Saturday, August 21, 2010

That Voice in the Wilderness

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Isaiah 40:3.
The phrase occurred to me because I noted the death of Matthew R. Simmons this morning on LaMarotte. Simmons was one of the prominent figures promoting awareness of an issue that has been, curiously, tokenized as Peak Oil. The phrase refers to peak oil production in any country, inevitably followed by decline and, ultimately, the stop of the last pump. Thus “peak” really refers to oil running out. Now unless our geologists are entirely mistaken and the core of the planet turns out to be oil rather than molten iron, oil will certainly run out. Peak Oil marks the beginning of the end. The world peak may be happening right now. The last prominent report, as I note here on LaMarotte, puts the peak into the 2011-2013 time frame. Given that oil consumption has reached an all-time high and is still growing, descent from peak to virtually nothing will take place much more rapidly than it took to reach the peak. Therefore it looks like the Age of Oil may well end in this century yet.

This is a recurring subject I touch upon because, over many, many years of studying technology, I’m perhaps excessively aware of the role petroleum plays in everything we do. Therefore the wind-down promises an exceedingly dangerous period in human history. And, as I’ve also noted more than once on LaMarotte (see for instance, “Fusion Footnote” here) the alternatives available to humanity do not promise a smooth transition first to so-called renewable energy and then, perhaps to fusion. No. It’s not in the cards—and least so if the transition to the post-oil future is disordered. For all of these reasons, prominent expert voices like Simmons’ are valuable in warning the public that such matters as conservation are not “symbolic” or “do-gooder” gestures but genuine actions for the common good. The longer we can delay global meltdown, the slower the process of transition, the more likelihood of saving actual lives, indeed millions of lives. I find it very difficult to imagine humanity able to support nearly 6.9 billion people without oil.

Now of course, if we look around, we discover that Simmons’ was a voice crying in the wilderness. Far too few are listening. What I hear instead, going on my walks, is the roar of leaf-blowers and mowers wasting gas—and that’s the least of the waste prominently on view. Alas, oil is cheaper than human labor.

Now in looking up the verse in Isaiah, I noted that it is also quoted in each of the gospels of the New Testament. And my mind calculated how long ago those words were first written and then approvingly repeated. Which suggests to me that deafness to the cries of prophets, religious or secular, is the rule and not the exception. After all, two thousand plus years later, the same phrase spontaneously springs to my mind too. But some do hear. And those who do actually do make a difference. It’s a small consolation.


  1. Thanks for the road sign to LaMarotte.

  2. A nice tribute to Simmons. I'll go catch up a bit on LaMarotte too!