If you are a modern man, you will spend at least a little bit of your life worrying about where your energy comes from. One day someone will mention ‘peak oil’ and you’ll feel a slight twinge of guilt. You know you’re sucking the earth dry, that your life is unsustainable but that you are addicted to oil. Everything you do needs it. Maybe you wish you could buy an allotment, buy your own seeds and wear thicker jumpers in the winter. In the end of the day, you just can’t be bothered.
This is a deeply unhealthy guilt to have, and your methods of resolving it much worse. Could everyone have their own allotment? Of course not. It is only because you took the bus to your heated university every day that you’d even come up with this rubbish. And what about your computer? You know it’s a wonderful piece of machinery, but you just wish it didn’t use so many rare materials. All this is silly. In the end of the day, given all your days to live again, you’d go back and buy the same laptop, you’d go to the same university, live in the same flat.
The only other option then is to face up to the fact that you are using deeply beneficial things that suck the earth dry and think about what that means.
What was oil before humans got to it? It was the compressed, decayed remains of multitudes of dead creatures. One day, we found out it was flammable, portable, and could be used to power all sorts of things. Since then we’ve had cars, planes, space shuttles, Lego and exponential population growth. In short, oil was born out of prehistoric tragedy and has since been the greatest enabler of human life to date.
A lot of people seem to want to distance themselves from this. Population growth is one of the biggest problems facing the world, our lighting should be dim and our heating barely on. Apart from anything else, it’s damned uncivilised. What they are saying, effectively, is that the only things power can be used for without guilt are hospitals, Prius factories and the TED Conference.
Well, no. When I sit on a chair in a heated house reading a book, I am using North Sea oil in the best way it could possibly be used. It’s the hospitals that are wasting it. All this time treating sick people, it’s a waste. Most of these people shouldn’t even be getting sick.
Of course, that’s horrible, but hear me out. I am fully aware that it’s entirely natural for people to be getting sick and that what doctors are doing is wholly ethical. But it needn’t be natural for people to get sick. People don’t get smallpox any more and they don’t get plague any more. Frankly I don’t see why anyone gets ill any of the time at all. Some people go their whole lives without ever getting ill and then one day wake up to find they’ve unexpectedly dropped off their perch. I say demanding everyone use clean energy is much like demanding everyone live without getting ill. Sure, not getting ill is possible, but it’s an option generally only available to the wealthiest of societies (who got that way because they learnt how to harness oil). Is it better that the people who get diseases are never born or the opportunities of oil stay underground because the consequences of their coming into the world are too great?
In our bodies, the systems which allow us to have all our experiences, move the way we move and be who we are sometimes break down. Our energy runs out and eventually we die. Of course, most of us haven’t come to terms with that and spend our days faffing about like we’ll live forever. We throw away one minute because we’ve always had a minute after we could throw away in like manner.
It’s just like this with the earth. The earth has a limited supply of resources. It sounds obvious, but it’s true. The earth will die, pass away, just like us. We could have lived here for 100 million years lighting fires, chasing buffaloes, and not giving a damn, but that would have been lame.
In fact, I’ll go further, it would have been immoral. Eventually the sun would have run out and frankly we’d have had bugger all to show for ourselves. Sure, we’d have discovered hallucinogenics and probably had amazing sex with everything under the sun, but our overabundance of babies would have all been killed by the now self-conscious rabbit population. I refuse to believe that the indolence that these climate hippies say is beneficial is anything other than a delusion born of never actually having chased an animal with a bow.
Original nature is not good. The first nature is chaotic, even evil. We should not seek to return to that. All the time we distance ourselves from our origins and it’s good. We build tsunami warning systems and keep dogs removed from wolves by thousands of years of breeding. Our attitude to the earth should be the same as our attitude to our bodies. The earth will not last forever, but this doesn’t mean we are not careful with it. The earth does not cope well with the fun things we do, but we should practise these things and get better at keeping the earth safe while doing them. By no means should we chop down everything we’ve created just for the sake of making raw materials last a bit longer.
The 20th century was marked by many people being killed, but it was also marked by many, many more people being enabled to live. And that’s a good thing.
The age of cheap oil has come to an end. Now we understand the negative effects it had, we understand it won’t last forever. We’ve started looking to other energy sources. One day they’ll run out too. That’s fine as well. We’ve wasted a lot of oil on Nascar and flights to Ibiza, but can’t we just forgive ourselves for that and move on? The world is genuinely a better place now. The survival of coral reefs wouldn’t even be a concern to you if there wasn’t a way to fly to Australia.
I propose that rather that rather than being guilty about everything we use, we accept it for what it is. We should love the world, not as some mysterious ‘Gaia’, but as our home. Our home shouldn’t be somewhere we just keep the same, we should shape it to our own personalities and that involves occasionally digging stuff up.
Maybe we’d consume less if this was our attitude. We’re not wasting the materials we dig up, we’re putting them to a better use than they ever would have been put to before. The iron ore was just sitting there, we made it into a stapler. And maybe if we didn’t have this guilt to disassociate ourselves from the materials we use, we’d be more ready to value our possessions and reuse them, rather than just chucking them away like the earth could last forever.