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Will Occupy Wall Street start drilling for peak oil?

Occupy World Street

Occupy World Street: Global Roadmap for Economic and Political Reform by Ross Jackson, Chelsea Green, 315 pp, $19.95.

Though there’s been a flurry of books about the Occupy movement in the last few months, few of them have said much about energy and the environment. Predictably, writers have largely focused so far on the core issues that originally filled Zuccotti Park last fall, an unfair economy and politics corrupted by corporate lucre.

Now comes a new title on Occupy that takes ecological overshoot seriously, Occupy World Street: A Global Roadmap for Radical Economic and Political Reform. Refreshingly, the book also zeroes in on the issue that the energy-savvy find behind all our financial and political woes today: peak oil.

Peak oilers will cheer when Jackson, a good-guy financier who has funded hundreds of sustainability projects in thirty countries through his San Francisco-based Gaia Fund, gives peak oil its due. Scary issues from religious conflicts and the balance of power in the Middle East to unemployment, bank bailouts and sovereign debt and even the scariest of them all, climate change, Jackson writes, “will all pale in significance with what will soon be at the top of the national agenda.”

And yes, folks, Jackson means peak oil. Energy depletion may not be bigger than climate change, but it’s badder, because peak oil will hit us first. And Jackson is realistic about responses. After ably skewering the usual solutions, particularly switching over to unconventional fossil fuels, Jackson puts into strong, simple language the way that peak oil could also doom the energy sources that could actually work, solar and wind.

“A fatal energy trap could condemn humanity to become a permanent subsistence civilization if we are not very careful with how we use the remaining fossil fuel resources,” Jackson writes.

It takes energy to mine the metals and manufacture the necessary inputs in order to build alternative-energy power plants. Today this energy can only come from one source — fossil fuels. Imagine for a moment what will happen when the oil and gas run out in a matter of decades at current usage rates. Not enough fossil fuel energy will be available to build or maintain windmills and solar power plants.

The parent trap

Avoiding this energy trap will be humanity’s greatest challenge in the coming decades, according to Jackson. Maintaining any kind of recognizable civilization after peak oil will require solar power. And until we can build and run solar using only solar, we will need to stop burning fossil fuels to run cars, heat buildings and make plastic junk and instead put all the oil, coal and gas that’s left into installing solar panels.

Since its corrupt political system will likely continue to prevent the world’s most powerful nation, the United States, from taking its rightful place as the leader towards a solar world, Jackson proposes a Gaian League of smaller more politically flexible nations to get things started. Once the nations of Africa and South America start clearly kicking our butts on solar, Jackson hopes the US will finally wake up.

Wishful thinking? Maybe. But it’s a better idea than most we’ve heard so far. And it’s a damn sight more promising than cynical resignation and despair.

So along with Jackson, as a proud American and even prouder fan of human survival, I say Go Brazil! Go Botswana! Go Tuvalu!

We’re counting on you guys to keep us from totally trashing the place.

– Erik Curren,Transition Voice

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