Some Belated Acknowledgments

The Chevron ad began: “It took us 125 years to use the first trillion barrels of oil. We’ll use the next trillion in 30. Energy will be one of the defining issues of this century. One thing is clear: the era of easy oil is over…”


I rubbed my eyes and read on:


“What we all do next will determine how well we meet the energy needs of the entire world in this century and beyond. Demand is soaring like never before. As populations grow and economies take off, millions in the developing world are enjoying the benefits of a lifestyle that requires increasing amounts of energy. In fact, some say that in 20 years the world will consume 40% more oil than it does today. At the same time, many of the world’s oil and gas fields are maturing. And new energy discoveries are mainly occurring in places where resources are difficult to extract, physically, economically and even politically. When growing demand meets tighter supplies, the result is more competition for the same resources.


“We can wait until a crisis forces us to do something. Or we can commit to working together, and start by asking the tough questions: How do we meet the energy needs of the developing world and those of industrialized nations? What role will renewables and alternative energies play? What is the best way to protect our environment? How do we accelerate our conservation efforts?…”


I rubbed my eyes again. Most of this ad, part of a new campaign by an oil major, might easily have been taken more or less word for word from any of the pieces Michael Klare — author of the indispensable Blood and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of America’s Growing Dependence on Imported Petroleum — has been writing over these many months. When Klare writes such passages and they prove accurate somewhere down the line, they can perhaps be called “prescient.” When the Chevron ad people do the same, what you have is something like a confession reflecting a seismic shift in mainstream consciousness — and we have to take our seismic shifts where we find them. After all this time, it seems that “peak oil” may suddenly be on some part of Big Oil’s agenda, which tells you something about the cul-de-sac into which we’ve blithely managed to drive our SUVs.


Just to add a little footnote of my own: During last year’s fierce hurricane season, after catching endless TV and newspaper coverage of the destruction, and finding hardly a passing mention of the possibility of a link between the weather of that moment (commonly referred to as “bizarre” or “strange”) and global warming, I wondered aloud whether our media (like our President) wasn’t living in something of a bubble world (Xtreme weather meets Xtreme media bubble). Numerous journalists promptly wrote in angrily to suggest that I was off the wall; that, scientifically speaking, such a linkage was not even worthy of being raised in a respectable newspaper.


This year, with the first hurricanes arriving earlier, fiercer, and in record numbers, and hurricane prediction numbers for the rest of the season soaring, the TV news finds itself more regularly switching from scenes of destruction in the south to unnaturally melting vistas in the north, and its reporters regularly wondering on air about global warming tie-ins. And when, in a study which first appeared in the British science magazine Nature, Kerry Emanuel, an MIT ocean climatologist, suggested that the rise in hurricane intensity might indeed be linked to global warming, the news was not relegated to science journals, anxious insurance company publications, or on-line environmental websites. It could be found in USA Today (“Hurricanes have grown fiercer in recent decades, spurred by global warming, and even tougher storms are likely on the way, a researcher predicts…”) and a wide range of other major publications. This too represents at least a modestly seismic shift worth noting.



[This article first appeared on Tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news, and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, long time editor in publishing and author of The End of Victory Culture and The Last Days of Publishing.]

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