My son’s science teacher has a nice line in freaking out her pupils. A few months back it was global warming that was seriously worrying him, and then, after a relatively calm period in which the worst he had to face was the kind of biology video that featured a man with a bowl full of diseased organs, she has now moved on to discussing the potential energy crisis that may soon be upon us. The thought that oil reserves could run out as soon as 2011 and the possible consequences this could entail, profoundly troubled my son, with good reason. In the long century that we’ve enjoyed the benefits of electricity we’ve managed to make ourselves entirely dependent on it. One hundred and fifty years ago we would all have lived in communities that were able to assure their own independent survival without much difficulty. Now, without oil, we risk being unable to eat, to stay warm, to work and to travel. Those are pretty serious consequences to face up to. Of course, we all hope that in the meantime, viable alternative sources of energy can be developed, and we hope too that we’ll actually stop and look at the way we live and make the kind of changes necessary to cut back on the use of oil and oil-based products. But here my son had further worries. ‘There will always be some people who just go ahead and do what they’ve always done,’ he lamented. ‘They’re going to keep on using up the oil and we won’t have any left.’ I said that whilst it was true that you couldn’t always force people to do what was in everyone’s best interests, there were also many people out there working very hard for the common good. Rather than worry about what we couldn’t control, the best thing to do was to think about how he and I could make a difference. He was unsurprisingly foxed by this proposition, not having had much chance to make an impact yet at thirteen years of age. But I said that I had always found comfort in the thought that if there was something I cared very much about, I could always write about it and try in that way to encourage and persuade others. And so we decided to compose a blog meme about the potential energy crisis and thus mobilize the might and power of the blogosphere on the side of the angels.
What do I fear about a serious energy crisis? There are many, many things to fear, but I can’t help casting my mind back to the last time there was a petrol shortage in this country because of strike action. There were miles of queuing cars at every petrol station and people getting up at 2 or 3 in the morning to try to beat the rush. What I fear most is the way we become our own worst enemies as soon as our personal comfort and convenience is threatened. Panic buying, for instance, is just crazy in this country as soon as the media reports the tiniest little problem. It was discovered that a significant proportion of the people in those queues for petrol were the elderly who had taken their cars especially out of the garage to top them up because they were so fearful of the situation worsening. If we hadn’t lost so much sense of community nowadays, elderly people might have more trust that someone would take care of their needs in the event of a crisis. I fear the way any situation nowadays can escalate because of contagious selfishness, competitiveness and anxiety.
What would I miss most in a world with rationed energy supplies? For me it wouldn’t be anything tangible; I don’t need to travel, I could live on a restricted diet, I can still write and read (although how we would communicate and publish, I’m not sure). But what I would miss is the sense of security we have worked for in this so-called civilized world. The ease of communication we enjoy, the belief that illness or accidents could be attended to in a safe, well-run environment, no need to worry that there won’t be food available for the next meal. Life a hundred and fifty years ago was harder, harsher and involved a great deal more physical labour. We’re used to life with a surplus of everything, and to adapt to repeated uncertainty and shortages would be unpleasant to do.
What can I do to help? Simple things, like replacing all our lightbulbs with low energy ones, and we’re working through the house gradually. I’m going to try to buy more of our food from local suppliers and make sure it’s seasonal produce. We’ll try also to make consumer decisions that involve the least amount of plastic possible, and we’ve agreed to put a solar panel on the house.
Tagging: I’m going to try to pick bloggers who I know have an interest in environmental issues, although, please, anyone who would like to join in should consider themselves tagged. The general idea is to talk about what you fear, what you’d miss and what you’d like to commit to doing about the prospect of oil supplies running out, but it doesn’t matter what you do, really, so long as you spread the word and tag five others. So, I tag:
And Courtney for an extra sixth as I know she’s on board with the topic, but moving house at the moment, which is not conducive to blogging. So this is just if you can, Courtney.
Finally, as it seems to be the moment for considering apocalypse, I was invited by the blog attached to Sky arts to choose a book to be reading when the world ends. You can read my answer here.