality while I was socializing with some friends (Ben Bull and Ryan McGreal) at the pub one night. Ryan started talking about this so-called Peak Oil phenomenon.

At first, Ryan reminded me of Mark Wahlberg's character from I (heart) Huckabees. "Go kiss a tree." "Cry in your beer," I thought.

I took notes (as I often do when talking with Ryan) and reserved a couple of books from the Hamilton Public Libarary. I've read Hubbert's Peak by Kenneth S. Deffeyes, then The Party's Over by Richard Heinberg, and then The Long Emergency by James Kunstler.

My life turned from "Everyone Loves Raymond" to "Little House on the Prairie."

How do I explain this? Well, it happened like a thunderclap that lasted four months (the time it took to read those three books during the summer). I have attempted to discuss this phenomemon of Peak Oil with some peers and I was alarmed, because nobody seemed to understand it.

While they were interested in the thought of humankind reaching a peak of oil production and sort of understood that oil production couldn't go on for ever, they were surprised to hear that the world is reaching a point whereby it can no longer pump as much oil as we want.

The truth is, oil is unsustainable. Little trolls under the earth's surface aren't making more oil for us.

I think the biggest problem with "peak oil" theorists is that they are too intelligent to talk to "regular" people. A professor at McMaster once told me, "True intelligence is someone who can get their message across to regular people".

I don't want to expand on the peak oil concept. I will leave that for you to discover - like I did. Instead, I want to express the comments I've experienced from the people with whom I have discussed peak oil - people who see no problem with driving 75 kilometers to work on roads paved with a petroleum based product; working at a company powered by petroleum energy; driving to the supermarket for food that was transported via petroleum-powered trucks from California after being fertilized, sprayed, and harvested with petroleum.

Our life - our industrialized life - is entirely dependent on oil. Unless we want to re-introduce slave labour, our lifestyle will become drastically different without oil powering it.

The comments, "We don't know how much oil is in the earth," or "We can't trust what the oil companies say," is not good enough for me. Is it good enough for you?

"Come on, kids, we're going down this dark tunnel and I don't know what is at the end." Would you lead your family this way? This is where we, as a society, are going - marching down a dark tunnel. We don't know what's at the end.

Alternatively, we can choose a tunnel with a light at the end, a tunnel that shows us where we are heading. The end of that tunnel has to be a sustainable society.

Hold on, that sounds like a tree-hugger. Let me try again: the end of the tunnel has to be something we choose to find there. That is, a society based on cities that choose not to rely on the operation of the car and truck and tax formulae that doesn't rely on annexing the neighbouring farmstead to pay for current expenses. Those neighbouring farmsteads may be our salvation one day.

Dalton McGuinty is trying to make up for lost time and actually plan for a future that isn't so reliant on oil. A new hydro-generation plant is planned for under the Niagara River, a tender for renewable energy sources has been issued and again, I start to have faith in democracy and human nature. At the ame time, the provincial NDP are asking for energy conservation to be our new energy priority.

All I ask is that we stop sleep-walking down the dark tunnel, consider a life without cheap oil, and try to mitigate the effects of "waiting 'til the last minute." After all, what do we have to lose - smog days, endless driving, reliance on foreign energy?

Let's choose a tunnel won't swallow us whole and lead us nowhere. Let's choose a tunnel our children would not be scared to go down. Isn't that what we're here for?

Trey lives in Williamsville NY via Hamilton. He is a Marketing Manager for Tourism and Destination Marketing in the Buffalo-Niagara Metro.

His essays have appeared in The Energy Bulletin, Post Carbon Institute, Peak Oil Survival, and Tree Hugger.

And can't wait for the day he stops hearing "on facebook".


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