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The Politics of Survival

It is a sign of the times that a former energy analyst turned radical advocate for depaving the world would be quoted on the floor of the U. S. House of Representatives by a self-described "very conservative Republican" congressman while the congressman lectured the country about the dangers of world peak oil production.

Just so you don't think this was a fluke, I give you exhibit number two: An investment banker who specializes in energy--a Bush supporter and a member of Vice President Dick Cheney's infamous energy task force--recently wrote a piece about the impending Saudi oil shock for Counterpunch, a left-wing, muckraking newsletter that is proud of its "radical attitude" and its freedom from corporate influence.

What we are witnessing is the collapse of the politics of left and right and the replacement of those politics with what I call the politics of survival. Those who come to understand the gravity of our energy situation quickly abandon their previous political views and instead focus pragmatically on how we can make a successful energy transition. They do so because they know the cost of failure is too high a price to pay for ideology. In the politics of survival ideology counts for almost nothing. Pragmatic plans count for everything.

I was recently contacted by a local elected official who asked me to set up a customized version of my "Oil Famine" short-course for a group of government officials from my county. I knew going in that the two of us were on opposite ends of the political spectrum. As I spoke to him, I realized that all he wanted to ascertain was whether I could effectively bring the message of peak oil and its possible consequences to the officeholders he had in mind. My political leanings didn't matter.

Such is the power of understanding an obvious and basic, but infrequently discerned truth, namely, that there are limits to resources and that those limits are approaching. This understanding can create instant focus and solidarity in a way I have never before seen. It is what allows me to remain hopeful. If enough people understand what we are really facing--not only in the area of energy, but also in the areas of global warming and water and soil depletion--we have a chance of embracing the politics of survival in enough places in the world to make a difference. I admit that this kind of change remains a long shot. But, so far as I can tell, it's the only shot we've got.

Editorial Notes: See original for links embedded in the text. -BA

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