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Environment

The Race to Doomsday

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Which will win: peak oil or global warming? If you follow both narratives in the blogosphere, which is where the debate is most kinetic, you already know that peak oil and global warming are flip sides of the same coin. I come at this mainly as a journalist, but also as someone who is interested in archaeology and the collapse literature of recent decades. I'll leave the modern-day parallels to Jared Diamond, though I tend to think he oversimplifies his case studies. What fascinates me about the respective peak oil and global warming narratives is that both revolve around the same meme: that civilization is on the fast track to collapse, unless we make systemic changes to the way we live. The peak oil camp take the argument to its logical extension and talk earnestly about such things as overshoot, or carrying capacity. The gobal warming camp dabbles in this debate, but because they have a big tent (which must accomodate politicians), their overriding goal is to replace the world's carbon economy with one that doesn't spew greenhouse gas emissions. And hey, that is plenty formidable. Still, in the global warming camp, there is no real engagment with underlying, socio/economic forces. There really can't be when much of the rest of the world (understably) aspires to live like average Americans. Copenhagen is proof of that. Ironically, Andy Revkin, one of the few persons who has used his prominent platform to expand the intellectual sphere of the climate change debate, is often pilloried by hardcore climate advocates. Some of them hold to the notion that Revkin, despite a stellar body of work on the energy & climate change beat, has aided and abetted the guys in "black hats." Go figure. This recurring complaint against Revkin is part of a deeper animus that the the global warming camp has towards the media at large. The peak oil folks, for their part, are fighting just to be relevant. It's mind-boggling to them that nobody but them seems to get the dire trajectory the world is on. But some pretty famous climate scientists feel that way too about global warming. Thus, as far as representatives from these two camps are concerned, the race to doomsday is on. Which will get their first? Will it be when the global demand for oil exceeds the supply, or will it be when the carbon load in the atmosphere tips a baking planet into ecological and social mayhem? Go ahead, flip a coin.

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